• Published 25th Jul 2012
  • 7,158 Views, 275 Comments

Random Elements - Stryke



An alternate Mane Cast cross over into the normal Equestia, things go down hill from there.

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Chapter 1

Under the light of the early morning sun the ponies of Ponyville were already beginning to go about their business. A certain wall-eyed mare was haphazardly delivering the daily mail, the overnight train from Canterlot was just pulling into the town's station and all kinds of stalls were being set up for the morning trade. The competing carrot and apple stall owners were already glaring at each other over their personal produce. Amongst all this, and ignored by most of the other ponies doing business in the centre of the town, a unicorn blinked at the unfamiliar light while trying to work out just what in Tartaurus could possibly be going on.

I expected parties, music and celebration, at least the odd balloon or two when it finally happened, thought the unicorn, with her brow furrowing. Not everypony just going on like normal.

Most ponies weren't paying attention to the deeply confused newcomer, but the pink pony bouncing over with a fierce look of determination on her face as she locked onto her target always made it her business to know absolutely everypony in town. Somepony she didn't know... Well, that meant that pony wasn't her friend yet and that was frankly unacceptable!

“Hi! What's your name? I normally know everypony’s name, but I don't know yours, so you must be new! Oh you don't know mine yet well I'm Pinkie Pie! Welcome to Ponyville!”

The powerfully built unicorn turned to look at the hyperactive welcoming committee. Her hooves were stained with mud and a dirty blue rag was wrapped around her head. She blinked a few times more and attempted to focus on the pink blur hopping up and down in front of her.

“Oh hello, Ms. Pie,” she said, relieved at seeing a familiar face as her vision finally adapted to the light. “How's that axle on the cart holding up? You know you wouldn't keep having to get it replaced if you didn't keep loading so many heavy rocks on it.” Seeing Pinkie's blank look—normally it was Pinkie who confused ponies, not the other way around—the unicorn asked, "Pinkamena, you alright?”

This unexpected comment brought Pinkie Pie up short, even to the point of stopping bouncing up and down for a moment. As far as she knew the only three ponies in town who knew her proper name were the three fillies known collectively as the Cutie Mark Crusaders, and she certainly didn't have a rock cart any more. Anyway, that had been her father's and she really did prefer not to think about that period of her life prior to discovering the wonder of parties if she could avoid it, which she usually did. She gave the unicorn a suspicious full look-over and was surprised to discover that it was her good friend Rarity buried under all the grease and dirt. Pinkie Pie laughed happily as she realised what was going on. Rarity was playing a prank on her! Sweetie Belle must have told her older sister all about Pinkie's cutie mark story and now Rarity was having a bit of harmless fun at her expense.

“Rarity, you got me good! I can't believe you'd go to so much effort to prank me! Did Rainbow Dash put you up to this?”

“Rarity? How'd you...” The unicorn looked shocked before shrugging. “Never mind. It's Rock, just Rock. You know that, Pinkamena. Anyway, since when do you talk so much and, for that matter, bounce?!”

Pinkie Pie stuck her tongue out at this and her eyes narrowed. This was a puzzler, and if anypony could solve it then it’d be her! Looking over Rock, she finally noticed the difference between this mare and the pony she knew. Rather than three gems on the dirty-white unicorn’s flank there were instead three interlocking cogs. Whoever this pony might be, this was definitely not her friend Rarity even though she looked so much like her.

“Okie dokey, Rock!” Pinkie said, resting a foreleg around Rock’s shoulder. “We’re going to be the best of friends. Specifically the best of friends who hang out over in that building right over there!” Pinkie pointed towards the Carousel Boutique with her other forehoof before Rock shook her off.

"Sure, I guess," Rock grumbled. "This better not be any girly frou-frou nonsense though." She reluctantly let herself be maneuvered, if not full on pony-handled, towards the nearby shop. “Doubt I'm gonna get any work today anyway. What with the return of the sun and all,” complained the strange pony, she was still blinking as she tried to shield her eyes from the light of the sun.

“Any excuse for a party is just fine with me! C'mon, it's just over here!"” said Pinkie Pie. This was funny, but not funny haha more funny odd-odd and Pinkie Pie wanted to get this over as soon as possible, so she could get on with important matters like organising a ‘Rarity has a twin!’ party.

“Welcome to my charming boutique, where style is always chic, unique and magnifiq—” trilled Rarity, as she went into her usual sales spiel when the pair entered her establishment. She trailed off quickly as she looked right into the face of her double, who looked just as shocked as she did.

It was Rarity who broke the spell first. “Pinkie Pie, this isn't one of your pranks, is it? Twilight's in a bush somewhere outside maintaining the illusion, right?” She raised a hoof cautiously and poked the other unicorn, who then flinched.

“Oi, hooves off, pinhead!” Rock backed off, rearing up and looking at the other two ponies wildly. “I don't know what's going on here, but unless somepony wants to get bucked into next week, they better explain right now!”

“Oh, dear. Well, I’ve got no idea. Twilight Sparkle might though?” Rarity suggested.

“Twilight Sparkle,” agreed Pinkie Pie, figuring that if anyone could solve this impressively pretty pickle it'd be her.

“Don’t worry, Rock! We're going to get this all sorted out. Our friend’s super-smart and she’ll sort this out, as sure as my middle name is Responsibility!”

~~~

Twilight Sparkle currently had problems all of her own; namely getting rudely awakened by another pony landing on her bed. Whoever this pony was she was now hiding under the covers and refusing to come out.

“I'm really not that angry. Just please get out of my bed,” she asked as nicely as possible, given she'd been trying to reason with her unexpected guest for a good ten minutes now and was rapidly running out of patience.

“I... I don't want to,” the intruder pleaded softly, her voice muffled by the blanket. “Please go away. Um, you know, if that's ok with you.”

“Right,” said Twilight, finally having had enough.

With a surge of power from her horn, she levitated the pony and the covers in one easy motion and then promptly dropped her again on the bed when she realised the other unicorn looked exactly like her!

“P-please don't be mad, I didn't mean any harm...” the other her said, seeing the expression on Twilight’s face. She was so like her, but yet unlike. The other Twilight Sparkle was wearing a pair of thick horn-rimmed glasses and her cutie mark was not the starburst representing her gift for magic, but instead a stack of three thick books.

“You’re me...”

The other mare nodded her head slowly. She looked absolutely terrified, but Twilight Sparkle wasn’t scared herself. She was reasonably certain that this other self didn’t mean her any harm, but she was definitely fascinated by her double’s sudden appearance here in her room.

“How did you get here?”

“Um, I... I'm not sure,” her double stammered, trying to look anywhere but at Twilight.

“This is incredible! Maybe it's a magical flux-based convergence. Hmmm, no, that wouldn't do it...” Before Twilight could continue theorising, she was interrupted by a knock on her front door.

Twilight yelled for Spike to get it, but upon not hearing any response, figured the little dragonling was out on some errand.

“Just stay here,” Twilight said, in the most reassuring manner she could manage. “I'll see who that is and I'll be right back. Don’t worry, I’m sure everything will be ok.”

“Please take your time,” her double said, before diving under the safety of the covers once more.

~~~

As they made their way to Twilight's, Rarity was indulging her own curiosity in her strange new-found double.

“You are me, aren't you, darling?” Rarity said, looking over Rock with some distaste at what she was seeing. “I mean I can't imagine going out with my mane so clearly uncared-for and I must wonder when you last had a bath from the smell, but you are a Rarity, are you not?”

“You saying I stink, pinhead?” Rock asked, with a nonchalent shrug.

“Well, you could certainly do with a visit to the spa. I do have a discount there you know.” Rarity offered, before attempting to get back to the point in hand, while trying desperately not to be offended. “Are we the same pony or not? And why do you keep calling me pinhead? Even with that horrible filthy rag I can see you're a unicorn too."

“Guess so. Though how I could get so prissy is beyond me.” Seeing Rarity's doubly insulted look, Rock attempted to backtrack a bit.

“Okay, so you probably do make more sense given what we were like as a filly, y’know with our dreams of being a fashionista,” Rock spat the word out. “Sorry about the pinhead thing too. I... I'm not keen on unicorns, apart from my little sis of course."

“Well what then happened, darling? I mean, I can't imagine how I could have ended up looking so, well, uncivilised!”

“Growing up in a mine will do that to you.”

“A mine?!”

Before Rarity could get to the bottom of this new mystery, they had arrived at Twilight's, and Pinkie was knocking on the door.

Twilight opened the door magically with her horn. “Sorry, Pinkie, but this really isn't a good time...

“Oh,” she said, as she spotted the two other unicorns and promptly connected the dots that led right on back to her own guest upstairs.

“You better come in so we can get to the bottom of this,” she said. As sure as she was Celestia's favourite pupil, she was going to work out what in the name of her mentor was going on here! Twilight confidently thought to herself.

~~~

The five ponies were soon gathered and crammed in together in Twilight's bedroom. They had not been able to get the other Twilight to move, so that’d been the only option. After all the introductions had been made, Twilight Sparkle turned to the other Rarity, hoping she'd be a bit more forthcoming.

“Can you tell us how you got here, Rock? Anything you remember could help.”

“Well, I don't rightly know.” said Rock. “It’s all a bit of a blur. I was so amazed to see the sun up when I got here, you know?” All the light streaming in through the windows of the treehouse was beginning to give her a headache.

“The sun?”

“Yeah, not seen hide nor hair of it for a whole year now since Nightmare Moon took over. Guess that ain't happened here, right?”

Twilight Sparkle sat down, completely and utterly stunned. She had always thought parallel existences were a mad mare's dream, although she knew there was some scientific basis for the theory. This, however, was real living and talking proof sitting right in front of her of a world where Nightmare Moon had returned completely unchallenged by the Elements of Harmony. The very idea of it gave her the cold shivers all the way down her flank.

“How horrible! It's been night all that time?” asked Rarity.

“Oooh you must have lived on cupcakes! You know! After all the plants were gone,” said Pinkie Pie, jumping happily around the room at the thought of it.

Ignoring Pinkie Pie's song about her favourite food group, Rock continued. “Well, she is a Goddess too. The Princess kept everything going like it should have done. We still ran the leaves and wrapped up winter; just all of it totally in the dark and done by torchlight.”

“But that's completely impossible! Not even magic could... wait, you said the Princess?”

“Yeah, Nightmare Moon said she was Princess Luna, returned after being banished or something for a thousand years by her terrible tyrant sister. Didn't pay much attention to it myself.”

“Propaganda!” came a cry from the bed, still muffled somewhat by the blanket pulled over her. The other Twilight Sparkle untangled herself with a new fire in her eyes. “Nightmare Moon's a usurper who took Princess Celestia away. We’ve got to get her back, we’ve just got to!”

“Sure, if you ain't got anything better to do,” replied Rock with a shrug. “Some of us have to work for living. So if you're her,” she said, pointing an accusing hoof at the other purple unicorn in the room, “then you must be that pinhead recluse who lives in the library and never, ever comes out. Socks or something, right?”

“Sp-Sparks... it's what Mrs. Cake calls me when she brings me food.” Sparks deflated, clearly not used to real confrontation.

“Typical. A useless pinhead layabout. Now isn’t that a shock,” said Rock. “How'd you pay for that then? Magic up some bits or something?”

“No... I get some m-money from my parents.”

“Trust fund filly,” Rock said, waving a hoof in the air. She turned back to Twilight, completely ignoring the angry glares she was getting from everypony else in the room. “So yeah, woke up by the same tree I'd kipped under last night, and when I saw the sun I just ran into town to see what was going on. Should have worked out things weren't right when no other pony was reacting at all.”

“You sleep outside?!” asked Rarity, unable to believe even now that her double could be so rustic.

“Well, I got a small place I rent for me and my sis, but I like to get out in the fresh air every so often and kip out under the stars. Never rightly cared much for politics or that other one, but even I've got to admit that the Princess does good work on that sky of hers with all the patterns and stuff. ” Twilight winced to hear one of her favourite passions being described so curtly. She figured that ‘the other one’ had to be Princess Celestia, which just raised more questions about why Rock didn’t want to refer to her directly.

“But she's evil!” Sparks whined, then cringed again as Rock just looked at her.

“Sparks is right; Nightmare Moon was a monster that had to be stopped,” said Twilight, putting a hoof around her double’s shoulders.

“Don't rightly know about that. The Princess ain’t ever done anything to me or my sister, apart from taking the sun away, and I don't hold no grudges that I don't see the need to. Spend most your life down a mine and a sun is a bit of a luxury really.”

The three friends were all shocked to hear anypony so casually unmoved by both the absence of the sun and whatever must have happened to Princess Celestia in that world. The very thought of a world without her beloved mentor made Twilight feel almost physically sick.

It was then that Twilight Sparkle noticed something interesting. The eyes of her double were glowing faintly with a mystic corona playing about her pupils, the tell-tale sign of a spell still in progress. Keeping a careful watch, she decided to conduct an experiment and asked Rock to sit down on the bed with Sparks. Sure enough, as Rock and Spark got closer together, the glow flickering around her eyes brightened. Not by much, but enough to confirm her suspicions. She sighed. It wouldn't be the first time a spell had gone awry. At least it technically wasn't one of mine this time, Twilight Sparkle mentally noted, with some relief.

“So what spell were you trying, Sparks?”

“Umm... I don't know what you're t-talking about.”

“It's ok, darling. You can tell us. We're all friends here,” said Rarity. Rock gave an amused snort at this, but let it go for now.

“I didn't know this was going to happen! The book said it would gather the Elements of Harmony and... and then I could have saved everyone.” Sparks cried, burying her face into a pillow.

“Ohhh...”

“What's that, Twilight?” Rarity asked, as Twilight Sparkle had that usual satisfied grin she got when she'd worked out something complicated.

“Right, you've got to remember that magic has its own logic, and while we might think it doesn't sometimes when you don't get the result you expected, the actual process follows quite an elementary...”

“Twilight, darling, please. You don't need to show your work. Just try to explain it simply, if you can.”

“Oh sorry, right,” Twilight said, with a guilty look upon her face having let herself get carried away again. “Sparks here tried to summon the bearers of the Elements of Harmony, but her magic wasn't anywhere near strong enough to physically move five ponies to her location. So instead, the spell dropped her, Rock here, and I'd assume Pinkie's double and the rest right into our version of Equestria.”

Twilight continued, as she began to get into the swing of her lecture. “I'd imagine as it was the nearest divergent parallel with awakened Elements of Harmony in the six of us. None of them will have actually moved even an inch. Rock woke up where she went to sleep last night and Sparks would have been right here in the library. Quite simple really, when you think about it.” Twilight Sparkle could tell from the glazed-over looks on the others that they didn't find this simple in the slightest. Oh well, she was pretty certain now how to send Sparks, Rock and the rest home.

“All we need to do is gather the six Elements of Harmony from their world back together and the spell should complete, sending them home.” She clapped her forehooves together. “Just like that!”

“There’s one thing I really don't get at all," said Rock, getting up and beginning to pace about the room. "Just what the flying feather are the Elements of Harmony?!”

“There’s six of them: Magic, Generosity, Kindness, Loyalty, Laughter and Honesty.”

“And that has what to do with me exactly?” said Rock, her head tilting to one side as she tried to work out what Twilight was getting at.

“Well you represent one of them. Generosity I'd have thought, because that's Rarity's.”

“Huh, well not something I've ever noticed in myself I’ll admit,” Rock confessed. “So who are these other three ponies then? Pinkamena's probably at her farm wondering what in Equestria—” Rock laughed, as she realised what she was saying. ”Nah, she's probably too busy working to notice a little something like the sun being up.”

“Hey! Hey! Hey!” Pinkie had finally stopped bouncing around singing and was waving a hoof in the air.

“What is it, Pinkie?” asked Twilight.

“If I'm still on the rock farm and Rock and Sparks don’t have their normal cutie marks... Then that must mean that there was no sonic rainboom!”

Twilight Sparkle face-hooved. She couldn't believe that she hadn't thought of that. If it hadn’t have been for that event, she could well have turned into even more of a reclusive shut-in. She suddenly felt immensely sorry for her double. Sparks had clearly grown up without Celestia's guidance or Spike to keep her company. Still, there was something bothering her about all this. It couldn’t just be that simple, right? Twilight thought to herself.

“That must be it," said Rarity. "Well done, Pinkie! So what happened when your horn led you to that rock, Rock? Or can I go ahead and guess from the nickname?”

“What's a sonic rainboom?” Rock asked, before shaking her head. “Oh never mind! Y’know what happened? Absolutely nothing! I still don't know what my stupid horn was playing at. Stupid horn and stupider pinhead magic!” Rock breathed hard and tried to calm down. “Still, I figured there might be something in it and ended up running away from home. Not the brightest idea I ever had, but well, you know how some colts and fillies get when they don't have their cutie marks.”

Rarity sympathised with that. Especially when she thought about her little sister and her friends.

“Right, the others are Rainbow Dash.” Twilight Sparkle said, trying to get things back on track. Neither Rock or Sparks had heard of her or recognised the description of a brash flyer with rainbow coloured hair.

“Applejack.” This was also met with blank looks. Twilight Sparkle realised that probably meant that Applejack’s double could well still be in Manehattan. Which would almost certainly make her the double that was the furthest away from the rest.

“And Fluttershy.” Now this got a reaction, as Sparks hid under the bed entirely. She was whimpering in fear, while even Rock gasped at the name.

“What's wrong?”

Sparks had started crying, low choking sobs of fear that caused her entire body to shake.

Rock attempted to answer on their behalf. “Fluttershy, well Captain Fluttershy Posey... She's a Shadowbolt. Oh hay, the Shadowbolt to most ponies.” Rock glanced over at the trembling unicorn. “Don't know why she's got Sparks' here so terrified, but she wouldn't be the first pony I've met who reckons she's scarier than even Nightmare Moon herself. I've heard that she was the one who gave the order to set the torches after the riots in Stalliongrad. Burned most of that poor town to the ground.”

“What... really?!” Twilight genuinely couldn't believe that she was hearing this. “Fluttershy, pink mane, yellow coat and three butterflies for a cutie mark, right?”

“S-she hurt me...” moaned Sparks, still quaking in absolute terror.

Rarity went to the other unicorn’s side and put her hooves around her to try to offer some comfort. “It'll be all right, Sparks. While I certainly can't imagine our Fluttershy doing such horrible things, we will protect you nonetheless.”

It took awhile for Sparks to calm down, but eventually the story came out. When Nightmare Moon had appeared for the first time in Ponyville, Sparks had unwisely challenged the Nightmare with her knowledge of the Elements. She'd thought that she'd been lucky that Nightmare Moon had only mocked her after her little act of defiance. Not knowing what to do and being far too scared to venture into Everfree forest—where her research suggested the Elements might still reside—Sparks had retreated into deep study to try to unlock some way of defeating Equestria's new ruler.

It had been a week later when Fluttershy had turned up on her doorstep unannounced. She’d come wearing her new black lightning-fringed flight suit and a dangerous look upon her face.

“She'd been there too that night. She said I hadn't paid sufficient... re-respect to our new princess, and while Nightmare Moon might be happy to let me go unpunished as I wasn't... w-worth bo-bothering with, Fluttershy wasn't. Then, she hit me... I don't want to t-talk about it.” Rarity hugged Sparks closer as she began sobbing again.

The room was silent except for the sound of Sparks’ crying and the calming shushes of Rarity trying to comfort her. The other ponies just sat there. All were equally appalled that a pony could willingly be so vile.

“Pinkie Pie, can you go and check your parents’ farm and bring your other self back here?” Twilight asked, grabbing her clipboard with her magic along with a quill. She started drawing up a checklist to get things organised. Twilight always felt happier when a checklist was involved.

“Okie dokie lokie!”

“Rarity and Rock, go talk to Applejack.” said Twilight, as she added another entry. “She's our best chance of being able to track down her double. After all, she's the only one out of all of us who has ever been to Manehattan before. After that, let Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash know what’s going on. I'll stay here and take care of Sparks.”

“Of course, Twilight. So, what are we going to do about their doubles?”

“Well Fluttershy could be anywhere. Maybe Canterlot, I'd guess? Still, she might be our best link to finding the other Rainbow Dash. They did know each other as fillies. I wonder what happened given that something must have stopped her from completing the sonic rainboom. I do hope she's okay.”

~~~

Rock and Rarity watched Pinkie Pie bounce away, before starting to make their way over to Sweet Apple Acres on the other side of Ponyville.

“That pony’s kinda a nutcase, y’know that?” laughed Rock, as Pinkie Pie disappeared over the horizon at her usual, but inexplicably, high-speed.

“Pinkie Pie is a good friend, even if she can be somewhat random.” Rarity smiled, though still not entirely comfortable being paired up with her frankly rude double. The very idea of a unicorn tribalist prejudiced against other unicorns was giving her a headache too. “So, what's her double like then? You said you knew her?”

“She's a bit on the scary side,” Rock said, momentarily closing her eyes. “I've done a fair few repair jobs for her in the past. Very unlike your friend though. I don't know how Pinkamena's going to react to this at all.”

“I'm sure she'll be fine. Pinkie Pie gets on with everypony, so I can't imagine she'd ever have much trouble with herself.” A couple of miles down the road already, Pinkie felt her cutie mark twitch for just a moment and wondered why. “Anyway, Rock, I'd still like to know more about you. Did you really run away from home?”

“Ain’t sure if it’s any of your business, pinhead.” Rock huffed.

“Well I never! I didn't think I could be so rude!” Rarity was genuinely close to snapping. She was certainly not prone to raising her hooves in violence, monsters aside of course, but even she could only be pushed so far.

Rock hung her head in frustration. The sun was still getting to her and she was finding she actually missed the cool air of the eternal night. Worse was this nosy unicorn who had never experienced the life she had known.

“Look, I'm sorry. I'm really not being fair to you at all, pi... Rarity. I'm having a very odd day here.”

“I understand,” Rarity said, glad for the peace-offering. ”It's not everyday I meet doubles of myself and my friends either.”

They continued on in silence for a bit under a temporary flag of truce, before Rock spoke up again as they began to approach the apple farm. “So, does Sweetie Belle live with you too in that fancy-schmancy shop of yours?”

Rarity carefully ignored the attitude. She was too pleased that they might have something in common they could actually bond over. She'd get this mare into the spa, that Rock so sorely needed, if it was the last thing she did. “Quite often yes, what with our parents away so much. Is your Sweetie Belle going to be all right with you gone? I'd be distraught if I had to leave her alone for too long. Especially without having planned for it.”

Rock grinned with sisterly pride. “What, my axe-crazy sis Sweetie 'Timber!' Belle? She'll be fine. She might cause some chaos with Dinky and Scoots. Just as long as they don't try to attach fireworks to turbo-boost that scooter... I'm sure she wouldn't try that again. Well... reasonably sure.”

“Well fillies do get a bit silly over their cutie marks—”

“Hah! No, they just do that for fun. Sweetie Belle got her cutie mark a couple of months back after chopping down the big blackwood down near the swamp. Still got no idea how she got her heart set on being a lumber pony, but she seems to enjoy it.”

“How...?” Rarity’s mouth gaped open. “She's just a filly and that tree is enormous, and not to mention the hydra?!”

“Persistence, lots and lots of persistence. I think she just likes the loud noises when they eventually topple over.”

“Please do me a favour, and never, ever mention that story to my sister,” said Rarity, with a shudder. She sighed. "Dad must love you. We do get on, but I've never thought he really understand me and my passion."

Rock howled with laughter in a most unladylike fashion causing Rarity to jump. "Oh yeah, the whole claiming I was an orphan and disappearing for over a decade thing really warmed him up to me. I didn't exactly get his or mum’s permission to work down that mine, y'know?"

"You claimed they were dead?!" Rarity was beginning to think she might need her fainting couch handy to get through this conversation.

"Yeah, but when the mine was finally tapped out I figured I'd try to make my peace with them and trotted on back to Ponyville. Once the yelling and crying had quieted down I ended up looking after Sweetie for them, so they could finally take a well-earned break."

“Oh look, we're here," said Rarity, with a certain amount of relief as the front gate of the farm came into sight. She hadn't been sure how much more she could have taken of that conversation.

~~~

They eventually tracked down Applejack mid-buck out in the orchard. She already had near half a cart full of crop and she wasn't looking like she was tiring any time soon. After a couple of double takes and a mumbled promise to Celestia that she'd never touch Big Mac's home-brewed scumble ever again, Applejack finally accepted that there may be such a thing as parallel universes, that there could well be another pony that was her out there in Equestria right now, and that this really wasn’t some kind of elaborate unicorn prank or Changeling invasion.

Rarity breathed a sigh of relief. She’d already had to go through this explanation once that, if she was honest with herself, she didn’t fully understand any more than her double did. She was already dreading having to try to explain it to Rainbow Dash.

“Well boy howdy, so there's another me over there right now in Manehattan?” Applejack said, adjusting her hat back into its proper place. “Poor filly, don' even like to think what I'd be like if I'd never left that place. Prob’ly somethin' not unlike you, Rarity... No offence, of course.”

“None taken, darling!” replied Rarity, with a smile. She was well aware of Applejack's usual opinions on any pony possessing class and grace, both of which she had in spades.

“Twi's right though. I probably am the only pony that'd have a good idea of where t’ look for her... Can't go though, these trees aren't going t’ buck themselves,” Applejack said, shrugging her shoulders. There was also the fact that she'd be happy never setting hoof in the big city again. Sure she felt sorry for her double, but the farm had to come first.

“I could pitch in for you, rightly enough,” offered Rock. Rarity noticed that ever since they’d got on the farm her double’s accent, usually a north Trottingham twang, was slipping ever downwards to the level of the Apple family. She briefly wondered whether this was an affectation, or just a way to ingratiate herself with an employer.

“Naw, I can't ask you t’ do that. I don't like too much magic near mah crops and I guess you'd have to stop for beauty treatments or whatnot if yer anything like our Rarity.”

“Who said anything about fancy-shmancy magic?” replied Rock with a feral grin. She turned and gave the nearest apple tree a buck that Big Macintosh would have been proud of.

When it had stopped raining apples, Rock asked, “So, happy I can cover you then? Wouldn't be the first time I'd helped cover the buckin', though normally I'm getting paid the bits by your lil' sister Applebloom to do it.”

Applejack was just standing there in shock. First looking at Rock and then at Rarity, and then back to Rock again. “Shoot, I dunno how she came to be you, but that's a mighty pair of buckin' legs you get on you there, Rock. I'll square things up with my brother and leave as soon as possible. Check in with him tomorrow morning and he'll sort you out. You need a place t’ sleep? Can't offer you much more than a pile of hay in the barn though.”

“Sounds like you're spoiling me, Ms. Applejack. That'd be more than acceptable,” said Rock respectfully.

There was a light thud, followed by the very undignified sounds of a pony falling over. Both Rock and Applejack looked over at Rarity who had clearly just had a go at imitating her double, but without anywhere near the same success.

Rarity picked herself up, attempting not to look too embarrassed. “I suppose there's some knack to it... Never mind, come along Rock. We must be getting on to visit Fluttershy and let her know the news.”

Rock punched Applejack lightly on the shoulder with one of her hooves. "See, pinheads don't know anything about proper work. Don't you worry none though, Ms. Applejack, I'll..."

Applejack spun around so she could look Rock straight in the eyes. "Naw don't you Ms. me, you’re going to listen to me clearly t' what I say right now. I won't stand for that tribalist horse hockey on my farm and certainly not at my good friend Rarity’s expense, who is easily worth ten of you. And that’s whether she can buck an apple tree right or not."

Rock’s ears flattened and she looked down at her hooves in shame. “I... I didn’t mean anything by it. I really am sorry.”

After several more profuse apologies from Rock and Rarity attempting to smooth things over, Applejack finally relented. She’d formed an opinion of Rarity’s double though, and it certainly wasn’t a positive one.

Once they had left the farm, Rock stopped to lean heavily against a fence. “Now that was spooky.”

“What's that, Rock?”

“You know I said I normally got paid by Applebloom?” Rock said, still breathing a little heavily after her encounter with Applejack. “Seeing her sister is like seeing a big version of that self-same filly. Same hat, same accent, definitely the same attitude, even down to the cutie mark... It's actually kinda uncanny.”

“I guess without her big sister around she felt the need to grow up quick to replace her.” Rarity mused, more to herself than to Rock.

“You're probably right, I guess. So, Fluttershy next then? As if this day couldn't get any stranger.”

~~~

Twilight Sparkle had given up trying to get any more out of her other self and had retreated downstairs to read a book. Still, her mind was racing with everything she wanted to know. What had happened to Princess Celestia? How did the plants still grow without a sun? How, just how, in Equestria could sweet, nervous Fluttershy have got such a position under Nightmare Moon? But what she really was worried by was Rainbow Dash. Twilight Sparkle was desperately worried that the rainbow-haired speedster might have had something horrible happen to her... After all, if something stopped that fateful sonic rainboom that had connected the six of them back then, who knows what could have happened. Worse, that could mean the other five could be stuck in this Equestria permanently, never to return. She sighed in frustration. If only her other self wasn't so reclusive!

Her train of thought was disrupted by frantic knocking on her front door. “Twilight, let me in. We've got a problem! Major, major problem!” Now that was Rainbow Dash's voice. Given that she normally made her way in by crashing through an open window and now she was actually using the front door for once, Twilight's concern ratcheted up several notches.

Twilight opened the door with her magic and Dash flew in at high-speed. The pegasus was looking absolutely frantic. “Nightmare Moon is back!” Rainbow Dash groaned. She was actually somewhat out of breath for the first time Twilight Sparkle had known her.

“Wait, what do you mean, Dash?” asked Twilight.

“Well,” Rainbow Dash said, as she tried to calmed herself down. “Remember when I went across that bridge back when we were looking for the Elements? Nightmare Moon appeared as these three jerks in flight-suits, like dark-evil knockoffs of the Wonderbolts. She tried to get me to join them and desert you guys. But I refused, ‘cause you know I’m awesome like that. Never mind that though, because I just saw one, Twi! She was flying towards Canterlot and I couldn't catch her! Me, Twilight! I can keep up with anypony normally, if not fly circles around them! It must've been Nightmare Moon... Oh, what are we going to do?”

“This Shadowbolt, was her hair pink?” asked Twilight gently, hoping that she was right about this.

“How do you know they were called the Shadowbolts? I don't remember telling you guys that—even after I dressed up as one for Nightmare Night—but err... Yeah, I think she did.” Twilight started to laugh, much to Rainbow Dash's annoyance. “This is serious, Twilight!”

“Sorry, Rainbow Dash, but you just got out-flown by Fluttershy,” said Twilight with a grin. Even with the seriousness of the situation she was finding this immensely funny. Just for the sheer irony of it all.

“What.”

After one long explanation punctuated by several more 'whats' and 'you must be kiddings'—along with a quick inspection of Sparks upstairs, who was dragged out from under the bed again—Rainbow Dash was on board and sitting down on her rump in a certain amount of shock that she'd been so badly shown up by Fluttershy of all ponies.

“So wow... Fluttershy. Any idea how that happened? It's so completely out of character for her...”

“No idea,” said Twilight with a certain amount of frustration in her voice. “Sparks isn't being particularly helpful.”

“So-sorry.” Without either of them noticing Sparks had finally come downstairs after following them out of Twilight's bedroom.

“Oh Celestia... I'm sorry, Sparks,” apologised Twilight, somewhat mortified, but still relieved to see her double was finally out of her room. “So, you don't recognise Rainbow Dash at all here?”

Dash posed cockily while Sparks quickly looked her over. “No, I'm so sorry, Twilight. Do you think she might be... W-well you know?”

“I'm sure she's fine and I imagine you've not seen that many other ponies, right?” Sparks shook her head at that to acknowledge that was true. “She'll be fine,” Twilight repeated, partly to convince herself of that fact. “Dash, any idea where you might have ended up if you’d have left the young fliers camp early?”

“No idea. Anyway I'm going to go look for her. First I'll check out Cloudsdale and then I'll try a couple of the other nearby towns.” With that Rainbow Dash spread her wings and took off out of the nearest window.

~~~

Sometime later Twilight Sparkle had given up again on trying to get through to Sparks and had returned to her reading. After Rainbow Dash had left, Sparks had gone through a massive panic attack over the possibility of Dash's double never being found and had retreated once more to the relative safety of Twilight's bed sheets. Twilight Sparkle really did want to be sympathetic as she remembered what she'd been like when she was younger, but still she really didn't want to believe she'd ever been this bad. Surely she hadn’t, right?

For the third time that day someone knocked on her door, but this time it was with enough force to break the door completely off its hinges.

It was Fluttershy... But the last time that Twilight had seen Fluttershy with anything like that look on her face she'd been under Discord’s influence. Her Shadowbolt flightsuit was pulled down, leaving her face fully visible, and a pair of was goggles hanging around her neck. “You,” she snarled. “Someone's been a bad filly and is going to get herself in trouble all over again.”

Ah, Twilight thought, she thinks I'm Sparks. “I don't know what you're talking about,” she said, attempting to stall while she tried to work out what to do.

“You can get out-of-the-way for a start, unicorn. I have no quarrel with you. I'm looking for your... your copy.” Twilight involuntarily twitched in surprise at that. “If you were the pony I was looking for, you'd be cowering by now and probably crying too. You look to actually have something about you. Now get out of my way or I will make you get out the way.”

Twilight Sparkle snorted, feeling her temper begin to boil up. “How about instead, you sit down and we can discuss this like civilised ponies.”

Fluttershy’s wings flared out and she began to advance upon Twilight slowly. “I said move. I am Captain Fluttershy of the Shadowbolts, chosen herald of Nightmare Moon, rightful princess of all Equestria. I don’t repeat myself.”

“Sparks is with me and I'm not going to let you hurt her ever again!” said Twilight defiantly, feeling her mane catching flame. How dare anypony act this way!

Fluttershy's eyes narrowed. She exploded into sudden movement and charged right at this stupid unicorn, who actually seem to think that she could stand up to her! Next thing she knew Fluttershy was in a whole world of pain. She was pinned down with two hooves pressing down on her chest and terrible, bright, glowing eyes staring right back into hers. Forming a blade with her feathers—like the Royal Guards who had honed her in combat—Fluttershy reflexively slashed one of her wings across where the unicorn’s neck should be. Hitting only air, she looked up. Twilight had teleported again. This time several feet directly into the air. Fluttershy barely had time to let out an eep before Twilight landed heavily on her, hooves first, completely knocking the wind out of her.

“Under. My. Protection. Understand? Now, Fluttershy, would you like to discuss this?” Twilight pushed down her hooves, increasing the pressure on the pegasus’ chest to underline her point.

“Okay, okay, I get the message. Do you want to get off me now?” Fluttershy rolled up and onto her hooves after Twilight got off her. “That's some impressive magic you've got there, reflexes too. Never seen a unicorn able to do that to me before, and especially not that weakling copy of yours. So, what's going on here anyway?” Fluttershy rubbed the sore spot on her head where she had collided with the wall after Twilight had first teleported out of the way.

Twilight Sparkle was beginning to wish somepony else was around to keep explaining this over and over, but the captain was a lot faster on the uptake than Rainbow Dash had been.

“So, it was all your double’s fault then?”

Twilight Sparkle had been wondering about that. There was still something about this situation that really didn't add up to her. “Possibly, I think she might have had some help from some other pony. I mean I’m fairly certain I couldn’t have cast that spell successfully, so I’ve got no idea how Sparks managed it.”

“Well, I can just look into that when we get back to the real Equestria. I’m sure she’ll tell me everything I want to know.” Twilight Sparkle really didn't like the way the Shadowbolt had said that at all, but left the threat hanging in the air alone for now.

“This makes sense though, thank you,” Fluttershy said, bowing her head for a moment. “I woke up where my castle should be in the Everfree and it's in ruins. It’s like it had never been rebuilt at all and the sun, of all things, is up in the sky where it absolutely should not be. So I flew as fast as I could to Canterlot and I saw her, my Mistress, all diminished and pathetic. I think she was actually having some morning tea and making nice. I didn't particularly want to risk a confrontation—especially with she who must not be named back—so I went looking for someone dumb enough to try something like this and look, I was totally right first time. Woohoo.” Fluttershy’s tone was positively oozing sarcasm at that last part. “So, what now then?”

“We need to get you together with five other ponies, including Sparks. Only problem is that we don't know where one of them might be. Her name is Rainbow Dash. She should have been in the year below you in flight camp? We were hoping you might remember what happened to her.”

“Rainbow, Rainbow...” Fluttershy closed her eyes, as she tried to think back to her days in flight camp. “Blue pegasus with a distinctive rainbow mane, right?”

“Yes!” said Twilight excitedly.

“Barely lasted a couple of weeks from what I remember.” Fluttershy gave a half-shrug. “Flight camp’s really not for everypony. I barely got through it without being permanently grounded myself.”

“Oh no...” said Sparks quietly. She had been surreptitiously peeking in and listening to the conversation. Fluttershy raised a hoof to give her, what Twilight suspected, was supposed to be a friendly wave and Sparks disappeared again with a little squeal of terror.

Fluttershy rolled her eyes. “So, to get us home we need some rainbow haired dropout who could be anywhere... Well that’s just wonderful.”

“I'm not even sure where we should even start looking. Or if she's even somewhere to be found at all...”

~~~

The no longer Great and Powerful Trixie woke up in a ditch by being shaken awake. She'd have to admit that this was not the first time this had happened, and it probably wasn't going to be the last. Trixie knew eventually that this would get unbearable enough that she'd crawl back to Ponyville to try to retrieve and make something from the wreckage that had been her life. But for now she was content to wallow in... well whatever ponies are supposed to wallow in. Last night this had turned out to be this muddy ditch. Which, aside from a few over-friendly centipedes, had actually been kind of comfortable. So she wasn't in too good a mood to be woken up by some incredibly rude individual who was now pony-handling her.

Rubbing her eyes in the light of the early morning sun, Trixie was surprised to find her assailant was that rainbow haired thug who had heckled her back at that fateful stage show. Even stranger, was that for some reason, this pegasus was wearing her hat.

To be continued.

Authors Note: The Sweetie Belle as a Lumberjack stuff is inspired by the hilarious CMC fic The Cutie Mark Conspiracy by Cold in Gardez.

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