• Published 8th May 2016
  • 3,320 Views, 127 Comments

Substitute - RQK



Everything has a price. The smallest of actions, both good and bad, can place many into the grave. The roots run deep, after all, in any and all Equestrias.

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1 - Home

Princess Celestia, upon reading the note in her magical grasp, did something she had not done in a long while: she crumpled it. Not all the way, of course, but enough to burn the folds into the parchment forever.

The line of guards before her remained stalwart despite the uncharacteristic display.

Kibitz, her assistant, on the other hoof, regarded her through narrowed eyes and a thoughtful hum.

“Seventeen more?” Princess Celestia asked.

The lead guard nodded, clutching his helmet tighter against his chest. “Yes, Your Highness. From Hoofington.”

Celestia buried her face into the note again and then rolled it up and dropped it, prompting Kibitz to juggle it between his hooves before finally managing to catch it. “The squad before you reported fifteen,” she said, “from Baltimare.”

“...I understand, Your Highness. If I may, how long ago was that?”

Celestia stood frigidly, yet even that faded like an ice sculpture set out during a hot summer day. “Not even a half-hour ago,” she replied.

The guards remained still and silent in their line, but Celestia saw it in their trembling eyes.

“Captain…” she began, pacing about, “chances are what I am going to say will have to leave this room very soon. I’m sure you have heard a few rumors today, and I’m afraid that I must say that they are most likely true.”

The captain said nothing. He only let his jaw shift and then he audibly gulped.

“These numbers you have given me bring the total to nine hundred and twelve,” Celestia said, fixing her gaze on him. “That’s how many ponies have been reported missing in the past forty-eight hours.”

Kibitz’s frown finally grew too large to hide behind his mustache.

“And we have no clues as to why,” she continued. “In all reported cases, they simply vanished.”

The captain shifted, munching on some further words.

Celestia frowned. “Do you have something to say?”

“Yes, Your Highness,” he replied, “we have one other piece of news to report.”

Celestia nodded, urging him to continue.

“We have had reports of strange… anomalies—I think that is the word—from around Equestria, Your Highness. From what I am told, they are portals of some unknown type.”

Celestia shifted uncomfortably. “Portals? Where do they go?”

“We have not tried to venture through them ourselves, but we did some preliminary tests. Whatever is on the other side looks like the exact same spot as our side, but we’ve determined that it is not.”

Celestia remained thoughtful for a few moments. Her eyes ran over the guards in front of her and then to Kibitz who looked up at her expectedly.

Could it be?

“Where have these… portals… been located?” she asked at length.

“We have found two so far,” the captain replied. “The first one is at Neighagra Falls, on the stretch between the two falls. The second one is a lot closer; it’s located in the mountains near here, on some train tracks off the main line.”

Celestia’s expression remained as unreadable as ever, but the shudder that ran down her body betrayed her.

Kibitz, ever used to her tendencies, blinked in response. He grunted and pretended to jot something down on his notepad.

“Kibitz…” she began, “what do my notes say?”

Tucking the quill away, Kibitz jumped to a solitary page in the rear which contained a few choice lines. He scanned them once and looked up. “Your Highness… What I have in your notes concurs with this information.”

Then it is as I thought, she grimly concluded.

“Captain,” Celestia said, straightening herself.

“Yes, Your Highness?”

“I want you to put patrols at each portal site, both those already found and any more that you find. Nopony is to pass through those portals besides myself.” She paused and stroked her chin for a moment. “Or Princess Twilight. She will have as full authority on this as I do. Anypony else, you turn them away. If they continue, you arrest them on sight. Kibitz, a scroll if you please.”

On receiving a sheet from him, as well as a quill, she continued, “In the meantime, you will encourage the citizens to stay away from those portals. Use as much discretion as possible. Dismissed.”

The squad saluted. “Yes, Your Highness!”

As she watched them depart, she furrowed her brow. She then put her quill to her paper. Dear Twilight...


Sunset’s world twisted, turned, pulled her inside out and back again, stretched into what felt like seven unique directions, and then she emerged into reality once more. She wobbled about on her hind legs and then let herself fall forward, planting all four of her newfound hooves on the floor where they belonged.

And even then, the world around her spun faster than she could keep up with, like she had just stumbled off a merry-go-round operating at Pinkie Pie speeds. Finally, the spinning subsided, and she looked around.

Sunset felt like a pinprick within the room that dwarfed her several times over. The crystalline walls, constructed like three-dimensional mosaics, reflected her in their many iridescent faces. Shelves upon shelves of potion tomes and dissertations on matrix theory circled her like the rings around a bullseye. Everywhere she turned, she found leather bounds, paperbacks, and even a few journals tied together with strings.

And Twilight’s probably read everything in here at least twice over, she thought.

Behind her stood the magic mirror in all its glory. She noted the magical compressors bobbing up and down, the pumps thumping along, and the glowing magic streaming through the tubes connecting it all. A brown-colored hardcover book bearing Celestia’s cutie mark nestled itself inside a niche at the top of the machine.

Sunset blinked and looked around the room, finally noting the lack of reception. She cleared her throat. “Hello?”

On receiving no response, she lifted her ears to detect any distant sounds. Nothing.

She trotted through the open doors and into the castle’s spacious halls. She dragged her hooves through the carpet as her gaze wandered along the arches and the varnished wooden doors. All were things she had seen during her last visit to the castle. That much had given her a rudimentary knowledge of how to get to the exit.

As Sunset rounded a corner, she frowned. She’d be screwed if she couldn’t find anypony along the way.

She emerged onto a balcony overlooking the castle’s spacious foyer. She ran her eyes down the impressive columns between her level and the floor far below.

“Hello? Anyone home?” she called again.

Something kerplunked in one of the side rooms, followed closely by the echoing pitter-patter of footsteps. A small, wide-eyed dragon skidded to a halt in the center of the foyer. Spike whirled around, looking in every direction. “Hello!?”

Sunset leaned over the railing. “Spike! I’m up here!”

Spike looked up at her, and a smile zipped across his face. “Sunset!” he exclaimed, waving.

Sunset chuckled and then focused some of her magic into her horn. The balcony disappeared from underneath her and the rest of her world twisted and turned. She reappeared on the floor below, just in time for Spike to leap into her outstretched hooves. “It’s so good to see you again!”

“I missed you too!” Spike replied, nuzzling into her. “It’s been a while!”

“Yeah, sure has.” Sunset laughed and hugged him. “How’s Twilight doing?”

Spike beamed. “She’s doing pretty good,” he replied. “A whole lot of stuff’s happened since you were last here.”

“So I hear. I can’t wait to swap stories with her!”

Someone off to the side cleared their throat, prompting the two to look over. A new mare stepped forward, sporting a notable cyan stripe in her mane. A smile arced across the mare’s face, and while Sunset determined that it was not completely genuine, it was enough for her to give the mare a chance. Everything else seemed tense and her gaze especially vibrant, and that convinced Sunset that this mare was trying to make a good impression.

“Welcome!” the new mare said, giddily swaying in place. “Welcome to the Friendship Castle! We’re very pleased to have you!”

Sunset cocked an eyebrow and smiled back. “Uh… hello!” she said with a wave.

“Sunset Shimmer,” Spike said, “this is Starlight Glimmer. She’s uh… staying at the castle right now. She also got that royal summons too, and she’s going with you tomorrow.”

So, she’s the one, Sunset thought. “Oh… how nice. Good to meet you, Starlight Glimmer.”

Starlight nodded. “You too, Sunset Shimmer.”

“Your name sounds familiar, but I don’t remember where.”

Starlight flinched and made up for it by widening her grin. “So does yours… I can’t remember where I’ve heard your name either.”

Sunset scratched her chin and hummed thoughtfully. “Are you related to Twilight somehow?”

Starlight nodded. “I’m Twilight’s pupil.”

Sunset raised an eyebrow. “Oh,” she said, fixing her gaze on Starlight, “is that right?”

“Yup,” Spike said. “She’s really, really talented with magic. We’ve never seen anypony like her.”

Sunset narrowed her eyes, scrutinizing Starlight. “You must be some tough stuff then, huh?”

Starlight thumped her chest with pride. “I can do a thing or two.”

“Yeah, sure. I’ll buy that. So, you’re a student then…” She nodded and chuckled. “That makes two of us.”

Starlight raised an eyebrow. “Do... you study under Twilight too?”

Sunset grinned. “I guess you could say that.”

“Oh, I see. I’ve never seen you around the castle before.”

Sunset shrugged. “I study abroad.”

“Study abroad? Study… really?” she asked, turning to Spike.

“Yup,” he replied.

“Huh… imagine that. That’s pretty cool, I guess. It’s good to meet ya.”

Sunset grinned. “Yeah, you too.” She then looked up toward the rest of the castle. She fixed her gaze on the room that, she presumed, they had come from. Both of them. “So hey, where’s Twilight?”

Spike blinked. “Twilight?”

Starlight hummed, biting her lip. “Twilight… well… she’s at that thing somewhere and whatever it was.”

Sunset raised an eyebrow. “Huh?”

Starlight frowned. “Spike? Help me out here…”

Spike scratched his head. “Well… I kinda don’t really remember exactly where she went, though. I mean, I know she got a letter from Princess Celestia about something somewhere and then the Map called them up that way. Whatever it is, something’s going on.”

Sunset scratched her head. “Map?”

Spike inhaled to give a long reply, thought twice about it, and then said, “There’s a map that sends Twilight and them off to solve friendship problems. It’s called the Cutie Map. I’ll show you later.”

“Say,” Starlight began, glancing down at him, “why didn’t you go with them, Spike?”

“The Map didn’t invite me,” he replied, deadpan.

“Oh,” Starlight said, frowning.

“Sounds like it’s all that important princess stuff,” Sunset said, chuckling nervously. “...Just as long as she doesn’t do anything too dangerous, I guess.”

Spike chuckled. “Nothing they can’t handle.”

“Probably not. Still, I do worry about her sometimes. You know, after what happened.”

Spike looked up, partly blank in the face. And then he nodded solemnly. “Oh, yeah, that. I remember that. That was the last time that you came to Equestria.”

“I came to Equestria because of that.”

“Yeah.”

Sunset shook her head. “That was bad.”

“I don’t mean to be a bother, but… What?” Starlight asked with a tone of a schoolfilly racing up to a schoolyard tussle.

“Oh yeah, Starlight,” Spike said, “that was a thing that happened. I uh… kinda need to go back and finish this thing before Twilight gets back. Otherwise, I’d tell you all about it. It’s kinda a long story.”

“I could tell ya,” Sunset said. “I think we’re gunna have a lot to talk about, pupil to pupil.”

A silence passed between the three. Spike backed a few steps toward the doorway but paused when the two remained standing there, looking confused.

“Erm,” Sunset said, “I’ve… never been around Ponyville before. Maybe you could show me around?”

Starlight let out the breath she had been holding. “Yeah, sure. I could do that. Sorry, I really am still pretty new to all this,” she said, blushing.

Sunset giggled and wrapped a foreleg around Starlight. “No biggie. I think I might know how that feels.”

“I am kinda curious to hear how Twilight took you on as a student,” Starlight said. “She doesn’t take just anypony on.”

“I know. We can talk about that too.”

Spike continued inching away. “Well, uh, you two do that. Okay? I’ll be here if you need me!” he said. After the two of them gave their acknowledgments, he disappeared through the open doorway.

Starlight giggled. “Twilight gave him a lot to do today, so I guess he’ll really appreciate us being out of his mane. ...Err, scales, I mean.” With that, Starlight led Sunset toward the door. “Come on, Sunset Shimmer, Ponyville awaits!”

* * *

Ponyville had that rustic charm which the human world definitely lacked. Sunset appreciated all the simpler wooden trusses, the rounded shapes, and the way that some lofts jutted out and hung over the side of their respective houses. It contrasted the blocky construction of the residences back home.

Ponies here didn’t have social media like she did. But rather, as she saw dozens upon dozens of ponies in the streets, chatting and laughing with neighbors and passersby, Sunset decided that the fresh air was their social media.

“And that,” Starlight said, pointing toward the largest gingerbread house Sunset had ever laid her eyes on, “is Sugarcube Corner.”

Sunset stopped in front of the structure and took a whiff of the thick syrup of confectionery, the strawberries and jam, the toasty aroma of bread, the milky and fruity caress of completed cakes, all of which drew imaginings of the delights inside, and then she realized it as a familiar smell. It was yet another analog between this world and the human world.

Sunset took it in for a few long moments before she laid a hoof across Starlight’s withers, keeping her gaze fixed on the monolithic structure of sugar all the while. While the smells hinted to her, the no-doubt sweet-tasting building in front of her sold her.

“Pinkie?” she asked.

“Pinkie,” Starlight replied without batting an eye.

The two continued on past, strolling through the groups of ponies within the plaza and into yet another street, talking all the while.

“I dunno, Starlight,” Sunset said. “Rewriting time like you did, trying to get back at Twilight…”

Starlight giggled. “I guess it doesn’t really compare all that much to becoming a… she-demon, really. I don’t know.”

Sunset nodded uncertainly. “I guess we both have done some really weird and messed up stuff, huh?”

“We’re pretty bad ponies,” Starlight said.

“...Were pretty bad ponies,” Sunset countered with a grin.

A grin also spread across Starlight’s face, and then she let out a short chuckle. And then they fell into some short, almost nervous giggles together.

“No, it’s okay,” Sunset continued. “Just... the thing I’m thinking about through all that is the fact that you managed to change history. Just… that part.”

Starlight frowned. “What about it?”

“Well, it goes back to that time where Twilight, you know, died.” Sunset paused to think. “By the way, how much do you know about that? About Twilight dying?”

Starlight grimaced and then nodded. “I heard about it when I was still… scouting around way back when. But Twilight… She doesn’t really talk about it. She might have mentioned it once or twice, but… she never really went into detail about it. So I didn’t know all that much before you told me about it just now.”

“I see.”

“Parallel worlds and infinitely many universes is also sort of a scary prospect, but hey,” Starlight laughed, “the world’s a weird place. If you say you live in a world through Twilight’s mirror where everypony walks on two legs, then I’m not going to argue with it.”

Sunset laughed but said nothing, opting to run her eyes over more of the scenery.

“Which, now that I think about it, also explains that ‘studying abroad’ thing you mentioned,” Starlight added.

Sunset nodded. “It’s a very interesting place. You should have Twilight show you around sometime.”

Starlight nodded as they rounded a corner, and new smells greeted them; the tang of fresh produce begged for their attention. Vendors competed against shoppers in flavorfully heated and animated negotiations. They passed by an apple cart, exchanging waves with Granny Smith as she explained several types of apples to a potential customer: a curious little colt.

“It does make me miss things that happen here, though,” Sunset admitted. “I missed out on all of Tirek, and I heard there was some sort of bugbear around here sometime recently? Something like that.”

Starlight giggled. “I would imagine.”

Sunset shrugged. “It’d be nice to know what all goes on here, I think. I really should visit more often.” She hummed to herself as she watched a couple perched on a bench amidst a plate full of fresh muffins.

Starlight nodded. “I guess the biggest thing going on is that there are two new alicorns in Equestria now.”

Sunset hesitated for a few moments. “...Oh, is that right?”

“Yes.”

Sunset deadpanned. “...Two?”

Starlight considered it. “Two.”

While Sunset did everything to suppress the following cackle, bits still escaped. “Okay, fine. Yeah. Whatever,” she said, throwing her hooves into the air. “They seem to be coming out of the woodwork now.”

Starlight shrugged. “I guess.”

“So then, tell me about them?”

“Well, see, Princess Cadance had a foal. Flurry Heart is what they named her.” She paused to chuckle to herself. “Because… yeah. But get this: she was born an alicorn.”

“Born?”

Starlight nodded. “Yeah. No one’s really sure why yet since that’s kinda unprecedented in Equestria. She’s still very young, though, so it’s kinda hard to really say much else about her yet.”

“I see.”

“Did I mention she’s Twilight’s niece?”

“...Oh?” Sunset glanced back with an initially confused frown. And then she gasped. “...Oh! Yes! So, that’s the niece? You know, I remember now, she mentioned something about it some time ago.”

“Oh, believe me, Twilight goes on and on about how she’s an aunt now.”

“Heh… things sure change, don’t they?”

Starlight nodded.

Sunset scratched at a bald spot in the grass, digging up some dirt. She then cleared her throat. “What about that other one? You said there were two.”

“Yes,” Starlight replied, straightening up. “So there’s Flurry Heart. The other is a little more recent too.”

Sunset frowned and rolled her hoof for Starlight to continue.

“Her name is Adamantine.”

Sunset hummed and nodded in acknowledgment.

“Yes,” Starlight continued. “She’s been frequenting Ponyville for the past month.”

“And what’s her story?”

“Well, that’s just it…” Starlight said, her voice falling toward a dejected whisper. “I actually don’t know.”

Sunset raised an eyebrow. “You don’t know?”

“Nopony seems to know,” Starlight said, shrugging. “I know less about her than I do Flurry Heart, even.”

“Well,” Sunset said, glaring, “what do you know?”

Starlight shrugged. “I know she started showing up about a month ago. She comes to the markets a lot and practically buys all the produce. The vendors love her. She also does lots of odd jobs here and there; I imagine that’s how she pays for all of it. She’s done waiting tables, working the bookstore, you name it. She hits up the locals sometimes too, I guess. Heck, she’s come over to the castle for lunch a few times as well.”

After a few moments of silence, Sunset leaned forward in anticipation. “And?”

“And?” Starlight frowned. “That’s it.”

“Are you sure?”

“That’s all anypony knows about her,” Starlight said, snorting. “She always comes here alone, always disappears without a trace. I couldn’t possibly tell you where she goes or what she does with the food she buys.” She prodded the ground in time with her voice, “Normally, I wouldn’t care what a pony’s daily routines are, but her case is a bit sketchy. And then, of course, she’s an alicorn.”

Sunset rolled her eyes. “Sure, whatever. I guess she’s not really a threat right now. Right?”

Starlight chuckled nervously. “Thank Celestia, no. And that’s kinda been why we haven’t really made it so much of an issue.” She watched as three fillies with similar cutie marks raced by in an isolated parade of playful screams. She waved to them and the Crusaders waved back. “We’re keeping our eyes out, sure. But… you know.”

Sunset shrugged. “I guess I’ll take that. Still, I’d like to meet this… Uhhh…”

“Adamantine.”

“Adamantine.” She then muttered it under her breath, trying to commit it to memory.

“Maybe we’ll run into her while you’re here.”

The two arrived in an expansive park of grassy greens and the occasional picnic blanket. As several colts and fillies ran about, throwing balls and discs and all sorts of other objects through the air, older ponies sat by and watched from beyond the pages of a book or the throes of a conversation.

Starlight pointed to an open spot on the grass. “That looks like a good spot there,” she said.

The two sat down and looked toward the clear skies to see a few pegasi playing hoofball through a haphazardly thrown-together field. They zoomed about, looping around each other in rapid jukes that left their opponents dazed and their spectators awed.

Sunset watched one of the players shoot the ball past the opposing goalie. “So, Starlight, about that story that you told me…”

“Hmmm?”

Sunset dug a line into the dirt with her hoof. “Back when I worked on The Answer—that was the spell that we used to bring Twilight back from the dead—we figured a lot out about how the time stream works. We used that to our full advantage.

“One thing that I learned… when dealing with time travel and all of that… is that time is fixed. It’s immutable. ‘Is, was, will be.’ And we relied on that, even, just to get things done. It worked, too.”

Sunset glanced over to Starlight with a thoughtful frown. “And yet, you going back in time… changing the world…? Setting off these alternate realities just by changing the past? That’s what gets me.”

Starlight cleared her throat and blushed. “Yeah… I guess it must have had something to do with how I rewrote Starswirl’s spell. It… allowed me to rewrite history. And that was what I was going for…” she said with a giggle.

“I guess no one told you it was impossible,” Sunset replied with a laugh.

“No! And so I did it… and I was successful for a while, at least. I had Twilight on the ropes. I didn’t see the results, of course, but I was sure I had done it. And then…” Her voice trailed off as a frown overtook her. Starlight fixated her gaze on a piece of grass and she toyed with it using her hoof. “Twilight managed to pull me through the time nebula and I saw… I finally saw it. I saw a world. I saw an alternate Equestria. I saw someplace so totally different than what’s here now. I saw a world where Twilight never happened.” She shook her head. “It was a bad place. It was there… all because of me.”

Some water formed in Starlight’s eye but did not fall, and her frown refused to deepen any more than it had. “It was… sobering, to say the least. I didn’t realize the consequences of what I was doing. It showed me just how wrong I was about my whole approach. How... my philosophy had nearly ruined everything, really and truly.”

Sunset had to force herself to not picture it. She had heard stories, and if they could remain that way, that would be okay. Instead, she laid a hoof across Starlight’s back. “You just wanted what you thought was fair, right?”

A small smile formed on the rim of Starlight’s muzzle. “Yeah. I did. I just didn’t think about how catastrophically wrong it would make things. Looking back, I see that I was just a tad bit extreme. And I’ve learned since then.”

Sunset giggled in response, understanding the sentiment perfectly.

Starlight nodded her head back in forth as if entertaining another thought. “But…” she began, turning to face Sunset, “if there’s one thing about all of that… one thing that I do take solace in…?”

Sunset turned to meet her friend’s gaze. “Yeah?”

Starlight swallowed, her expression more certain than before. “It’s that those worlds, as horrible as they must have been… they’re just a terrible memory.”

* * *

Princess Twilight Sparkle of Equestria scowled at the large portal before her. She ruffled her wings once as she approached it. Her horn lit up and she scanned the anomaly from top to bottom, frowning further when her spell told her nothing.

The portal hummed quietly as sickly green light swam around the rim. She noted the image contained within the large, parabolic shape sticking out of the ground: the night sky on the other side of the opening.

She looked at what lay underneath her hooves. And our train tracks run right into the broad side of this portal, she thought. That’s interesting…

Peering around the side, she noted the flat construction and the similar behavior on the other side of the portal. At least it acts like a two-dimensional hole…

Rarity walked up behind her, throwing her shining coiffure into the wind. “Well?” she asked. “What do you make of it?”

Twilight gave it another once-over and then stood up with a huff. “Well, it seems like it’s sustained for now. I can’t determine the power source but… it’s not local.”

“And that…” Rarity continued, pointing through the opening, “whatever that is on the other side?”

“That…” Fluttershy squeaked, cowering at the sight of the portal, “looks like Equestria to me.”

“If that’s what it looks like,” Rainbow Dash said, gliding through the air above them with her wings, “then I say we go on through.”

“Now hold yer horses,” another voice said. Applejack trotted up and ran a careful eye up and down the anomaly. She adjusted her hat and then looked back up to Rainbow Dash. “Ah don’t want none of us going through some sort of magical so-and-so without knowin’ it’s alright to do so.”

“Weeeellllll,” Pinkie Pie squealed, zipping up to it, “this portal does lead right around to this spot! You can see it in the shape of the environment, see?”

“Why have a portal that doesn’t go anywhere?” Rarity asked.

Fluttershy shook her head. “But it does go somewhere. It’s nighttime over there,” she pointed out.

Rainbow Dash examined the opening. “Those train tracks look in better shape than these ones do. I know you said that this is an old rail line, but still.”

Twilight peered behind them at the royal guards who stood off to the side with their spears in the air. She then glanced at the five friends around her, and then finally to the strange image beyond the aperture.

She narrowed her eyes. “I’m going through,” she announced.

Applejack stepped forward. “Twi, we’re comin’ with ya.”

Twilight glanced back at the five of them and nodded. She looked over at the guards and gave them a simple, “Stay here.”

They saluted in response.

Taking a deep breath, Twilight stepped through the portal. Her closest friends followed closely behind.

In an instant, she felt a cool grip across her coat and a chilled wind through her mane; Twilight shrugged them off. She looked through the surrounding darkness, drawing her eyes over the earthen contours. They looked the same, at any rate.

The other five fanned out, taking up the remainder of the clearing. They examined every nook and cranny, occasionally comparing it to the area on their side of the portal. They looked toward the nighttime sky, comparing it to the daytime through the opening.

Applejack, for her part, froze on the spot. She stared upward for many long moments before adjusting her stetson. “Uhhhh… y’all… anypony else seein’ what Ah’m seein’?”

The other five looked toward where Applejack’s gaze rested and collectively frowned. The moon above bore an image. The profile of a mare’s head, created by a series of darkened craters on the moon’s surface, glared down.

Rarity swallowed. “Isn’t that… the Mare in the Moon?” she asked.

Fluttershy nodded. “That’s what it looks like.”

Twilight narrowed her eyes. No, there was more. She saw the translucent contours of cyan and purple and red arranged in a pattern that, as Twilight thought about it, looked vaguely familiar. No, she had definitely seen it once before.

She considered the night sky again, and with each star that she saw, her frown deepened.

“Oh no!” she cried.

Twilight took to the air amidst startled cries from each of her friends. She beat her wings, zooming above the tree line as fast as they could carry her. Twilight’s heart thumped in her chest as she fought off the urge to curse out loud. Her grinding teeth remained the only clues that such a battle was happening at all.

She knew that face. She knew it, she knew it, and it was impossible. The colorful Mare in the Moon refused to budge from her position. Twilight began to sweat.

Up and up the incline she went, knowing her general location enough to get a good view. The terrain eventually flattened out and then dropped off again in the form of a steep cliff. There, at the very top, Twilight nearly plowed into the ground as she touched down. She closed the distance with the cliff and looked over the valley below.

She found trees where Ponyville should have been. Said trees proliferated into the Everfree beyond. Twilight frowned. No, the Everfree had spread into where Ponyville should have been. First the moon, then the forest. She then wondered if she would find a map in there, just like the one in her castle.

She turned and raced along the cliffside trying to get a better view of Canterlot to the north, and nearly fell off the cliffside entirely when it ran out. Canterlot still clung to the mountain, and while she wasn’t close enough to see any of its finer details, she was close enough to see the disrepair all over. The city contained fewer lights than she remembered, and even though it certainly had to be early evening, the city lay quiet. A few buildings here and there bore the aged scars of some magical tussle, with jagged holes and collapsed columns abound.

But a single gigantic, moon-insignia flag the size of the tallest tower of the old castle which it perched on cemented it for Twilight and confirmed the impossible. She watched as it flapped in a nightly wind.

Rainbow Dash touched down behind her and peered across the valley as well. “Twilight! What is all this!?”

Fluttershy flew down from above the treetops soon after, and the other three pushed through the shrubbery soon after that.

“I know this place,” Twilight replied. “I’ve been here before. B-but this is impossible…”

As the others gazed toward Canterlot, Rarity voiced it for them. “But… where is here?”

“Impossible?” Pinkie Pie asked.

Twilight swallowed, running everything through her mind once again. “This…” she half-whispered, “is… the world… the alternate reality from when I fought Starlight Glimmer… where Nightmare Moon won.”