• Published 10th Jan 2018
  • 2,707 Views, 228 Comments

Back and There Again - Sun Sage



A strange gem takes Rarity to a world she almost recognizes. She's going to make it back home no matter what, but she might need some help to do it. And why is it all so familiar?

  • ...
5
 228
 2,707

1. Shopping List: Milk and a Marshmallow

A soft blue glow lit the surrounding forest as Rarity considered her circumstances. Her mysterious benefactor had given her directions to follow, and really she shouldn’t have been considering a deviation. And yet… that was almost certainly another unicorn she was sensing.

It was all the more odd since she’d never had that feeling before. ‘Sensing’ another pony was not a thing, at least not for the fashionista. Perhaps some unicorn guard somewhere had a spell for that; Twilight probably did. Rarity grimaced at the thought; she missed Twilight, all her friends really but in this case… Twilight would be able to handle this situation. She’d have already flown or teleported to wherever she needed to be, with a dozen other spells ready to aid her. She wouldn’t have sat in a lab being experimented on for weeks. She wouldn’t have unearthed a gem that teleported her to another world while she stared dumbly at it. And she wouldn’t be sitting in a strange forest wondering whether she should proceed to some meeting point or detour to explore a feeling that was somewhere between ‘urge’ and ‘hunch’.

Then again, Rarity had long respected the pull of inspiration. She turned from the laid out path towards what appeared to be electric lights beyond the forest. And really, the weeks in the lab she’d appeared in hadn’t been so bad. The guards were intimidating but guards were supposed to be, and the magic they seemed to have felt artificial. That wasn’t a bad thing; any more than a carefully made painting was worse than a natural landscape. Both had their place, their own beauty. It was simply sensing anything about it that was new. When she’d first arrived on this world, it had been the second most jarring thing to hit her. The magic around her was so rough and uneven that she actually noticed it for the first time. It was like knowing that there was air everywhere but having never, until that moment, felt wind. Now, she was feeling eddies and currents, sensing changes in pressures and flows. It had given her something to focus on and work with in between sessions with the scientists in the lab.

Thus she knew, without knowing how she knew, that the source of magic she was now heading towards was as natural as any unicorn’s. She wondered if it was another unicorn being held by these humans. She hoped not. Her own experience hadn’t amounted to much worse than a very extended physical (boredom, minor humiliation, and brief bits of pain), and she suspected that had to do with the same doctor who had, just hours prior, helped her escape and given her instructions as to where to go from there. The same instructions she was now deviating from. Instructions that had been delivered via a strange device that resembled a tablet made of metal and glass that spoke and contained pictures… because none of the humans spoke Equish.

That had been the most jarring thing upon arrival. She was familiar, second hoof, with a world of bipedal beings called humans and the rather strange, nearly nonexistent nature of magic on their world. Twilight had described her exploits there thoroughly, with each of her friends taking an interest for a variety of reasons. At least the fact that they always wore clothes had held true. As to the rest...

Rarity was now under the assumption that the mirror portal was more useful than simply making Twilight human when she went through. It also sent her to a friendly town where human versions of her friends lived and gave her the ability to communicate. The damnable gem had done nothing of the sort. If she ever saw it again she fully intended to snatch it, have Twilight disenchant whatever magic it had, and watch with cathartic delight as Spike crunched the blasted thing into powder. ...Spike. Rarity sniffed and shook her head to fight away the sting in her eyes. He had to be terrified for her; surely they all were, and Sweetie Belle… Rarity’s lower lip trembled and she grit her teeth. She would not break down now! She would find this other unicorn, and together they would meet with the human doctor who’d helped her and find a way back to Equestria. Rarity would accept no dark thoughts about any other possibilities.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Some short distance away, three humans sat in a limousine, watching icons on a tablet that Rarity would’ve found familiar. The one holding the tablet, who would’ve also been familiar, swore. “Sir, she’s gone off course.”

The balding, grey haired man she’d addressed chuckled at hearing this. He wore Marine Corps Dress Blues like a second skin, and even in the limo’s interior he leaned comfortably on a cane as he watched the tablet’s display. “I can see that. To be fair, Corporal, she did seem to hesitate first. I wouldn’t take it as complete distrust. Further, I commend you for managing to communicate well enough to get her this far.”

The corporal, one Valerie Martinovich, didn’t seem satisfied with that. “You say that, sir, but I couldn’t bring myself to try talking to her. I let the tablet’s voice program do that. I chickened out. Maybe if I’d tried harder to-”

“Val, I think you should look at where she’s heading.”

She blinked and peered up at their driver. “Knight Trellis?”

He snorted. “Call me Donovan already; we’ve talked about this. Anyway there’s a grocery store in that direction, on the edge of the town of Damascus.”

“You’re saying she’s hungry?”

“Well, I would be, but that’s not what I meant. I think she’s sensing something in that direction. General, if I’m not mistaken…”

General Albert Grumman grinned. “You’re not. I think we know why she hesitated, and changed direction despite knowing nothing of the region. This proves Corporal Martinovich’s theory that she can sense aetheric concentrations. I never believed I’d see this in my lifetime. Frankly, it’s too good an opportunity to pass up. Corporal, how soon before Colonel Owens’ security people repair their computers and figure out she’s gone?”

“Thirty minutes, tops, sir, if we’re lucky.”

“Very well then. Donovan, if you’d be so kind?”

“Shall I take us to the local grocer, then, General?”

“Certainly, Knight Trellis. I could use a gallon of milk anyway.”

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Aiden had long ago decided that noise canceling headphones were among humanity’s greatest inventions. There was simply nothing that could compare to the power of shutting out most of the world, just for a little while, and letting the music take you where it wanted. They’d long been a source of solace for the twenty-five year old, both at his current job stocking grocery store shelves and his previous, more stressful profession.

Regrettably, they were no match for a set of knuckles rapping forcefully on the break room table where he sat. With a sigh, he removed one earbud and opened one grey eye to look up at the source of the disturbance. Opening both eyes would have failed to express his displeasure at the interruption. Unacceptable. “Luke, I’m on lunch. Mark has the floor anyway.”

Luke was unimpressed. The tall, lanky farm kid was barely eighteen, but like many raised on a farm he’d grown up quickly due to the responsibilities expected of him. It was all the more reason Aiden knew he could be direct with the ‘kid’. It was also the reason Luke was just as direct. “Who do you think sent me to get you? We need you to come look at something, because you’re an Esper.”

Aiden opened both eyes wide as his blood went cold. “I… uh… no I’m… doesn’t...” Very smooth cover, he was surely in the clear.

With eyes rolling, Luke showed Aiden his phone. Specifically, he showed him a queued up recording of Aiden stocking shelves. To the point, it was Aiden stocking shelves with telekinesis, while reading on his own phone. Aiden stared at the damning evidence before him while continuing to fail at being brilliant. “You’re uh… not supposed to have your phone with you on the floor.”

“You’re reading on yours in the video! Plus that’s for the day shift when the store’s open. No one on night shift cares. ...No one cares that you’re an Esper, either. Except Craig, but he’s a jackass.”

Aiden snorted. Craig was that, certainly, but he was still reeling. So stupid, how the hell had he not noticed someone sneaking up on him and filming him? Ridiculous, he’d clearly been too absorbed in whatever he’d been reading. And now… “Wait, what do you mean no one cares?”

“Just what I said. Everyone here’s known you for years now, long before they figured it out and started watching for a time when you did something using magic. You’re alright, so no one cares. Except Craig.”

“Yeah, but he’s a jackass.”

“Right. So now, because you’re an Esper and we trust you as a coworker and friend, we need you to look at something.”

Friend… Aiden felt a slight smile tugging at his face. He’d worried about getting revealed and nothing had even come of it. The negative part of his mind reminded him that it was a reasonable worry. Espers weren’t in favor, not anymore. During the war with the Oni-koru, they’d been guardian angels, awakened among people all over the world to defend humanity in Earth’s darkest hour. But that darkest hour had been over for almost six years, and now Espers were more worrisome than a defeated alien race. It didn’t help that more than a few of them had gone crazy either during or after the fighting. A crazy person is unfortunate, even tragic. A crazy person with magic powers is somewhat beyond that.

Public opinion had also been twisted by the way the media had slanted the stories following the war. Aiden imagined how it must have been for veteran soldiers returning from unpopular wars. Add to that a fear of the unknown and powers that were often all too reminiscent of the invaders’ and most Espers just wanted to live quiet lives well out of the public eye. It was understandable from both sides, he thought. Humanity wanted to move on from a war that had spanned the planet and left over half a billion dead in the course of ten years. Espers, who were humans too, dammit!, also wanted to move on from the war that, for most of them, had taken everything away at a horribly young age and replaced it with nearly a decade of strife. There were a few who wanted special recognition as saviors, but not many.

Aiden felt that honor went far more to those that gave their lives, and those numbers included far more ‘normal’ soldiers, brave men and women who had fought alongside those few Espers in all the years of conflict. Aiden remembered every name he owed his life to. A set of knuckles rapped on the table again. He blinked.

Luke was shaking his head. “You were spacing out again.”

“Come on, man, this is a lot to take in. Some Espers have gotten beaten up by gangs and such. Getting exposed is no joke nowadays.”

“You say that, but…” Whatever he was going to say was interrupted as his phone beeped. “Oh, it’s Mark… he says ‘get your asses down here.’”

Aiden couldn’t help but laugh. “Down where though? Seriously, what am I looking at that you need an Esper for?”

“Well…” Luke looked away, looking uncertain. “We have a unicorn locked in the produce prep room.”

“...What.”

“A unicorn. It’s like a horse, but with a horn on its head. Though this one’s a bit small, so more like a unicorn pony? Or maybe it’s not fully grown. It’s head is weirdly shaped too, and it has the biggest blue eyes you’ve ever seen. And I think it’s a mare, because-”

“Luke I know what a damn unicorn is-”

“There’s something very feminine about the way it looks and moves… and yells and whines,” he continued.

“...What.”

“It seems pretty disappointed with its predicament and was being a bit dramatic about it.”

“...Give it an apple. Unicorns love apples.”

“That’s probably true, actually. I should have thought of that. But there’s probably some in there with it, so...”

Aiden facepalmed. “Luke I’ve never seen anything like a unicorn. The apple thing was a joke, since it’s a horse, pony… something.” He sighed; there was no help for it if Mark was texting from across the building. “So okay, let’s go,” he said as he got up from the table. “Ah, and speaking of how weird this is... Luke. If this is a prank I’m going to teleport you to the top of the highest tree in the area and leave you there.”

Luke stumbled a bit, surprised. “You can do that?”

Aiden chuckled. “...Sort of, yes. It’s not teleportation exactly. It’s something I can do that’s linked to my special talent.” Aiden headed out of the break room, mentally shooing away his annoyance at still looking up about a foot to Luke’s eye level. The kid was tall, but still… Stupid growth stunting physical traumas… “How much do you know about Espers?”

“Not too much beyond what’s in the news. You have special powers like out of a comic book. That’s why someone came up with the name ‘Esper’. You all have telekinesis, and a particular power you’re good at that’s based on some part of your personalities.”

Was that what the documentaries and such said? “You’re part right. The telekinesis is correct, and we also have some physical advantages from the energy suffusing us. But actually the ‘special power’ is based on the piece of Oni-Koru tech that woke us up. ...Ah, that’s Esper parlance for when we got our powers.”

“Obviously.”

“...Right. Well, mine are from a device called a Gravity Drive. It sort of folds space so as to deliver supplies or the like over a short distance without using a ship. It’s more like a magic tunnel than really teleporting. I knew a guy who could do the real deal.”

“How did one of those wake you up?” Luke asked as they approached a group of their coworkers gathered around the locked, and now barred and barricaded, produce prep door.

“When the Onis attacked Seattle, they dropped one of them full of soldiers and materiel pretty close to my family’s car on I-5. The shock wave triggered my genetic lottery ticket, and killed pretty much everyone else in the area.”

Luke winced. “I’m sorry. How… how old were you?”

Aiden smiled weakly and squeezed the taller man’s shoulder briefly. “Ten. And it’s okay; it was a long time ago.” He turned towards the crowd, in particular one individual among the four that were there. “Hey, Mark. I know you’re a meat and potatoes kind of guy, but veggies aren’t that scary. What’s with the door?”

Mark Millen was a solid looking man in his mid forties. A veteran of the war, he’d always shown Aiden a certain gruff kindness. It didn’t extend to patience for being kept waiting, so naturally snark met snark. “There’s an alien on the other side of it that looks like a unicorn the size of a wolfhound. It struck me as odd, so I figured I’d let my top oddball handle it.”

Aiden snorted, not able to suppress a grin. “Thanks… actually no really, thanks. Unicorn alien aside, how long have you known about me?”

“Since I hired you. I got a special request to do so from an old Marine buddy of mine. You’ve got more friends than I think you realize. I might’ve hired you anyway, you gave a good interview, but the background check might have raised some flags, so...”

Aiden blinked, feeling a slight burn in his eyes. People weren’t going to stop surprising him today. “R-right. Okay so… unicorn… here… how?”

“I was stocking natural foods when I saw a flicker of light around the door… which then opened on its own after unlocking itself. In walks this other flicker that wanders around in produce… like one of the Oni’s using a stealth field that wasn’t calibrated right. I pretended not to look but then I dropped a jar. That spooked it; it dropped whatever power was cloaking it and ran in here. I followed and locked the door, then barred it with the broom and then a display case. I yelled for everyone to get over here and had Luke fetch you since you probably had those damn headphones on again. Clear enough?”

“Yup.”

“So now you’re here and you can deal with the alien. Last I saw they didn’t look like unicorns so maybe you can just give it an apple.”

“Hey, that’s what I said!” Aiden laughed. Mark’s observation was correct. The Oni-koru looked mostly human, if said human was going out of his or her way to look demonic. They often had multiple horns, occasionally wings, tails, three or more eyes… frankly they matched mythological depictions of demons and the like from various mythologies. But, and speaking of mythologies, Aiden had never seen one look like a unicorn. He felt, now that he was this close, something on the other side of the door. It was a strong feeling, but not threatening. On the contrary it was almost familiar, like a pleasant scent he couldn’t quite place. “But yeah… so I’ll just… deal with it then. Whatever that’s going to mean.”

Two of the others moved the displays barring the door. Craig held the broom and a frigid stare in Aiden’s direction. Mark spoke up as Aiden moved to the door. “Aiden, I don’t know why but, I don’t think you should hurt it.” Craig sputtered but offered no words as he removed the broom from the door’s handle. Mark gave him a quelling look, clearly not the first. “It’s just a hunch, and the reason I didn’t go grab my rifle while this thing was trapped in here.”

Aiden nodded, looking at the door handle as he slowly reached towards it, gathering energy in case this was a trap, or a prank. There had been no noise, yelling or whining, from within since he’d gotten here.

---------------------Minutes prior--------------------------------------------------------------

It wasn’t hard for Rarity to deduce that her strange sensation of a unicorn had pulled her to a grocery store. It further didn’t take a detective to figure out that, despite the lights within, the building was currently closed.

Well, fabulous work, Rarity. You’ve managed to find the eeeevil grocery store where the poor unicorn is held captive. No doubt she is being tortured unspeakably. They’re probably eating meat in front of her and laughing maniacally as she tries valiantly to ignore the smell of cooked flesh. She snorted derisively at herself before her stomach growled. ...Unless it’s fish… frankly I could go for a tuna steak about now.

Between suddenly realized hunger and a desire to see this through, she examined the glass and steel door only to behold that the latch for the deadbolt was clearly visible on the other side of the frame. It would be effortless to open, but Rarity paused a moment. There were several carriages parked in front of the building. Cars for short, Twilight had said. Rarity had no real clue how they worked; her attention had drifted when Twilight had started explaining that. But there were six of them, which potentially meant many humans in the building. This called for stealth.

Bending light wasn’t a foreign concept to Rarity. While she preferred using it for mood lighting and such during her fashion shows, it could also be used, in a pinch, to hide certain flaws or wardrobe issues. Starlight Glimmer had a full invisibility spell, of course she would, but Rarity was no Starlight. Still, a bit of bent light might be enough as long as no one looked directly at her. She’d have to make sure that didn’t happen…

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

...Well that went splendidly! Not only had she dropped her spell (which had been more difficult to maintain across her entire body than she’d anticipated) when a breaking jar had startled her, but she’d ran blindly into the first hiding place she’d seen. Naturally it had been a room with no other door and now she was locked in. It was the last straw, really. With a growling whine that quickly led into what Sweetie called ‘full Rarity bad day’, she began:

“Of course! Simply marvelous work, darling! You’ve truly outdone yourself! It’ll be back to the lab now, where maybe they can run enough tests to figure out why you’re such a complete idiot!! Oh, why?! Why must I endure such trials?! Oh cruel fate, to maroon me on…” Rarity stopped mid-rant as a deep breath brought a distracting scent. “Wait, are those strawberries?” They certainly were, and under the circumstances Rarity was not above sampling a few. While she’d had better, hunger was the best spice, and so…

She stopped mid chew a minute later as she realized that the unicorn was now getting closer. She’d heard a bit of shuffling around and shouting in the local language while she was, ahem, expressing and then gorging herself. But things were quiet now, and the unicorn was approaching the door. She quickly wiped her mouth with a paper towel from near the room’s metal sink, quite practical that. She then turned to wait and sure enough, the lock clicked from the other side, and door swung slowly open…

Oh, Celestia damn it! That is NOT a unicorn.

Aiden’s eyes went wide. “Holy crap, that’s a goddamn unicorn.”

Join our Patreon to remove these adverts!
Join our Patreon to remove these adverts!