• Published 30th Jul 2018
  • 3,167 Views, 363 Comments

Family Tree - miss-cyan

Getting cryptic notes from dead relatives is never a good thing. This was no exception. What are you supposed to do when someone wants you to solve a mystery when there's something out in the woods? That turns out to be the least of my problems.

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The In-Between

I picked up my important papers from the end table on Fluttershy’s back porch. Between all the certificates and bank info it was getting to be quite the pile.

“I should've kept the envelope Luna had these in…” I tapped them into a neater stack, wondering if I should fold them and put them in my pocket.

“My pocket…”

I reached into the pocket of my pants. Pulling out one of the many paperclips Discord gifted me in his show of power, my head starting to hurt again.

“Huh…well.” I slipped one over the edge of the papers, shrugging. “Weird.”

Fluttershy was chatting with the animals who’d been scared off when Discord had shown up. I went to Harry, going for broke and hugging him.

“Thanks for trying to protect me buddy.” I patted him on the side, feeling extra exhausted all of the sudden. “I appreciate it.”

He chuffed at me, making bear sounds in what I hoped was understanding. Fluttershy smiled at the both of us, laughing quietly to herself.

“You’re very good with him.” She flew up to the bear, patting his head.

“He’s a good boy.” I nodded. Winona barked and circled my legs, herding me.

“Yes, you’re a good girl too.” I laughed, scratching behind her ears.

“How did you know what she asked?” Fluttershy blinked with wide eyes.

“That was a guess. Honest.” I knelt down, Winona had flipped onto her back for tummy rubs and tummy rubs she would receive. “I think it’s cool you can talk to them though.”

“I think so too.” she smiled, a robin landing on her outstretched hoof. “They’re so incredible, each in their own way.”

I listened to her talk about her animal friends, all the ones who had come out and some that hadn’t. She was so into it I didn’t notice something sneaking up behind me.

“AHH!” I yelped, leaping up, spooking Winona. Fluttershy got plenty spooked too.

“What’s wrong!?” she shouted, pulling her pet bunny close to her chest.

“Something bit me!” I pulled my leg up, my ankle stinging a bit.

“Oh dear…” she yanked my leg up behind me absentmindedly, almost knocking me off balance. “I don’t think it broke the skin…”

She looked around in the grass, Winona sniffing around a bit before growling a bit at a tall patch of grass. Fluttershy patted her back to calm her before giving the grass quite a look.

“Now then, come on out.” She said firmly. “Come out and apologize to Lottie.”

The grass shook a bit, and there was some kind of high-pitched chittering.

“Oh, I should’ve known it was you.” She reached a hoof into the grass, rooting around before flinching, pulling her hoof out with a sigh.

On the end of her hoof, clamped firmly with little sharp teeth, was something smaller than I would’ve thought for how hard I got bit. About the size of a kitten.

“Is that a weasel?”

“A pine marten, actually, but the same family.” she beamed at me before looking back sternly. “This little boy is quite the troublemaker!” she pulled the weasel off of her hoof and held it up to her face. “Little one, you know the rules. Creatures don’t claw, bite or eat other creatures while they’re here, remember?”

It squeaked at her.

“It’s nice that you wanted to meet her.” She leveled a hoof at the animal. “But rules are rules. If you keep breaking them then you’re not welcome to come back.”

The pine marten slumped, looking like a limp chocolate éclair.

“I’m so sorry Lottie.” She flew to me, settling down on the ground. “He’s just a little one, he’s still learning how to act around ponies. It’s been…a challenge.”

I looked at the little guy. It was a deep brown with an orange-ish underbelly and little round ears. When he opened his mouth, I saw tiny but sharp-looking teeth. Beady brown eyes stared up at me before chirping again.

“He says he’s sorry too…but I’m not sure he understands what he’s apologizing for.”

I reached out, slowly to the little thing letting it sniff my hand. I guess he liked what he smelled because he wriggled loose of Fluttershy’s grasp and latched onto my finger.

I hissed in pain a little, but knowing it was coming as opposed to being snuck up on made it hurt a lot less. He had so many sharp little teeth but being a baby they were duller than a pin or needle I’d accidently jabbed myself with while sewing. That or he didn’t have a lot of bite strength yet.

Either way I still had a finger.

“Little mister!” Fluttershy gasped, looking the kind-of weasel in the eye with a stern eye as he dangled from my digit. “We don’t bite other creatures!”

He was hanging in there, unwilling to let go. I lifted him to eye level and got a good look at the little guy.

He was small, a bit longer than the length of my hand, and his little round ears were down as I looked over him. I grabbed his body gently with my other hand, supporting him so he could let go and not fall if he wanted to. After a few seconds of weasel-y thinking, he opened his mouth and let go.

“Sorry little guy.” I told him, easing up on my grip and letting him sit in my hands. “You should probably listen to her.”

“He’s getting used to being around ponies, but I don’t know if he’ll ever be somepony’s pet.” Fluttershy sighed. “He’s just too aggressive, and it’s hard enough to be a pet carnivore…They rarely get adopted for a lot of reasons…”

“This little guy?” I asked, his little nose twitching at me. “Ponies would be afraid of him?”

“Oh yes.” She nodded. “Members of the weasel family are very efficient hunters, they have a high metabolism and eat almost half their body weight every day. They hunt even when they’re full and store their kills where they sleep. Most ponies don’t want little…dead things in their homes, and they don’t want to supply the meat they need themselves when it’s not pet food like you’d give a dog or a cat. Even in the weasel family I see otters and ferrets get adopted by ponies, but a tiny little Pine Marten just makes some ponies uncomfortable.”

The little guy scrabbled up my arm and climbed to the top of my head, and he leaned down to look me in the eyes, twisting his little body.

I could see being scared of wild animals, but compared to back home, animals here seem almost domesticated. I thought to myself. If I can hug a bear and not be afraid, ponies could be friends with anything.

“He seems like he’d do fine if he learned to behave himself.” I shrugged. “You’d just have to find a pony who’s okay with raising a little predator.”

I held my hand up to him, letting him climb into it and petting him down his long body. His fur was super soft and he leaned into my touch.

“You’re a deadly beast, aren’t you?” I cooed half-sarcastically. “Who’s a little killing machine?”

He playfully nibbled on my finger, holding onto it with his little brown paws.

“See! That didn’t hurt a bit.” I felt a certain pony’s stern gaze on me. “But you should still listen to her, she’s the boss, alright?”

He sniffed at me before hopping off and running into the grass. I shrugged, wondering if I’d gotten through to him.

“Thanks for trying Lottie.” She smiled. “I’m hoping for the best and I do hope he gets better behaved soon, but I won’t stop trying.”

“Thanks for your help today, with everyone else.” I smiled back, grabbing my papers and whistling for Winona who was off chasing the otters. She came bounding through the grass to me. “I’ll see you around, yeah?”

We said our goodbyes, Winona too, and the two of us made our way to Sweet Apple Acres. I talked to Winona the whole way and got a kick out of her barking answers back to me, even if I couldn’t understand her.

Having a pet seemed fun. It would be fun to have one that was as smart as the animals seemed here. But I still hoped to get home, and that might mean leaving everything here behind. I wouldn’t do that to an animal, let alone one I knew was smart.

Fluttershy was headed off to the chicken coop to check on the new chicks. She had enjoyed having Lottie visit, somepony willing to socialize with the carnivores was always good for them. Even her own closest friends had animals that they were uncomfortable around.

Speaking of carnivores, she hadn’t seen any sign of the little Pine Marten kit since Lottie had left. He was usually up in the trees near her cottage, but she couldn’t spot him anywhere.

“He must’ve gone out hunting.” She reasoned with herself, sighing. “I better hurry to the coop and tell the hens to keep the new chicks in their sight. He’s getting better at hunting farther away but better safe than sorry…”

But the little Pine Marten was quite farther away than she realized, and she wouldn’t know where he’d gotten off to for quite a bit.

Twilight was unnerved by the grim, almost pained look on Discord’s face. Mostly, he looked annoyed. He slunk off of her writing desk to the floor, grumbling to himself as she and Spike watched him in awkward silence.

“…Well?” she asked him, her wings fluffing up nervously. “What do we need to talk about?”

He growled under his breath, pushing himself up off the floor. He looked at her, crossing his forelegs defensively.

“I paid Fluttershy a visit today…” he closed his eyes, pinching the bridge of his muzzle. He looked so uncharacteristically drained to Twilight, adding to her unease. “And a ‘Lottie’ was with her.”

A thousand possible scenarios ran through her head, but she kept them to herself for now.

“You met Lottie?” she asked, still curious. “She’s-”

“Please don’t interrupt.” He held up a paw, and it was so abrupt she didn’t have time to get worked up over his poor manners. “They told me about the situation in the forest and I agreed to look into it.”

She wanted to ask, oh Dear Celestia she wanted to ask!

“I was…confronted.” He seemed to search for the word. “Something defended itself against my intrusion. I managed to escape.”

Managed. Implying there was a possibility that he could’ve been…

“Are you okay?” she asked. It was so out of character for their past interactions that all three of them were surprised by her words.

“Of course!” He smirked, seeming more like his usual self. It settled the room a bit, but she had the most peculiar feeling that it wouldn’t last.

“I’ve been researching all the possibilities to get Lottie home…” she sighed. “I know the answers are just outside my reach! Please, did you figure anything out?”

“I do believe so.” He didn’t look pleased or displeased at his own words. Just thoughtful. “I understand that you are…fairly competent in magic, yes?”

That sounded more like Discord.

“Not many unicorns learn the finer points of a teleportation spell. Granted it falls short of my own abilities, mind you. But!”

He suddenly appeared behind her, and she wondered where he was going with this.

“Tell me Twilight Sparkle.” He looked at her, more serious than she had ever seen him. “What did Celestia teach you of that spell?”

Twilight thought back to her own lessons, it had taken her most of her life as Celestia’s pupil to master the spell. Not many unicorns even got close.

“She told me that long ago, unicorns were much more tapped into the wild magic of the land.” She remembered sitting at her mentor’s side, eagerly listening to her private words. “They could ‘wink’ almost at will without draining their magic reserves. Though, nopony calls it that anymore.”

“Yes, that’s all fine and good, but what did she teach you of the mechanics? The specifics?” He emphasized, sounding impatient.

This gave her pause. Not many powerful spells relied on less technical methods, no spell matrices to memorize or even the rarer incantation. But teleportation was one of the only spells she had ever learned that relied on her own ability rather than something she could learn or study.

“Not much, I admit.” She felt like that was the wrong answer, judging by his look. “It was one of the most intuitive spells I’ve ever learned. Years of effort and building up my magic reserves to withstand the drain.”

“Typical. Leave it to Celestia to cheat her protégé out of an education…” he grumbled, and Twilight kept her barbed reply to herself. “Let me break it down for you.” He donned a graduation cap and a formal robe, reaching up and tugging a roll-down diagram from nothing. He directed her attention with a telescopic pointer, clearing his throat. Spike sat beside her, and they both wondered where this was going.

“When a unicorn, or a magically superior creature-” he grinned to himself, pointing to a crude drawing of a unicorn, and Twilight rolled her eyes. “-teleports from one location to another, they create a resonant magical signature.”

“I checked for that, but the residual trail was a dead end.” She told him.

“Hush now!” he scolded. Another snap and a dunce cap plopped onto her head, getting a snicker from behind Spike’s claws. She knocked it off onto the floor, losing her patience. But this was important. She took a calming deep breath and let him go on.

“Now, this magic can be traced between point A and point B, leaving such a signature. But where does the magic go in between these two points? Or to put a finer point on it…”

He looked at her, suddenly deadly serious again.

“Where does a pony go?”

“Go?” she reeled at his words. “The teleporter doesn’t go anywhere. There isn’t anything between the two points of magical contact! It’s nearly instantaneous!”

“Nearly.” He grinned, stretching the word out impishly. “Implying there is a delay, no matter how short.”

“We’re talking milliseconds here!” she argued.

“Poor, simple Princess Twilight.” He sighed, floating on air lazily. “Tell me, what does your esteemed teacher have to say on matter dispersal?”

The sudden change in subject was jarring. She paused, trying to recall her lessons again.

“Matter can’t be completely destroyed or dispersed.” She repeated what Celestia had taught. “It has to be converted. When applied to magic theory, this teaches us that something transported or transformed retains all of its composition, nothing can easily be lost or gained.”

“Exactly.” He smiled, glad to see she was following along. “So, when a pony is teleported…logically-” he spat out the word with contempt. “-the whole pony goes along for the ride.”

“Yes…that’s true.” It was an oddly simple conclusion. Something even a foal could understand. “A teleportation, no matter how botched, will always transport the entire teleporter.”

“So!” he announced, seeming excited. “When a pony teleports, matter cannot be lost!”

She stared at him, no clue what he was getting at. Then, to both of their surprise, it was Spike who chimed in.

“Oh, I get it.” He nodded, like it was the simplest thing in the world. “You kinda get broken down when you teleport. But since you can’t be totally broken down, thanks to the matter stuff, all the bits of you have to go somewhere.”

“Bingo! We have a winner!” Discord cheered, and a gold star appeared on Spike’s chest. He beamed, nodding sagely.

“What?” he shrugged, noticing Twilight’s confused stare. “I’ve heard you reciting magical theory to yourself since before I could talk. I learned a thing or two.”

“No, it’s…” she looked at Discord defiantly. “Your theory, it’s…it’s impossible!”

“Now Twilight...” He smirked at her. “When have I ever been concerned with what is possible?”

She froze. The implications of everything he had said were hitting her all once. She blinked, piecing everything together in her head.

“Matter…matter breaking down when teleporting…supposing the lack of unicorns who’ve accomplished teleporting for a proper study…and residual magic trails can always be followed barring a counterspell…But matter is matter…” she muttered to herself, beginning to pace. Discord was watching her, seeming delighted by her panic and mounting neurosis. “Near instantaneous, not instantaneous…”

It stopped her in her tracks. Discord looked excited to hear her conclusion.

“Are you suggesting…” she didn’t want to say it. The sheer impossibility if it was tearing apart every bit of logical sense in her. “…You’re suggesting that when a teleportation spell is cast…the broken-down matter, before reappearing in the desired location…”

“Yes?” he lead her on, practically fit to burst.

“It…exists in some…space within our reality?”

“There she is!” he shouted, donning her with a graduation cap, slapping a diploma into her hooves. She didn’t move or react to his usual eccentricities, too stunned to reply. “Congratulations on finally figuring out the obvious!”

“But…but.” She shook off the unwanted headgear, clutching onto the diploma like it was a life preserver in these confusing new seas. This was completely uncharted territory. She’d never heard this even discussed in all her years of study. Teleportation was such a broad field with little in-depth research into how it worked.

“A sub-reality…where only basic magic energy can travel and not the physical form…How does this interact with Lottie’s portal to her world!?”

Discord wasn’t fazed by Twilight’s lecture/study mode. He thought back to what he had seen and considered what the human had told him about crossing over to Equestria’s plane of existence.

“The in-between place has changed since I was there last…” he settled into a calm, better than he’d been when he first appeared in the library, but still unusual for him. “Sometime within the last thousand years? Something was there, but unless you’re dealing with another being with my kind of powers I haven’t the foggiest how it got there.”

“How do you even get to such a place?” If she had any doubts before she was convinced now more than ever that the forest incidents had everything to do with Lottie’s portal. “I need to understand Discord. I need to get her home…I need to find those foals!”

He saw her, helpless and confused, and any other time he would be delighted that his words had put her in such a state. But something nagged at the back of his mind, scratching away trying to get his attention. Something was up.

“Hold on for just a moment.”

He popped his head off of his shoulders, getting a yelp from the other creatures in the room. Holding his head against his side, he struggled to unscrew the top of his skull. Like the stubbornest jar of pickles.

“Ah! There we go.” He smiled, finally getting it loose. He casually spun the top if his head loose from the rest of his head, ignoring the horrified looks he was getting. He reached into his head with his talons and rooted around.

Casually tossing out a few bits of junk; a basketball, a stale baguette, thirty packets of ketchup, an accordian…

“Here we are!” He grabbed on tight, and with a bit of force, he plucked something from his head that didn’t belong.

Something that had hitched a ride with him.

“Well look at that!” he laughed.

Twilight gasped softly.

“One of the lights…” she said under her breath.

“There were a bunch of these things floating around the In-Between.” He told her, screwing his head back on. “One of them must’ve gotten stuck when I popped in and out.”

“They’ve been interacting with Lottie since she got here, and Pinkie Pie and I saw them when we went to get her from the forest after she ran from the hospital. Do you…know what they are?”

“Not specifically.” He squinted at it, and it seemed to be trying to escape his grasp. “A magic orb of light isn’t exactly distinct. Somepony might have made it, or it might be a magical creature itself.”

“What are you gonna do with the little guy?” Spike asked, his spines a bit droopy. Discord looked at the light for a moment before shrugging and letting it go.

The light zipped away from him, floating high in the air. It moved from one spot to another, seeming anxious. If it felt something like that. After a few moments it floated down to Twilight, sitting on the tip of her muzzle. It was weightless and the contact had so little sensation it was like it was barely there.

“I think it likes you.” Spike smiled. The light drifted back up into the air and floated aimlessly above everypony’s heads. If this was a creature like Discord had suggested, she couldn’t catch it and study it like it was lesser than herself.

“It doesn’t seem to be in any hurry to get back to the woods.” Twilight thought out loud. “They’ve been harmless so far…this could be an opportunity. This came from the…In-Between place where things I need to understand are happening. I can study it!”

Spike gave her a look.

“Non-invasively of course.” She added. “If this is a creature then I’ll do my best to treat it like I would anypony else.”

She trotted over to where it had wandered across the room, making sure her posture was gentle and non-threatening. She hoped this light was alive, otherwise she would look pretty silly.

“Hello. My name is Twilight Sparkle.” She spoke in a soft, even tone. “I don’t know if you can understand me, but nopony is going to hurt you. You’re free to leave if you like.”

She trotted over to the nearest window and cracked it a bit, big enough to let the light through.

But the light just floated around lazily, occasionally dipping closer to the creatures in the room before floating back up.

“If it understood you, seems like it’s sticking around.” Spike noted, shrugging.

“If it is a creature, we’ll find a way to communicate eventually.” Twilight told him. She turned to Discord still worn down from everything she’d learned from him today.

“I can work with a lot of what you’ve told me.” She started making a list of books and academic papers she knew of about teleportation theory and light spells, among other things. “Is there anything you could think of to get Lottie back home?”

“I wouldn’t recommend going back to that forest…” he grimaced. “I don’t know what created the portal she came through, but something is there in the In-Between. Given what I felt…”

He tapped his digits together thoughtfully, ears low.

“It’s possible that what’s lurking there lured those foals into the woods.”

“Hey there girl!” Applejack chuckled as Winona whined at her owner, jumping up and showering her with attention, and puppy kisses. “Alright, I missed you too. Go on, go see Apple Bloom, she missed you too.”

Winona bounded off into the house, and a surprised yelp from Apple Bloom followed by her laughter and excited barking could be heard.

“Thanks Lottie, and as promised, the rest of today and tomorrow are yours to do as you please. I’m a mare of my word.”

“I could use a good long rest that’s not a magic coma or a fever.” I snorted, and we both laughed. “But I’m just a bit wired right now, been a heck of a day.”

“You did great Lottie.” She smiled at me, bumping my side with hers. “Ponies in this town are sure to warm up to you even more after that.”

“Hope so.” I shrugged. “Then there was Pinkie and playing with the Cakes’ kids, and then that Discord guy-”

“Hold on now, Lottie.” She cut me off. “You went and met Discord already? Ah shucks, I’m awfully sorry, I didn’t think he’d be hangin’ around Fluttershy’s today. Was he at least well behaved with her there? He didn’t push your buttons or nothin’, did he?”

“He was…” I searched for the words, regarding my mixed feelings towards the guy. “Alright. He pulled a lot of impossible stuff that messed with my head and yanked me around a little but…I think we reached an understanding. Kind of.”

“Well…a lot of that sounds like him.” She looked to be thinking, a bit put off.

“He agreed to help try to find out how to get me back home.” I told her, and her eyes widened at that. “So, kind of a weirdo, but a decent enough guy. All in all.”

“Well shoot.” She looked just as confused as I felt. “If he pulls that off, he might just be not such a no-good snake after all.”

“Goodness!” I put a hand to my chest, using a fake fancy voice. “Such high praise, dear Applejack.”

She snickered behind her hoof, and I stretched a bit, making my way to the guest room. I knew if I hung around downstairs too long, I’d convince myself to help out with chores despite my time off. I splayed myself out on the bed, decompressing.

After a short break, I decided to use my free time to work on what I thought of just this morning.

I got to work using the scraps and basic sewing kit Rarity had lent me. I figured out the pattern from the Pinkie doll she had given me and just started going for it.

“Okay little pony, Pinkie’s gonna love you.” I talked to it as my hands moved. “Your seams are gonna be nice and straight, and you’ll make her the happiest pink pony in town. I want to do something nice for her. I want to show her how much she means to me. And I know you’re gonna be just the thing.”

The words were just flowing out of me, I wasn’t embarrassed of it in an empty room. No one around to overanalyze it or judge, just the even tempo of the thread pulling through the material. Slowly but surely, I was making progress.

There was a small knock at the door, and with a word, Apple Bloom stepped inside.

“Lottie!” she smiled, coming up and stopping beside the bed. “What’re you doin’?”

“Pinkie bought me a stuffed pony.” I told her, gesturing to the little pink toy on the bed. “So I’m making her one that looks like me. Well, what I look like as a pony.”

“You make toys?” she gasped softly, staring at my hands as they worked. “Can I help?”

I almost said no, in the politest way, but I quickly realized I was short a few materials.

“Actually yes.” I told her, and her eyes lit up. “If you all have any spare wool for stuffing, I’d be grateful. And remember my mane color? I’ll need some yarn for it, if you have it.”

“I’ll be right back!” she called, already halfway out the door. Not a few minutes later she was back in the room, nearly skidding across the floor in her excitement.

“Easy there, short stuff.” I snorted, getting a good-natured glare from the filly. She plopped a small tote carrying the stuff I’d asked for onto the bed, having carried it to the room with it firmly in her teeth. I wasn’t even phased by that kind of thing anymore. A few small puffs of white wool and a yarn ball roughly the same muted dark purple my mane had been, give or take a few shades.

“Perfect.” I told her. She smiled brightly, hopping onto the bed gently on the other side of me.

“How’d you learn to make toys?” she asked, in that way that I could tell that this would be the first of many questions.

“My grandma showed me when I was little.” I told her, not looking up from my work. “The one that’s not a pony, on my Mom’s side. She taught me a lot of crafty stuff, even though I was too little to do a lot of it on my own. Other than that it was just a lot of practice.”

“I think it’d be hard to do with hooves…” she frowned, looking down at her own.

“Sewing maybe.” I shrugged. “But Granny Smith seems to knit just fine, and you can make crochet and knitted dolls if you know how.”

“Oh wow.” She looked like her brain was moving a million miles an hour at the possibilities. “Would you show me how? Sometime?”

“Might be a bit tough, translating my hands methods to hooves but…I don’t see why not.” I told her with a smile.

We talked about future plans as I sewed, and later we had fun scavenging Granny Smith’s assortment of old buttons for the perfect pair of yellow ones for little stuffed pony Bluey. I separated the yarn and curled it a bit to make it look as much like my hair as I could. Apple Bloom even talked me into making it a little jacket like mine for the full effect.

“Alright, that should fit, little me.” I told it, sliding its front legs into the arm holes. It was more like a tiny sweater, given it didn’t open like a real jacket, but the intention was there. “Now you’re starting to look like I did when I was Cornflower Blue.”

“Are you…talking to it?” Apple Bloom smiled, and I didn’t detect any ill will in her words. No teasing or sarcasm.

“Yeah, sorry. I don’t know why I do that.” I sighed. “I always have, talked to the toys I make, I mean. I think it might be left over from when I was little and I still thought they were secretly alive.”

“It doesn’t bother me.” She shrugged, watching me attach the short, curly tail. “It’s kind of silly, but in a good way.”

“Silly’s right.” I smiled. “But it helps keep me focused. I usually make these for relatives so it’s kind of like…a little blessing. In my own way. Telling them to be good friends to my numerous baby cousins and second cousins and so on. Telling them to keep them safe.”

“Well, I know that if I was your cousin, I’d love a present like that.” She smiled, nodding to herself. She froze suddenly, grimacing. “But I-I’m too old for little filly stuff like that, grown-up mares don’t play with dolls.”

“Eh, who’s judging?” I shrugged. “Look at me. Pinkie Pie gave me that little stuffed her and I love it. Might not play with it like a little kid would but it’s the thought that counts. And grown adults certainly don’t waste their time making stuffed cats and little wooden cars, but I still do it.”

“What do you mean ‘waste time’?” she blinked, tilting her head curiously. “You’re really good at it, from what I can tell.”

“It’s not a job.” I sighed, sewing the hindquarters shut tight, securing the tail in place. “Anything you can’t make a living off of is just a hobby. And hobbies are for people who have time and money to waste, which I don’t. Not really. I just do this when I can’t sleep, mostly. Or on the weekends.”

“…Wait a second. I thought you said… ‘Doing something you love makes the rest of the stuff you have to go through a little better. It’s important to you and that’s what counts.’” She recited, looking me in the eyes. “You told me that on the way to your party.”

I blinked, remembering the words I’d heard from my other grandmother. It had made me feel better at the time and thinking about it made me feel better again.

“You’ve got a good memory.” I half-laughed, mulling it over. “Yeah, I guess that’s still right. It’s kind of embarrassing having to relearn these things when I get all mopey and stupid.”

“You’re not stupid!” the little filly protested, looking genuinely hurt at my choice of words. I blinked at the sincere reaction and fiddled with the stuffed pony for a moment.

“Sorry.” I gave her a real smile, reaching to her and ruffling her bright red mane. “I’ll lay off the self-putdowns for now.”

“Just for now?” she asked, looking up with sad eyes, really tugging at the heartstrings. I groaned, if she weren’t so young, I’d think she was purposefully manipulating me like Pinkie had taken to.

“Alright…let’s start with a week and see where we go from there.” I sighed, getting a smile out of her.

“Oh! A week! That’ll be almost Nightmare Night!” she leapt up suddenly, and I put a hand on the supplies so they didn’t bounce off the bed. “Do ya wanna see my costume?”

“Sure.” And again she was halfway out the door before I was even finished talking. I smiled to myself, she’d really started to grow on me.

Discord's words were still ringing in Twilight's head. It had always bothered her that foals had disappeared seemingly out of nowhere, but the additional thought of something in those woods actively luring them to whatever their fates may be made her twitch in panic and irritation.

"Are you sure?" she asked him, suddenly feeling hot and agitated. He seemed to mull it over before floating lazily on his back in the air.

"Now, dear Twilight." He ran his claws and talons through the fur on his stomach lazily. "I'm as sure of it as I am about anything."

She closed her eyes and sighed, not sure where to start with that.

"If it's true, then I was right to have the crystal barrier erected...I was just worried about somepony wandering into those woods, not some force actively drawing ponies in." she paced a bit in front of a worried Spike, a bored Discord, and an floating orb of unspecified emotion. "The sooner I figure this out, the sooner I can stop whatever's at work here and the sooner I can get Lottie home and keep Ponyville safe."

"Not to sound like a naysayer, I am genuinely curious." Discord chimed in, checking his claws over. "But what have you actually been doing, Princess?"

She should have bristled at the implication of his words and tone, but she was too eager to share what she'd actually been working on.

"I'm glad you asked!" she smiled, floating and summoning her research so far. Discord looked to be regretting his words but didn't leave. "First I pulled every theory ponies have on inter-dimensional travel to see if any were more plausible than others. Then when that didn't pan out I looked into known wild plant magic."

Discord nodded along, still trying to be nonchalant.

"At one point I even tried to find any references in Equestria's ancient history of human sightings, even anything remotely resembling her species so that I could research how they were said to travel to our universe, but the most I could find was a loose translation of an old myth from Minos about a strange creature that wed an ancient Minotaur chief and gave birth to a line of strong warriors, but most of their myths are of a spoken word tradition and very unreliable..."

"Well, if it were me." Discord interrupted, raising a bushy white brow. "I wouldn't go chasing after whatever you might find lurking in the In-Between. No need to add a princess to the list of missings. And if you truly want to get Lottie home and find your foals, I'd spend my time looking into just how the original travelers got through."

"I've been trying!" she protested, feeling a headache coming on. "I've been wracking my brain on how the original inter-dimensional travel could've possibly happened! Weren't you listening!?"

"Perhaps it's not the method itself you should be searching for." he offered, practically snaking around her shoulder, watching her brain process his words. Watching Twilight trying to figure out his meanings was half the fun of speaking to her at all.

The seconds ticked by, highlighted by a round, brassy alarm clock sitting in his open claw next to her head. He saw her eyes widen, and he switched his talons behind her head, the clock reappearing as a bright light bulb, illuminated with a pleasant ding.

"Discord!!' she shouted giddily, bouncing on her hooves around the room. "I would never have-...I can't believe it never occurred to me!!"

"Yes, we all know I'm brilliant." He replied, appropriately smug. Twilight latched onto Spike, hugging him far too tightly, before leaping at Discord only to be stopped by a talon to the tip of her horn.

"And with that, I think it's time I took my leave." he shuddered at the thought of mushy little pony hugs. Twilight was already at the shelves pulling everything the library had on their new theory. Discord knocked on the wooden floor, a door appearing which he stepped into like it was the most normal thing in the world.

Spike looked from the quickly vanishing door to Twilight, who was already absorbed in her work once again.

"Wait...what did I miss?"

Apple Bloom was still with me around sundown as I finished up the stuffed pony. It was so small that it hadn’t taken me even the entire day, but I was feeling the effects of the day by the end of it.

“I gotta say, I’m mighty impressed.” Apple Bloom said with a slight yawn. Sure enough, once the sun went down ponies seemed to get sleepy right away. “You worked on that little thing all day long and she looks like she could be sittin’ on a shelf in the toy store.”

“Thanks.” I smiled, my eyes also feeling heavy. I tied off the last stitch on the second ear and it was done. I sighed, content with a hum of exhaustion under my skin.

“Lemme see!” she reached out for it and I handed it over, yawning myself. She looked at it like a…well a kid with a new toy. She held it up in front of her, laughing softly as she booped noses with the little stuffed pony me. I’m not gonna lie, it was pretty adorable. I got off the bed and stood up, stretching out my body. I’d gotten so stiff sitting there, even with breaks for both lunch and dinner. But I felt so…oddly fulfilled. Like no matter how tired it made me, I would do it again and again. I picked up the tote from the headboard and started picking up the supplies and scraps.

“She’s so cute.” She laughed sleepily. “Pinkie’s gonna love her.”

“I hope so.” I pulled the pins from the pin cushion and put them back in their container. “She’s been a really great friend to me ever since I got here and I wanted to do something nice for her.”

“I can’t wait to learn to make toys Lottie.” She yawned, her whole body starting to slump. “It’ll be so much fun.”

“I’m looking forward to it.” I took the supplies downstairs real quick, not finding Granny Smith so I left them on the living room table.

When I came back upstairs, Apple Bloom was fast asleep on the guest bed. Tight in her front hooves and nuzzled against her cheek was tiny stuffed Bluey. I smiled, gently picking her up with a little bit of effort to take her back to her own bed.

“Geez kid.” I huffed with a smile. Ponies were deceptively heavy for being so small. “You’re lucky you’re cute.”

I tucked her in and she snuggled the plush closer, and I didn’t see the harm in letting her hang on to it for the night. I went back to the guest room and dozed off only minutes after getting myself comfy.

I startled awake to my door flying open and slamming into the wall. I gripped the covers in a panic, my eyes still adjusting to the morning light.

“Lottie!” Apple Bloom’s voice cried out, almost painfully. She didn’t sound upset or in pain so I just sat up, groaning under my breath, still half-blind.

“Wha happun?” I said, ever so eloquently.

“That thing you said about your toys when you were little!” she bounced excitedly, I could hear her hooves on the floor. “I thought you were joking! Do all your toys do this?”

“What are you-” I blinked the last of the sleep away, my eyes finally focusing on something being shoved in my face.

In Apple Bloom’s hooves was little stuffed Bluey, but as I looked at it, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.

Its little ears were twitching, and a tiny plush hoof reached up and booped me on the nose.

The screaming was probably unnecessary.

Author's Note:

and lo! Lottie's magic has found a way out of her body! it's more complicated than it looks for now, to be explained in the next chapter. (hint hint: her magic is not just bringing the toys she makes to life) if you look closely at earlier chapters, it might be s;lightly more obvious.

fun fact! first draft of the story, Lottie had a dog named Harley that came to Equestria with her, so Lottie maybe having a pet has always been in the dna of the story. but i like the idea of Lottie having a tiny little killing machine pet. weasels are ruthless and adorable and pine martens are just the best. cute little ears and paws

Discord explains some magic stuff to the purple pony princess. and he gives a clue to what might be going on, a little clue. don't expect him to be much more help tho. not really his style.

now we have a name for the ominous magic dimension Discord popped over to, and where Lottie's been once or twice. how? who knows. exactly when? i'm too tired to go back and make sure of it 100%.

what's up with the orbs of light??

what did Discord and Twilight figure out?? (also i feel like i've used that Spike getting the last kind of funny line scene transition before, but it might've been in an earlier draft that didn't make the cut.) also, i promise they actually have a plan now, that wasn't a stall for time so i can figure it out. i know how this is gonna go down.

and most importantly...

what was Apple Bloom's Nightmare Night costume???

all this and more will be revealed...

some other time!

as always, i love your guys' comments. c: don't be afraid to tell me what you're thinkin' about with the story.

(off for winter break so enjoy some more stuff from me in the near future! i can't promise a whole bunch but, i haven't done anything creative in several months so i'm rarin' to do all of the stuff!)

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