Sunset caught herself, her fingers scraping against dirt and gravel.
A blast of hot air washed over her, filled with soot and dust and the overwhelming stench of smoke.
Twilight sounded off by launching into a coughing and sneezing fit.
“Careful.” Sunset couldn't help but smile as she helped Twilight to her feet.
“Ugh. I want to recalibrate for a smoother landing. This is starting to get obnoxious.” Twilight cleared her throat one more time and wiped at her nose. “So, where are we this time?”
Sunset finally took a good look at their surroundings. A quiet suburb. Or at least what was left of one. Rubble filled the streets, and only about half of the buildings still stood. Smoke formed a haze in the sky, backlit by the red-orange glow of a roaring fire. Distant booms sounded like thunder, but were almost certainly something far worse. Sunset licked her lips. “Nowhere good.”
Twilight nodded. “You're right. This looks dangerous. The smart thing to do would be to sit here, not touch anything, and wait until the portal recharges.”
“Solid plan.” Sunset took a few idle steps, and felt something crunch under her feet. A robotic arm peeked out from beneath some rubble, with bulky mechanical joints, and loose wires sticking out of scorched holes. “But what if someone out there is hurt?”
They both glanced at each other, holding eye contact until Twilight chuckled. “Can't argue with that. Just be careful.”
They made their way forward, staying close and carefully watching every step. No signs of life seemed to stir around them.
“There you are, Sunset! About time. I was getting bored,” the voice of Twilight Sparkle called out from behind them. Another Twilight Sparkle, human. Pinned under some twisted mass of steel girders.
“Hold on!” Sunset rushed over. “I'm sure we can get you out of there somehow. Twilight, go find something that can be used as a prybar!”
The pinned Twilight blinked several times. “Prybar? What are you talking about? Just use your magic to…” Her eyes flicked between the pair, and she sighed. “Oh. You’re Voyagers. I'm from X37-B. Wherever you’re from, I could really use an assist right now. There should be a pouch right near that pile of rubble where you're standing, Twilight. In it should be a clear vial with metal flakes in it. Bring it to me.”
Sunset glanced at Twilight. They both shrugged. “What do you mean by Voyagers?”
“Sliders, Travellers, Dimension Hoppers, Loopers. There's always outliers, but eighty percent of the other Twilights I've come in contact with have a clear preference for the term Voyagers.” She pursed her lips. “Sunsets are only seventy-three percent sure, though.”
The pinned Twilight smacked herself in the forehead with her one free hand. “Goddess above, you're both total newbies at this, aren't you? Alright, for starters, call me Sparkle. It'll make things easier. Also, hurry up with that vial, this is mildly uncomfortable.”
“Sorry.” Twilight knelt beside her counterpart and handed her a vial filled with a clear liquid. Metallic flakes floated inside, jostled by the movement. “So that's where we are, then? This is dimension X-whatever?”
Sparkle laughed. “Of course not. I'm far away from home, just like you two. Very far.” She pulled the cork out with her teeth, then downed the liquid in a single gulp. Almost immediately, her complexion brightened. She grunted, and steel shook around her until the mass of it hurled into the air, as if thrown by an invisible giant.
Sparkle stood up, stretching, her bones popping audibly. She seemed older than Twilight, maybe middle-aged, but her face was completely smooth, lacking any wrinkles or imperfections. It gave her a sort of timeless beauty that defied numbers. She wore a hole-ridden lab coat, stained with dark red around the edges. Unblemished skin showed underneath.
“Thanks.” Sparkle pulled a pair of unbroken glasses from her pocket and slipped them onto her face. “I get overconfident sometimes. Wasted the last of my power regenerating, couldn't get the girders off.” She waved a hand, and flashes of light flickered across her glasses. “Alright, so you're both from dimension C-45-H. Pretty far off the dimensional track.”
“You can regenerate?” Twilight asked at the same time Sunset asked, “Can you get us home?”
Sparkle chuckled. “When all of the multiverse is your plaything, you can pick up a lot of neat tricks. Magic from one world, technology from another...” Her eyes grew a distant, and an odd smirk crossed her face. “Let's just say there's a reason a lot of people think Sunset and I are gods whenever we enter the scene.”
Silence hung between them, just long enough to be uncomfortable, before Sparkle coughed. “Anyway, I might be able to help. My own portal isn't on me at the moment, and I don’t have time to grab it. Here, let me see yours.”
Twilight proffered their Talisman, and a purple aura snatched it out of the air. Almost immediately it exploded, separating into several dozen smaller parts.
“Hey!” Sunset took a step forward. “What are you—”
Sparkle raised a finger. All of the parts spun around in midair, soon joined by parts that floated from Sparkle’s bag and out of her pockets. In moments, the device had completely reassembled itself in a whirlwind of engineering. “Here,” she said, tossing it back to Twilight. “That should do the trick.”
Twilight fumbled with it awkwardly for a few moments. “It feels… different, somehow. This will take us home? Just like that?”
“Not quite. Your device is good, but it's still incredibly primitive. I've locked it onto your home dimension, but it can't make the entire journey in one trip. Ten or twenty more hops should do it.”
“Wait, how does that even work?” Twilight tilted her head to the side. “There's a function of distance that matters when dimension hopping?”
“No, of course not. It's…” Sparkle scowled, and crossed her arms over her chest. “What do you want me to do, sit here and explain the entire theory of multidimensional waylines to you?”
“Right, of course I would say that.” Sparkle sighed, then reached into her pocket and pulled out a small metallic cube. She closed her eyes, and it erupted with violet electricity for a few seconds. “There. Several petabytes of theory. I wrote most of it. Good luck finding something that can actually read it.”
Twilight took the device, her hands shaking with barely contained glee.
A loud boom rumbled in the distance. Sparkle glanced over her shoulder. “Well, I have a war to be getting back to. Do you kids need anything else?”
“Um…” Twilight glanced at Sunset, and bit her lip. “How long have you been doing this? The Voyager thing?” Do you have any advice for us?”
Sparkle barked a short laugh, hollow, and full of unimaginable bitterness. “I don't know how long it's been anymore.” She took a step forward, firelight reflecting off of her glasses. “First advice when it comes to Voyaging? Don't. It all seems like fun and games at first. But when you can do anything and go anywhere, nothing means anything anymore. No matter how powerful you get, there will always be actions you can't undo. Friends you can't save. Choices that have to be made.”
She stepped even closer, eyes burning with intensity, and gripped Twilight's shoulders until the younger girl cried out in pain. “Second piece of advice.” Her head whipped to the side, and locked eyes with Sunset. “Hold on to her. In the entire multiverse, the only constant I've found is Twilight Sparkle and Sunset Shimmer. Always, and forever.” Sparkle took a deep breath, her voice little more than a ragged whisper. “She's the only thing in all of existence that matters.”
A shiver ran up Sunset’s spine. “Your Sunset. Is she…”
Sparkle pulled back, her haunted expression replaced with the same arrogant smirk from earlier. “Sunset? She's busy, that's all.”
Twilight rubbed her shoulder. “Busy doing what?”
As if on cue, a distant pillar of light pierced the heavens, shattering the cloud cover and revealing a green sky.
Sparkle raised a hand and a luminescent barrier fitted around them just as a terrible wind rushed past, strong enough to flatten what buildings remained. They watched it pass, safely inside.
Eventually the torment around them died down, and Sparkle lowered the shield. “You kids have fun now. I've got to go give her a hand.” Without waiting for a response, Sparkle leapt into the into the air, carried by an unknown power, and quickly vanished into the smoke and dust.
They stared at each other in silence for what felt like an eternity. The Talisman dinged. They could move on.
Twilight looked away. “I don't want to become her.”
Sunset took a deep breath, then took Twilight's hand in her own and rested the other on the portal device. “I won't let that happen. We're going to get home. I promise.”