• Published 6th Feb 2014
  • 5,087 Views, 168 Comments

An Old-Fashioned Notion - Thereisnospoon303



The battle between Loki and the Avengers is altered by a twist of fate. Now stranded in the idyllic world of Equestria, "Earth's Mightiest Heroes" must find a way to unite alongside six colorful ponies to stop Loki's schemes.

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A Subtle Aurora

Prologue
A Subtle Aurora

Perfect. Everything was just perfect.

Equestria’s skies had never looked so beautiful. That was saying quite a bit, given how many nights Twilight Sparkle spent underneath the blanket of stars. Stargazing had always been one of her favorite hobbies ever since she was filly; while other ponies snuggled underneath blankets or took to late night socializing, Twilight regularly found herself drawn to studying the celestial bodies until they disappeared with the arrival of the morning sun. Regardless of how long she spent awake through the night, she almost constantly felt refreshed after becoming reacquainted with the stars. This time was no exception.

As Twilight gazed through her mounted telescope, she could see the first hints of sunlight well over the horizon. Princess Celestia would soon raise the sun, as she always did, and usher in a wonderful new day for Equestria. For the time being, however, Twilight remained entranced by crispness of the predawn sky. Not one single cloud obstructed the waning moonlight; the darkness of Sweet Apple Acres’ orchards ensured no artificial light would obscure the view. Standing atop the grassy hills gave Twilight the feeling she could stretch out a hoof and tap the moon. It was a rare sense of complete and total ease. A soft wind blew through tree branches, their rustling enhancing the serenity.

No enormous dragons. No invasions. No vengeful kings made of shadows. Everything was finally perfect.

“Sorry for the wait, Twi. Just wanted to make sure this here apple tea was nice and hot for ya!”

Twilight turned to see Applejack trotting up the hill, balancing a tray of steaming cups on her head. She had a small but distinct pep in her step and a broad smile on her face.

“I can’t thank you enough for your hospitality, Applejack,” Twilight said as she watched Applejack place the tray on the grass. Carefully Twilight levitated one of the cups over to her mouth and blew away some steam. “I should be the one apologizing, actually. It must be an inconvenience to have to wake up so early just so I can do a little bit of stargazing.”

“How many times do I have to tell ya? You ain’t bein’ a burden, sugarcube. I was already plannin’ on gettin’ a head start on the harvest today.” A scowl flashed across Applejack’s face as she glanced off to the side. “Can’t say the same for Apple Bloom, though.”

The cup hovered in front of Twilight. “Even so, you have my gratitude.” Taking a tentative sip, Twilight hummed in delight. “This is really delicious!”

“Darn tootin’ it is!” Applejack exclaimed. She drew down a whole cup with one gulp, gasping as hot steam left her mouth and nostrils. “Youch! Maybe I should have let it cool off first…”

After a short giggle, Twilight returned to her telescope. “I should probably take the opportunity to go over my reference materials one last time. Spike, did you bring my copy of A Complete Guide to Auroras and Atmospheric Phenomena?”

Crickets chirped and Applejack desperately tried to cool her tongue—but to Twilight Sparkle’s request, there was no reply.

“Spike, are you listening?” Twilight let out an irritated snort. “Spike?”

Turning her head, Twilight spotted Spike curled beneath a nearby tree. A snore rattled out from his open mouth, and a sliver of drool dripped further down his chin with each breath. Beneath his body sat a large, weathered book. Twilight’s eyes widened at the sight of saliva threatening to fall upon her precious tome.

“Spike!”

“Whoa-huh-what-here’s the book…!” Spike shot up to his feet. Confronted by Twilight’s disapproving glare and Applejack’s amused grin, he chuckled sheepishly. “Heh. Uh… I guess I sort of dozed off.”

Twilight kept scowling; her eyebrow slowly rose. “My book, Spike?”

“Oh, sorry!” Spike hopped off the book just as Twilight’s magic enveloped it. His shoulders sank as he watched his former pillow float away. “Shoot. It was really comfortable, too…”

Applejack chuckled. “Looks like you ain’t much of a morning dragon, now are ya, Spike?”

“I prefer to sleep in,” Spike replied. He let out a large yawn. “Speaking of which, can I go back to bed now, Twilight? I’ve got a power nap I’ve been meaning to catch up on.”

“Honestly, Spike, I don’t know how you can’t stay awake for this.” Twilight began flipping through the pages of the book. “The Crystal Lights are not something you can see every day.”

“Crystal Lights?” Applejack scratched the side of her head. “Beggin’ your pardon, Twi, but I ain’t ever heard of that before.”

Twilight, still engrossed in reading, did not bother to look up when she said, “The Crystal Lights are the prismatic display emanating from the Crystal Empire.”

Applejack blinked. “Uh, come again?”

“Remember when we”—Twilight stopped and looked up, clearing her throat—“well, when Spike and Princess Cadance restored the Crystal Heart and cast out King Sombra from the Crystal Empire? And how there was a wave of energy and we all became… crystally?”

“Sure do! And by the way, Spike,” Applejack said, winking at the dragon as she did, “that was some brave thing you did to save those Crystal Ponies. We couldn’t have done it without you.”

The compliment caused a pink flush to rise on Spike’s cheeks. He teetered back and forth on his heels. “Aww, come on, AJ. You guys would have figured out how to stop King Sombra.”

Twilight smiled, her heart warmed by Spike’s humbleness. Whatever irritation she held toward him melted away against the memories of their adventures in the Crystal Empire. “I’m not so sure about that, Spike…”

“So are these Crystal Lights the same ones that we saw all over Equestria when we left the Crystal Empire?” Applejack walked over to Twilight and took a quick peek through the telescope. “How come we don’t see ‘em now?”

“As I understand it, the Crystal Lights are most vibrant just when the sun rises, or whenever the Crystal Heart is filled with a surge of love from the Crystal Ponies.” Twilight sighed as she settled the large book down on the grass. “But trying to see the display from the library has been all but impossible, thanks to the buildings, ambient light, and hills in the north. That’s why I wanted to try to observe them from a highest point outside of Ponyville.”

“Well, we here at Sweet Apple Acres are more than happy to oblige, Twilight!” Applejack’s grin was as wide as ever. “After all, what are friends for?”

“And I promise it will be worth the wait,” said Twilight cheerfully. “If the Crystal Lights are anything like they were when we first saw them, it will be a wonderful memory to cherish.” She then glanced off into the distance. The mountains of the Frozen North were barely visible in the low-light, but a small glimmer flickered across their snowy peaks. “I wish the others were around to enjoy it, too.”

“Actually, I don’t blame them for staying in bed,” Spike muttered, waddling up to the two ponies while rubbing his eyes. “I don’t get why watching a rainbow is such a huge deal. We see them all the time.”

“The Crystal Lights are not rainbows, Spike,” Twilight said, her tone flat. “A rainbow is the result of sunlight refracted through water droplets.”

“So? They’re both the same color.”

Groaning in annoyance, Twilight slapped a hoof against her forehead. “The Crystal Lights have nothing to do with rainfall or residual water in the air. If I had to offer a hypothesis, I’d say they’re closer to an aurora.” Twilight then rubbed her chin in thought. “Actually, that makes a lot of sense, if the rising of the sun causes some electromagnetic disturbance. But that still doesn’t explain—”

Twilight felt the light tap of a hoof on her shoulder. She turned her head to see Applejack, smiling sincerely if awkwardly.

“I’m sure it’s gonna be beautiful all the same, Twilight.” Looking to the sky, Applejack’s eyes lit up in recognition. “Say! Looks like they’re already starting!”

Vague wisps of light snaked through the darkness high above Equestria. They twirled through the air from every corner of the sky, winding across one another like ribbons. The lights brewed together in a twinkling aura. A small ball of illumination swelled in the skies between Ponyville and Canterlot. The brightness increased as the strands met, their tails swirling around the single glowing point.

“That’s strange,” Twilight said, following the display. “The sun isn’t scheduled to rise for another 10 minutes 24 seconds.”

“Maybe it has to do with the Crystal Heart?” Spike offered.

“It can’t be. These lights aren’t even coming from the Crystal Empire.” Twilight magically snatched up the large book she had been reading, desperate to find answers. But as the pages flipped in rapid succession, Twilight's eyebrows grew only tighter. “I can’t find anything like this in my reference guide!”

Applejack gestured to the telescope with a hoof. “Might be worth a closer look, then.”

Twilight’s face shot up from behind the large book cover, and the anxiety that had gripped her lifted as she smiled in recognition. “Right! Good thinking, Applejack!”

Dropping the book back onto the grass, Twilight tentatively pressed an eye against the telescope. A closer look stoked her confusion. The strands of gathering lights had since grown in radiance. They spun faster, producing what looked to Twilight to be a whirlpool of energy. If a unicorn was responsible for the display, Twilight mused, their origin would be traceable, but she saw no indication of a caster manipulating a spell.

The whirlpool pulsed brighter. Blue plumes poured forth from the vortex’s mouth, like fire escaping a room, to unveil a pocket of darkness. Rubbing her eye in disbelief, Twilight gazed at the yawning hole centered inside the massive storm. The energies swirled around the darkened point in a manner reminiscent of studies on black holes and spells that collapsed in on themselves. Twilight felt the leaping thump of her heart by merely entertaining the farfetched thought of Equestria sucked into a spiral of nothingness.

Applejack, sensing Twilight’s uneasiness, spoke gently when she asked, “Is everything all right, Twi?”

“I-I thought it was just supposed to be a subtle aurora!”

Spike, watching the vortex in awe, idly scratched the scales on his cheek. “I guess those aren’t the Crystal Lights after all…”

“No, they’re not!” Twilight looked at Spike and Applejack. Her ears were folded back and eyes wide with alarm. “In fact, I have no idea what this is!”

Streaks of glittering light spilled forth from the vortex’s mouth. The dazzling display arrested the trio’s attention as fresh beams flashed across the landscape. These lights were different than those which had gathered earlier, for they were smaller, faster, and hurtling down upon Equestria. The vortex spewed forth larger clusters; the skies bloomed with the fresh arrivals.

Applejack tipped back the brim of her hat. “Shooting stars?”

Frantically Twilight took hold of her telescope again. The ambient light produced by the spinning clusters of energy blotted out the falling objects. “I can’t tell what they are exactly, but they seem to be disappearing before they hit the ground.” She shifted back the vortex. “I’m more worried about knowing what that thing is and where it came from.”

“You know me, Twi: I’m not much into magic.” Applejack gave a frown with her concession. “And even though you said otherwise, all this reminds me a bit of the Crystal Heart.”

“But it can’t be! Like I said, these energies are nowhere near the Crystal Empire.” In the midst of her hurried speech, Twilight followed the path of several beams rushing through the sky. “And I’m pretty sure the Crystal Heart wouldn’t spew mysterious junk all over Equestria.”

“How ‘bout Discord, then?” The very thought of the mischievous monster and his antics sent a shiver up Applejack’s spine. “Remember how he first showed up with the pink clouds and crazy weather?”

“He’s still locked away in stone—though I admit, this looks a lot like something he would do.”

“Changelings? That Queen Chrysalis was awfully powerful.”

“And they were defeated by my brother and Cadance. I don’t think they’ll be bothering us for a while.”

“How about a great and powerful demon king wizard, with a dark and haunted past, who wants to rule all of Equestria as part of some mad scheme for revenge?”

Twilight Sparkle and Applejack promptly turned and narrowed their gaze on a grinning Spike, who proudly held a single claw pointed up in the air. Confronted by looks of disdain and impatience, he withdrew his raised arm back to his side. Spike cleared his throat and, under a blush of embarrassment, eyed his feet and said, “Well I thought it was good guess.”

Twilight rapidly shook her head. After a hasty glance back at the sky, she realized she did not need the telescope to see the display’s increased intensity. Beneath the radiant blue shade of the vortex, the falling lights poured forth in rapid streams. Many of them burned out before they could make landfall. In the midst of the volleys, an especially bright object escaped the vortex. Twilight’s keen eyes spotted the newest arrival, drawing her back to the telescope.

An unfocused lens tracked the flashing object on its descent. She tweaked the focuser in hopes of improving her view. The most she could see was the object’s rapid plunge toward Equestria. It grew larger and brighter with each passing moment.

“I see something!” Twilight angled the telescope back further. “I might be able to figure out what those little lights are. I just need a closer look…”

“Uh, Twilight…” Applejack said, her voice wavering.

Twilight remained glued to the eyepiece. “What is it, Applejack?”

“I reckon you’re right about gettin' a closer look…”

“Hmm?”

“Because that thing is headed right for us!” Spike bellowed.

Twilight found enough sense to pull back from the telescope to see the harrowing sight. The object blazed a path toward Sweet Apple Acres. A growing roar accompanied radiant light. Mere seconds separated the object from impact. Despite Twilight and Applejack’s many adventures together, the incoming object, with all its furious noise and speed, froze them in place. The ponies simply gawked in horror beneath the burning light zooming toward them.

Spike, performing a panicked dance in one place, wailed, “Hit the deck, everypony!”

Spike’s cry at last sent the trio onto their stomachs. None of them dared to peek up at the screeching ball of light that rocketed over and beyond the hill. The sound was deafening; Spike squeezed the sides of his head with his claws while Twilight and Applejack’s ears folded backwards. Twilight’s telescope rattled on its legs before tipping over onto the soft grass with a clatter. All the tea cups Applejack had brought clinked along their saucers. The whole of Sweet Apple Acres shook at its foundations.

The earth continued to quake. A tremendous crash jolted Twilight, Applejack, and Spike into the air with such force that it felt as though Equestria had been yanked out from underneath their bodies like an old rug. The sound of trees falling replaced the object’s roar. As the echo of the impact rolled throughout the orchard, a hiss swept through the leaves of the trees.

A tense moment passed without word from any of the three. On the ground and disoriented, Twilight tried to gather her wits. She stretched out her forelimbs and opened her eyes. Everything was in working order, it seemed, once the object had passed. She hoped the same could be said for the others. She rose cautiously, if unsteadily, from the ground. “I-is everypony okay?”

Applejack poked her muzzle out from beneath the brim of her hat. Fumbling the hat out of her face, she wobbled as she stood. “I-I think so. I’m just a bit shaken up, is all. How ‘bout you, Twi?”

“I’m okay,” said Twilight as she checked herself over. “I thought for certain that thing was going to hit us!”

“Y-you’re t-telling me!” Spike exclaimed through chattering teeth. He remained curled halfway into a ball, his tail wrapped tightly around his body. “S-so much for watching rainbows…”

As Twilight leaned over to tend to Spike, Applejack slowly rotated. All things being equal, she wanted to be certain most of her family’s farm and lifeblood remained intact. A careful scan gave Applejack relief; against the odds, the orchards were in one piece. She felt confident the Apple Family had been spared from a disaster.

“Whew…”

Then Applejack’s throat locked into a knot. Her mind caught up with her senses. Above the cluster of trees rose a giant plume of dark smoke—undoubtedly the crash site—coming from one of the prized, ripened orchards. The thickness and breadth of the smoke was enough for Applejack to realize not all was well after all. Equestria might have been in peril, but it did not remove the powerful sting produced by months’ worth of labor snuffed out in an instant.

“Muh-muh-muh…” Applejack found herself at a loss for words. Her gut continued to sink. The the same queasy feeling returned from when she tried to harvest the orchards all on her lonesome. “My apples…”

By this time both Twilight and Spike had gotten a glimpse of the pillar of smoke. The two stood on either side of Applejack, sharing similar expressions of disbelief and distress. For Twilight, the magnitude of the destruction indicated by the apparent aftermath was enhanced by how it hit her friend so personally.

The prime cause of the devastation returned to the forefront of Twilight’s mind. Although the dark smoke was an alarming sight, the billowing debris remained dwarfed by the swirling vortex. Its energy and size had not diminished. A blue, vibrant hue glowed across the horizon; the endless parade of small, flickering objects poured over the Equestrian landscape.

“We were fortunate that thing didn’t hit us,” Twilight stated while scanning over the orchard. She glanced at Applejack, whose ears drooped and tail limply swished. “I wish it hadn’t crashed here in the first place, and from the look of things, all of Equestria might be suffering the same fate.”

Applejack drew in a deep breath, then exhaled. With a tilt of her hat, she said, “I reckon you’re right, Twilight. Doubtful we’re the only ones who have a long haul in front of us.” She finally returned Twilight’s look. “What do you suppose we do now?”

“The only possible clue we have regarding what’s happening up there”—Twilight directed a hoof at the blue whirlpool in the sky—“is down here. That object is our best chance to understand the situation.”

“So we head on off into the orchards and see what we find?”

Twilight gave a quick nod. “Precisely. With any luck, we’ll have a means to perform a more thorough analysis.”

“Wait a second!” With a small leap, Spike landed in front of the ponies and raised his palms. “Let me get this straight: you guys want to run off and see what just crashed? Alone? Without any idea what might be waiting?”

“Well, yes,” said Twilight, lifting a brow at Spike, perplexed by his outburst. “That’s kind of the idea, Spike. We have to investigate.”

Letting out a long sigh, Spike folded his arms behind his back, hung his head, and stubbed a toe into the grass. “I get it. You and AJ are gonna handle this one.” He exerted no effort in hiding his downcast tone as the familiar yet unwelcome sensation of being left behind washed over him. “And I guess you want me to stay here to warn Princess Celestia or to see if anything else happens…”

Twilight’s quizzical expression softened. A gentle, knowing smile curled her lips. Without uttering a word, she cradled Spike’s small form with her magic. He let out a yelp of surprise but offered no resistance as he floated through the air and softly landed on Twilight’s back.

“How could I not have you come along with me, Spike?” Twilight’s horn continued glowing as she idly returned the fallen telescope upright on its legs. “You’re my number one assistant, after all.”

Spike squinted at Twilight. “Hold on. What about warning the princesses? Or going back to the library? Or standing around—”

“I’m sure the princesses are seein’ the same thing we are,” Applejack said. “Besides, it ain’t exactly safe to be standin’ around in one place, all things considered. You’re a lot safer stayin’ with us, Spike.”

A sly grin crept over Spike’s face. Cupping a claw over his mouth, he leaned around Twilight’s neck and quipped, “And I guess you know that I can bail you out in a pinch, huh?”

Jaw tightening, Twilight’s smile became strained. “Don’t push your luck too much, buster.”

Yet another swooshing roar swept over the hill. Twilight, Applejack, and Spike jointly craned their heads back and looked upward to find a giant black bird careening through the sky. Black smoke poured from its wings and tail. The creature emitted a whine as it swept over Ponyville, apparently unable to control its own flight. As quickly as it had appeared, the bird disappeared among the treetops that led into the nearby Everfree Forest, smoke following it into the depths of the woodlands.

“Heavens to Betsy!” cried Applejack, her mouth agape. “What in Equestria was that?”

“That’s just it, Applejack: it isn’t from Equestria.” Twilight looked to the sky brightened by the vortex and the streams of lights. “Strange flying creatures and falling objects—if we don’t find answers soon, a lot of ponies could get hurt!”

“Then we oughta get a move on, Twi! Who knows how many more things are gonna make their way through?” In a burst of energy, Applejack hopped ahead, signaling it was time to go. “I know these orchards like the back of my hoof! Follow me!”

Applejack leapt and entered a full gallop. Twilight followed with Spike in tow as they rushed down the hill. The two ponies kicked up a cloud of dirt in their wake, beating a path around the many apple trees. Despite her relative lack of athleticism and the additional weight from Spike, Twilight managed a steady pace, huffing and puffing in rhythm with her clopping hoof falls. Clearly Applejack was not running her fastest, for she could have easily left the bookish unicorn in her dust; yet her gait remained effortless, even as they ascended another small yet steep hill.

Enough light from the dawn sky and the vortex gave Applejack and Twilight all they needed to navigate the once darkened orchards. Not too far ahead was the crash site. Neither pony could see the rising smoke through the thick batch of trees, yet the faint smell of burning wood reached their nostrils. Soon they entered into an apple grove which greeted them with fresh smoke. Unable to see their way clearly, and battling the dust tickling their throats, both slowed to a wary trot.

Small wooden splinters cracked beneath Applejack and Twilight’s hooves. As they moved deeper into the grove, they were greeted by apple trees knocked on their sides. Although the damage to each tree varied, many of them were ripped up by their roots or shattered. Red apples were strewn across the dirt and smashed.

“I can’t believe it,” mumbled Applejack, her ears drooping and steps dragging. “All of my apples. Big Mac and I worked so hard to make these the best of the crop. Now look at ‘em…”

Twilight’s expression tightened in distress. “This is worse than I thought. Whatever landed must have been enormous.”

“How could something like this happen, Twilight?” Spike asked. He anxiously gazed over the devastated orchard. “I mean, it’s gotta be some weird magic.”

Twilight sighed in resignation. “I honestly don’t know. I’ve read every volume of Advanced Magical Manifestations, and nopony I know of—not even the princesses—should be able to create a portal on this size and scale.”

“Portal?” Applejack chimed in. “You mean like teleportin'?”

“Sort of. Portals are typically linked to an enchanted object. For example, in the Crystal Palace, Spike and I entered a magical doorway created as a trap by King Sombra to keep anypony from reaching the Crystal Heart.”

Spike shuddered. “Yikes. Don’t remind me…”

Twilight continued. “But this portal—the one responsible for this mess—doesn’t appear linked to any point. It just came out of nowhere.”

Applejack let out a huff. “If you ask me, I still think Discord could be behind all this. He escaped once; it ain’t a stretch that he’s done it again.”

“Applejack,” Twilight began with annoyance lacing her tone, “Princess Celestia is personally watching over Discord to make sure he won’t escape again. I doubt she would—”

“Look over there!” Spike cried out, pointing over Twilight’s head.

Ahead of the trio was a giant hole from which wisps of fresh smoke still climbed. The ponies immediately picked up the pace, careful to avoid tripping over loose pieces of wood and crushed apples. Despite getting closer to the crater, its contents remained shrouded by smoke, embers, and dust dancing through the air. Not even the pulsating light from the vortex could break through the fog. Applejack, Twilight, and Spike nonetheless managed to find the edge of the crater, though the depth could not be seen.

Coughing from the smoke, Applejack brushed her hat in front of her face and squinted. “Dang it! I can’t see a thing!”

Twilight closed her eyes in mild concentration. Her horn flickered to life, letting loose one sizzling pulse before releasing a flash. A soft hum accompanied the horn’s glow, and the curtain of dark gray smoke quickly lifted from across the crash site.

All three gasped in unison. Cradled in the hole was not an inanimate object but a creature, one with a long, scaly body and enormous limbs. It was not a pony, as it had claws and legs apparently made for bipedal movement. Its scales, though covered in soot and soil, were red and gold with patches of metallic silver. The head appeared skeletal, for it lacked a muzzle, snout, and ears. Only the eyes bore any resemblance to a natural face, though they were evidently shut.

As Spike leaned over Twilight’s shoulder for a better view, his jaw dropped. “Whoa…”

“Land sakes!” Applejack craned her head forward and squinted. “Is that a… dragon?”

“I don’t think so,” Twilight said tepidly. “It doesn’t look like any dragon I’ve ever seen. It doesn’t have wings, ears, or even a snout.”

“Maybe that’s because of the crash? I reckon it was a nasty fall.”

“Hold it, hold it,” Spike cut in, nonchalantly lifting himself off of Twilight’s back. “I’m a dragon, remember? That makes me the resident expert on all things dragon and dragon-like.” He strolled over to the crater. “After all, what kind of dragon would I be if I couldn’t identify my own kin?”

While Twilight rolled her eyes and mumbled to herself, Applejack snickered. “Gotta admit that this thing is pretty ugly, even for a dragon—no offense, Spike.”

Spike shrugged his shoulders as he stepped toward the crater’s edge. “None taken—although I’ve gotta say, I like his style.” Once he stood over the hole, Spike rubbed his chin as though he were impressed. “Not a lot of dragons can pull off red and gold scales.”

Twilight leaned over next to Spike and glowered. “So, what does the ‘resident dragon expert’ have to say?”

“Hmm. Let’s see…” Spike tapped a clawed thumb on his lips, raising his brow in mock studiousness. “We’ve got scales and claws; the face is pretty scary, except I don’t know where his mouth went.” He then placed his claws on his hips. “Sorry. I’ve got nothin’.”

“But there is something else,” noted Twilight, moving in between Spike and Applejack. “Take a look at its chest: there seems to be some sort of light.”

A dim glowing white light flickered unevenly within the being’s broad chest cavity. Twilight recognized, much to her curiosity, the light was in a triangular shape. Neither the light nor its profile matched the rest of the creature’s scaly body

Applejack tilted her head to one side and squinted. “What in tarnation is that?”

“My guess is that it’s this creature’s heart.” Eyeing her horn and its glow, Twilight pondered, “Maybe it’s the source of its magic as well—assuming it has magic.”

“Whatever the case, sugarcube, we need to find somewhere to move this thing.” Applejack hummed in thought. “I reckon we want to put it somewhere safe, in case it wakes up—provided it can wake up.”

“Bringing this creature to the library would allow me to study it further,” said Twilight, her attention having returned to the alien. “All of my instruments and references are at home.”

Spike rubbed the back of his head and said, “I don’t know, Twi. I don’t think Ponyville would like it if we dragged some dragon from outer space through town and dumped it in our basement for you to experiment on.”

Twilight groaned in irritation and crunched a block of hardened soil beneath her hoof. “I’m not going to experiment on it! I just want to perform some basic analysis to see if I can determine its origin.”

Spike offered an indifferent shrug. “That sounds like experimenting to me.”

“Graaaaahh!”

The creature shot upward with a horrific shout. Unnatural sounds of metal grinding together accompanied the beast’s manic breathing. Still grunting wildly, it rocked its head forward and scraped long claws through the dirt. Soil crunched within its grip. Glowing eyes locked onto a petrified Twilight Sparkle. Even when seated, the monster seemed to be almost twice her size. She could hear the creaking from the creature’s limbs. The sound reminded her of rusted gears grinding against one another after years of disuse.

Lifting an arm in lumbering fashion, the monster lurched for Twilight and Spike. Their eyes went wide as they stood shivering in place. The vacant, emotionless face of the monster drew nearer to them, its breaths growing louder and heavier.

“Watch out!”

Twilight and Spike were shoved to the ground. Applejack now stood in their place, body lowered in preparation for a fight. With a whoop she spun and reared her hind legs high into the air. A painful yet satisfying jolt ran through Applejack’s spine as her hooves smashed against the monster’s head. The creature shuddered and moaned from the buck kick, promptly collapsing back into the hole with a soft thud.

And as quickly as it had risen, the beast was felled.

“Consarn it!” Applejack began hopping back and forth on her hind legs, hissing in pain as she did so. “Feels like my legs are gonna fall right off!”

Poking his head up from the ground, Spike threw his arms upward in triumph. “Woohoo! Way to go, AJ!” He bounced to his feet. “You showed that thing how it’s done!”

“Y’all right there, pardner?”

“I’m good.” Spike flicked a speck of soil embedded in his scales. “How about you, Twilight?”

“Fine, fine,” Twilight said, stretching her back out as she stood. “Thank you so much, Applejack. I-I don’t exactly know what happened. My entire body just froze.”

“For the record, it wasn’t the scariest thing I’ve ever seen.” Spike added in a barely audible voice, “It was pretty close, though.”

“Think nothin’ of it,” said Applejack. “You don’t have to keep thankin’—”

A long, agonized moan cut Applejack off in mid-sentence. Spike wasted little time in scrambling behind Twilight, covering his eyes and using her hind legs as a shield. Applejack and Twilight dropped prone and shared widened, fearful expressions.

“How in the world is it still movin’?” Applejack said quietly.

“I’m not sure,” said Twilight, likewise keeping her voice low. “I might be able to contain it with my magic, but I don’t know how long it would last.”

With another groan rising from the crater, Twilight at last took the initiative. Curiosity beckoned her to carefully crawl closer to the hole. Applejack followed suit, likewise staying low to the ground.

Two colorful sets of eyes poked out over the trench, ready to disappear at a moment’s notice. The ponies instantly locked onto the alien, now lying flat on its back. It tried in vain to crane its head up from the ground, grunting miserably while struggling to do so. Twilight and Applejack quietly gasped in horror: the monster’s blank face sat off-center, knocked loose by Applejack’s buck. In spite of the gruesome sight, the once fearsome creature had all the ferocity of a turtle turned over onto its shell.

“I think it’s in pain,” Twilight said, her voice low but no longer quite as hushed. “Look at the face—”

“I can see the face just fine, Twilight,” Applejack interrupted in a harsh whisper. The monster’s misshapen visage gave her stomach a turn. “This thing sure ain’t natural.”

“Unnatural for Equestria, maybe, but for all we know, there could be an entire world of these creatures.”

Applejack shivered. “Mind tellin’ me how that’s a good thing?”

“Is it safe to look yet?” called out Spike from behind the two mares.

Twilight stifled an uneasy chuckle. “Wait just one more minute, Spike.”

“One thing’s for sure,” Applejack continued, “we gotta move this thing somewhere safe. It’s too dangerous to bring into Ponyville.”

Renewed sounds of metallic screeching emanated from the hole. Twilight and Applejack hunkered down closer to the ground in preparation for the worst. They watched the creature move a claw up to its misshapen face as its palm enveloped the deformed golden scale. With a small snap, the alien tore its own face clean from its head.

Twilight and Applejack covered their eyes. What kind of being could intentionally mutilate itself without so much as an afterthought? Could any creature truly be so callous? What did the act say about how this alien would treat others?

“Hi…”

The ponies’ ears twitched in tandem, having heard an intelligible utterance come from the hole. Twilight dared to look up see who had spoken. To her surprise, a grotesque scene did not greet her; yet she was bemused by the appearance of a new face amongst the scales. The being’s features were apelike—a pair of eyes, a small nose, and a mouth were surrounded by a minimal amount of dark fur, save for above the eyes and around the lips. The creature smiled pleasantly, if a bit lamely.

The alien kept grinning and lifted a claw with the palm facing outward. The digits fiddled as the claw swayed from side to side. Twilight remained silent, her lips curled in hesitation and confusion. In spite of the silence—or perhaps because of it—the alien kept waving.

As the silence persisted, Spike finally crawled out from behind Twilight, his curiosity too great to ignore. At first he recoiled, placing a claw over his mouth as his gut squeezed with queasiness. Yet Spike swallowed the rising sickness and lowered his claw, slowly returning to Twilight’s side as he did.

Finally the enforced silence fell when Applejack shuffled closer to Twilight. Out of the side of her mouth she said, “Did that thing just speak?”

“I-I think so,” Twilight murmured. She felt the hairs of her mane standing on end as her inner scientist wrestled with the implications. A common language would implied some connection between the being and Equestria. Perhaps it meant the alien came from another part of Equestria not yet discovered. The Crystal Empire, after all, had lay dormant for over 1,000 years prior to its reemergence. Was another land unveiling itself in the form of a portal?

“Maybe we should say somethin’?” Applejack added, her uneasiness palpable even in her lowered voice.

Jolted from her thoughts, Twilight gently nodded. Looking down at the creature, she cleared her throat and stood upright, seeking to embody a calmer posture. For lack of anything else, she went with the greeting she knew best: “Hello. I, um—my name is Twilight Sparkle.”

The creature stopped waving. Its smile broadened. “Is this heaven?”

“N-no,” Twilight said, trying to gloss over bemusement with a pleasant tone. “This is Equestria.”

The alien let out a soft sigh, as though it were relieved. “Oh, good. I don’t think I’d handle the afterlife very well. Same goes for Iowa. I’m not… really… into corn.” Following a brief yet pained hiss, the creature continued. “Well, except for bourbon. Speaking of which, I could really go for a drink. Do they have cocktail bars here, or is this a strictly dry establishment?”

Twilight’s lower eyelid twitched. “Uh, I think you might be hurt, um… sir.”

“No, no. No ‘sir’ business. I’m not knighted—not yet, anyway.” The creature’s head lolled to one side before snapping back into place. “Whoa! I must’ve taken a… pretty nasty shot there. You know what? Grab me an Aspirin and a Diet Pepsi. I can… walk this off. Just… just give me five…”

The creature’s speech, once rapid paced and crisp, devolved into a jumble of incoherent mumbling. Its eyes flickered and closed in tandem with its head craning back against the dirt. The fast-talking alien fell silent, apart from labored nasal breathing. The sound was in part relieving, as its chest did not rise and fall as one would expect.

After eyeing up the alien’s enormous, battered, and dirt-covered frame, Spike tilted his head to the side. “Huh. That wasn’t so bad.”

“I guess,” Twilight said, her tone leaping towards uncertainty. “At least we know it—he doesn’t seem interested in hurting anypony. In fact, aside from obviously being delirious with pain, he was rather… friendly.”

“Friendly or not,” Applejack cut in, “I still reckon it’s a bad idea to bring this thing back into Ponyville. It’s liable to start a panic. Nopony needs that right now.”

“Unfortunately, I think you’re right, AJ.” Twilight looked over at her friend. “If you don’t mind, I’d like to use your barn to keep him under close observation.”

Applejack winced but briefly as her tail twitched. “Bein’ perfectly honest, Twilight, I ain’t all that thrilled by luggin’ this thing ‘round near my family. Still”—Applejack trailed off into a light sigh—“I know we can’t just leave this thing sittin’ out here in the open. Somepony might stumble across it, or it might just wander on off. And since Apple Bloom is havin’ a sleepover with the Crusaders at Rarity’s, we won’t have to worry ‘bout them blabberin’ to the whole town ‘bout how I got an alien in our barn loft.”

Twilight nodded and smiled. “With enough time, my analysis might allow me to better understand this creature and where it came from. I can also promptly inform Princess Celestia about his arrival, as well as request that she send the Elements here to Ponyville for additional security.”

“Now that’s somethin’ I can get behind!” Applejack’s shoulders then sagged as she took another glance at the large alien in the crater. After a short sigh, she said, “Shoot. Guess I better get some rope.”

Kicking up loose soil, Applejack galloped off into the distance. Once Applejack disappeared from view, both Twilight and Spike assumed watch over the alien. They stood closely next to each other, refraining from commentary or idle chatter. Every now and then Spike’s eyes would shift between the creature and Twilight; Twilight, however, studied the alien’s body as best she could from a distance. Already her research had started, and she anxiously awaited the opportunity to see and ask more of the unexpected visitor once it regained consciousness.

A multitude of thoughts and expectations rattled around in Twilight’s mind: the repercussions of first contact; the confirmation of intelligent life from beyond Equestria; the existence of a common language. Were there more bipedal beings that shared unusual likeness with apes and dragons? How exactly did their civilization develop? Centuries’ worth of scientific analysis and magical studies could be overturned in a single day. Twilight Sparkle, always eager to seek out new questions and their answers, understood she was literally standing on the edge of an event horizon, an inescapable instance of change. Equestria was bound to be forever altered, and Twilight could not help but feel excitement tingle across her body. Though she did not neglect the safety of her homeland, she realized the opportunities presented from this encounter.

“Hey Twilight,” Spike spoke up at last, “I’ve got a question.”

“Mhmm?”

“What’s a Diet Pepsi?”

Author's Note:

Revision made 9/4/2014.