Converting bolts of lightning into usable electricity had been an astonishingly simple matter. All the components were readily available; what was interesting was that neither Pinkie nor Twilight had ever considered combining them in that particular way before.
It was like the words of a singularly inspirational quote. Each individual word had been said before, most of them even used together in some way. Someone, however, had found the one combination, in just the right order, that made it greater than the sum of its parts.
Like: "We are all capable of travel through time, but only ever in one direction."
Or perhaps something better than that. That one wasn't very good.
Twilight attributed her inability to create or remember a significant profundity to once again having to give Bright Spark credit for something admittedly brilliant. It seemed to be rather mentally taxing, for her.
Rainbow Dash, meanwhile, had taken to passing the time playing with the laser pointer Pinkie had made for Twilight. She had learned that, if one were to move it quickly enough, one could draw illusory persistent images with it, and one had taken a liking to drawing temporary glowing red moustaches on rather beloved family portraits of the Sparkle family.
Twilight had confiscated back her pen-like device. It had rather disappointed Dash, but Twilight had done it for the pegasus' own safety. Namely, because of the things Twilight would do to her if Dash were to carelessly blind her. In response, Pinkie – who seemed to have taken a liking to their new houseguest – had made a new model just for Dash, one which Twilight had no right to confiscate. Much to Twilight's chagrin, this one came with a button to change colours, as well.
And so the portrait moustaches continued.
Five days of charging the BEAM. One of getting Rainbow Dash out from under Bright Spark. Tomorrow Applejack would be back over with deliveries, and...
Wait, one second.
What was Dash doing here again, before they needed her?
She had just taken it for granted the mare had followed her home after being fired. The fact that the mare had stayed for so many hours, now, was honestly something Twilight hadn't even thought about.
She took the elevator down to the main floor, finding Pinkie Pie and Rainbow Dash together, in one of the larger clearings between bookshelves. They had found a table and a chair each, although neither were sitting on them correctly. Stacks of books sat piled between the pair, mostly fiction on Dash's side and non-fiction on Pinkie's, though they seemed to be comparing piles, trading ones that interested them.
The two had a lot in common; they were both loud, bombastic, excitable, passionate, and – perhaps most important of all – they were both madder than a hatter in their own way. They'd become the fastest of friends, a fact that made Twilight feel just the slightest bit jealous.
She was about to intrude on them when she felt a little claw grab at her hind leg. She looked down and behind her to see a rather anxious looking Spike looking back.
"Hey Twilight, so, your new friend is cool and all. Really cool, actually," the dragon admitted, glancing back at the pith helmet Dash had refused to take off, "but she's not going to be staying here, is she? I'm kinda used to having this space to myself, and it was fine when Pinkie stayed in the basement because that's her space now, you know?"
"But now they're kind of everywhere?" Twilight opined, face almost wistful.
Spike watched his own feet as they kicked at nothing in particular. "Yeah."
Twilight hummed thoughtfully. She turned and approached them now with Spike in tow, though the little dragon was trying to hide behind her as much as possible. He probably thought this was his fault, somehow.
Pinkie and Dash were too busy giggling at something Dash had said to notice the unicorn's approach. Twilight cleared her throat, drawing their attention."So, Rainbow Dash. What would you normally be doing right about now?" The unspoken qualifier was 'if I hadn't just gotten you fired'. Best leave it unsaid.
Dash looked at Pinkie Pie nervously before she answered, only looking back at Twilight with some hesitation. "Honestly? Hiding in my office until everypony left, so nopony would yell at me. Sometimes I'd even sleep there, you know, just in case." There was a pause, and Rainbow seemed to brighten considerably. "It was fantastic, though, because I had everything I could ever need in there! An explorer always comes prepared for whatever situation befalls them!"
Pinkie gasped. "I did that too! We have so much in common!"
Neither of those answers were terribly reassuring. Asking Rainbow to leave right now... Twilight would sooner kick a puppy. At least the puppy might enjoy its brief moment of flight.
"Well... think of this as though it were a weekend," Twilight suggested, forcing a wan smile, "What would you do on a Sunday?"
Rainbow's face lit up, momentarily, before flickering and burning out. "I'd be looking for new plants for my office, I guess." Again, that she no longer had that office was left heavy in the air between them. She thought a bit more, and smiled again, just a little. "Or reading books about adventure!" She gestured at her pile. Twilight suspected Spike might have wanted her gone just because she'd nicked all his best books.
Pinkie Pie grinned. "Don't you just love it when a book's so super good that you see it in your head, like a picture?"
"Yeah! Only the star is always Rainbow Danger Dash!" Rainbow agreed.
"Well, I've got an idea," Twilight practically whispered, walking right up to their reading table and leaning in close, right between them, almost as if what she was about to say was top secret, for their ears only. Pinkie and Dash grinned, leaning closer too. "How about you two go out to Old Bones and have an afternoon picnic? You can feed the birds, too, if you want. I think Pinkie certainly would." Pinkie's smile lit up the room, and she turned to Dash with the most hopeful expression Twilight had ever seen on the pony.
"I'll introduce you to Gummy!" Pinkie declared, "He doesn't talk much anymore, though. He was my bestest friend in the whole wide world before you and Twilight!"
Rainbow looked at Pinkie in confusion. "Isn't Old Bones a grave..." she trailed off, noticing the meaningful look Twilight was burning into her. Dash's eyes widened in realization, "Oh, I mean, gravely serious place to have a picnic? We should bring extra-special food for the birds, then! The finest loaf of bread money can buy! To the bakery!" It was an admirable recovery. Twilight nodded in approval.
Dash needed to know what she was dealing with, in Pinkie. It wasn’t Twilight’s place to tell her, though. Let Pinkie show her, on her own turf, on her own terms. Even if she didn’t realize that was what she was doing.
Pinkie blinked. "What's a bakery?"
"You'll love it," Twilight assured her, "it's where they make cakes, and cookies, and eclaires--"
"And muffins and pies!" Rainbow added emphatically.
Pinkie jumped out of her seat, knocking her pile of books over. Twilight winced as they fell, winced at every bent page and dented cover... Had it been anypony else, they would have been tugged by the ear until they'd been evicted from the premises. Still, with Pinkie practically vibrating with happiness, it was impossible to hold it against her.
"So! We shall need bits! Money! Twilight, my boffin extraordinaire and most trusted of friends! Would you fund our expedition to the wild, unkempt lands of Old Bones park?"
Most trusted of friends?
Twilight checked her filing cabinet. It had become significantly less dusty over the course of the last two weeks. There she found a rainbow file, sitting happily next to the orange and pink.
The tricky pegasus had snuck it in there when she wasn't looking. Figured.
"Here you go!" Spike said, snapping Twilight out of her reverie, dumping a large wicker basket on the table between the three ponies. "A big picnic basket for you, with enough bits for whatever you want!" He turned quickly to Twilight. "But not too much," he said hurriedly, earning a rather approving look from his adoptive big sister.
"Well done, Spike. Excellent initiative."
"The dragon truly is the greatest batman an explorer could ask for!" Dash declared, scooping up the picnic basket grandly, "Come, Pinkie! Adventure awaits!" Rainbow's wings twitched in anticipation. "I'll show you all my best evasive maneuvers!"
Pinkie pronked up, ready to go with her, when she stopped rather suddenly – impressive indeed when the mare was constantly twitching at least something at all times – and turned to Twilight with big, watery blue eyes.
"Twilight," she asked, sounding almost scared, "is it okay if I spend the night at Dashie's?"
It was remarkably sudden, but she was worried she'd hurt Twilight's feelings just by asking. That was silly, though, she could never hurt Twilight's feelings just for wanting to spend time with a new friend.
What she should have been worried about, though, was the very real possibility that the question would break Twilight's heart. She couldn't blame Pinkie for that, though. Not even Twilight had thought about that possibility until it had already happened.
"I'm not 'Dashie'." Rainbow grumbled, oblivious to Twilight's confusion as the unicorn clutched at her chest, "I'm Rainbow 'Danger!' Dash!"
"You can be both!" Pinkie explained, "Just like I'm Pinkie Pie and TESLA! You're Dashie, too."
Rainbow Dash flushed a bit, looking just the slightest bit uncomfortable and whole heaping loads of embarrassed. Twilight's heart warmed a bit at that, and mended. Of course Pinkie would, and should, want to leave, and explore.
"Why do you want to stay at our daring explorer's house, Pinkie?" Twilight smiled, trying to keep the hurt from her face. She couldn't keep it from her eyes, though, and Pinkie was rather perceptive.
"It's not like I don't think this place is just the best, and that you're not really nice to me, because it is and you are," Pinkie explained, "but Dash says her apartment's almost as cool as her office, and her office sounded really, really cool, and I really want to go see it!"
Having seen Rainbow's office herself, that was a curiosity Twilight could understand. It meant that it really was nothing personal.
"Well, then, I guess I'll see you two tomorrow." A thought, then, made her feel rather better. "Applejack and I should have everything ready for you then, Rainbow."
Rainbow flashed Twilight a winning smile, touching a hoof to the brim of her pith helmet, head tilted in the slightest inclination of respect, as she walked past. "Don't worry, fair Twilight! I shall have the lovely fair maiden safe and returned to her lodgings on the morrow, what ho!"
Twilight raised an eyebrow, and her lip tugged upward in wry amusement. "Fair maiden?"
Pinkie Pie caught up to Dash and pantomimed a swoon, or at least an over-exaggeration of one, hanging off the pegasus just the littlest bit and batting her eyelashes coquettishly. "Is that what I am, now, is it?"
"You know what I meant!" Rainbow laughed as she carried the picnic basket and dragged the pink mare out of that small clearing in the forest of shelves.
And then Twilight was alone, save for Spike, who was guiltily wringing his hands. He didn't quite occupy as much... space, though, as Pinkie Pie did. She had gotten used to the energy, and having Rainbow around had only exacerbated things. So, with just herself and her faithful assistant around, things felt rather... hollow. Empty. Like the library was simply far too big for the two occupants it contained, no matter how much of the actual space had been filled with books. Now even they no longer provided her comfort.
The night would be lonely, yes. Twilight had only just adapted to this 'friend' phenomenon, now, and to have the rug quite so thoroughly and abruptly pulled out from under her...
You don't seem to appreciate just how empty a space truly is until some small thing comes along and fills it.
Twilight was woken by three hammering knocks right in her ear. This may be because she had chosen to make camp and fall asleep by the front door. She looked longingly at the coffee machine beside her.
She scooped up a hoofful of the ground beans and unceremoniously dumped them in her mouth, chewing them only briefly before swallowing the dry, bitter mess.
Twilight may still have had terrible bed hair. She may not have showered or eaten. But she had 'drank' her morning coffee, and so she deemed herself ready to face the day.
Or at least the door.
"You didn't use the doorbell," Twilight accused, failing to hide an eager smile.
"Yeah, Ah know," Applejack shrugged easily, not bothering to hide her own smile, which was just as eager as the one the unicorn was suppressing. "Just wanted to make sure you knew it was me."
Twilight laughed. She didn't even bother trying to hide it. Why would she?
She was in the company of a friend.
Applejack looked down at the mattress on the floor, at Twilight's condition, then at Twilight herself. Or at least the rear half of her, if the way she had leaned over – overbalancing slightly – and begun smirking would indicate. Which it did. It did indicate it quite clearly.
Twilight flushed and threw the blanket over herself for modesty. "What?" she demanded, rather testily.
"Oh, nothin', nothin'," Applejack hummed, wiping a hoof off on the doormat. "Just a nice sparklebutt you got there."
"You were looking at my cutie mark!" Twilight tried to snap, to snarl, but really it came out as an embarrassed squeal. "That's really personal!"
"Which is why you were sleepin' in the buff," AJ pointed out, eyebrow raised to complement the fashionable smirk she was wearing, "by your front door. In view of the street. Where absolutely everypony could look in."
Twilight squeaked, throwing the blanket down to grab Applejack and all but throw her inside, slamming the door behind them. She leaned against it, panting heavily.
Applejack looked at her uncovered flanks, wiggling her eyebrows. "Nice stars. Real pretty."
"Would you stop looking?" Twilight hissed, as red as an apple. "Why are you late?"
"Because, this is the first time I made sure you were last on my delivery route. Didn't want customers bitin' my head off again. I've been gettin' awful late in them, doin' this part time stuff for y'all."
Twilight darted up the laddered labyrinth, desperately fleeing Applejack's amused stare. Her bedroom was nestled into an alcove, buried behind – and this should come as no great shock to the observant – great piles of books.
A boiler suit and a blouse; all she needed. Well, and a brush. Maybe some eyeliner, but only a little...
Oh. Right. Applejack was waiting. Kept company with the memory of her naked rear end. Gah!
Twilight hurriedly dropped the cosmetics kit in her magical glow and bolted back from behind the little alcove behind the books, back out to find Applejack riding the elevator up, alone, waving at her with a rather cheeky little smile.
Twilight raced up the ladders, jumping between gaps, trying to outpace the elevator. It took an early lead, but soon the sheer weight of the hydraulic fluid began to accumulate in the piston, and Twilight only got faster. A few books clattered from shelves to the floors far below – careless hooffalls – but that didn't matter.
The unicorn beat the elevator to the top, but only just.
"Well done, partner," Applejack congratulated as the elevator wrenched itself home, the scissor doors clattering open, "you didn't have to race me though, you know?"
"Yeah. Wonderin' why you did that. Mighty impressive performance though. Certainly got a set of legs on you."
"I... you..." Twilight stammered, gasping and grasping at words that would not come.
"You have absolutely no idea why you just did that, huh, sugarcube?" Applejack chuckled again.
"You saw my cutie mark!" Twilight finally blurted out. "That's really personal! It's everything about who a pony is!"
"Well, shucks, I know that. I'll show you mine, if it'll make us square?"
"This is not highschool!" Twilight stomped a hoof, eyes forced closed from sheer force of indignation.
"Huh, highschool? Most ponies try that 'round fillyhood. You know, when they first get it and it's all shiny and novel."
"That was highschool for me! I graduated young and awkward!" Twilight's voice was getting dangerously high pitched now, even as Applejack just threw more heat into the equation. She was rather like a kettle, at this moment. "You aren't helping!"
Applejack shrugged and pulled down her overalls, Twilight protesting the whole way the denim slid down, until...
"Huh. Apples. That was... really anticlimactic."
"Yep," Applejack chuckled, throwing her overalls back up and jumping a little, just until it settled right. "Don't seem so special now, does it?"
"It might not be to you, but to me--"
"It's a bright coloured picture on your butt. Pretty one, at that, but that's all it is." Applejack rolled her eyes, walking past Twilight and towards the Telescope, upon which rested the designs for the new generator. Twilight hadn't even told Applejack she needed her help, or even that she had wanted it. The farmer-cum-blacksmith had just known. She had even changed an important and decidedly busy schedule just to accommodate Twilight.
And Twilight realized something; So what if this mare knew something as personal as her cutie mark?
After all... what was a secret between friends?
The generator had been relatively easy to put together with the – admittedly expensive – components that Applejack and Twilight had pieced together. It was only a few hours of work before the Princess-damned heap of metal was ready for field testing.
It resembled a washing machine that had had an uncouth relationship with a cotton-candy machine, resulting in a morbidly obese child that could hide a pony within its depths.
Wires sprang from it gallantly through thick, black tubes – the treated rubber had cost almost as much as the wire itself – and down into the capacitor banks below that Pinkie had already established. It might have been more efficient to have built the generator down there, but the simple fact of the matter was that there simply wasn't enough room for it. The large, open plateau of the Observatory dome, however, did not have such limitations.
Applejack removed her green welder's mask, wiping sweat and oil and metal particulate from her brow with the back of a foreleg, which was then wiped off against her overalls."Woo. That was some thirsty work. Reckon we go snaffle some cider from the cart and call it a day?" She was leaning now, over the top of it, resting her weight on the machine.
"Nothing more we can do now, not until Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie get back," Twilight agreed from the across the metal thing they'd made. She tried to copy AJ's casual, laid back recline against the machine, but just ended up sliding on it and falling over.
Fortunately, Applejack had looked away, and only looked back up when Twilight had madly scrambled to regain her footing.
The earth-pony side-eyed her a bit. "Who's Rainbow and Pinkie?"
"Oh," she jumped a bit. “Ah, Pinkie you know. Sort of. She was asleep last time," Twilight explained. "But she's... she's a friend. And, for the foreseeable future, my tenant."
"Yuh-huh," Applejack muttered skeptically, then louder said "So, why do we gotta wait for your tenant?"
"Oh! Ah, Pinkie's the one that's helped all this come together. She knows a lot more about electricity than I do, and probably ever will."
Applejack's skeptical half-frown became a playful half-smile, all with just the tiniest movement of the corners of her mouth. "And here I thought you was the smart one."
"Were the smart one," Twilight corrected, absent-mindedly.
"Oh, I know," AJ's half-smile became a full on grin, "I just thought I could trip you into sayin’ you were the smart one, past tense. You just did, by the way."
Twilight winced a bit, but couldn't help but snort. She'd been had! Foiled by a mere earth pony farmer! Now she could never truly be part of the Unicorn Master Race. They'd take away her membership card, they would.
"What about Rainbow Dash?" Applejack mused, relaxing her jaw and rolling it around a bit. "What's she for?"
"Oh, she's a pegasus, a skilled lightning manipulator," Twilight explained. She was about to go on when Applejack held up a hoof.
"Say no more. So, she's the battery. Gotcha."
Twilight flinched a bit. It felt... wrong to summarize a pony as a tool. Insulting. "Well, she's more than just the battery," she corrected brusquely, blowing her bangs with an irked little puff of air.
Another sidelong look, both eyebrows shot up. "So, a friend too, then? Well, ain't that mighty nice. Didn't think you had any first time I rocked up here. Uh, no offense, but that doorbell was too dusty for you to get many guests."
Twilight was about to get indignant, to escalate, when she realized she had no ground on which to stand. As wrong as that was now, it had certainly been true at the time. She hung her head as she dwelled on that.
"Shucks, don't feel bad about it. Can never have too many friends. Just seems like you've been busy."
A wan smile at that. She had been busy, hadn't she? A kidnapping, an assault of a captain of industry, the first extraterrestrial contact... it had been one hectic month. "So what about you?" Twilight asked.
"Well, I ain't got many friends," Applejack admitted, sinking further down with her lean and dipping towards the floor. "I got customers, and I got favourites, but friends are a bit... well, they're a bit of a luxury commodity. Just trying to keep the farm from goin' under, don't have the time."
She must have noticed Twilight's horribly guilty expression. "Hey, I said many, I didn't say none, and you're certainly one of 'em. Best part is, you and I, we can just shoot the breeze, and I'm still bringing in the bits for back home. I don't have to worry."
"I'm glad," Twilight said, with as much meaning as she could muster.
That was when, of course, somepony hammered at the front door. Then two ponies crying out 'For adventure!' in unison, burst into giggling fits. Twilight twitched, hard enough for even AJ to notice.
"So, you get guests, just none of 'em use the doorbell?"
"It would seem so," Twilight sighed. "Come on, I'll introduce you."
They met at the door, Applejack standing tight by Twilight's side, Pinkie by Rainbow's. Four ponies; it was starting to feel a bit crowded.
Crowded, but in a good way. Crowded like a dinner table at Hearth’s Warming. Cozy.
Twilight was about to dwell on that when Applejack and Rainbow Dash started sizing each other up. Applejack was no longer at Twilight's side, and Rainbow was no longer at Pinkie's. Pinkie and Twilight now made a rather confused pair of their own as Applejack and Rainbow found some space wide enough to circle each other like two cats about to fight over territory, backs arched and tails flicking menacingly.
"Thought I recognized you, ya varmint," Applejack accused, keeping the same distance between herself and the pegasus at all times. "Reckon now we can settle old scores."
"You're crazy!" Rainbow shot right back. "Like, Pinkie's insane – no offense Pinkie – but you're crazy!"
"None taken?" Pinkie added, giving Twilight a rather confused look. Twilight's own mirrored it rather impressively.
Rainbow rocked back onto her hind legs, circling her forelegs around each other in a boxer's pose, jabbing at the air occasionally. "I demand retribution! Satisfaction! Sparring and fisticuffs and what-have-you!"
"Wait, wait," Twilight said as she massaged her temples, "why?"
"She chased me with a lasso and a bullwhip! And it hurt!" Rainbow yelped, her scratchy voice breaking with indignation. "Explorers should have bullwhips, not be bullwhipped!"
"You were trespassin'!" Applejack snapped, pawing at the ground like a bull about to stampede.
"So?!" Rainbow snapped right back.
"So, you were hackin' at all my trees with a machete, and stealin' all the good fruit!" Applejack snarled.
Twilight raised a hoof to interrupt. "Actually, it was probably a kukri, not a machete." Both Rainbow and Applejack looked at her in confusion, though Pinkie just seemed relieved the fighting had abated for a moment. She looked very uneasy about the situation. "It's the kind of knife she had in her office. Okay," Twilight sighed, "carry on."
Rainbow took that as her cue. "I was living off the lands, what ho! I was exploring the untamed wilderness!"
"What untamed wilderness?!" Applejack snorted, a genuine mix of anger and confusion, "It was a farm. That's about as tamed as it gets! And it wasn't the land you were livin' off, it was my land! There's a difference!"
"No there isn't!" Rainbow growled. "You can't just own land!"
"Yes you can?!" Applejack howled, now. "It's called a deed! I have one, legal and all! It means I own that land!"
"Yeah well... you were still a rather unwelcoming host!"
"You were stealin' mah livelihood!"
"You ate them, too!"
Twilight sighed. "Pinkie, please just... stay right here. Make sure this doesn't get even more stupid than it already is." She waited until she received a rather tentative little nod before she went to retrieve a small table from a reading corner. The unlit candles on it she placed gently on the floor, and Twilight carried the table – slinging it across her withers – back to the two ponies, who still seemed to be at each other's throats.
Hopefully it wouldn't turn literal. Throats tended to bleed a lot, and bloodstains were very difficult to get out of dry pages.
Twilight slammed the table down in the center of the invisible circle the two warring ponies had created. "You two. Hoofwrestle. Now."
"I ain't touchin' her, less it's to buck her head clean off! You know how much she ate before we caught her?"
"I was only there for a week! I wasn't hurting anypony, I was just off on an adventure! You wouldn't know adventure if it came up behind you and–"
Twilight grabbed both ponies by the ear with her magic at that point. It only took five pounds of pressure to rip an ear off, if applied in the correct location. It took even less force to convince a pony it was in their best interest to follow the tugging before it might come to that.
Rainbow and Applejack were dumped on the floor on either side of the small end table. Twilight pulled a kerchief from her blouse pocket and wrapped it around one of the forelegs of each pony, resting their elbows on the table.
"Hoofwrestle. Now. I want this all out of your system before you start turning my library into a war zone.” Her eyes were as serious as a terminal diagnosis, and they passed over both ponies equally. “Which I might not even be all that upset with, but you're currently in the fiction section and War is in non-fiction, over there. This is a matter of categorization."
Pinkie stepped closer, now. The situation had gotten less hostile, and her natural curiosity was once more taking over.
The two ponies at the table pushed against each other as hard as they could, visible beads of sweat falling from their brows, getting in their eyes. Wiping it away would be a tactical disadvantage though and, besides, you didn't need to see to be able to hoofwrestle.
"You're stronger than you look, little cowpoke," Applejack grunted, leaning into the foreleg. It stayed, but their hooves were vibrating dangerously from the exertion.
"And I look this good doing it, too!" Rainbow snorted. “Finally, a foe worthy of my mighty muscles! One who might challenge me at last!”
Applejack grunted, just starting to gain a lead against Rainbow. “Do you always talk like this?”
“Yes,” Twilight and Pinkie answered together on Rainbow’s behalf, with varying degrees of enthusiasm.
“Hey! Whose side are you guys on, anyway?” Rainbow growled, just barely pushing back AJ’s advances.
“The side that lets me shoot the BEAM at the moon without any of my friends hurting any of my other friends,” Twilight answered, as dry as an ocean was not. “Are either of you willing to quit, yet?”
“Nope!” they both shouted simultaneously, leaning into the other. Twilight rolled her eyes.
“C’mon, Pinkie. I’ll show you what Applejack and I have been up to, and you tell me all about your day with Dash. It looks like these two are going to be at it for a while.”
Pinkie looked dubious. She looked at the two ponies at the table with obvious concern, etching years into her face that she simply wasn’t old enough to have, before ultimately trusting Twilight’s judgement. The two took the elevator up, ignoring the grunts coming from below.
It didn’t really matter who was right, even if it was almost certainly Applejack, what mattered is they stopped fighting. They might damage the books!
Oh, and also Twilight valued their company and it would be great if she could have them in the same room at the same time.
But mostly the books.
Pinkie Pie was trying out Twilight’s gift for her: a collapsible telescope about the size of a pony’s ear, encased in a rather fetching series of brass tubes. She’d been using it to check on Dash and Applejack from their perch above.
Apparently the contest had no winners, not yet.
“It’s been half an hour,” Pinkie murmured, her voice trembling with worry. “Are they going to be okay?”
“You want to go check on them, don’t you?” Twilight sighed. Pinkie nodded, her neck more like a spring than bone and flesh. Twilight sighed again, louder and wearier. She’d almost found where the Mare was tonight, and whilst she was so close...
But she sort of needed Rainbow Dash to power the BEAM. And for Applejack not to hold a grudge.
Twilight and Pinkie took the long elevator ride down together; Twilight in stoic silence, Pinkie twitching away at her side, inventing all of the most absurd possibilities and the wildest of speculation about what might have happened.
It would have been far more amusing if each new hypothesis didn’t have a possibility of truth at its core.
The scissor doors rattled open, the occupants of the elevator stepped out. Now to see how far things had elevated in their absence.
The two scientists navigated the labyrinth of books with ease, finally reaching the entrance foyer where they had abandoned Dash and Applejack. There they found...
Two ponies smiling, laughing. The hooves were still tied together, true, but there was no struggle.
“I don’t know what got into the fool girl’s head,” Applejack was laughing.
Rainbow Dash was pounding her free hoof against the table, hacking and wheezing, face red and tears streaming from her eyes. “Stars and stones! Where did she even get her hooves on so many fireworks?”
“Never found out! I’m not even sure she does, anymore!”
“Aw, man, I wish I had a sister.” Rainbow’s laughs petered out, slowly but noticeably, until she was just left panting. “Sounds like an adventure all its own!”
“It surely is, at that. I’ll get back to you in a few good years on whether it was all worth it or not.”
Twilight coughed. Both ponies looked back at her, surprised.
“Well, howdy there, Ms Sparkle.” Applejack tilted down the brim of her flat-cap with the free foreleg in a half-salute.
“You two really snuck up on us, huh?” Rainbow beamed at Pinkie.
“Who won?” Pinkie asked excitedly. Ponies weren’t angry anymore, so it was right back to games. Sometimes Twilight wished the world seemed so simple for herself.
Rainbow got a sly look, suddenly forcing her competing hoof down. “Huh! An explorer always plays dirty!”
The hoof managed to get Applejack’s about halfway down to the table before the farmpony’s hoof rolled, springing with the force that Rainbow had put into the foreleg and pushing it right back into her. The blue hoof rocketed right back over, slamming against table. Applejack nodded.
“And down on the farm, we win things fair and square.”
“Aw, hay, no fair. You cheated!”
Applejack raised a single eyebrow, letting it hang with significant meaning for a moment. Rainbow gulped.
“Er, I mean... good game? Great game.” Then she whispered, in what she probably thought was too quiet for Twilight to hear. “Rematch tomorrow?”
Twilight smiled gently, but still cleared her throat noisily, drawing the attention of the gathered ponies.
“I’ve done the maths, and if we start charging right now, we should be able to send... several hundred flashes. Dots and dashes too. Let’s just hope the Mare understands morse code.”
Rainbow had been ‘plugged into’ – as Pinkie called it – the lightning machine. So long as she charged it like a raging bull for more than an hour or so, Twilight was no longer limited by the amount of bursts she could send; only by the visibility of the moon.
The only thing stopping her from talking to the Mare was a dreary coming dawn, courtesy of the Princess of Mourning.
Twilight had been close to finding the Mare again before they had retrieved their ‘battery’, and now was just the fine tuning. Once more she found the Mare running from the tide of the blackening moon, the sliver of an ivory cue ball peaking out from behind the eight on the billiards table. Only now, Twilight noticed, the Mare kept looking up, kept looking back behind her.
The Mare was looking for her.
Twilight’s heart fluttered, and a rather determined smile touched her lips. She did not seek to disappoint.
The big red button had been removed, now replaced with the device that had sat upon Pinkie’s wireless lecterns all those weeks ago. Her hoof twitched in anticipation.
A beam of light shot forth, penetrating the breadth of the aether, made its long journey across the span between the two celestial bodies and, its aim true, it caught the Mare’s eye.
Was that sparkle in the Mare’s eye from catching the light of the BEAM, or something else entirely? Probably just the former, Twilight thought, even as the Mare ground to a halt.
The Telescope stopped moving with her, too. Twilight reeled it back, microns that swept a hundred meters.
The Mare wrote first, dragging a foot beside her in the lunar surface. Again to make the question mark she stood off to the side and kicked out with a little twirl and then jumped, landing heavily on all four hooves to make the period.
“Can you talk?”
Twilight smiled as she pressed the little metal circuit at her hooftip closed, a single beam of light.
A whole kaleidoscope of butterflies emerged from long-dormant chrysalis in her gut, then, when the Mare lit up. The dark blue mare seemed brighter, now. Lighter. Less somber. It was humbling to think that it was Twilight herself who had achieved it.
The Mare on the Moon then erased her question mark, swatting at the lunar dust with her tail until it was just empty ground once more. It was filled with a new word, and the question mark ritual was completed again.
“Can you talk more?”
Now Twilight’s expression turned somewhat mad. Had her face not been pressed to the Telescope’s eyepiece, it would have been a severe concern for any of her new friends that would be subjected to it. It was simply because she knew exactly what would come next.
Long, short, long, long and pause. Short and pause. Short, short, short and pause.
Twilight watched as the Mare did something she had never seen an Equus-bound pony pull off. She got so excited she leaned forward, as if for a pushup, then sprang! Spinning herself up and over, managing to pull off a tight little backflip!
It appeared that the Mare understood the gravity of the situation.
The Mare blinked, then, and made a desperate spinning gesture with her hoof, counterclockwise.
“Go back! Again!”
The Mare stared intensely up at the night sky, at Twilight, waiting for the next message, or at least for the last one again.
Twilight’s hoof danced across the switch. Long, short, long, long and pause.
Now the Mare threw up her hooves.
A long line, a short line, then two longs. Next to it she drew a single letter: Y.
Very clever girl. And here Twilight thought that teaching a pony morse code from across the gulf of the aether was going to be difficult.
A single dot. The Mare considered something, then drew a grid in the sand. Six rows of eight, with Y being in the second from the bottom, second from the right. Its code was in the square beside it. The Mare began filling out all the letters of the alphabet, then, as Twilight watched in rapt fascination.
Nopony asked her to step aside so that they could see. Pinkie was sleeping off the last of her excess nervousness, apparently having not gotten much sleep at Dash’s the night before. Rainbow Dash had gone home exhausted, but proud. Applejack had a whole farm and a life outside of this place. And Spike had gone to bed, since the boilers need not be tended to.
So it was just Twilight alone. Alone but for the Mare that captivated her so. They might as well have been the only ponies on their entire respective worlds at that moment. In fact, one of them rather was.
When the Mare was finished at last, she looked up at Twilight and began standing next to each letter on the grid.
Short then long.
The Mare nodded, drew the dot and dash in the dead world’s ash, and moved down to the next.
Long, short, short and short.
They went through every single letter of the alphabet, one at a time. The Mare made a mistake or two, and whenever she did Twilight would send out two short dots, for no. Fortunately the first mistake was on ‘M’, which the Mare had read as “Long, short”. ‘I’ had been two dots, and they both couldn’t be two dots, so...
Trial and error, a pantomime across the aether between worlds.
A fair bit of error could possibly be attributed to just how shaky Twilight’s hooves had become.
The Mare, too, had become more creative with how she would write each new symbol. A pirouette – that of an old dance form that Twilight had never seen before outside of pictures – became her method of making dots at the end of lines.
Twilight had even begun to indulge the flair, spelling out each new letter slower, to allow the Mare more time to draw each symbol.
Perhaps some of her later mistakes were even just a way to draw out the experience, to see how many new ways the Mare could furrow the dust with her hooves... Perhaps, but the truth would likely be carried to the unicorn’s grave.
For the first time she had seen the Mare, Twilight had realized, truly realized, that the Mare was completely and utterly naked at all times. Until now she had been so thoroughly distracted by the notion that the mare was on the moon to have noticed that her subtle lunar cutie mark was on display at all times
A lunar cutie mark. The decidedly naked Mare on the Moon was quite figuratively and literally mooning her. She giggled, then, as they approached the last letter.
Long, long, short, short.
It seemed the Mare wanted to make the most of this final letter, as well. She stretched out liked a cat, stretching her belly as low to the ground as possible. Then, she pulled herself taut, lifting her back inch by inch and drawing the pairs of legs together until the tips of her hooves were practically touching. Her knees bent, holding that ballerina’s en point, then uncoiled, landing her neatly beside the marks left by her languid stretch for two neat, short dots.
Twilight had to fan herself a bit. That was... intense. A mare that old could still be that flexible, then? Very, very flexible... and with all those years, would surely have some experience before she became trapped up on that cold, lifeless rock...
At the very least, hundreds of years of pent up urges and frustrations...
That train of thought was rapidly derailed when Twilight caught herself almost drooling on the clean-to-the-point-of-sterile Telescope. It would not do to ruin such a wonderfully precise, modern, advanced instrument on backwards, degenerate thoughts.
That didn’t mean she wasn’t allowed to save them for later, though.
The Mare looked at the six rows by eight, nodding in satisfaction. She turned, now, back to the Telescope, and the look of raw, childlike excitement and wonder in that pony’s expression was enough to thoroughly banish whatever remained of any impure thought from Twilight’s head. She felt almost guilty for having had them in the first place.
The Mare’s horn flashed, short and long. Not nearly as bright as the BEAM’s light, but it didn’t need to be, as Twilight could see it as clear as if it were right in front of her own face with the Telescope. The Mare was being very careful, very slow, her head moving from letter to letter on the grid.
Long, long, pause, long, short, long and long.
The next one was trickier, but it was not like the missives were encrypted. Just that some letters were naturally more difficult than others.
Long, short, pause, short, long, pause, long, long, pause and short.
Twilight would have rocked back out of her seat if that didn’t carry the risk of missing even a single letter. Her name! The Mare on the Moon had a name!
Twilight didn’t even need to translate the next two letters. From context, it could only be ‘is’. After that, she watched, practically forcing her eye into the eyepiece itself, as if that could bring them closer for this next moment, the final reveal.
Short, long, short, short.
“L” - A letter!
Short, short, long.
“U” - A vowel!
“N” - A whole syllable!
Not silence.That was the wrong word for it. It was a finish. An end. Completion.
She had expected a name to encompass the breadth of silence, of finality. Caesura.
Or perhaps one that summarized her gloomy countenance, like Stygian, though that seemed to have changed dramatically, recently. The loneliness she had first seen in Her was now a distant memory.
What she did not expect was for her to be Luna. She had been named for her prison.
Luna – she would have to adjust to the name, she had become so used to thinking of her as The Mare – began dragging one last message into the dust, below the grid of code.
“‘Til the morrow’s eve. Farewell.”
Not like this! Not so soon! She had so many questions, so few answers, and–
Dawn broke. The sun pierced the sky and wiped the stain that was the moon’s grim countenance from its surface.
The next day felt like a blur to Twilight. Falling into her secluded bed at 6am and having forgotten to unset the alarm for nine... Not the brightest of mistakes.
It had cost her an alarm clock, at the very least, and they weren’t cheap. At least she could take pride in just how thoroughly she had obliterated it from existence. With great power came great irresponsibility, if one was sufficiently petty.
She had revelled in that small victory for the few moments before she rolled over and fell back asleep.
It’s strange, isn’t it, that the period of most lucid dreams is in that fitful state of rest? Of being awoken from a deeper sleep and allowed to settle back only in the warmer wading waters.
It was there that Twilight heard her sing. It was her, she knew it. It was no coincidence.
It was in that way of dreams that the song and the space were one and the same. It is impossible to distinguish where the sense of sight ended and sound began, or the other way around.
Luna sang for her, not in a voice of smooth velvet, but suitably sonorous, regardless. It was like liquid ice, distinguishable from its superficial cousin water in how it caught the light and the dark and the everything-in-between and played with it, twisted it within itself.
Banished by her sister dearest
She is cursed to walk the moon
A thousand years is at its nearest
A prophecy now due too soon
The infinite of moon’s white sands
The kingdom I would gift to you
A satellite far from mortal lands
If prophecy is to come true
If what is foretold is to take shape
The stars will aid in her escape
A languid, languished sigh, and Luna’s singing ceased. A deep, though intensely feminine, voice pierced the dreamscape. Fog and mist and blackness thrummed with the words, spoken from very tired lips.
“I do not know what it all means, either, if it is any consolation. It is a collection of shared memory from deepest dreamers, snatched and brought together with lacquered night. I am not privy to all secrets. What disturbs me most is that the stars have served their cold vigil for nigh on a millenium now, and I do not foresee that changing.
But I do see you, now, Twilight Sparkle. Thank you for returning to me strength that I thought forever lost to me.”
Twilight sat bolt upright in bed, drenched in cold sweat, which was particularly unpleasant if you were a creature of fur.
Was that real? Stupour? Caffeine withdrawals?
Perhaps it really was more than Pinkie’s smiles that were contagious.
A quick shower, and an awful lot of soap, was had in the en suite. After a thorough drying, Twilight felt much better. She still wouldn't feel quite equine until she had her morning coffee, but... baby steps.
Spike met her in the entry foyer, alerted by the sound of the coffee engine. There were many things coffee was; pure life force distilled in a bitter brown form, an extra two hours in a day usually restricted to twenty four, the sole reason for several prominent University students (and faculty) not keeling over mid-lecture...
What it was not was subtle. It appeared that attaching a steam boiler greater than that of a locomotive did nothing to improve matters.
“Good afternoon, sleeping beauty,” Spike chuckled.
Twilight looked at him curiously, quizzically. “It’s just past midday, isn’t it?”
“It’s six in the evening,” Spike guffawed, as if this were the funniest thing in the world, “Pinkie’s at Rainbow Dash’s again – just 'cause you hadn’t woken up!” Spike reassured Twilight when he noticed her expression fall, pale and darken.
“Did Rainbow remember to recharge the capacitors first?”
“Huh? Oh, yeah. She did that before they headed out. I can’t believe you slept through that; it’s as loud as a thunderstorm. It is literally as loud as having a thunderstorm inside your house, and you slept through it.”
“I need to use the telescope,” Twilight demanded. “Right now. Is the moon out yet?”
“Well, it’s getting closer to winter every day... maybe? I can’t exactly see through the big copper roof either.”
Twilight rushed past her assistant, almost at a gallop. He called after her in a tone that might have been hurt, might have been concern, but that wasn’t important.
The Telescope. It was just dark enough, the moon was visible through the tainted light curling through the atmosphere.
The moon’s surface had been used like a poet’s spiral-ring notebook. A villanelle singing Twilight’s praises. A pantoum asking for her hoof in courtship. Several attempts at haiku, all terrible, frankly. One notably didn’t end in a word, but an angry smattering of hoofprints. A canzone that looked like it started to get rather turgid towards the end, and there, Luna herself, furiously destroying the evidence with flushed cheeks.
All in all, almost a square kilometer of lunar surface had been converted into the largest poetry publication in the long history of ponykind.
Twilight’s hoof lept out, unconsciously. A second later, that light glinted in Luna’s eye.
The Mare on the Moon just seemed to redouble her attempts at destroying the evidence.
Another flash. Luna seemed to sigh, in spite of the utter lack of atmosphere, in defeat and resignation more than anything.
Twilight sent her message slowly, making certain Luna could consult her carefully constructed grid. “What is all this?”
Luna started writing in the moon’s surface, but couldn’t seem to find a spot within eyeshot of her handy chart that hadn’t been filled with poetry of some form. Her horn began to glow. Slow, impermanent, but functional.
“I could not think of the right words to say. So I suppose I tried to say them all, in the hopes that at least some would be serviceable. This soft-skulled fool is far too long out of practice in discussing her feelings.”
If she had been out of practice before, she had certainly gotten plenty now.
Luna seemed to think about that for a long moment. She scribbled in the dust before her, far too small for Twilight to read, and her horn took a few false starts.
“For nearly a thousand years I was lost and forgotten.” Rather than spell ‘thousand’ Luna had drawn a ‘1’ and ‘0’, tapping the former once and the latter three times after. “Then I felt you watching me, and I no longer felt forgotten. No longer lost.”
So she had known! Now Twilight felt... distinctly creepy. Luna was naked after all. Still, the Mare didn’t seem to take offense. Truly, she seemed to feel quite the opposite.
“Then you reached out, and I no longer felt alone, no matter how fleeting.”
There was a long, unspoken moment where they both remembered the pain of that last flash not long before.
“And now you have given me the strength to journey into dreams again without fear of the Nightmare.” An error in translation? Twilight didn’t think so, but she couldn’t explain why not. “And I reached out to you and–”
Luna just stopped there, looking pained, conflicted. It was a long, far too long, time before she finished her sentence.
“And if I have the words for what I saw of you in dreams, Twilight Sparkle,” Twilight had never told Luna her name, yet there it was, “then surely they are buried in all these attempts. Ignore the canzone for they are not there.” Luna flushed furiously. “I may have gotten overly enthusiastic in that attempt.”
What do you say to that?
Twilight was at an utter loss.
This was beyond her. She needed help.
“I need time to respond favorably. Know that I leave you only until I have an answer for you, and not a second sooner.”
“I understand,” Luna replied, her horn glow dimmer now than the pulsing star it had been before, subdued. Twilight watched helplessly though the telescope as the Mare on the Moon found a blank patch of the moon’s surface and attempted to do the same thing Twilight herself was.
Both attempted to find the right words.