• Published 15th Nov 2018
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Starcraft: Queen and Country - Wanderer D



A seemingly safe experiment is violently interrupted, sending three unwitting innocents through the Void to emerge into a universe at war.

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Chapter 001

Starcraft: Queen and Country
By Wanderer D
Chapter 001

2504, Equestria █

Even as the morning sun rose in the distance, and the birds started their daily chorus, Twilight's School of Friendship was already a hub of activity.

Students of all races hurried over to their classes, but three young teenage mares, easily mistaken for students themselves, walked towards Twilight's office with a different purpose. They looked confident to the average passerby, but some that knew them better—and already en route to their classrooms—could tell all three were anything but.

"Well, Ah haven't seen you three so nervous since the last parade," Applejack said with an amused chuckle as they crossed paths. "What's goin' on?"

"Oh, hey sis!" Apple Bloom smiled, trotting forward to give her sister a hug. "This is our first day as part of the school's staff!"

"Yeah," Scootaloo added, eyes wide and shining, "Twilight said that with our track record helping ponies find their talent—"

"And griffons," Sweetie interrupted, "Don't forget Gabby!"

"And griffons, yes," Scootaloo amended, rolling her eyes, "she said we could work with her on a curry-culum?"

"Curriculum," Sweetie stage-whispered.

"That!" Scootaloo agreed with a nod.

"Well, Ah've got to admit, you girls have gotten pretty darn good at Crusdanin' for others," Applejack said, "So Ah guess it makes sense, but remember to think a bit about what you're doin' before tryin' to force everycreature into somethin' just to see if it'll stick!"

"Please, we're professionals," Scootaloo scoffed, while Sweetie and Apple Bloom giggled.

"Oh my, that does sound wonderful," Rarity said, having caught the end of the conversation. She trotted up to them. "And you do have a lot of experience with that! I've very proud of all of you!"

She smiled at Sweetie, stepping in to give her a quick hug. "So this is what you meant when we talked the other day?" she asked, keeping an encouraging hoof on her sister's shoulder.

Apple Bloom and Scootaloo shared a look, turning to face their friend, who grinned shyly. "Um… yeah. I just feel like we can do more, right girls? I was telling Rarity that I wanted to be part of something bigger… that we Crusaders could really change the world."

The other two Crusaders glanced at each other, then grinned, nodding in unison. "Of course we can!" Apple Bloom said.

"We'll show everycreature that we can help them find their talents!" Scootaloo added.

Applejack and Rarity chuckled, nodding at their sister's exuberant enthusiasm.

"Well, we'd better get goin'," Applejack said, tilting her stetson. "We have our own classes to attend to. You comin' along, Rarity?"

"Of course, darling," the unicorn said, smile unwavering. "Good luck girls, make sure to ask Twilight if you need any help with your plans! If there's one thing Twilight is very good at, it's planning!"

"Over-plannin', you mean," Apple Bloom amended with a small roll of her eyes.

"Better than no plan, that's for sure," Applejack said with a shrug as she walked past the trio. "Ah guess we'll find out later how things went for y'all."

"Sure thing, sis!"

"Bye, Rarity!" Sweetie called out, waving her hoof.

They waited until the waving and nodding was over and their sisters had turned around the corner before resuming their march towards Twilight's office.

"So, you think we weren't doing enough?" Scootaloo asked Sweetie.

Sweetie sighed, "Sort of? I mean… we're good at this right? And, don't get me wrong! I love helping ponies in Ponyville, but there's a whole world out there, right? When Gabby came all the way here to find us, it was because she had heard of us… we've reached outside of Equestria!"

"Ah guess that's true," Apple Bloom said, nodding. "And especially with how things are around Equestria right now, we have to make an effort."

Scootaloo rolled her eyes. "I mean, I'm okay with it as long as it's fun, right?"

"Well, of course it's fun!" Apple Bloom shot back, "It's our callin'!"

"Who's calling?"

"She means our talent," Sweetie explained, grinning at the pegasus.

"Oh! Yeah, in that case, yes. Yes it is!"

The trio approached the doors to Twilight's office, but slowed down to a stop, exchanging unsure glances when they could hear an angry voice coming from the inside. Just as they were about to knock, the doors burst open with a magical flash and a richly-dressed unicorn stomped out.

"You listen here, Princess, this is not the last you'll hear of us! Magic is a unicorn birthright and teaching any form of it to lesser races is a crime against Celestia and Equestria! Neighsay will hear about this!"

"I'll remind you, Mr. Tax Break, that Neighsay has no authority here, and has already acknowledged other creatures as worthy of education." Twilight's voice was cold. "We have no place for xenophobes in our school's donation roster, no matter how much you want to donate."

The unicorn sniffed, rolling his eyes. "Then the Princess—"

"Enough!" Twilight snapped, her magic bursting through and making the previously smug unicorn cower. "I am one of the Princesses of Equestria. And this school has the full support of Celestia, Luna and Cadance. None of which support or endorse your presumption of superiority. Now, I have things to do." Her eyes narrowed and she poked him in the chest with her hoof. "You are dismissed."

Wide eyed, the unicorn turned around and fled, leaving behind the three Crusaders, who glanced at each other nervously.

"You know," Scootaloo said, "I think I left my scooter parked in the wrong spot…"

"Oh, girls," Twilight looked surprised, and apologetic when she noticed them. "I'm sorry you had to see that. I swear these Unicorn First ponies keep appearing at every event or place that seems to have some influence." She sighed, motioning for them to step in and closing the door behind them as they did.

"Why do they think like that?" Sweetie couldn't help but blurt out, "I mean, haven't they seen what Zecora can do? Why think that unicorns—"

"It's fear, Sweetie," Twilight said tiredly, her eyes straying to her bookshelves as if they could contain the answers. "It doesn't matter what you prove, or how objective you are, as long as fear dominates their thoughts, it won't change anything—and xenophobia… well, it doesn't necessarily mean in this case that they're deadly afraid of griffons or yaks, but rather that they're afraid of what they represent: a possibility of losing status or advantages.

"It's simple ignorance of what, culturally-speaking, the differences are. There's many reasons unjustifiable behind it, and for all we don't understand them and are completely illogical to us, they are valid to them.

"It doesn't always make them monsters, but we can't just allow that ideology to perpetrate without pointing out its flaws."

There was a moment of awkward silence as they all digested that, then Twilight let out a slow breath, performing Cadance's breathing exercise to calm down. "Mr. Tax Break was a bit of a challenge, but I hope that someday we might speak again at a more amiable time and in more amiable terms and maybe, just maybe, come to a middle-ground." She smiled. "But, for now, that's not important. What is important is that you three are ready to start!"

She motioned at three folders that she levitated out of her drawer and set down on her desk. "Now, I know you three are used to working together, but when it comes to a whole school, you might not have that chance. So, I talked it over with the girls and we've got some assignments for you.

"First, Apple Bloom, you'll be assisting Rarity this week. She feels you're the best match for her early classes and could use some help with a couple of students in particular."

"Alright!" Apple Bloom said with a grin, she went over and picked up her folder. "What students?"

Twilight smiled. "She didn't say. I think she wants to see if you see the same things she does, that way it's not biased."

"Ah see…"

Twilight floated the next assignment to Scootaloo. "Scootaloo, you'll be working with Starlight Glimmer. I'm not entirely sure what she's planning, but she said you'd be a good match for it. Try to not take over the world."

Scootaloo sighed. "I guess Rainbow Dash is busy."

Twilight's smile didn't waver as she shook her head. "Sorry, Scootaloo, but don't worry, you'll get a chance to work with her too in the future."

Sweetie for her part had already levitated and opened her own folder, blinking in surprise at its contents. "I'm with Applejack?"

"That's right!" Twilight said, "You're going with her and her class to Canterlot University." Twilight grinned excitedly for a few seconds until a thought seemed to cross her mind, and she sighed with slight disappointment. "Normally, I'd go, but I have a meeting at the Town Hall. Mayor Mare wants to plan some international events and she wants my help to organize things that will appeal to everycreature."

"So why me?" Sweetie asked.

"Well, you've been to Canterlot several times with the girls and I, and also on your own with your sister. Many more so than Applejack, so she's hoping you'll not only find the class interesting, but also show the students around Canterlot with her. Take them to the Museum or Library, or maybe even Donut Joe's." Twilight smiled. "Follow Applejack's lead, but don't be afraid to make suggestions."

Sweetie smiled, nodding in understanding. "Got it!"

"Aww, she gets to travel?!" Scootaloo asked, "Come on!"

"Don't worry, Scootaloo, you'll have plenty of fun, I promise." Twilight stood, walking around her desk. "Alright girls, I'll walk you to your classes and take off."

The three young mares shared a smile. "Cutie Mark Crusaders Teacher assistants! Yay!"

Sweetie took a deep breath as Twilight knocked on the door to Applejack's class. She turned to look at Sweetie with a reassuring smile, and levitated a small bag for her. "That contains your train tickets, bits for food and emergencies, and also a checklist of all the places where you can go that I could remember."

Sweetie blinked, levitating the bag in wonder. "Wow, given the size of the checklist you must've made this really light!"

Twilight narrowed her eyes. "It's enchanted."

"Right."

Applejack chose that moment to open the door. She smiled at the pair. "Well! Ah was wonderin' what was takin' so long. Come on in!"

Twilight motioned for Sweetie to go in first. The pair followed Applejack to the front of the room, where they could face the students. Out of the nine or so students in her class, Sweetie was only really familiar with were Sandbar, Ocellus, Silverstream and Gallus. She had seen the other ponies around, but she hadn't had much of a chance to talk to any of them before.

"Well class," Applejack spoke up, "As y'all know, Ah got a new assistant! Some of you already know her of course," she said with a chuckle, "say hello to the class, Sweetie Belle!"

"Hello!" Sweetie said, waving her hoof. "I'm Sweetie Belle, nice to meet you all!"

"She's your assistant?" Gallus asked, eyes wide, "B-but she's younger than us!"

"Um, she's about my age?" Ocellus said. "And, if you've read—"

"But seriously, even if she's like—"

"A year younger than you?" Sweetie asked, eyes half-lidded in mild annoyance.

"Yes, that, how can she be an assistant?"

"Well—it turns out—that she's already graduated as a Friendship Student," Applejack said. "And she's learnin' the ropes for new things."

"Sounds good to me!" Sandbar said, leaning back on his chair.

"Everything sounds good to you!" Gallus said, but sighed. "Fine. Let's just get going."

"Yay! Friendship!" Ocellus shyly cheered.

"By the way, Applejack?" Twilight said, drawing all their attention to her, "I was wondering if you could deliver these to Professor Quantum State?" She levitated a small saddlebag over to Applejack. "It has some notes that he asked me about related to Starswirl's mirror and some other spells. It also contains a reference so he can contact Starswirl directly, if needed. I would send them through Spike, but he's out on a mission with Trixie at this time."

"Sure thing, Twi," Applejack said, throwing the bag on. "Ah'll make sure we get this to him."

"Thank you!" Twilight's smile could have reflected the sun. "He's in the Temporal Space and Development lab, and I'm afraid you'll have to drop them off before your own presentation starts. It's close to where you're attending Green Hoof's lecture today. His experiments are a bit extreme, so hopefully he'll take into account the calibrations and additional calculations I included for him."

Applejack chuckled, "Ah gotcha, Twilight, it's no problem."

"Alright everycreature," Twilight said, facing the class, "Enjoy your visit to Canterlot University!"

"I think I remember you now," Gallus said.

"Yay."

As soon as the class had confirmed they had everything in order, they had set out. Despite the fact that they all took classes together, the other students had quickly formed a pony-only group and set off ahead of them, leaving the griffon, hippogriff, changeling and crusader behind, with the only other pony being Sandbar.

Sweetie tried to ignore this, but given the earlier confrontation between Mr. Break and Twilight, the issue was still very fresh in her mind. She knew they didn't mean anything by leaving them behind, cliques were always a thing, but—she sighed.

Maybe she was reading too much into this. Sweetie knew that her current companions had bonded over several incidents, much like herself and the Crusaders. It was simply that they had made their friends and they didn't try to mingle, because there was really no reason to unless they were forced to.

It kind of made her wonder how she'd mix with all of them, if at all.

"Oh, come on, chill," the griffon said, flying over to hover in front of Sweetie as the group walked across town towards the station in the wake of the other students. He flapped his wings lazily, pushing himself backwards as they all walked. "Gabby told me about you Crusaders."

Sweetie perked up instantly, smiling at the memory of her griffon friend and latching onto a good chance to avoid those other, nasty thoughts. "What did she say?"

"Nothing too interesting," Gallus replied, waving a claw dismissively. "Something about butt marks and how you got her one."

"Wow, you got a cutie mark for a griffon?!" Sandbar asked, impressed.

"Yay!" Silverstream cheered flying at Sweetie's side. "That. Is. Soooo awesome!"

Gallus raised an eyebrow, looking unimpressed. "Really? Why?"

"I don't know!" Silverstream answered, grin never fading. "But it sounds fantastic!"

Ocellus rolled her eyes, then glared in slight annoyance at the others. "Didn't you pay attention in Twilight's—"

"Nope."

"Well, getting your Cutie Mark is a very big thing in a pony's life," Sandbar explained, unfazed by Ocellu's pouting and Gallus' grimace at the potential explanation. "When we discover our special talent, this mark appears, showing everycreature that we have taken the next step in the rest of our lives."

"So, it's like a magical tattoo that shows your inner self on your butt," Gallus said, "Yeah. I can totally see how that's special."

If he was offended by Gallus' dismissal, Sandbar didn't show it. "But that's not all!" the chill-sounding pony added, glancing at Sweetie, "How did you get one for a griffon? I thought only ponies had them."

"It wasn't easy. Gabby's just—" Sweetie paused, wondering how to phrase it.

"Good at everything?" Gallus said at the same time as Sweetie. The pair stared at each other, and the griffon rolled his eyes. "What? It's true. She's a pain that way. It annoys everygriffon"

"She's nice!" Sweetie said, glaring at him. "Don't you dare talk about a Crusader like that!"

"Yeah, yeah, I wouldn't want the Crusaders to be upset with little ol' me." Gallus smirked. He ignored Sweetie's annoyed look and turned around landing on the train platform as they joined Applejack.

"Well, about time you lot got here," Applejack said, "the other students already got into their car, you lot take the second one, we're about to leave."

"Yes, miss Applejack."

"Sweetie, keep an eye on them while Ah talk to the others, wouldya?"

The unicorn smiled. "Sure!"

"And once again, we're reminded that we need a foalsitter," Gallus sighed, jumping into the car, followed by the others.

"Aw, don't let Gallus get under your skin, Sweetie," Applejack said as they walked after the students. "He's really not a bad sort."

Sweetie sighed. "I know. He's just very different from Gabby."

"That's a good thing, sugarcube," Applejack said as the train started moving. "Ah know he can be sarcastic at times, but, if it makes you feel better, so can you." She winked and walked into the car where the other students were.

Sweetie shook her head with mild amusement and walked into the car, finding that the four students had already claimed a booth. Since it could only fit four passengers at a time, Sweetie sat by herself on another.

Gallus and the others laughed at something Sandbar said, and Sweetie sighed, looking out the window as Ponyville slowly receded into the distance. 'Maybe I'm just not that great at fitting in and making a difference without the others.'

The ride continued, and the four friends discussed topics of all sorts—laughing and making jabs at each other—and Sweetie distracted herself by counting trees. 'They're not snubbing you, Sweetie… they just don't know you. They're friends, when you're with the Crusaders you usually just keep to yourselves, right?'

Sweetie took a deep breath, leaning back on the seat and staring at the roof, wondering about her decision to join Twilight's school properly. It hadn't been that long since they had tried their hooves at tutoring and… well, it hadn't been a complete disaster, but it certainly hadn't been the best experience for all three of them.

It helped, somewhat, that their previous student had been an evil mastermind. At least that one failure couldn't really be pinned on them.

However, she had felt something special about it. A sense of fluttering fulfilment, as if a weight had been lifted off of her chest when she had found herself as part of something bigger. This School of Friendship was the Cutie Mark Crusaders taken to the next level. It was about helping; about meeting new friends and finding joy in unity and strength in numbers.

It really made her want to sing. It had been the main motivator behind her insistence to the others to give it a go as actual staff, not just tutors. Learn from their sisters and friends and help everycreature be... she looked down at the empty seat across from her and sighed.

'Do I really have it in me?' she wondered, turning to look at the international group again.

There was no international group, only a pair of large, excited, violet eyes.

"Hi!"

"Gah!" Sweetie backed away from Silverstream, who didn't stop smiling. It was like the weirdest mixture of Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie.

"How are you?!" Silverstream asked, taking Sweetie's hoof in her claws. "Did you find something really awesome to do on your own?!" She gasped, practically climbing over Sweetie to look out the window. "Look! Paved roads!"

Sweetie wiggled her way out from under Silverstream. "I'm sure you've seen paved roads before."

"But never one so long!" Silverstream countered.

Sweetie stared at her for a few moments, before she had to nod. "Okay, I'll give you that."

"So what's it called?!"

"Um, we just call it Canterlot Road?" Sweetie said, unsure if that was accurate outside of Ponyville. "Apple Bloom would be the one to ask, or Applejack, they sometimes take it to set up their stand at the Farmer's Market in Lower Canterlot."

"Does that mean that there's a Higher Canterlot?!" Silverstream clapped with excitement. "How much higher is it?!"

"It's not really like that," Sweetie said, "Canterlot is divided into districts, and Lower Canterlot is just called that because it's the lowest part of the city, and closest to the roads. That's usually where the Farmer's Market sets up because it has the biggest open plaza in the city.

"The upper part is too big to just call it that, so you have the four major districts: the Royal District, the University District, the Noble District and the Guard District." Sweetie took a breath. "The only thing that might be confusing is that there is an Upper Canterlot Road, which starts at the top end of the Lower District. That's where most of the really expensive stores are."

"Is it called the Guard District because only guards live there?" Ocellus asked, scooting over and sitting across from Sweetie.

"No, just like the University and Lower Canterlot, it's mixed citizens," Sweetie said, "but the Royal Guard Barracks are located there."

"So you're saying that the University District is called that because the university is there, not because it's all part of it?" Sandbar asked, sitting next to Ocellus.

Sweetie nodded, "Yeah, but the Noble District and the Royal District are different. Only the richest ponies live in the Noble District, and the Royal District is basically all Castle Grounds; the Royal Library, Royal Garden, Royal Opera House, Canterlot Castle itself—"

"We get it, we get it," Gallus said, sliding to sit to Sweetie's left.

His wings brushed on her side, tickling her, and she unintentionally giggled. She caught herself and looked up at the griffon, who was giving her a confident smirk. "Right."

Sweetie took stock of the situation.

Silverstream kept looking outside the window, bouncing occasionally at something new being spotted, forcing her to press to her left, Gallus, who had leaned over to tell something to Sandbar, upon noticing the situation, rather than move, had simply extended his wing around her, getting it out of the way. Across, Ocellus looked thoughtfully at the passing landmarks and Sandbar eagerly talked to the griffon.

The others seemed comfortable where they were. And surprisingly, so was she.

Maybe it was odd, but she felt a lot more comfortable with them, than the rest of the class so far. Maybe it was because she had been exposed to so much more than the other ponies attending the school… or maybe she was used to hanging out with creatures that were different, just like the CMC were different from other fillies and colts in school.

But one thing was for sure, she felt considerably better now about her decision.

Saying that Canterlot's Train Station was a large complex was an understatement. It didn't seem too big for a casual observer or visitor, but that was simply because of the way it was designed.

The platforms for arrivals and departures were not side by side, so arriving to a platform that seemed just big enough for the train's passengers to emerge and walk down a small tunnel into the city, did not really give a clear idea of just how many trains and platforms there were in the station.

The only way to see most of them, if you weren't a flying species, would be to go to the second floor of the control tower, where big windows allowed everycreature to look outside and really appreciate the sheer size of the place.

Of course, you would get into a lot of trouble for going in there to take a look around, as the building was heavily guarded.

"...and how would you know that then?" Gallus asked, giving Sweetie a suspicious look.

"We Crusaders tried to get our Cutie Marks in Freight Conducting."

"Ah," Sandbar said, "I think I heard about that one." Other ponies nodded their heads.

"Ah bet y'all did," Applejack said as she waited for the stragglers to grab their bags and catch up with them. "It was a right mess t'fix let me tell you."

Sweetie chuckled nervously. "Say! Look at the time! Don't we have to be somewhere?"

Applejack laughed, and nodded. "Alrighty, come on everycreature! Giddy-yup! This way!"

They walked down a ramp into the underground tunnel that took them to from the train station, to a large open area surrounded by buildings. "Now this here is the Lower Canterlot Plaza," Applejack said, waving and smiling at a merchant, who replied in kind. "This is—"

"Oooh! Oh!" Silverstream shouted, fluttering up, eyes wide. "This is where you come to sell apples at the Farmer's Market!"

Applejack blinked. "Uh, that's right—"

"Oh, so that is the main street that takes us to the Noble District and the Royal District," Ocellus added, pointing at a wide street, surrounded on both sides by expensive-looking stores.

Applejack chuckled. "Heh, it seems that y'all were learnin' somethin' on the way here," she said, giving Sweetie an approving nod. "Well, let me walk you around a bit and introduce y'all to some nice folk before we head over to the University." She started walking, and the group fell in place behind her, taking in the sights.

For most of the ponies in the class, not to mention the international group, this was their very first Canterlot visit, so everything seemed new. Sweetie stalled as she passed a jewelry shop, her eyes drawn to something.

Sweetie smiled, making her way into the jewelry shop. It was too bad that Scootaloo and Apple Bloom hadn't been able to come with her, but maybe something nice would make it up for them? 'I guess I'm more like my sister than I wanted to admit to myself…' she thought with a giggle as she selected three pins. They were a bit big, but the details on them were incredible.

"Wow, those are nice, sugarcube."

"Eeee! I. Love. Them!"

Sweetie jumped, turning around to see Applejack at the door, Silverstream hovering excitedly over the displays and several grinning students behind them.

Gallus stood to the side, not really showing most interest in the displays.

"Ah thought the deal was to not get separated?" Applejack asked with a smirk.

"Hey, Applejack… um sorry. I just- It's for Bloom and Scootaloo, do you mind if—"

"Go ahead sugarcube," Applejack said, chuckling. "We're heading over to Pear Cobbler's for a quick snack, you remember where it is?"

"I do!"

"See you there, then!"

"Huh." Gallus sauntered over to the display picking up one of the pins Sweetie had selected and eyeing it critically. "They look kinda flimsy."

The jeweler huffed, but Sweetie tilted her head and batted her eyes. "You don't think it'll look good on me?"

Gallus backpedalled, suddenly looking nervous. "I—I'm going."

Sweetie watched the griffon walked out and turned to the jeweler who was looking at her in amusement. "My sister taught me that one. Works every time."

Once the class had some snacks in them, Applejack took the lead once more, guiding them up one of the side avenues.

"Look! More signs!"

"Come on," Gallus said with a slow, dragged sigh. "You can't tell me that you don't have signs underwater."

"Oh, we do!" Silverstream said, nodding. "But they're not made of wood and ink! They're usually made of corals and shells."

"Okay."

As they walked, Sweetie did notice the stares. Ponies would stop to watch the odd group of creatures walking by. It was curiosity, most of the time, but there was plenty of wariness and, when it came to Ocellus, almost palpable antagonism.

"Don't let it bother you," Gallus said.

"But…"

"Look, I appreciate that you are thinking about us, but these ponies have never seen most of our species outside of hearing about them…"

"...or the invasion." Ocellus said, wincing over a glare directed her way.

"In any case," Gallus said, locking eyes with one of the ponies that was glaring at Ocellus until the pony cringed and walked away, muttering. "Most of the time it's not as bad as you think. Ponies are curious and afraid, but eventually they'll just leave or get to know us."

"You remember what happened to your friend, Zecora, right?" Ocellus said, "We just need to be patient."

Sweetie sighed. "I guess you guys would know better, but, it's just not fair."

"Eh. You should see how ponies fare when they go to our lands to live," Gallus said with a shrug. "Compared to that, this is downright friendly."

"If you say so," Sweetie said, ears flattening. "I just… wish there was more harmony and differences weren't a reason to hate or fear each other."

Gallus shrugged. "That's the whole point of the school, isn't it?"

Sweetie smiled. "Yeah. It is."

"Alright, everycreature," Applejack called, "We're almost at Canterlot University. Ah want y'all to stay close together now. There's a lot of ponies here travelling in groups and we don't want anypony to get lost."

"Um, Miss Applejack?"

Sweetie didn't miss Applejack's wince. "What is it, Gold Cobbler?"

"Swift Wing and Caramel Dust are both gone."

Applejack sighed. "Of course they are." She looked up at the sky, noting the sun's location. "Consarnit! We won't have a problem gettin' to the talk Ah wanted to go to, but…" she shook her head. "Sweetie Belle, you've been here before, right?"

Sweetie stepped forth. "Yeah, I came here with Twilight and Rarity last month."

"Do you know where the Temp—" Applejack paused, taking out the package, and reading out Twilight's note, "...the "Temporal Space and Development" lab is?"

"I know where the general magic development labs are, I think that's probably there."

"Listen, sugarcube, Ah hate to ask, but…"

"It's no problem," Sweetie said, levitating the package, "I'll drop it off, and meet you at the Department of Agriculture."

"Thanks, Sweetie Belle, Ah need to find those two quick as a whip or there'll be trouble. Come on, everycreature."

"Eh…" Gallus spoke up. "I think I'll go with Sweetie."

"Oh! Me too!" Silverstream cried out excitedly.

"I wouldn't mind seeing that as well," Ocellus added.

Sandbar looked at their teacher and whined, begging with his eyes.

"Fine." Applejack sighed. "But y'all stay away from the experiments, you hear?"

"Yes, miss Applejack."

"The eye rollin' is optional, Gallus." Applejack chuckled. "Alright! The rest of you, git! Side Swipe! You and Comet Burst fly up and try an' see if y'all can spot what bush them two lovebirds hid behind. The rest, help me search!"

The group had gathered plenty of attention as they fell in line just a step behind Sweetie. She remembered the campus well; Twilight and Rarity had come with her on a couple of occasions, trying to gauge her interest in future career options.

Rarity had taken her to the School of Business first, and Twilight to the School of Thaumic Studies, before the pair had quite amiably allowed her to finally drag them over to the Musical Arts school, where she had met with her pen-pal/mentor Octavia, who was often a lecturer at the school.

It was clear for all ponies where her interests lay, when it came to higher education, and they had all been very supportive of her choices. When the time came, all three would write recommendations for her.

Although it had been slightly annoying to be dragged all over, Sweetie now had a very good idea of where the main areas of the University were, and with the convenience of campus maps—and the occasional passerby—they didn't take long in finding the right building.

All the while, Silverstreams surprise and energy at everything around them made it almost worthwhile to stop and contemplate the most minuscule things, however, they had little time and so Sweetie had pushed them forth until they had reached the labs.

Eventually they made it to the TSD Lab, and after consulting with a grumpy, shifty-eyed unicorn in a lab coat, they were pointed towards Professor Quantum State's presentation, which was, at that time taking place. As the walked, Sweetie couldn't shake the feeling that the unicorn had been giving her companions very angry glares, but the professor's passionate discourse reached her ears just as she was starting to make up her mind about it.

"...and furthermore," the professor was saying as he paced in front of a crowd of scientists, students, and important-looking ponies, "the benefits of this mode of transportation will benefit every creature in Equestria, not just unicorns. Dragons, Griffons… Zebras and even beyond."

The unicorn scientist brushed his dark blue mane out of the way as he turned and pointed at the device. "This is a small-scale model, but functional! Imagine what we can do when we remove the limits from others? What we can achieve when we level the playing field to allow those that cannot cast magic through their horns to share their unique magic unimpeded by distance?"

Apparently that was the end of the presentation as polite clapping followed his last statement. Sweetie sighed. It looked interesting, but Applejack was probably already waiting for them, so at least now that he was done, she would—

"And now, I will demonstrate the device's effectiveness."

Apparently not. Sweetie Belle bit her lip, glancing at the clock on the wall before making her decision.

"Excuse me, Professor?"

Quantum State hesitated, looking up at the group. "Yes miss? I'm sorry but could you wait—"

"I really apologize," Sweetie interrupted. "I am just here to deliver a package from Princess Twilight, she requested that it was given to you directly."

Quantum blinked. "Oh!" he smiled, motioning for her to step over. "Thank you very much, miss, please, if you don't mind."

Sweetie nodded, levitating the package over to him. He smiled. "Thank you, miss?"

"Sweetie Belle," she introduced herself, "Nice to meet you."

"Miss Sweetie Belle, a pleasure, I'm sure." He smiled at the gathered ponies, which Sweetie now noticed included the unicorn that had directed her there. "As a messenger from the Princess, and accompanied by other creatures, how would you feel about helping me demonstrate the effectiveness of my device?"

Sweetie glanced at the machine. It didn't look like much. It was designed for probably about three or four ponies inside, and looked more like a metal bubble with seats than a machine of any sort. "Um…"

"Let me ask you, what's a place where you have never been before?"

Sweetie blinked. "Well… there's a lot of those… but I guess Griffonstone? Pinkie and the others have been there, but I've been curious since my friend Gabby came from there."

"And of course I'd love it if one of your companions could come with you," he added, "perhaps you, young griffon?"

Gallus blinked. "Um. Me? Why would I jump inside a giant metal ball? That looks like something the old Dragon Lord would use to play catch." His statement drew some amuse chuckles from the crowd.

"Because!" Quantum said, smile unwavering as he manipulated several crystals on a console, "I can take us to Griffonstone and back from there in ten seconds flat." The scientist raised his head with pride. "And since I and Miss Sweetie here have never been there, it would be nice for you to confirm that the location is indeed correct, when we come back."

Gallus stared at him. "From here. To Griffonstone. In ten seconds."

"That's correct."

Despite herself, Sweetie was intrigued. Her crusader spirit was being tickled. "Well… I suppose ten seconds is not much time…"

"Excellent! Please, step into the Quantum Sphere. Mister Griffon?"

"Gallus. Don't call me mister." The griffon narrowed his eyes. "Eh." He shrugged. "Why not?"

He followed Sweetie inside, taking a seat across from her, just as Quantum stepped in and took a seat too. "Now," he said as the sphere shuddered and several devices outside of it started powering up, "I have set the parameters already… for this demonstration I won't be using my own magic, but simply the ambient ethereal resonance of Equestria."

"Woo! Bring us presents!" Silverstream shouted.

Sweetie rolled her eyes. "Silverstream, it's only a ten second visit, we can't—"

Her voice trailed off as she noticed the unicorn from earlier gallop out of the crowd, his horn glowing with a spell as he charged the console.

"No! That's very sensitive!" Quantum shouted, standing up with clear worry in his eyes.

"Magic will only belong to unicorns!" the rogue scientist shouted slamming his horn straight into the console and releasing his spell.

For a split second, nothing happened.

Suddenly, the world screamed around Sweetie, like thunder and splitting rocks. The universe collapsed and expanded, pulling her every atom across it just as it compressed her into a singularity. She heard her magic whiplash around her, uncontrollable, crashing against other magics, fighting to stay attached to her ethereal core.

And then the world went dark.

[End Chapter 1]