Obsessed with uncovering the magic responsible for creating the portal mirror she used to recover her crown, Twilight eventually manages to create a gateway to a series of worlds one step removed from her own.
Since the recovery of her crown, Twilight has become obsessed with rediscovering the lost magic which created the 'Portal Mirror': a gateway to another world. On top of that, a former enemy has arrived in Ponyville, looking to make amends.
With her help, Twilight ends up with more than she bargained for when an accident occurs during her studies, touching off an adventure spanning across multiple realities. With a new gateway linked to a myriad of new worlds, what will they find as each expedition brings them one more step removed from the universe they call home?
From the perspective of a less frequent visitor to Ponyville, one might find it odd that a large section of the main road was conspicuously absent of vendor carts on a prime market day. They might find it odder still to see one of the last holdouts packing up and moving their goods away from the town library, of all places.
Of course, the reasons for that became quickly apparent as a sudden and growing rumbling began emitting from the giant oak. This was further reinforced by the earth-shatteringly loud explosion which shortly followed, along with the sounds of coughing as plumes of smoke rose from the open windows.
Still, there were a few salesponies sticking it out. It was only the fifth time today, after all.
“Are you okay, Twlight?” groaned Spike, picking himself up from the pile of sandbags he’d been hiding behind.
“Y-yeah, I’m fine... Ughhh, it should have worked this time!”
Twilight Sparkle, the town’s resident princess, librarian, and some might even, fondly, say 'madmare', simply coughed a few times, shaking the soot out of her mane as she stared at the failed remnants of her latest experiment.
It was a tall standing mirror, twice as high and wide as her body, with blue gems embedded in the wooden frame at regular intervals. This in itself had been untouched by the explosive aftereffects of her most recent attempt to understand the magic woven into it. The ground and walls of her basement laboratory around it however hadn't fared so well, and were covered in soot in an almost perfect two foot sphere radiating outward from the mirror - what had moments ago been a series of intricately designed arcane patterns drawn by Twilight around it.
She sighed, clearing her head as the last of the smoke dissipated, and walked over to a nearby book stand. Her horn lit up with a soft violet glow as she stared at the magically turning pages, searching for any clues that she’d missed.
“Aw, don’t worry Twilight,” said Spike, walking up to her. “I’m sure you’ll figure it out soon. After all, you’re like the smartest pony ever! You always figure stuff like that out.”
Twilight smiled softly, looking fondly down to her number one assistant. “Thanks, Spike.”
“Well, except for how Pinkie’s special sense works. Or why that one stallion is so obsessed with jelly,” he continued obliviously.
“…Thanks, Spike.” Twilight deadpanned.
Spike simply beamed his best encouraging smile back up to her, then set about mopping up the soot covering the floor for the fifth time that morning.
Twilight’s own smile crept back onto her face as she watched. She couldn't fault the little dragon for his enthusiasm, and she decided she should get him a treat for being so steadfastly helpful today. 'Maybe I’ll take him on a trip to the gem fields later,' she thought. In truth, she knew Spike was just as eager as she was for her experiments to finally bear some fruit.
Ever since their trip to that alien world two weeks ago, Twilight had become obsessed with understanding how the magic that created and maintained the portal mirror she’d used in the Crystal Empire worked. She’d managed to dig up every scroll and tome on the subject from the depths of the Canterlot Library’s restricted archives, and had the mirror itself shipped to her library for study.
It had taken some work convincing Princess Celestia on that point, but it was eventually settled that a friendly face should be there to greet Sunset Shimmer should she ever decide to return to Equestria. Surprisingly, it hadn't taken any convincing for Celestia to allow Twilight to experiment on the mirror, as she trusted her faithful student not to damage it. Or perhaps, Twilight was beginning to suspect, her mentor didn't think she was capable of damaging it, as it was proving thankfully impervious to all the magical backlashes that had occurred in the process of studying it.
Still, for every failure she had learned more and more about how the enchantment worked, and she felt like she was getting close to an answer.
Spike wrung out the mop he was using in the nearby bucket, finishing his cleaning as Twilight was collecting her thoughts. “You know, even if you don’t figure out how this thing works for a while, at least it’s only two more weeks before we can go back and visit everyone.”
“Actually,” Twilight perked up and looked up from her book, her tone suddenly shifting into what her friends referred to as ‘lecture mode’ whenever she started explaining something from an academic standpoint. “I looked into that a bit, and it turns out there’s quite a debate in scientific circles over exactly how long ‘thirty moons’ is. Some sources claim that it simply means thirty nights, which I’m most inclined to believe, but others are adamant that it means eight hundred and forty days!”
Spike stared at her for a full minute, working out the math in his head. His eyes suddenly went as wide as plates in shock. “Wait, are you saying we could have been stuck there for… two years?!”
“Actually that’s two point three zero one years to be ex—“
“Two. Years, Twilight!”
“Well as I was sayi—“
“And didn't we make it back with only like ten seconds to spare?!”
“Yeah, we did cut it a little close there...” she laughed nervously, thinking back to the moment they returned from the strange human world.
Spike’s only response was the soft thud as he hit the floor, having fainted from the thought.
“Oh, Spike…” Twilight said, gentle lavender light emitting from her horn as she lifted him up onto her back with her magic, nestling him between her wings. She ascended the stairs from her lab with him in tow, emerging from the heavy oak door that separated the basement stairs from the library kitchen. She looked out one of the windows, the beautiful morning view of her town calling to her.
She smiled, heading for the front door. “Well, I suppose some fresh air will do us both some good.”
A buzzing noise filled the air of the market street, several citizens diving for cover to avoid being run down as a high-velocity scooter barreled down the road. Its pilot was a blur of blue, orange and magenta, and it towed a red wagon holding similar blurs of red, cream, white and violet.
“Be careful, girls!” shouted Twilight, the breeze she felt under her wings from the group speeding past having nearly been enough to lift her off the ground!
“Sorry Princess!” shouted Sweetie Belle from the back of the Cutie Mark Crusaders’ favorite mode of transport, a huge smile plastered on the filly’s face as they sped away. Scootaloo meanwhile didn't know what everyone was so worried about; she was wearing a helmet, after all.
“Whoa, what was that about?” came the sound of Spike’s voice from Twilight’s back, the baby dragon having been roused from his fainting spell by the commotion.
Twilight smirked a little and just shook her head, about to say something when a familiar drawl greeted them from the side of the road.
“G’mornin’ you two!” smiled Applejack, standing behind her familiar apple cart. “I was startin’ to wonder when I’d see ya’ll come out and pay the world a visit again.”
Twilight’s smirk turned a little sheepish at that. “Oh come on, Applejack, I haven’t been that bad about my research lately…” she paused, seeing a smirk appear on her friend’s face. “…have I?”
“Sugarcube, the only thang that’s come out of your library in the last four days has been smoke and earth-shatterin’ kabooms.”
Twilight gave a nervous little laugh, rubbing the back of her head. “Eheh, really? I hadn’t noticed…”
Spike and Applejack rolled their eyes simultaneously, but Applejack’s expression immediately softened. “Aw, that’s all right Twi’, I’m just happy to see you out and about again! And hey! So long as you’re here, can I interest ya in a nice hot apple fritter or two to start your day?”
Spike’s eyes went wide and shiny at the suggestion, staring at the assorted apple based delights lined up along the shelves of the apple cart. “Ooohh… Twilight, can we? Pleaaaase?”
Twilight grinned, stretching out a wing and tilting it down so Spike could slide off her back, watching him hop up to the cart. “Oh I suppose it couldn’t hurt. Two apple fritters, please.” Her horn glowed as she casually floated a pair of bits from her saddlebag onto the cart.
Applejack beamed and deposited the money in her bit bag, while Spike and Twilight each took a fritter in return. “Thank ya kindly, sugarcube.”
“Well you didn’t exactly play fair.” Twilight smirked at her friend.
“Shoot, can I help it if I’m proud of havin’ the best darned apples this side of Appleloosa?”
The girls shared a laugh, and Twilight felt her spirits soaring higher than they’d been since she began her research. The three of them shared small talk for a while as they ate, AJ filling them in on what the girls had been up to the last few weeks, Spike asking a few questions about how Rarity had been, and Twilight discussing her research in a way the farm pony could almost understand after about three tries at it.
“So lemme get this straight, you’re tryin’ to figure out how to make the mirror, portal, thing, stay open?” questioned Applejack, one eyebrow raised with puzzlement clear on her face.
“Well, no, not exactly. You see, I want to figure out exactly how the mirror was made in the first place. If I can do that I should be able to find a way to make another one of my own design which works on an entirely different schedule! I think I can find a way to make the spells that power it more efficient so it doesn’t have to rely on a specific lunar alignment to activate, theoretically speaking, of course. I should be able to draw power from a more stable constellation if I can create a suitable focus, but so far I haven’t quite figured it out.”
“Just think of the possibilities!”
“Well… I’m sure I’ll think of some! Besides, this is an amazing new field of magical research that’s gone ignored for centuries! Maybe even millennia! The world must know, Applejack! The world must know!”
Twilight was hyperventilating by this point, holding the sides of Applejack’s face in her hooves while their eyes were inches apart.
Applejack, for her part, just gently patted her friend back down to the ground. “Alright alright, I get it Twi’, just calm down will ya? No sense in goin’ all crazy again over it. Sheesh, I'm kinda glad ya still haven't learned that 'Royal Canterlot Voice' yet," Applejack chuckled. "Why don’t ya’ll just stay out an’ about for a while, take a walk and relax?”
Twilight nodded softly, closing her eyes as she raised one hoof up to her chest and took a deep breath, before pointing forward and letting the breath go, immediately calming down. She really couldn’t thank her favorite foalsitter enough for teaching her that, and reminding her to use it more lately.
“You’re right, you’re right. I came out here to get some fresh air after all.” She looked over to Spike, who had finished his fritter long before she had. “Ready to go, Spike?”
“Yeah, I’m good,” said the little dragon. “See you later, AJ! Thanks for the snack!”
“Ya’ll are welcome, sugarcube. Take care now, ‘n try to keep Twi’ out of trouble, ya hear?”
Applejack waved happily as they departed, grinning playfully after that last remark, just as another customer trotted up to her cart. The two heard her holler her familiar sales pitch as they walked further into town, intent on enjoying a nice stroll.
A traveller making her way towards the small town up ahead stopped to cringe as yet another in a long string of explosions rocked the air in the distance, this one the loudest yet today. The blue mare sighed and shook her head, readjusting the harness she was using to tow her wagon behind her. ‘That’s at least four now,’ she thought in dismay as she continued making her way down the only partially familiar road, tossing her silver-blue mane back while wondering what on Equis could be going on in that village.
It was making her already frayed nerves even harder to manage, and she had to keep fighting the urge to turn tail and forget why she ever thought it would be a good idea to go there again. In truth she’d only visited Ponyville twice before, and neither visit had gone particularly well, especially the second. At the same time, the way the second visit ended had given her renewed hope for repairing her woefully damaged reputation.
Trixie Lulamoon had turned over a new leaf since that fateful evening, and had even discovered a whole new side business she could apply her talents to, which was already paying more than she’d ever earned with her impromptu stage shows. It had still taken her several months to work up the courage to return, especially after hearing her once-rival had become Equestria’s newest princess. ‘A bucking princess, for crying out loud!’ she grumbled inwardly. But here she was, ready to face her fears and confront the worst part of her past once and for all.
The breeze picked up as Trixie continued along the road, finally coming beyond the edge of the tree line of the Everfree Forest. The sight of the town’s river came into view, fed by the dam holding back the lake reservoir in the distance. The sun had just finished rising at her back, and she could hear the bustle and commotion of the town just ahead. She didn’t have a plan, really. The only pony she knew for sure she was on speaking terms with in this town was the princess herself, but maybe that would be enough.
At least, she hoped so.
Trixie cringed again, staring down road as she thought she could see black smoke rising into the air from the village center…
It was nearly noon by the time Trixie had managed to wheel her wagon into the town proper, Celestia’s sun shining brightly overhead through what little cloud cover graced the sky. The reactions of the villagers, upon seeing her, had been marginally better than she’d hoped, but no less what she’d expected; most simply scowled or ignored her presence, some just turning and walking the other way. At least she hadn’t gotten outright jeers or ponies shouting at her to leave, or worse. As she’d walked into Ponyville her mind had been swimming with images of herself fleeing an angry mob carrying torches and pitchforks, her wagon in flaming ruins behind her as she ran. It sent a shiver down her spine just thinking about it, and she was still afraid it might happen at any given moment. ‘I would certainly deserve it…’ she considered despondently.
Avoiding the market street made her trip take a bit longer than it should have otherwise been, but she didn’t want to risk marching her wagon through the most densely populated portion of town in broad daylight if she could help it. Though the rest of the town was far from deserted, she was amazed when she finally found the library within her sight, without having at least one rotten vegetable flung in her general direction.
“I’ll bet the princess has something to do with that…” she muttered aloud, rolling her eyes slightly and sticking her tongue out like she’d just tasted something sour. She still couldn’t help feeling distaste for that word as it rolled off her tongue in reference to her former rival. Even though she’d ceased seeing Twilight as a target of her vengeful side, a part of her still couldn’t shrug off how she’d felt all that time so lightly.
‘It was all her fault… All of it! She made me look like such a…’ she stopped trotting abruptly and closed her eyes, taking a deep breath before letting it out in a sigh as she got a better handle on her thoughts. ‘Oh who am I kidding, I was acting like a Great and Powerful Fool from the first time we met… She saved me from myself…’
Trixie shuddered at the thought of what might have become of her if Twilight hadn’t tricked her into freeing herself of that cursed amulet. A large part of her was wondering why she was going through all of this in her head yet again, as she thought she’d come to terms with it months ago. But as she gazed at the massive tree approaching quickly ahead of her, one that had been hollowed out and converted into the town library, the very one that housed Celestia’s personal student, she knew exactly why.
The Great and Powerful Trixie was terrified.
Not the jittery, adrenaline-fueled fear of mortal peril, or the cold pit of fear she’d learned to hide away long ago when facing an audience of hundreds of judging faces. It was a sheer, blank terror she couldn’t put a name on. It felt like a wall was rushing towards her; any minute she would inevitably crash into it head on, and there was nothing she could do about it. Now that she was here, about to face her past, Trixie realized she hadn’t even considered what she was going to say or do to break the ice.
‘Hi Twilight, how’s it... been? UGH!’ she facehoofed at her own awkward thoughts. Why hadn’t she rehearsed anything or even thought about what she would say?
She’d been so focused on her decision to finally come back, devoted so much energy into seeing it through, that now that she was here she had no idea what to do next. Her stage persona had always been her most powerful tool for pushing through her fears and anxiety, but she realized that the last thing anypony wanted to hear was the haughty, self-centered third-person of ‘The Great and Powerful Trixie.’ It may have always been her mind’s escape from second guessing herself, but when she had started letting herself get carried away with the act, it had gotten her in the very trouble she found herself ready to make amends for now.
“Maybe Trixie will… just park around back…” she thought aloud, suppressing an urge to gulp as she towed her wagon to the back of the library and unhitched herself from the harness.
It felt wonderful to finally be free of the weight she’d been pulling off and on for days, and she reached a fore hoof back to rub absently at one of the lines the harness had dug in her coat. The hooded brown travelling cloak she’d worn had cushioned most of the weight, as did the enchantments she’d placed on her wagon to lighten the load enough for a mare of her stature to pull it without too much difficulty. The thick, durable cloth covered her back from neck to tail, and hung halfway down her legs, secured in place by a few straps around her chest and stomach. Trixie had pulled the hood back to show her face as she entered Ponyville, not wanting to seem like she was hiding her presence.
She walked around to the front door apprehensively. The Golden Oak Library was still a public building, despite being the personal residence of Equestria’s newest princess, and it appeared to be open for business for the day. Twilight had enchanted the candle painted on the front door so that the flame would vanish from the image when the building was closed, or lit when it was open. Trixie had noticed this on her first visit and had, at the time, grudgingly acknowledged the clever use of a permanent illusion spell. Back then she’d considered how she could work something similar into her own act, and had created a number of new tricks around it; Illusion and Enchantment were her personal forte, after all. Sadly she never got to make much use of it, as after that visit ponies had stopped appreciating her shows…
Trixie stared blankly at the door for what felt like hours, but in reality were only a few minutes. Finally, taking a deep breath to steel her nerves, she pushed the door open with the raw assertive force of a full-on timid-mode Fluttershy and walked inside. The musty smell of knowledge greeted her as she gazed over the room filled with tomes collected from all corners of Equis. A smell somewhat tinged with a hint of burnt toast.
The library proper was in a state of complete disarray, stacks of books towering in random piles on the floor and every corner of the room, notes and papers strewn haphazardly on every table along with quill pens and ink. There was barely anywhere to walk through the colossal mess that she found before her eyes. Stranger still, after a few more minutes of standing apprehensively in the entrance, it dawned on her that nopony or baby dragon had come to greet the library’s latest customer.
“…Hello? Twilight Sparkle, are you even home?” said the stage magician aloud, with only silence as a response. She wandered along one of the clear sides of the room, stopping to look over some of the almost incoherent notes covering a bookstand as curiosity finally got the better of her.
The fresh air was decidedly doing Twilight a world of good. Over the course of the last two hours, she could practically feel the stress and exertion she’d built up over the last week melting out of her shoulders. Not only was she feeling more relaxed, but as the pair had taken to aimlessly wandering through town they had bumped into several of their friends along the way.
Pinkie Pie, for example, had been barking the bakery’s wares as they passed Sugarcube Corner, and had excitedly given them both a new flavor of muffin to taste test when she saw them approach. Twilight still had no idea what a ‘snozberry’ was, but it gave the baked good a somewhat surreal, otherworldly flavor, and she’d felt odd tingles of magic in her horn after eating her muffin. Pinkie had just waved it off as ‘Side effects that still need ironing out’ when Twilight brought it up. They’d both shrugged and left it at that, though Twilight made a mental note to investigate it later.
They had walked past Town Hall and had found an impromptu concert in progress in front of the statue of Ringaling, with Rainbow Dash and Rarity together in the small crowd which had formed. Two of the local musicians, a grey mare with a purple treble clef cutie mark Twilight felt she recognized from somewhere, and the rambunctious DJ she remembered clearly from her brother’s wedding, were putting together a beautiful fusion of electric and classical music.
Twilight rather enjoyed the way the two genres sounded together, and Spike was going crazy cheering the pair on, so she stayed to listen until the music wrapped up for the day. To their credit, the grey earth pony playing the cello hadn’t even batted an eye when she noticed the princess in the crowd, and the white unicorn’s eyes couldn’t be seen behind her sunglasses anyways.
As the concert ended and the crowd dispersed, a conversation about what they’d just heard was struck up between the three girls and dragon. Rainbow Dash was apparently a huge fan of the DJ’s side of the ensemble (‘You know, that Vinyl is almost as awesome as me, and that’s saying something!’), while Rarity decidedly thought the dulcet tones of the cellist’s instrument were what made the music fabulous. Both mares were eager to hear what Twilight and Spike had been doing all cooped up in the library for so long, but Twilight decided just to tell them she was working on a new spell, for now. She felt a little guilty for evading the question, but knew the discussion that would arise when she told them what she was really working on would be a long one, and she just wanted to keep relaxing for a while.
Rarity politely took her leave and parted ways with the group as they passed Carousel Boutique, but not before informing Twilight that she was in the process of designing a whole new line of clothing specifically to suit her friend’s new status as royalty. Twilight tried to protest, but Rarity was having none of it.
“Tut tut, darling, I must simply insist!” cooed Rarity, her eyes sparkling like stars as she felt a wave of inspiration coming on. “It was hard enough getting you to accept a new dress for the last Gala, and this time I am going to have to put my hoof down before you even try to protest! Trust me, I am going to see to it that you have the most regal raiment of any princess Equestria has ever seen!”
Spike stared up at Rarity in awe, little hearts practically floating visibly over his head, while Rainbow just smirked a little, having known Rarity long enough to know where at least some of this was coming from. “Yeah, not to mention getting word out that you’re the personal dressmaker for a princess might bring in a few customers.”
Rarity did her best to feign looking offended, “Why I would never be so callous as to use my friendship with Twilight just to drum up business!” she huffed, turning her nose up and flicking her mane back. After a brief pause she opened one eye, tapping her chin in thought for a moment before speaking up again, “…though it certainly wouldn’t hurt to mention me if anypony were to ask about your new wardrobe.”
Rainbow rolled her eyes while Twilight had to suppress a giggle at her friends’ antics. “Oh alright”, said Twilight, “I suppose it couldn’t hurt to try to look the part for official business. But you’re going to take my money this time, and that’s final,” she noted with the force of a royal decree.
Rarity smiled and nodded softly. “If you insist. Well, I shan’t keep you any longer, and I have plenty of work ahead of me, so I bid you all good afternoon.” With that, the four exchanged waves as the elegant unicorn turned and headed into her shop, with Twilight having to wrap a wing around Spike to keep him from bounding along after her.
“Huh? Who, me?” Spike blinked, then looked up at the pegasus innocently, “I uh.. just thought she might need some help, that’s all!”
“Suuure, Spike” she teased, before looking up at Twilight again. “So hey, want to stretch out those wings for real and get some more practice in? I really thought you were getting the hang of it last time.”
“You think so?” beamed Twilight.
“Nah,” Rainbow’s grin grew even bigger, “but you stick with me and I’ll get you flying like a Wonderbolt in no time!” With that she took to the air, doing a quick backflip in front of her friend for emphasis.
“Gee, thanks,” Twilight deadpanned. “Maybe just a quick flight the rest of the way back home? I’m kind of in the mood for a home-cooked lunch, and if I crash again at least I won’t be far from a bed.”
“Fair enough, you lead and I’ll be right behind you. Remember, a strong burst to get airborne, then keep a steady rhythm. Beat, glide, beat, repeat.” Rainbow nodded encouragingly, then let Spike climb onto her back so he wouldn’t have to jog along after them.
Twilight looked down the road toward the Library with a determined look on her face, bending down and stretching her wings out wide. She stuck her tongue out the corner of her mouth and unconsciously wiggled her tail just before leaping into the air, eliciting a snorting giggle from the mare behind her which nearly broke her concentration.
‘Just what is so funn—whoa!’ Twilight surprised herself as she rose into the air nearly ten meters from the first, powerful thrust of her wings, but immediately felt herself teetering precariously forwards as the momentum began to wear off. She tilted her wings just enough to stabilize her flight for a short glide, before beating them again and surging forward awkwardly.
“Phew.. Okay… wait, Rainb—woooahh, is the repeat supposed to be glide, beat, beat, glide or beat, glide, beat, g—ahh!?” she yelped, struggling to avoid careening into a tree.
Twilight focused hard on maintaining her wobbly flight towards home, while her friend tried to gently coach her along. It felt good to be in the air, but it was still hard to suppress the fear of crashing which came hoof in hoof with learning to fly. The first time she’d actually flown, right after her coronation, had come entirely on instinct and been spurred on by her elation from the ceremony. Landing had, unfortunately, been another issue entirely – thankfully her eventual lover’s spat with gravity had occurred away from the eyes of anypony when she splashed down at the bottom of the castle’s waterfall. She’d managed to duck inside her parents’ house and change out of her wet clothes before anypony had come down from the ceremony at the castle grounds. As far as anyone still knew, she simply went home to rest and wash her dress. At least, that was her story, and she was sticking to it, darn it!
As they approached their destination, Twilight could hear Rainbow calling from next to her, “Alright, now just lean back and flap your wings gently to come in for a landing. Wait, no Twi, lean back. Lean ba--!” but her brief flight was interrupted as she barreled into one of the bushes in front of her house, emitting a loud yelp as she came to an abrupt stop. She could have sworn she heard her own yell of surprise echoed inside the library, but ignored it as she blinked to clear the stars from her vision. Nothing really hurt, thankfully; her body was a bit more durable these days thanks to the pegasus and earth pony traits that had been infused within her since her ascension. Just her pride had taken a blow.
“Ouch.. you okay Twi?” asked Dash as she helped the alicorn back to her hooves. Spike quickly hopped off from Dash’s back to help, brushing the twigs out of Twilight’s mane and coat.
Twilight nodded, blushing sheepishly as she shook off the dizziness. “I’m fine, really. Guess I still need to practice landing on my hooves instead of my face, eheh…”
“If you say so,” shrugged Dash. “Hey I’m gonna take off, I need to pick up Tank from Fluttershy’s place, but I’ll catch you later, okay?”
“Alright, take care! Oh, and tell Fluttershy I said hi, and that I’m sorry I didn’t get a chance to drop by yet today.” With another nod and hug between the two friends, Rainbow set for the skies once again, leaving Twilight and Spike alone to get back inside.
“Well, Spike, what sounds good for lunch? I’ll cook today!” beamed Twilight, her horn gently glowing as she opened the door with her magic, the two walking into the mess they’d left inside.
“Uh.. are you sure about that? There’s a lot of paper lying around right now, you know. Not that you’re not a good cook I mean,” he was quick to add. As he was saying this, the clock struck noon, and a cuckoo clock on the wall began to chirp out the time.
*Cuckoo!* *Cuckoo!* *Cuckoo!*
“Spike it’ll be fine, we’ve just got food for salads or sandwiches today anyways. What could go wrong?”
“Famous last words…” Spike muttered low enough that Twilight could still overhear, and she just rolled her eyes with an amused look on her face.
*Cuckoo!* *Cuckoo!* *Cuckoo!*
’Odd,’ she thought to herself as they wound their way through the labyrinth of stacked books, the cuckoo clock looming above the far end of the bookshelves, near the kitchen door, ’I don’t remember the cuckoo bird being blue…’
*Cuckoo!* *Cuckoo!* *Cuckoo!*
“Wait a minute…” Twilight stopped and eyed the clock as if seeing it for the first time. “…Since when do we have a cuckoo clock?”
*Cuckoo!* *Cuckoo!* *Cuc—oo?*
Suddenly snared in a lavender glow of magic, the ‘bird’ in the clock was held still in order for Twilight to get a closer look at it, though strangely it was trying to tug back into the light blue clock more fiercely than one normally should. It was a small blue unicorn with a white and blue mane, wearing a brown cloak around it’s… and then recognition dawned in her eyes. “…Trixie?!”
And with that, the magician’s Illusion was disrupted, depositing Trixie unceremoniously in an awkward heap in front of the princess. Twilight could only stare incredulously at the showmare, giving Trixie time to groan and get back on her hooves while dusting herself off a bit. Spike, meanwhile, had wandered ahead into the kitchen when Twilight had stopped; his only response was a sudden “Wait, what?!” from the room beyond.
“Eheh.. um..” Trixie coughed, clearing her throat. “…ah… Hi Twilight. How’s it… been?”
Having recovered from Trixie’s awkward introduction, which had somewhat embarrassingly been answered with grumbling stomachs a few seconds later, Twilight, Trixie and Spike had moved their conversation onwards into the kitchen. Trixie sat there at the small dining table with a steaming cup of tea in front of her, choosing her words with hesitation as she explained why she was here. The whole time she felt like she was fighting with a voice in her mind, a part of her which was convinced she sounded utterly foalish, but she pressed on anyways.
Spike sat across from her, licking a large emerald between bouts of trying to give Trixie his most scrutinizing glare. Twilight, for her part, just listened attentively to the story while she fixed everyone some azalea sandwiches and tea. Her pale purple aura was wrapped around a half dozen ingredients, condiments and plates at a time, creating an aerial dance as the lunch was assembled.
“Spike, stop that.” Twilight interrupted, catching him resuming his glare at their guest.
“Sorry...” grumbled Spike, nibbling a corner off of his gem, but not taking his attention off of Trixie.
“…Anyways,” continued Trixie, clearing her throat before finishing her thought on the subject, “I figured after last time, you would probably be the only one who’d believe me.”
Twilight nodded, setting down lunch in front of everyone and finally taking a seat herself. “I suppose you might be right about that... You did run off before saying anything to the others, and their attention was all on the show for the ponies from Saddle Arabia anyways. So why come back now?”
Trixie took a deep breath, letting it out slowly. This was the hardest question for her to answer, and she didn’t want to sound as self-centered about it as she used to. “Well, I suppose I just felt that I had to face up to the past so I can finally put it behind me. Plus, my reputation has been in shambles since the first time we met, and it just got worse when I tried to get… revenge… last time…”
Trixie looked up at Twilight ashamedly. “Again, I really, really am sorry about that.”
Twilight half frowned at that, but nodded. “It’s alright, I forgave you back then.”
Trixie smiled weakly. “Thank you, Sparkle.”
Twilight fought off an urge to roll her eyes, keeping a neutral expression and deciding not to press the name issue.
“Oh come on!” Spike abruptly yelled, causing both mares to turn and stare at him. “Don’t tell me you believe her, Twilight! Have you even listened to how she’s talking? It’s all ‘I’ this and ‘Me’ that, Trixie doesn’t talk like that!” He paused, glaring daggers at Trixie again. “It’s gotta be a changeling in disguise, trying to get your trust, and then BAM!” he smacked his little fists together for emphasis. “Only one of them could get Trixie so wrong!”
Twilight groaned loudly and brought a hoof to her forehead. “Spike…” But when she looked back to Trixie, her heart sank.
Trixie had gone rigid in her seat, bristling at the accusations that had been hurled her way, while the hair of her tail began to stand on end. Trixie’s left eyelid started twitching, her irises narrowed to pinpricks, and the corners of her mouth curved down into a deep scowl. Twilight hadn’t seen a look like that on anypony’s face since the time Applejack had tried to back out of a Pinkie Promise, and the memory brought back a shiver.
’Oh horseapples...’ thought Twilight.
Trixie was suddenly standing on her chair, her front hooves planting on the edge of the table indignantly. “You..! You!” she strangled out in a growl, “The Humble and Apologetic Trixie travels halfway across Equestria to make amends, and you dare insult her by calling Trixie a- a BUG?! You want to know why Trixie doesn’t speak like this anymore?! Fine, Trixie will tell you why! It’s because— because…”
Then to everypony’s shock and relief it was over, just like that. All the emotion slowly drained out of Trixie’s face as she slumped back into her seat, staring at her tea sullenly. Everyone remained silent for a few minutes, while Twilight looked on with concern. She finally decided to be the first to break the silence.
“Feel better?” she gently inquired. Trixie nodded just a little bit.
“Good.” Twilight turned and caught Spike’s attention, who was still recovering from the sudden tirade. “And Spike, she’s not a changeling or anything silly like that. I felt her magic when I dispelled her illusion: there’s no doubt she’s the real Trixie. Changeling magic feels, I don’t know, greasy.” She stuck out her tongue as the vague sensation creeped up from the back of her memory.
“Ohhhhh, okay.” Spike sniffed, puffing his chest out again. He tried inserting a little humor to restore the mood in the room. “I guess your story checks out.”
Twilight reached over and ruffled Spike’s spines gently, getting a chuckle out of the little guy. Trixie looked back up as well with a hint of amusement on her face, her pink aura levitating her sandwich to her face so she could finally give it a nibble.
“By the way… a cuckoo clock?” Twilight smirked, not even trying to hide her amusement over that, which got a sheepish look and a blush from her guest in response.
“Eheh... Trixie panicked?”
Twilight’s response was a bubbly, lighthearted giggle that spread quickly around the table. Spike and then Trixie joined in, and all three of them ended up laughing over their lunches for a while.
The mood in the library had improved dramatically. Tea, sandwiches and two emeralds had vanished over small talk, and Spike was busily cleaning up the kitchen after everyone. The two ponies walked back into the large main room, still overflowing with books and papers strewn chaotically about. They had been discussing possible solutions for repairing Trixie’s reputation as they left the remnants of lunch behind, but Twilight had to stop as she truly took in the state of her home. With fresh eyes from her day of relaxation, she realized that in pursuing her latest research obsession, she’d really let the state of her home get out of hand.
“Wow… It kinda looks like Discord came through here riding a paper tornado, doesn’t it?” remarked Twilight.
Trixie snorted, “Discord? I would think if that was the case, there wouldn’t be anything left standing!”
“No, no, he’d probably leave the towers of books all over the place like this when he’s done. To him, that’d be the joke.”
Trixie blinked at that, looking over at the bemused expression on Twilight’s face. “Oh. Oh right, I forgot you’ve actually met that creature, haven’t you?”
Trixie looked back around the room as Twilight nodded. She heard the princess starting to say something on the subject, but Trixie tuned it out, her attention elsewhere. She walked over to the papers that had caught her interest previously, before Twilight's earlier commotion had startled her into attempting to hide. Diagrams depicting various runes arranged into analysis seals and notes about magic identification covered the desk, all in Twilight’s meticulous hornwriting. On the wall behind the desk had been taped up a giant scroll of parchment, with images of the mirror currently stored in the basement drawn from four angles. Lines pointed to parts of the images with even more notes attached to those, but most of them were more questions rather than hard data.
“…and then we – Trixie, are you even listening?”
“Hm? Oh, sorry Sparkle. I’ve been meaning to ask you, though. What were all those explosions I heard on my way into town?” She paused, sniffing the air deliberately. “There haven’t been any more since my arrival, and this place smells… burnt. Trixie deduces that you had something to do with it? Or this?” she waved a hoof towards the giant diagram on the wall.
“Eheh, explosions? You don’t… say?” Twilight’s voice subconsciously went high and nervous, then after a moment she sagged in defeat. “They were that loud?”
“What exactly have you been working on?” Trixie raised a brow.
As Twilight stared at Trixie, her eyes went wide and bright, and a smile that could rival one of Pinkie Pie’s best spread across her face. She realized she had someone here who she could not only tell all about her research, which made her giddy enough at the thought, but would probably even understand it! At least, most of it!
Trixie backed up nervously as the princess approached her, wondering if she had enough magic to teleport away.
“Twi? Where are y— oh. Figures I’d find you two down here...”
Spike scampered down the wooden stairway leading into the basement laboratory. He had just found Princess Twilight Sparkle standing in front of the familiar mirror, lecturing a mile a minute with a giddy smile on her face to a somewhat uncomfortable looking Trixie. Twilight was in the middle of making some bizarre gesture with her wings and hooves while she regaled her guest with the story of her most recent adventure, and Trixie’s eyes had gone wide.
“The crown can do what!?” he overheard their guest say, not really paying attention as he straightened up the sandbags that formed the line of the ‘Safety Zone’, as Twilight called it. He had a feeling this was going to get used again pretty soon, and started getting more sandbags from the back to shore it up.
An hour later, Fort Spike was complete, and the little dragon looked up at his makeshift bunker with pride. Meanwhile, Twilight had finally finished her lecture about the mirror, their adventure to the human world, and all of the research she had done since then trying to understand how it worked. Trixie had a few questions of her own, and the two had been going back and forth for a while.
“So you want to find out what makes this portal work,” Trixie stated matter-of-factly. “Have you any idea who made it in the first place?”
“Well, no. Honestly I haven’t found who created it in any of the books I’ve dug up on the subject. The mirror predates our lives by centuries, and nopony alive has published any findings on this type of magic, to my knowledge. I thought the Princesses might have made it, but neither Celestia nor Luna knew where it came from either.”
“And you said the explosions happened every time you try to scry or analyze the incantations?”
“That’s right...” sighed Twilight.
“Hmmm...” Trixie’s horn lit up, her pink aura lifting up a diagram depicting the circle of runes Twilight had been using to analyze the mirror. She looked it over for a while, eventually tilting her head to the side and raising an eyebrow. “This is a new generation of thaumic ring. I’m impressed, Sparkle. Or I would be if it worked.”
Twilight frowned, and Trixie caught her mistake, dropping the haughty look that had formed on her face in favor of an apologetic one. “Sorry, old habits. Perhaps Trixie could observe an attempt? Maybe you need a focus to absorb excess energy?”
“Hmm… I think you’re on to something there…” Twilight cocked an eye towards Trixie, surprised the idea had come from her. “You know, I’m honestly surprised you were able to follow all that. Most unicorns don’t extend their studies toward identification spells, let alone artifact research. Since when did you know so much about artifice?”
Trixie looked away, not really wanting to look at Twilight all of a sudden. “Well, I didn’t just walk into a corner store and pick up the Alicorn Amulet, you know. Well, okay, technically I did, but still!”
Twilight gave Trixie a puzzled look, but the blue mare continued. “I spent months researching ways to get back at you. For a while my most promising idea was creating a magical amplifier of my own design, but then when I was researching that, the Amulet popped up on my radar, and I eventually tracked it down. I learned quite a bit about all kinds of artifacts and how they work in pursuit of my own research, though. Not much else to do working on a rock farm…”
“Oh, that reminds me,” she continued. “Pinkamena’s parents told me to say ‘hi’ for them.”
“Pinkamena? You mean Pinkie Pie? You worked on that rock farm?” Twilight blinked in disbelief.
Trixie nodded. “Nice ponies, really. Rather boring, but they took me in when I needed work. Anyways, I believe we were discussing the idea of a focus object?”
Twilight looked encouraged by the idea. Trixie scanned around the room, but found nothing suitable. Twilight followed her gaze and realized what she was thinking. “Oh, that’s right, I haven’t ordered the custom mirror yet I’d need to fill that role. The only other mirrors in the house are in my bedroom and bathroom, and neither would be able to hold that amount of power without shattering.”
Trixie shook her head. “I have an idea about that, actually. A large part of my old act involved mirrors, and there’s a rather big one in my trailer that just might work!”
“Really? That’s great! Let’s go have a look at it!” With a bright violet flash the two vanished, teleporting outside to Trixie’s wagon. In her excitement to make progress on her research, the odd emphasis Trixie put on the word ‘old’ failed to register in Twilight’s mind.
The mirror was enormous, easily as large as the portal Twilight had brought back from the Crystal Empire. It was a tall rectangle rather than the portal’s oval shape, with a thick, solid oak frame as wide as a hoof supporting it on all sides. The wood was painted a dark midnight blue, and the constellations of the night sky were embossed at regular intervals upon the wood, painted in a pale sky blue that matched Trixie’s coat color. The top supported a single large topaz surrounded by an elaborate and pointy wooden setting, designed to make the whole thing look like a shining star sitting atop a night sky.
Getting it into the lab had been a simple matter of Twilight extending her teleportation spell to envelop it, though levitating it into a proper position had been another matter entirely; That sucker was heavy! Still, it was definitely sturdy, and the gem theoretically would ensure a suitable focus. Twilight estimated the topaz had roughly the same mass as the combined gems in the existing portal’s frame, though she didn’t know if that was a requirement for the enchantment yet. She looked over the frame of the dormant portal again, studying the gems closer. They had originally been a soft pink color, but since going dormant had shifted to sapphire blue instead.
Everything was in place now. The thaumic ring had been redrawn around the portal’s base. The two unicorns had cast every protective spell they could think of to shore up Trixie’s mirror against damage from any magical backlash. Artificial ley lines had been drawn across the lab floor to channel the excess energy into the mirror, and Spike and Trixie were taking cover in ‘Fort Spike’ to observe.
Twilight looked around the room and nodded. “Is everypony ready?”
“Ready, Twi!” beamed Spike confidently, while he equally confidently put on his favorite helmet and dove behind the sandbags again.
Twilight’s horn began to glow, softly at first, but the glow rapidly grew stronger and brighter as she focused on the spell forming in her mind. She’d donned her crown before she began, and the Element of Magic began to glow softly in response to the spell being channeled through her horn. One by one the glyphs on the floor surrounding the portal began to light up, spreading their light around the ring before her. As they did, the formula it represented flitted through her mind, each rune granting her a deeper understanding of the magic that filled her world for but an instant.
She strained under the exertion but kept on pushing, the light surrounding her horn growing brighter and more intense. ’Almost there…’ she thought as the patterns continued to light up. As the outer ring completed its circuit, the light began to shoot through the runes towards the inner rings at an exponentially increasing rate. Magic began pulsing in the air, filling it with an audible thrum that sounded like a heartbeat. Twilight opened her eyes, and all that was there were fields of white.
“This is where she lost it the last five times!” shouted Spike, diving for cover.
The heartbeat turned erratic. The expansion of the light through the thaumic ring slowed to a crawl, struggling to make it to the last handful of runes. Twilight desperately dug into the deepest wells of her magical reserves, but to her those last few inches may have been miles, forever just out of reach. A high pitched whine filled the air followed by a deep, fierce rumbling, and Twilight braced herself. She’d failed again.
“I’ve got you!”
All at once the world rushed back to her, and it was still in one piece. The spell hadn’t collapsed, she was still holding on somehow. In fact, the burden seemed lighter than before. Twilight opened her glowing eyes, scanning for what variable had changed to make the equation work only to find it right next to her. Trixie, standing there with a wild grin on her face, was pouring all of her magic into supporting the spell right next to her!
Twilight returned the grin and turned back to the glowing circle before her, magic practically erupting from her horn in a grand torrent as she poured power into the final runes, and the light snapped into place on the inner ring. Just like that, all the resistance Twilight had been pushing against faded like a wall had dropped away in front of her.
As soon as the spell completed, the portal was a surrounded with a breathtaking sight. A perfect sphere of pink magic glowed and pulsed in rings and abstract patterns around the mirror, forming a spectacular mobius strip of information flowing around and through the artifact. Twilight sucked in a breath as an arcane symbol brushed past her mane; the knowledge filling the room was literally tangible. She immediately set to work, levitating over a quill and parchment and began recording everything she saw. Everything she suddenly somehow knew. The identification was filling her mind with everything she could possibly want to know about the portal and how its magic worked, and she scribed it down fervently upon her scroll, not wanting to waste a moment.
“Uh… Sparkle?” rose a voice next to her, but Twilight was too engrossed in her writing to notice.
“Not now, Trixie, I have to get all this down if I’m going to—“
Twilight blinked at the address as she looked to her right, and nearly yelped in surprise. Trixie’s horn was crackling and the mare looked about to collapse from strain. Sparks were flying all over the place, and the brightly shining pink aura shooting from her horn was flickering, threatening to go out. The identification spell had gone into a feedback loop.
“Horseapples…” Twilight cursed herself. She’d dropped the spell without realizing Trixie would have to support it all on her own! She magically lobbed the scroll of her notes back to Spike’s bunker, and then leaned back over to Trixie to try to reestablish the spell before it was too late. Then everything went wrong at once.
Twilight’s head was still full of all the spell formulas she’d been observing, and she miscast her spell.
Trixie staggered from exhaustion and bumped roughly into Twilight’s side.
The Element of Magic fell from Twilight’s head, hitting both of their horns at the same time, forming a connection between the two for just a moment.
The world turned white. And the whiteness tasted like snozberries.
Spike was the first to wake up. At least, he thought he must have been, considering the deafening silence filling the air. His eyes blinked open, but it was hard to see. All of the normal lights in the room had gone out, but still he could see a source of light coming from nearby. Flickers of orange danced on the walls of the lab, casting strangely shifting shadows all about. The sound of something crackling made its way to his ears, and he sat up groggily behind his ruined fortress of sandbags.
“Nnnhh… What happened? Gir…ls?” the little dragon’s eyes widened as he trailed off, taking in the scene before him fully.
Trixie’s mirror was shining brightly, an eerie blue-white light pooling out from where the reflective surface used to be. Twin tracks of fire were burning in a curved path across the floor between the two mirrors, right where the artificial ley lines drawn between them used to be. The inch-tall flames were already starting to go out on their own, smoldering and dying out a little at a time, while thankfully showing no sign of spreading.
With the exception of the one scroll Twilight had managed to lob over to Spike before things went sideways, everything in the room that wasn’t nailed down had been blasted against the walls. It was as though a shockwave had erupted outwards from the spot the girls had been standing minutes before.
Two ponies, he realized, who were nowhere to be found.
The last of the twin fire trails flickered and went out, and his brain finally registered what he was seeing. “Oh no… Oh no, no, no! Twilight?! Trixie!” he bellowed, starting to panic. “Where are you?! Oh no… I have to tell the others! I have to tell the Princesses!! I have to… to…”
Tears started to stream down his cheeks, and Spike dashed up the stairs, bolting for the nearest exit. He was running as fast as his little legs could carry him, fearing the worst and desperately crying out for somepony who could help.
A pair of eyes slowly fluttered open in the light.
It was colder than Twilight remembered from the last time she was awake. She could feel a breeze around her, and the sounds of leaves rustling gently drifted down from above. The grass, though cold, felt soft beneath her prone body, and she could hear the relaxing sounds of water flowing through a stream. ‘Outside…?’ For some reason the light hurt her eyes, forcing her to squint against it as she awakened.
Definitely outside, she could tell now. The alicorn glanced cautiously at her surroundings, but winced as she tried to open her eyes. Everything was a mass of blurs and colors. She vaguely recognized that she was at the edge of the town square, lying under a tree near a somewhat familiar looking park bench. But the more she woke up and her eyes adjusted to the light, the harder a headache began to pound and torment her conscious mind, spreading out from the base of her horn. It felt like some insidious thing was taking root inside her brain. She groaned and nursed her forehead with a hoof, deciding against trying to get up just yet.
“Ungh… How did I get out here?” she wondered out loud, eyes still blinking blearily as they adjusted to the scenery.
"Shhhshhshh... Trixie has a Great and Powerful migraine..."
“Trixie?” Twilight looked up, craning her neck around to spot her friend, which just brought the headache swimming around in her skull again as though something were loose inside it. “Ugh… yeah, so do I…” she winced. “What happened?”
“Nnhh… How should I know? Oww… Where are we? Ugh, I’ve still got that strange taste in my mouth...”
Twilight’s eyes finally started to work right again, the lines and edges of the world sliding back into focus, and she winced again; not just from the pain in her skull, but from what she saw. Trixie was laying sprawled on her side a few feet away, and her cloak had gone missing. She wasn’t moving much other than nursing her head, apparently suffering from the same mind-piercing migraine, and now Twilight could see why. The showmare's horn was blackened and singed, and sparks of magic flew pitifully from it at random intervals, like a dying sparkler. She winced, logic drawing her to an uncomfortable conclusion, and tried to look up at her own horn. Hers was in the same sorry state.
“Well… I don’t know why, but for some reason that spell sent us out to the middle of town.” she murmured, just loud enough so Trixie could hear her clearly enough. “Weird, this is my favorite bench, maybe that has to do with its choice of destination?”
Trixie just groaned in reply, muttering a barely comprehensible sound of recognition that yes, words had indeed been spoken at her.
Twilight’s tongue tingled, and she tasted that strange flavor from before, slowly fading from her lips. She blinked, raising a brow in surprise. “...Muffins?”
“Trixie? Oww… We better go see a doctor.”
“Mhhhhh….” agreed Trixie.
Spike sat curled up on Rarity’s fainting couch inside Carousel Boutique, while a handkerchief wrapped in a blue aura dabbed at his cheeks to dry his tears. When he had run into the shop wailing as though the world had come to an end, Rarity knew immediately that trouble was brewing. She had sent her little sister to gather their friends, and had spent the time since then consoling the poor dear.
“Shhhh. There, there, please calm down my little Spikey-wikey?” cooed Rarity. “Oh something simply dreadful must have happened to put you in this state! Never worry, we shall do our best to make it all better.”
Spike nodded up to her, eventually uncurling himself back into a sitting position, sniffling quietly as the last of his tears were dried by the silk cloth. The shop’s bell rang behind them, Sweetie Belle trotting in with four colorful mares in tow.
“Hey sis, we’re back!” called Sweetie, walking up and giving her big sis a nuzzle. “Is Spike doing any better?” she asked, peering around to see him.
“Yeah, what happened little guy?” asked Rainbow Dash, flying up to the couch, with Fluttershy, Applejack and Pinkie Pie not far behind, each looking concerned for their young friend. Spike looked up Rarity, who was showing him her most caring and supportive smile.
“T-Twilight! And Trixie! They’re… they b-both… disappeared!” he stammered, looking up at them with trembling eyes.
“Twilight?” “Disappeared?” “Huh? Trixie’s back?” “Oh my…” the girls began, talking over each other as they voiced their confusion.
Dash was the first to snap out of it, darting over to take Spike by the shoulders and looking him in the eye, her own going wide. “Wait, that no-good Trixie did what to Twilight?”
Spike however had finally snapped out of his distressed state and was shaking his head at Rainbow. “N-no! Trixie didn’t do anything, she’s good now! At least, I don’t think she did anything… She came back, apologizing, and… and…”
He sighed, motioning his hands downward as he got Dash to step back finally, her head cocked to one side with a befuddled expression evident. Taking a deep breath, he looked to each of his friends. “Alright, sit down and get comfortable, everypony. It’s a long story. I guess it started this morning...”
Twilight winced as Nurse Redheart applied a soothing ointment to her horn, and began wrapping it up in a large cloth bandage. She and Trixie were sitting in a modestly sized examination room, part of the clinical wing of the Ponyville Hospital. Trixie’s horn had already been soothed and treated by the nurse, and she sat on an exam bed while sipping a glass of water. Doctor Stable, an earth pony stallion with a heart monitor cutie mark, whose mane and coat reminded Twilight of caramels for some reason, stood nearby examining their charts.
“Well, Miss Sparkle, we’re still not sure what exactly happened to put you and your friend in this state. As far as we can tell, you both overused your magic to an order of magnitude higher than any normal case of magic exhaustion we’ve ever seen!” He paused, raising a brow and giving the alicorn mare a searching look. “What exactly were you two doing?”
Twilight twitched nervously, wincing when her movement interrupted the nurse’s ministrations on her horn. “Aheh, well, I was experimenting with identifying an artifact, and Trixie helped me hold the spell together… but I guess we messed it up. I still don’t know what happened exactly, but that’s when we woke up in the middle of town and found ourselves like this.”
“Hmmm…” replied Dr. Stable, his mouth dropping into a small frown. “Well, the good news is there wasn’t any irreparable damage. You should both be back to your old selves in a few days, but until your next appointment I’m going to have to forbid either of you from using magic. Do you understand me, young ladies?”
Trixie nodded sullenly, wincing at his words. Twilight wasn’t sure whether she was still in pain, or recoiling as though the mare expected to be shouted at any second. “Yes, doctor.” they spoke in unison, with different degrees of confidence.
The doctor smiled back to them. “Good to hear. Now I’ll set up an appointment to check up on your horns three days from now, and we’ll go from there.” He nodded, putting the charts back in place before turning to leave the room.
Nurse Redheart finished working on Twilight’s horn and smiled softly to the young princess. “There we go, dear. Does that feel better?”
Twilight nodded slowly and smiled back, the migraine she was suffering from before no longer present thanks to the powerful combination of healing magic and medicine they had been given. “Much better, thank you.”
“And how are you feeling?” the nurse turned to Trixie with the same pleasant smile, helping her get a fresh glass of water.
“Much better, thank you. Really, Trixie appreciates how kind everypony has been to her, considering what sh-- what I did to you and everypony else last time I was here…” she frowned, looking down into her fresh glass.
“Huh?” blinked Redheart, looking genuinely puzzled. “I’m sorry sweetie, but I don’t remember you ever doing any wrong by me. Even if that was the case, all of us doctors and nurses swear an oath to help anypony we can, regardless of how we feel.”
Both of the unicorns balked at this reaction, Trixie’s jaw nearly hitting the floor. “But… But… you don’t recognize the Great and Powerful Trixie?”
Nurse Redheart simply tilted her head at an angle and put a hoof to her chin, thinking back as far as she could. “Hmmm… No I don’t… Oh!” she smiled. “That’s right, weren’t you that nice rock farmer that lives north of here? Funny, I could’ve sworn you were an earth pony.”
She shrugged and turned to leave the room, waving a hoof goodbye at the girls, who were too busy staring at each other in disbelief to notice. “Now you two take it easy, you can leave whenever you’re ready.”
Trixie put down her water and hopped off the bed, looking up at Twilight, who followed suit as the two began to walk towards the door. “What… just happened?”
“I don’t know…” replied Twilight, her brows furrowed in thought. “But now that I think about it… since when was nurse Redheart a pegasus?”
Twilight and Trixie made their way back through the center of town, paying more careful attention to their surroundings as they went. Something about Ponyville seemed off to both of them, and they’d become more acutely aware of this fact in the time since leaving the hospital.
“Sparkle, have you noticed?” asked Trixie, motioning around her to the ponies going about their daily lives. When Twilight stopped to look at her, she continued, “Look. Nopony has even noticed my presence.”
Twilight looked around, and sure enough not a single second glance was being given to the mare beside her. A few paused to wave to Twilight, so it was clear they weren't simply being ignored. An oddly familiar looking blonde and grey mailmare obliviously made her rounds nearby, horn lighting up with a sky blue glow as she lifted letters from her saddlebag. “You’re right, that’s weird… It’s like nopony even remembers you trying to take over the town.”
Trixie winced at the reminder, but still nodded in reply. “Do you think the spell did this?”
They passed in front of the Clover Cafe as Twilight opened her mouth to reply, then nearly fell over as she stopped in her tracks, her rear legs trying to keep going for a stunned moment while her front had already gotten the message to halt.
Sitting there in the cafe enjoying a late lunch were the two musicians who had put on a concert in town earlier: The unicorn with the electric blue mane who had DJ’d at her brother’s wedding, and the grey coated earth pony cellist with the treble clef cutie mark. At least, that’s clearly how Twilight remembered them. Except, the DJ was an earth pony, and the cellist was a pegasus.
“What in all of Equestria is going on here?” she exclaimed, while Trixie moved up to follow Twilight’s gaze. “A botched identification spell couldn’t have done this!”
However, that train of thought was interrupted once again as a flying pink blur tackled the princess.
“Oof! Hey, Twilight! Nice catch!” beamed Pinkie Pie, sitting atop her friend with as big a smile as ever.
“Gee, thanks Pinkie,” Twilight deadpanned. Trixie, meanwhile, stood to the side trying to suppress a giggle.
“You’re welcome!” she cried cheerfully, her smile getting even wider. “So are you ready for more flying lessons? I’ll bet we can go super fast this time without even crashing more than twice! And then we can go down to Sugarcube Corner for snacks and hot cocoa and I can even throw you a ‘Congrats on a New Flight Record’ party and we can tell everyone how super awesome you’re getting at flying!” Pinkie panted and caught her breath, her wings fully extended in her excitement.
‘Wings?’ popped into Twilight’s head, and her eyes went as wide as they could go as she stared up at her pink, feathery friend. “Pinkie! You’ve got wings!”
“Huh? Well of course I do, silly billy! I’ve always had wings! How else would I be the most fun fun fun flyer in Equestria?” giggled Pinkie, with just a smidgen of pride in her voice. “I may not be as fast as Applejack, but nobody flies in a smile like I do!”
Twilight’s mane started to pop out of place at weird angles, this conversation taking its toll on her sanity. “Fast as, A-Apple… Pinkie, I think you just broke my brain…”
“Oh no, does it hurt! I’m sorry Twilight! Is that why your new horn is all bandaged up?” her friend deflated a little, her eyes quivering slightly with genuine concern as she looked over Twilight’s injury. Trixie gave up trying to suppress her laughter and ended up rolling around on the ground, clutching her sides in a fit of tearful giggles.
“No, don’t worry Pinkie, that’s not your fault. Trixie and I had an accident with a spell earlier and—” she stopped mid-sentence, deadpanning up at Pinkie, who was still sitting squarely on her chest. “New horn?”
“Mhmm. You must’ve hurt your brain harder than I thought.” Pinkie frowned, getting off of Twilight and helping her back up on her hooves. “You got it at the same time as your wings, remember? Casting that spell of Swirly Star whatsisbeard’s? I’m still amazed your element-crown-thingie let you cast spells without being a unicorn; I wish mine did cool stuff like that. But now you’re a princess! How great is that?” she finished with a grin.
“Huh,” came Trixie’s voice from the ground, her giggle-fit finally ceasing by the time Pinkie had stopped for air.
“Um… Pinkie, do you mind if I take a rain check on that flying lesson? Need to look into some things with Trixie here.”
“Okie-Dokie-Loki! We can go flying tomorrow, Applejack’s scheduled clear weather so we should have the perfect day for it!”
Pinkie shared a hug with Twilight, and managed to reach out and pull Trixie into it as well, much to the showmare’s dismay. Then waving goodbye, she stepped back and spread her wings wide. Sticking out her tongue and wiggling her rump, Pinkie Pie soared into the air with a great leap, leaving a trail of cotton-candy scented dust behind her.
“Trixie continues to be surprised by the extent of the Element of Magic’s abilities.”
“Yeah, that’s crazy what she mentioned it being able to do… But more importantly, I think I figured out what’s going on.”
Twilight lowered her gaze from watching Pinkie sail through the sky, turning her head to look Trixie in the eye, who had one brow raised as she listened. “We’re not in our Equestria anymore.”
“Dang, Spike. You guys really let this place go, haven’t ya?” drawled Applejack, making her way towards the basement door through the maze of books and papers in the library.
“Maybe some of us should stay up here and help clean up? I can do that. Instead of going down into the dark… scary… basement… “ Fluttershy squeaked and shrunk back from the group, her mane falling in front of her eyes and hiding her face. “Um, if that’s okay…”
Rainbow Dash rolled her eyes and weaved ahead to catch up with Applejack, the two of them most of the way across the room now with Spike in tow. Rarity and Pinkie stopped and nodded to each other, then turned back to Fluttershy.
“It’s perfectly alright darling, we’ll call for you if we need you.”
“Yeah! Don’t you worry your pretty little head, your auntie Pinkie is gonna make things alllll better!” Pinkie grinned and patted the demure pegasus’ mane playfully.
“...I’m still a year older than you.” deadpanned Fluttershy.
Pinkie just giggled and followed Rarity down to the basement, bouncing along in her usual fashion. The other three had stopped to wait at the heavy oak door to the basement, and Spike pushed it open and led the way downstairs as they all caught up.
The magic which usually lit the room was still burnt out from the earlier explosion, and toggling the switch did nothing. The only source of light remaining down in the darkness was the blue-white pool of light pouring out of the surface of Trixie’s mirror, illuminating a path along the floor to the opposite wall like a spotlight. The original mirror remained the same as always, showing no signs of activity. The runes which had been drawn on the floor around it had turned to ash, but rather than being a simple blast pattern radiating outwards like the previous experiment, the blackened lettering had been clearly burned into the wood.
Dash fluttered in the air in the center of the room, taking in the scene in awe. “Whoa…”
“Hmmm…” nodded Rarity, her horn shimmering blue as she worked her magic into the room’s lighting, restoring it once again. “Oh my, this certainly doesn’t look good.”
Her eyes traced the two black lines, running in an arc from the outer ring surrounding the original mirror, leading across the room to Trixie’s. She walked slowly up to the mirror and examined it closely while the others spread out and began to search the room for clues. The first thing she noticed aside from the nearly blinding light coming through the mirror’s surface was the constellations on the surface of the frame. Specifically, one constellation, Orion’s Belt, had a glowing blue ring surrounding the brightly lit star on the right third of the formation, the closest to the glass. The ring shifted and shimmered as she watched for a moment, slowly rotating with the glow of magic.
She reached out a hoof to touch it, and was rewarded with a harsh buzz ringing through the basement. The buzzing vibrated into her horn, magically communicating to her its refusal to activate. At the same time, the gigantic topaz ‘star’ topping the frame flashed yellow once, as if in warning. Noticing another flicker in the corner of her eye, she looked down to see half of a brown cloak appear to be sticking out of the light, soaked with water. She tried giving it a tug, but it held fast.
“What the hay was that?” piped up Applejack, looking over from the corner of the room she’d gone to investigate.
“Well, I’m not entirely sure…” Rarity reached a hoof up to touch the surface of the mirror, but her hoof did not go through. Instead, the moment it came in contact with the shining surface the world seemed to spin and her surroundings changed. She was outside, looking at the town square. Twenty yards in front of of her stood unmistakably Twilight and Trixie, talking about something she couldn’t make out over the din of the ponies going about their day. Glancing down she saw the other half of the cloak laying in the pool of a pink fountain, and from the looks of it, several pages of Twilight’s now-ruined notes were strewn about in the water.
“Twilight, Trixie! There you are! I’m over here!” she cried out as loud as she could, raising her hoof to wave to them. But just as she raised her hoof the scene faded, and she was back inside the library basement again. She blinked slowly then looked around to her friends. None of them seemed to have even noticed her outburst.
“That’s Trixie’s mirror, like I told you guys,” Spike was in the middle of saying, while walking over next to Rarity. “It’s been glowing like that since Twi disappeared with Trixie.”
“I saw them!” she gasped, causing all eyes to turn to her. “Both of them, right there on the other side of this mirror! Oh dear, and their horns, they looked hurt!”
“Twilight, Trixie! There you are! I’m over here!”
Twilight’s ears perked and she looked around rapidly, faintly hearing Rarity’s voice in the background. “Did you hear that? Where’d that come from?”
“There!” Trixie pointed a hoof towards the fountain hosting the large statue of Ringaling, one of the centerpieces of Ponyville’s town square. “I think I saw a reflection, or a light? Well Trixie is sure she saw something over there just now.”
They trotted across the grass together, getting a good look up close at the local landmark. It was a tall rose-colored statue of a performer pony balancing on a large ball, which was mounted on a tall, shiny cubic pedestal. Surrounding that was a wide round fountain pool roughly a hoof deep with water, bordered again with a foot of rosy stone. Sure enough, an odd sight greeted them up close: strewn throughout the fountain were pages of half-ruined notes Twilight recognized as her own from the lab. Where the beveled edge of the statue’s base met the solid face lay Trixie’s missing waterlogged cloak sticking halfway out of the rose quartz slab.
“Oh my goodness! This must be the way back, it’s just like the statue at Equestria High!” beamed Twilight, sitting back and clapping her front hooves together excitedly. Her mouth started running faster and faster as the sheer implications washed over her, while Trixie looked on with ever-widening eyes as though staring down an oncoming train. “Oohh, this is so fascinating! Do you know what this means?! We created a whole new portal! I’m not sure how we did it, the spell kind of exploded in our faces, and I kind of expected us to have just ended up stranded in a whole new world though I guess it could have been a whole lot worse, I mean if the only difference here is everypony has swapped species it can’t really be that bad, but here we are and obviously this is a portal which we created!”
“I can’t wait to get home and study this! Oh my goodness I could publish a book on the subject! My first ever book-length research case study, on a whole new method of artifact creation, even! Of course we’ll have to be a lot more careful this time when we analyze it and try to avoid overloading our horns and ending up in another parallel reality but really what are the odds of that happening twice?”
“Twilight!” shouted Trixie, stamping her hoof on the ground and shaking the excitable alicorn out of her ranting.
“Huh? Oh, sorry Trixie, I guess we should get back.”
“Twilight… Perhaps… Trixie should stay.” Trixie shuffled her hooves and looked away, back toward the ponies going this way and that around the town.
“Nopony here has ever even heard of The Great and Powerful Trixie… They don’t pay me any mind at all. Maybe I could start again here, start fresh?” Trixie trailed off, her gaze not leaving the horizon as she spoke.
The sun was beginning to set now, and the two mares shared a quiet moment there, in front of their way back home. Trixie felt a hoof gently lay over her shoulder, and looked up to see the sadness in Twilight’s eyes. It was a look she didn’t recall ever seeing before in her companion, especially not directed at her.
“Trixie… I understand how you feel, but we can’t stay. We don’t belong in this world. Visiting and exploring is one thing, but there’s already another set of us here. We can’t expect to jump in and take over their lives from them.” Twilight sighed, and the two looked out to the horizon together. “I promise, we’ll find a way to show everyone you’ve changed for the better.”
“You promise?” Trixie showed faint signs of a smile forming, and she turned so she could look to Twilight. No, to look to her friend.
“Cross my heart, hope to fly, stick a cupcake in my eye.” grinned Twi, going through the motions of a Pinkie Promise. “I’ll use a Royal Decree if I have to. Now come on, I’ll bet everypony is wondering where we went.”
The girls’ eyes followed the direction of Pinkie’s excitedly pointing hoof, watching as something shifted under the mirror’s surface. Shadows seemed to be approaching the pool of light. The wet, brown cloak on the floor vanished, tugged to the other side just a moment before the two shadows gave way. In their place emerged the two mares that had gone missing earlier that day, Trixie and then Twilight, with Trixie carrying the soggy cloak in one hoof.
“Well, this is ruined,” she was saying to Twilight, but was interrupted when a blue glow lifted it away from her.
“Oh my, this simply won’t do. Just dreadful! I shall have to make a suitable replacement.” Rarity smiled politely to Trixie, before eyeing the unfashionable garment with a barely disguised cringe.
“Twilight’s back! Woo hoo!” cheered Fluttershy, her voice rising by an impressive half-decibel in volume. “Oh, and Trixie too…” She smiled, blushing a little.
“Wait... so… what the hay just happened?” inquired Dash, fluttering down to be eye-level with Twilight. “Where were you? Spike got all upset and told us this crazy story about you two vanishing, and we came down here to look for clues and stuff. Then Rare says she sees you on the other side of this freaky glowing mirror and then fwoosh, vworrrp!” Rainbow paused in her explanation to start making silly sound effects, emulating the noises which came from the mirror as the two returned from the other side.
“And then poof! Suddenly you’re here!” finished Pinkie, who grabbed both Trixie and Twilight up in a great big hug. “Well, I guess not really a poof so much as what Dashie said,” she giggled.
Trixie’s eyes widened as she was embraced, her gaze darting rapidly around the room between the faces of everypony present. She squirmed uncomfortably in Pinkie’s unexpectedly strong grip, which was simply rewarded with the hug becoming tight enough to make her squeak involuntarily. Twilight was faring only slightly better, being a little more used to Pinkie’s hugs.
“Uh, Pinkie?” asked Applejack, stepping in to gently pry the three apart, “Maybe ya oughta give ‘em a chance to breathe.”
“Okie dokie lokie!” Pinkie relented, beaming cheerfully while giving the two a much appreciated chance to breathe again.
“Thanks, everypony. I’m sorry we gave you all such a scare. Especially you, Spike,” Twilight leaned over to give her assistant a nuzzle. Spike immediately replaced Pinkie’s massive hug with one of his own.
“I was so worried! Thank goodness you’re back safe,” he said, stepping back after a minute and looking up to her bandaged horn. “But what happened to you in there? Were there monsters? Zombies?” he gasped, eyes going wide. “Did they try to eat your brains?!”
Twilight rolled her eyes just a little, shaking her head. “No, Spike, there weren’t any monsters, and there’s no such thing as zombies. I’m afraid I don’t really understand everything that happened, but we…” she trailed off, eyes locking on the original mirror standing dormant across the room, and suddenly realized that she wasn’t standing where she’d expected to be. “...wait, what?”
Trixie raised a brow and looked to Twi, noticing her shocked expression. Twilight shook her head and turned to look behind herself, her curiosity unable to be put off any longer. Her jaw dropped from what she saw, with Trixie turning her gaze and following suit a second later.
Her eyes traced over every new, magically-enhanced feature of Trixie’s mirror, staring at disbelief at what she beheld. From the brightly shining doorway, to the now ethereal constellations in the place of paint, to the almost holographic ring of magic sparkling around the rightmost star of Orion’s Belt. All of the imperfections in the wooden frame had vanished. Even the glue seams which used to conjoin the fancier pieces of trim had melded together into solid wood. None of it made any sense to the logical portion of her mind.
Twilight deadpanned, “...What.” The single word all she could manage to strangle out.
“Holy Celestia’s socks, Twilight!” blurted Trixie, which elicited a soft, tinkling giggle from behind the distracted ponies.
“I assure you, my little ponies, if I had socks I certainly wouldn’t allow them to be filled with holes.”
“P-Princess Celestia!” gasped Spike, pointing back toward the stairwell.
Everypony turned immediately to the basement stairs, where the Diarch of the Sun herself was descending, a playful, serene smile upon her face. All eight immediately bowed as Celestia strode across the lab floor, coming to a stop in the center of the group. “I see you have been busy, Princess Twilight.”
Twilight stood up again and beamed, prancing happily up to her mentor and leaning up for a nuzzle. “Princess, it’s so wonderful to see you again! But why are you here?” She blinked, letting one eyebrow raise. “It seems like awfully convenient timing.”
“I received a letter from Spike telling me what happened,” she continued to smile, gently nodding to the young dragon. “so I came to investigate as quickly as I could. Even if he hadn’t, I could feel a magical disturbance all the way in Canterlot, and I feared something terrible had happened. I am glad to see that this was not the case.”
Celestia’s eyes were drawn towards the shimmering portal as she finished speaking. Even with millennia of experience hiding her emotions behind a well practiced mask, her expression slipped ever so slightly, eyes widening just a little as she stared at it. Twilight caught the subtle shift in her mentor’s expression before Celestia composed herself again, but the others, mostly still bowing, hadn’t seen it.
She turned her gaze back to the ponies that stood around her, smiling as they rose back to their hooves, but gave pause when she saw Twilight and Trixie’s bandages. “Oh my. It seems the two of you have had quite the adventure. I must say, what you’ve created here far exceeded my expectations,” she nodded, pointing a hoof to the burnt lines on the floor connecting the mirrors. “This was a rather clever solution.”
She turned her serene gaze to Trixie, giving the blue mare a closer look. “I don’t believe we’ve been introduced?”
“Trixie needs no introduction,” she huffed, dropping into her old mannerisms for a minute. It was a shield, Twilight knew, something she used to project confidence. It made her wonder what must’ve been going through Trixie’s mind while being addressed by one of the rulers of Equestria.
“But if the Princess insists, who am I to refuse? I…” Trixie reared back onto her hind legs for effect, and rolled her r’s to add to the flourish, “...am the Great and Powerful, Trrixieee!”
Unfortunately, Trixie seemed to have forgotten the doctor’s specific warning against using magic. Instead of her normal show of fireworks, a pitiful spark shot out of the tip of her horn, immediately followed by a yelp of pain. The injured unicorn collapsed unceremoniously in front of Celestia, whimpering softly and nursing her head.
“Oh my…” responded the Princess with alarm. Fluttershy floated over to see if she could help, while Rainbow and Spike just facehoofed.
Twilight winced in sympathy. “Yeah, ah, we’re not allowed to use magic for a few days, doctor’s orders. We kinda pushed ourselves a quarter mile beyond ‘too far’ this afternoon. I’m guessing Spike told you about that in his letter?”
Celestia nodded. “Would you mind if I took a closer inspection?” She already knew what Twilight was going to say, and began gathering magic into her horn. Her former student’s affirmation was all she needed to release the spell she had called upon. Seven golden rings of magic appeared in the air, surrounding the mirror in a sphere. Each ring began to spin, pentagrams forming as they connected to one another in a dazzling display. Almost before Twilight could blink, it had completed, and everypony in the room was treated to a similar visual wonder to the one she had witnessed when she first successfully analyzed the first mirror.
Tangible information swirled around the gateway in a sphere of colors, the runes filling the air slowly blending from lavender to sky blue and back again. There were gasps, ooohs and ahhhs from the ponies looking on. Celestia remained focused, her eyes narrowed as she took in everything her analysis was telling her.
Something happened just then, something Twilight hadn’t seen earlier that day. A single point in the stream of runes began to glow brightly, forming a sphere of light which obscured it. When Celestia reached out a hoof to touch it, it reacted by ending her identification spell. A line of violet light shot through every constellation on the mirror’s frame, connecting them one by one in a flash that lasted mere seconds. The mirror’s surface flashed blue and violet when the line hit the still-highlighted star, and two smoky motes of light floated out from it.
Before anypony could react to this latest development, the lights shot over to Twilight and Trixie’s horns, changing to match their coats in color. Twilight felt a comforting warmth spread through her horn into the rest of her body. Her heart fluttered with joy: It felt like love, like a hug from her parents, like a feeling that everything was going to be alright, warming her from head to tail, and to the core of her heart.
Trixie managed to stand on her hooves again as the light faded to nothingness, no longer cringing in pain. Then the bandages came undone from both of their horns, revealing that there was no longer any trace of their horns’ physical damage.
“What was that?” asked Rarity, stepping forward to look up to Celestia.
Celestia looked on solemnly, giving a small sigh. “Well, Twilight and Trixie have created a new gateway leading to other worlds, but I fear even their combined magic wasn’t up to the task. You used your Element, didn’t you?”
Twilight nodded, prompting Celestia to continue. “I’m afraid I have bad news, my little ponies. As I said, creating an artifact of this power was simply too much for you to bear. The Element of Magic allowed the spell to complete, but in doing so it burned off your potential magic to fuel it. A small part of both of you has been sent to every reality now connected here. Those motes of magic which just returned were the first of many.”
“What?!” yelped Trixie, the sudden action making Fluttershy jump away. “But… but without my magic I’m… I’m—”
Twilight cut her off. “So it didn’t just heal us, we were in that condition because we’d lost all of our magic? What do we need to do to get it back?”
Celestia wrapped a wing around each of the unicorns in an attempt to comfort them. “If I had to guess, I’d say spending time in another world allowed a part of it to reconnect with you, and my actions just now allowed what was already seeking you to pass through to ours. The simplest way to continue to restore your potential for magic will be to visit each world connected through your gateway long enough for your magic to find you.”
To make her point, Celestia touched an unlit star, the tip of Ursa Major’s ‘tail’. The doorway of light blinked out of existence while the selection ring moved to this new star. When it settled into place, the star lit up, and the doorway reappeared with a quiet fwoosh, appearing a faint green hue this time.
“Ooooohhhh…” Twilight beamed, her eyes wide as she saw the magic in action. “So that’s,” she paused to count the constellations with her hoof. “Oh wow, fifteen worlds, if each constellation represents one.”
“Actually, Twlight,” Celestia corrected, her tone making Twilight worry, “it’s every star.”
Trixie groaned, loudly. “But I’m supposed to be fixing my reputation in this town! How am I going to do that gallivanting across the multiverse? This could take months!”
“No problem, sugarcube. The lot of us will be happy ta help.” Applejack stepped forward, the other girls nodding in affirmation.
“We will?” blinked Rainbow, which earned her an elbow in the side from AJ. “Oof! I mean, of course we will! What’re friends for?” She regained her cocky smirk quickly enough, fluttering over to wrap a hoof around Twilight’s shoulder. “If Twilight says you’re cool now, that’s good enough for me. ‘Sides, she needs our help too! She is cool, right Twi?” Dash looked to Twilight’s face in time to see her smile.
“Yeah, she’s ‘cool’, Dashie.”
“Cool.” Dash nodded.
Trixie pinned her ears back, blushing at the unexpected response from the girls. “Really? You can all forgive Trixie for what she did, just like that? I… T-thank you. And I’m sorry. I should have apologized to everypony last time I was here, not just Sparkle.”
“All right!” Pinkie cheered loudly, throwing a ball of confetti and streamers across the room which managed to cover everypony. “This is gonna be so great! Oooh! I can’t wait to see what’s on the other side of that thingy! I’ll go look!” With that, the pink pony charged at the mirror as fast as she could.
“Wait!” Celestia called, but before she could stop her, Pinkie leapt into the air—and smacked right into the doorway of light, stopped in place as if it were still a solid wall of force. Slowly the pony slid to the floor and fell over on the ground comically, unfazed by what certainly looked like a painful experience.
“Oh wow, that world is pretty!”
“So let me get this straight,” Twilight was saying, everypony having adjourned to the upper floor for dinner. “Only Trixie and I can use our portal?”
“That appears to be the case. Your magic is what created it, so it is attuned to you both,” Celestia confirmed, sipping a cup of camomile tea. “Anypony else who tries can only see the other side.”
Twilight nodded a little, frowning. “That’s so strange, it doesn’t behave at all like the original. As far as I can tell, that is.”
Applejack walked up to the table, scooting a plate of apple dumplings in front of everyone seated. She’d generously offered to do the cooking tonight. “Shoot… How are we s’posed to help if we can’t even go with ya?”
“In time, my sister and I may find a way to do something about that. Unfortunately I cannot stay in Ponyville to do so, as much as I would enjoy the time off.” Celestia smiled. “Still, if any of you can find time to assist us in Canterlot, it would greatly aid in finding a solution. Until then, please stay safe.”
Trixie looked up from her dumpling when she felt a gentle nudge from the princess’ wing. “That goes for you too, oh Great and Powerful one,” she continued, giggling playfully as the showmare’s face turned pale. “Can I count on you to keep Princess Twilight safe?”
“Uh… I…” sputtered Trixie, looking across the table at Twilight. The younger princess was trying to lift her dumpling with her magic, but all she could manage was making it glow before the spell sputtered out. Trixie’s eyes widened a little, then she closed them with a nod, finally finding her voice. “Yes, your majesty!”
“Excellent! Then I must be on my way, though I hope to hear from one of you soon. Thank you for a wonderful meal, Applejack.”
“Aww, weren’t nothin’, princess,” beamed AJ.
Celestia rose from the gathering and bowed politely to everypony gathered, before vanishing in a burst of white magic. The sound of her chariot taking off could be heard outside, and looking through the window, Twilight saw her and her guards vanish into the evening sky, towards Canterlot.
“So, what do ya’ll think the princess meant about helpin’ her out in Canterlot?” AJ looked back to the table, tipping back her hat a bit.
Trixie snorted. “Isn’t it obvious? If they’re going to alter the mirror to allow any of you to pass through, they’ll need to know everything about your personal magic. That almost certainly means experimenting on volunteers.”
Applejack looked a bit uneasy at that prospect, as did Rarity. “Ah… I s’pose that makes sense.”
“Ooohh! I want to go first, pick me!” Pinkie bounced in her seat, but then deflated back into place with a pout. “Awww, but I’ve got seventeen parties to plan this week, I can’t go…”
“Hey, I’ve got some free time coming up, I can go help out. ‘Sides, they’ll probably need someone tough at first, and that’s me!” Rainbow Dash spread her wings out with pride, earning polite chuckles from some of her friends.
“Thanks, Rainbow, I’m sure you’ll be the perfect mare for the job. Right, well, we will need to get properly outfitted if we’re going to be exploring strange new worlds,” said Twilight, pausing to get Rarity’s attention. “Think you could put my ‘royal wardrobe’ on hold for a bit? I’d like to spend tomorrow getting ready, and maybe you could find us some exploration gear? Suitable for scientific field study, of course.”
Rarity put on a serious expression as she started to think. Her eyes scrutinized Twilight and Trixie carefully as she measured them up, and she paced quietly around them. Twilight smiled inwardly as the white unicorn’s eyes suddenly lit up. Knowing her friend, she had just been struck by her fashion muse.
“Idea! Oh I know just the thing!”
The next morning, Twilight and Trixie split up to collect what they’d need to start their expeditions. Twilight said she was headed straight to ‘Quills and Sofas’ to stock up on writing supplies and blank journals to record their progress and findings, so Trixie decided to head over and see Rarity first. She decided to bring her stage costume for reference, knowing it really didn’t matter if she was seen in it or not. She wouldn’t be hard to spot either way, and the star-covered garments made her feel a little better. ‘Like a security blanket.’ She had to stop and snort at the thought, rolling her eyes when she got a weird look from a passing stallion with an hourglass cutie mark.
Thankfully the boutique was only a short journey away from the library, though its elaborate design was a touch overdone for her taste. Trixie reached out to the door with her magic, trotting straight into it without a second thought, and promptly smacked face-first into it. “Owww…” she grumbled, rubbing her face for a second before pushing the door open with her hoof instead, the tinkling sound of the shop bell ringing through the building.
“Oh good morning, I’ll be right with you!” called Rarity from the upper floor in her posh accent.
Trixie shrugged and looked around for a place to sit, finding a comfortably plush couch obviously placed for waiting customers. Rarity was true to her word, moments later descending the stairs with a variety of patterns and cloth floating in front of her.
“Now then, welcome to Carousel Boutique, where—” her eyes lit up when she saw Trixie. “Ah! Just who I was hoping to see.”
Trixie waved to Rarity, though she still felt fairly awkward in her presence. “I rather doubt that, but I did have an appointment.”
“Oh, don’t be silly, dear. Now, come along, we have much work to do!” Rarity chimed, tugging Trixie along to the fitting area.
“Hey Twilight, you in here?”
Twilight looked over to the door from the register at Quills and Sofas, just finishing up her purchase. “Right here, Spike. Where was I… ah, nineteen… twenty!” She was carefully sorting out her bits by hoof, her magic barely able to push the small pile of coins forward to the clerk’s side of the table.
“Thank you, Princess. Enjoy your day!” Penwright, the store’s morning clerk, stuffed the bits in the register, smiling to his best customer.
While Twilight started putting everything in her saddlebag, Spike scampered over holding a letter and a small parcel. “Twi, Princess Celestia just sent these for you. It looked kinda important.”
“Alright, just a minute, I’ll have a look outside. Can you give me a hand with these?”
A few minutes later the two left the shop, Twilight’s bags packed neatly full of notebooks, paper, quills and other various writing supplies. Spike handed her the letter, and she found it was thankfully light enough that her diminished power was still enough to levitate it.
My dearest Twilight,
As you may have suspected, I could find no recorded cases of anything such as the predicament you and your friend Trixie now find yourselves in. A unicorn’s magical potential was, until now, thought to be immutable. I’m certain we could theorize on the implications or effects of this for weeks, but it’s best we stay on task.
It has taken us some time, but Luna had a brilliant idea which allowed us to devise a means of tracking your lost magic during your travels, which should help shorten the time you need to spend in each world. The pendants included with this message will allow you to visibly track the pieces of your potential, in the same form as we witnessed last night. For lack of a better term, we have dubbed these ‘Motes’ for the time being. From the moment you arrive in another world they will naturally be seeking you out, but being able to see them should make this task much simpler, as getting within close proximity should make the rejoining process immediate.
Bear in mind, this is all theory at the moment. The magic enchanting the pendants should be reliable, but the rest is up to you. Good luck, and be careful.
“Motes, huh?” Twilight blinked. “Not a very scientific term, but I suppose it fits... Spike, go ahead and open the box.”
Spike did so, using a claw to slice off the ribbon holding the unassuming brown box shut. Pulling off the lid revealed two silver pendants with long chains, each set with a single large gem: One a blue sapphire, the other an amethyst. As Twilight leaned over to inspect them more closely, she felt a ping of resonance from the amethyst pendant.
“What are they?” asked Spike.
“A gift from the princesses. Here, see for yourself.” She traded Spike the letter for the box, reaching in and putting on the amethyst pendant. As soon as it was in place around her neck, she faintly felt that same warm sensation she had when the first mote had healed her.
“Thank you for bringing these to me, Spike. Let’s go check in with Rarity, she and Trixie should probably be ready by now.”
It had taken twenty minutes just for Rarity to get a complete set of Trixie’s measurements. A large part of that time was due to the fact that the showmare couldn’t quit fidgeting, or breaking down in a fit of giggles every time Rarity tried to wrap the measuring tape around her stomach.
“My goodness, I’ve never dealt with a client quite so ticklish before,” chuckled Rarity as she finally managed to get the numbers she needed.
“Eheh… yes, well, I’d appreciate if you didn’t tell that to anypony.” Trixie’s face was flush from laughter and a touch of embarrassment.
Rarity smiled with a wink. “Worry not, your secret is safe with me. Hmmm… yes, this will do. I did most of the work in advance, so now I just need to make some adjustments to the fit.”
“Why are you being so nice to me?” Trixie frowned, the abruptness of her question making Rarity’s magical grip on the measuring tape falter. “I remember you from my last two visits, you know. I changed your mane, I forced you to sew all those banners with my face on them. So why? Has Twilight put you all up to it?”
“Well… I can’t say most of us didn’t have our… reservations when we heard you had returned to ponyville again. Still, a lady doesn’t do things as petty as hold grudges; Everypony deserves a second chance, after all. Besides,” she smiled, “when Spike informed us of your visit, he spoke quite encouragingly of your recent change of heart. He really can be stubborn sometimes when it comes to judging a pony’s character, so if he trusts you, I do as well.”
Trixie furrowed her brows, this wasn’t the reaction she’d expected to hear. ‘Had I really done anything to deserve that from him?’, she wondered. “Well, that explains tolerating Trixie’s presence, but the niceness?”
Rarity smirked coyly, taking out her notepad as she jotted the last of the measurements down. “That is simply what I do. Now then, go ahead and have a seat, I’ll bring down a few possible outfits for you to try on shortly.”
True to her word, Rarity wasted no time finalizing the new ensembles. When asked, she explained that since starting to do business with Hoity Toity in Canterlot, the speed at which she was capable of completing dresses had increased dramatically out of sheer necessity.
The first outfit resembled something Daring Do would wear, but in colors complimenting Trixie’s coat rather than ‘That garish green and khaki mess’ depicted on the books. Trixie vetoed it quickly, not being a fan of pith helmets.
The second was a version of the girls’ oft-used ‘stealth suit’, an all-black affair made of a flexible material. This variant was covered in straps, belts and buckles all around the legs and torso, most lined with pouches and pockets for carrying small items. It also came with a figure-eight shaped mask which just covered the wearer’s eyes. This was rejected as well, it wasn’t exactly going to help anypony blend in, especially when Rarity tried to add a cape to the ensemble.
It was while the third and final outfit was being tried on that the boutique’s bell rang out to signal Twilight’s arrival. Trixie, getting dressed in one of the fitting rooms, could hear the two strike up a mild conversation outside. Fiddling with the last bit of her outfit, she stepped out for everypony to see.
This outfit was composed of several pieces, starting with a simple yet practical blue vest, lined with several pockets along the front. This was complemented with a larger, white pouch slung around the vest with a white strap. The material of these appeared somewhat stiff and thick, and didn’t billow or shift like silk or cotton. Trixie’s legs were encased in four long, rather chic white boots, but they looked designed more for handling rough terrain than a runway. A tastefully embroidered blue cloak covered the rest of her body, strapped around her midsection with a set of sturdy buckles. The cloak was completed by a hood with a long point down the front, covering her mane and horn, and almost hiding her eyes from view. On her flank rested a pair of sturdy blue saddlebags, missing any cutie mark insignias intentionally. A silk mask completed the set, wrapping around her muzzle and throat and forming a scarf that trailed behind her as she moved.
“Whoa…” Twilight stared, evaluating the outfit next to Rarity. The fashionista seemed rather pleased with the results as well. “If I didn’t already know that was Trixie, I wouldn’t even realize it was her standing there.”
“My, I think this is the one! Tell me, how does it feel? Is the fabric comfortable? Anything too tight?”
Trixie cantered around a little in a circle, getting a feel for moving around in it. “It feels rather nice, actually. The fit on the vest is good, I was worried about that when I saw it. Boots are comfortable, I’m not too warm,” she stopped, nodding to the pair, her smile hidden under the mask. “Ooh, and the cloak feels just like my stage outfit. It’s perfect!”
“Excellent!” exclaimed Rarity, proud of her work. “I had to take special care with the vests, it’s a new type of armored fabric. Not really haute couture for dresses, but seeing as you two might find yourselves in trouble eventually, it should be perfect for these. Wait right here, Twilight—I’ll have one just like it ready for you momentarily. In your colors, of course,” she added. Just before heading back to the work room, she paused and turned back to face them, biting her lower lip. “Oh dear, there is one problem, though... That material is rather expensive...”
“Well I’m sure I can cover it, Rarity, that’s fine,” spoke up Twilight, nodding confidently.
“Just how much are we talking, here?” asked Trixie, a bit more cautious.
“Welllll……” the white unicorn dragged the word out, “It’ll be about three hundred bits.”
“Alright, note-taking supplies?” asked Spike, starting at the top of Twilight’s ‘Expedition Preparedness Checklist.’ He, Twilight and Trixie were back at the library, preparing for their first jaunt through the portal.
“Check!” chimed Twilight, adjusting her saddlebags.
“Snazzy exploration outfits-slash-disguises?”
Trixie grumbled a little from the other side of the room. They had opted to go ahead and buy the new outfits, despite the cost, and Trixie had surprised Twilight by insisting on paying for her own. Still, she wasn’t grumbling too loudly—the mare seemed rather pleased with her new look.
“Snacks and drinks for the road?”
Spike checked off boxes down the list as they went on like this for a few minutes, reaching the end of the parchment. “And last but not least, pendants?”
Twilight nodded, each mare’s pendant hanging around their necks. She had taken the time to explain them to Trixie on the way back, and shown her the letter from Celestia.
Trixie nodded back to her, reaching a hoof up to touch her own pendant. “It’s warm.”
Twilight smiled, turning back to Spike. “Check. Right, that’s everything!”
“You girls be super, mega, ultra-special careful out there, okay?” Spike set down the checklist, looking up to Twilight with wavering eyes. “I won’t be there to protect you like usual, after all.”
Twilight grinned and leaned down to nuzzle him, gently wrapping the little guy up in her wings. “We’ll be careful.”
Trixie smiled softly behind her mask at the exchange, then turned to walk up to the portal, examining the glowing stars carefully. “So, any preference on where to start?”
“Let’s take this methodically, for now, and go to the next star in Orion’s Belt.”
“Right,” Trixie nodded, tapping the center star in the constellation with her hoof. The mirror’s low hum went silent and the light flickered and went out for a second, before flaring back to life with a fwoosh and a loud thrum. The light was a slight violet hue now, and a light fog was pouring out of the bottom of the frame. “You know, we really should come up with a name for this thing.”
“Oh I thought so too!” beamed Twilight. “I had a couple ideas, what do you think of ‘Gateway of Stars’?”
Trixie deadpanned, staring Twilight in the eye. “Twilight, I mean this in the nicest way possible and as a friend: that is the most terrible name I’ve ever heard for anything, ever.”
“Ouch,” commented Spike.
Twilight pouted a little. “Eh… well, alright, I guess it was a bit unwieldy. What about ‘Moongate’?”
“Actually,” Spike spoke up, “didn’t that Lord Trottingham guy use that in his ‘Ultimare’ books?”
“Oh, right. That wouldn’t be very original then,” agreed Twilight.
“Well I guess it’s not that important, one of us will come up with something eventually.” Trixie shrugged, getting back on track.
Twilight nodded in return, adjusting her cloak. “Right then, what’s that word Time Turner always going around saying?”
“I think he just likes ponies to call him ‘The Doctor’,” corrected Spike. “...He’s weird.”
Twilight smirked, then gleefully shouted "Geronimo!" as the pair plunged into the light.
The first thing they noticed was the fog. While it did happen once in a while, it was very unusual for Ponyville to be blanketed in a fog as thick as this one. The air was chill and damp, and the girls could barely see to the edge of the square as they stepped out of the statue. Thankfully, the fountain base of this world’s statue was empty.
It was also strangely dark. Twilight knew it should be well past noon, but the buildings she could see were bathed in a dim violet light, like they would be during her namesake time of day.
“Well, I’m glad we dressed warm, now. This world feels so inviting already,” remarked Trixie, looking around as she took a few steps away from the fountain.
Twilight had to agree with her there, quickly trotting over before she lost sight of her partner. “We’d better stay close together until the fog lifts. I don’t want us to lose track of each other out here.”
“That's probably a good idea. If we do get split up, let’s pick a place to meet later. The library?”
“I don’t know, we might not want to run into my other self…”
“So what if we do, what’s the worst that could happen?”
Twilight wasn’t sure how to answer that. They were reality hopping, not time travelling, so there was no need to worry about silly things like paradoxes, or any of that other world-destroying nonsense she’d read about in certain sci-fi novels. Or was there? “I don’t know... it just doesn’t seem like a good idea to me. Let’s use Sugarcube Corner as our meet-up place instead.”
“We could just meet at the statue,” remarked Trixie, raising a brow at stating what should have been the obvious choice.
Twilight shook her head after considering that for a moment. “We don’t need anypony nosing around the portal.”
Trixie looked around at the lack of anypony else nearby, but shrugged. “Fair enough, Sugarcube Corner it is then.”
The showmare resumed trotting forward at a steady pace, leading the pair in a circle around the town square. She looked around carefully, examining buildings and alleys, while making a disapproving humm now and then behind her mask.
“I’m not feeling anything from my pendant.” Trixie looked down, tapping the sapphire gem which was dangling from a silver chain around her neck with a hoof. “How are these things supposed to work, anyways?”
“Hmm…” Twilight’s horn faintly lit up under her hood, which hid both her horn and any outward signs of magic-use save for a faint violet glow falling upon her eyes. She tried to send what little magic she had to her own pendant in the hopes it would activate, but it failed to respond to her probing.
“I… huh. I don’t know.” Twilight frowned, though her mask hid the expression.
“Hmph, these magic detectors are defective! Where’s the manual? Trixie demands a refund!”
“What?!” Twilight yelped, incensed by the remark. “Trixie, this is experimental magic here, and even then they were made by Celestia and Luna themselves! There’s no way that they’re—” She stopped abruptly, noticing her companion was shaking with giggles. “—aaaand you’re messing with me, aren’t you?”
“Aheh, hee, sorry Sparkle. You are just too easy.” She grinned.
Twilight smirked, then allowed herself a small chuckle too. “Alright, alright. Well maybe we should head back for a minute, so I can send a letter asking for more details?”
“Nonsense! We spent all morning getting ready for this expedition. I sat through hours of measurements, and I paid far too much for this outfit. We may as well explore for a while first.”
“Well we can’t just wander around town square in the fog all day, then. We’d better get somewhere indoors eventually.”
”That reminds me, we should ask your friend to make sure these boots are waterproof. We got lucky with the fountain being dry this time.”
Twilight nodded, pausing to think back to a conversation she had with Rarity once, not long after they’d met. Curious about all kinds of magic, Twilight had inquired about the spells the fashionista used in her dressmaking.
‘Waterproofing a garment requires a simple spell’, Rarity had said, ‘but since it’s permanent, it’s hardly ever as practical as it sounds. After all, how would you wash it? Now, if I could create a spell to dirt-proof clothing, I would be a very rich mare indeed!’
She smiled to herself at the memory, remembering the weeks afterwards in which she’d tried to find a spell to do that very thing for her friend, without any luck. Now she took note that her outfit didn’t feel damp, despite the dense fog around them.
“I’m pretty sure they are already, but if not we can always ask her to fix that when we get back,” she announced as she came out of her reverie.
Twilight blinked when she didn’t hear a response, looking over her back to Trixie only to realize the mare was no longer in view. “Trixie? Where did you go?” she called, but heard nothing.
“Oh come on, I only got all introspective for a minute!” she grumbled, then sighed. “So much for not splitting up...”
Twilight had been wandering through the fog for a solid twenty minutes without seeing hide nor hair of Trixie. Her pendant had yet to trigger in any way either, and to make matters worse, the fog was only getting thicker.
Barely able to see ten feet in front of her, Twilight was completely lost now. She had been heading in the direction she expected Sugarcube Corner to be, but was sure she must have passed it by now. She walked toward a hazy building to bring it into focus, only to find herself in front of Cheerilee’s home, in the middle of the residential district.
“Oh horsefeathers…” she muttered, looking around in thought. ’Well, at least now I have some bearings. So... wow, I missed Sugarcube by a quarter mile...’
She set off again in what she hoped was the correct direction this time, musing to herself on just how barren the town felt on a day like this, with nopony out and about. Just as she was thinking this, she started to hear a pair of voices a ways ahead.
“Vinyl, I’ll be fine on my own. But you shouldn’t be out here in the middle of all this!”
Twilight slowed down as she approached, peeking around the corner of a building. Up ahead she could make out the forms of two ponies sitting on a bench, in the middle of a rather animated debate. Well, the white one was rather animated, while the grey one was remaining cool and collected.
“Like I’m going to let you go off on your own an’ get into trouble with a bunch of strange ponies? Pssh, no way!”
“Why Vinyl my dear, is that a hint of jealousy I detect?”
“No!” Vinyl looked away from her friend, and Twilight could tell she was blushing. “...maybe. So what?!”
Twilight edged a little closer, but stayed behind the cover of some nearby boxes. She didn’t want to interrupt, or let them know she’d been eavesdropping, but these were the first ponies she’d seen since arriving in this world. ’They might be able to give me some answers...’
Octavia gently nuzzled her companion, which seemed to calm her down considerably. “Vinyl, I know you’re worried about me, but it’s okay. I’m used to this now, I’ll be fine.”
“But Octy…” she sighed. “I guess so… I’m still not letting you feed off some random hussy before me, though.”
’Feed?’ thought Twilight, peeking out of her hiding place curiously.
Octavia chuckled warmly. “Very well, but just a sip. You’ve given enough this month as it is.” She smiled, as that earned her a peck on the cheek from her marefriend. What Twilight saw next shocked her senseless.
As Vinyl Scratch leaned in close, Octavia gently tilted her head aside with one forehoof while opening her mouth wide. Twilight saw the glint of a pair of long, sharp fangs just before they were buried into the side of Vinyl’s throat, eliciting a soft moan from the unicorn. As a few drops of blood began to trickle down the side of her neck, the vampony clamped down her muzzle to seal around the wound, drinking slowly.
Twilight’s mind raced in a combination of curiosity, confusion and panic. ’Okay, vamponies are real. That’s fascinating! Now get a grip and run away, Twilight!’
Suddenly the grey mare’s eyes snapped open, the normal lavender now a deep, glowing blood red. Her gazed locked directly on Twilight’s eyes, staring at her expressionlessly as she slowly continued to drink.
‘I sense the presence of an outsider…’ The musician’s eloquent voice rang out directly through Twilight’s mind, freezing the surprised alicorn to the spot. The only thing she could do was to stare, wide-eyed, at the mesmerizing gaze boring into her own.
After a few more minutes Octavia licked her companion’s neck a few times, and then gently laid the now unconscious Vinyl down on the bench. Even from where she stood, Twilight could see the unicorn’s neck was no longer bleeding. The two telltale puncture marks were already mostly hidden under her wet and matted coat.
Twilight shook her head as the eye contact broke, still dazed from the experience. However, just when she finally regained the presence of mind to try to scream or run, Octavia appeared in front of her in a flash, those glowing eyes rooting her to the spot again. It had been such a sudden burst of movement that the princess couldn’t even track it. Twilight reeled instinctively, her wings flaring wide while one forehoof curled protectively in front of her chest.
“You are not from here, but you feel familiar somehow… Hmm, but you’re not one of us.”
Gone was the normally reserved mare’s usual poised and proper demeanor; This Octavia stalked slowly around her like a hungry predator. Those entrancing red eyes remained locked on hers, and her body hunched low with feline grace as she moved, as though ready to pounce at any moment.
“U-uh, I…” Twilight stammered, her mind felt as numb as her body.
“You chose an interesting day to visit Ponyville. Are you not aware of the Day of the Hunt? No, I can tell. You’re frightened.” Octavia finished a full circle around Twilight and stopped in front of her, staring straight into her eyes, then letting her gaze drift towards Twilight’s neck.
“Perhaps the stranger would like to make an offering? The hunt is about sharing, after all…”
Still speechless, Twilight couldn’t manage to form the words to say no. The academic portion of her mind wasn’t sure she wanted to, either. Firsthand experience with a vampony, she’d never read anything about it other than in fantasy novels, never in a proper scientific account. On the other hand, every other, rational part of her mind was screaming. She felt her scarf and mask being tugged away by the young vampire, and just when she was sure she was about to feel her neck pierced, instead she heard a shocked gasp.
“P-Princess Twilight?! Oh my goodness, I didn’t realize it was you! P-please, forgive me! Oh I’m so sorry! Please don’t kick me out of the orchestraaaa!” wailed Octavia, cowering and prostrating herself before her.
Twilight snapped back to her senses, looking at the sight before her in bewilderment. “Buh?”
Trixie vaguely registered a part of her mind telling her she should feel bad about wandering off on her own, that this was a bad idea, but she ignored it. Rather, she couldn't muster the willpower to heed its advice at all. Something was drawing her away, tugging at her consciousness and begging her to follow its lead. Faintly, she could hear her friend calling her name in the distance behind, but she couldn't even send enough control to her mouth to respond.
She had felt this something tugging at the corners of her mind while talking with Twilight, but for the life of her she couldn't recall what the conversation was about anymore. Soon the sound of her companion’s voice had tuned out into wordless droning, and she’d felt her eyes glaze over; Even her own voice had sounded distant. Her body had turned itself towards the source of the pull and started walking, which quickly sped up to a brisk trot.
Whatever it was also seemed to have an affect on her pendant, sending a warmth radiating through her chest from where the gem lay against it. ‘Perhaps this is how the pendant works?’ spoke up the analytical center of her mind. But that thought was rather frightening at the moment: It was like her body had been put on autopilot, mindlessly following this ‘voice’ to its source. Then another thought occurred to her. ‘Why wasn’t Twilight affected as well? If this is my mote calling me, does it mean they’re separated?’
Just before she turned a corner, Trixie momentarily caught her reflection in a store window, the disturbing sight leaving her with even more questions than she had answers for. Her eyes were glowing and pupilless, her glazed irises matching the same deep blue color of the glowing gem resting against her chest.
She recognized the direction she was moving in, now. The huts and structures of Ponyville were fading into the background, becoming fewer and far between. She was reaching the edge of the fog as well, and the sight of dark, wild growth and trees as thick as a jungle confirmed her fears. The Everfree Forest loomed ahead, its dark shadows yielding promises of monsters both imaginary and real. And yet, she was compelled to continue.
Trixie trudged through the dense underbrush of the forest’s border and strode into the darkness, the dense canopy of trees blotting out most of the light from the mid-afternoon sun. ‘Or maybe it’s later?’, she thought. With her peripheral vision, she had noticed the sky was an odd violet hue rather than blue, suggesting it was somehow nearly dusk already. ’That makes no sense, it was just past one when we got here...’
Nettles tangled around her boots at times, and small branches slapped and stung against her body as she moved uncontrollably forward, though thankfully neither really registered as more than slightly uncomfortable. It seemed that her expensive outfit was faring well against the forest’s thick brush, cushioning what would normally have been a painful experience.
At last a clearing opened up before her, marking the south bank of the river that bisected the forest. A huge rock face formed a small cliff in front of the river, with a gentle slope leading up from where she had emerged. As she began to ascend she could feel her senses slowly returning to her. Her body was becoming hers to control again, a little at a time, and she somehow knew her destination was upon her.
Her heart pounded in her chest, fear building up as she climbed higher and higher, still unable to will her legs to stop moving. Just as she reached the top of the cliff, terrified she was about to put the next hoof right over the edge, she was able to halt. Fifty feet below her she could see the river flowing past, nowhere near deep enough to cushion a fall from this height. Looking down, she noticed the glow from her gem intensify to almost blinding levels, forcing her to look back up.
That’s when she saw it. A glowing blue mote of energy drifted towards her from the other side of the river bank. She could feel the magic already connecting between it and her body, warmth flowing through every cell in her being as the mote made a beeline for her horn. As it connected at last, memories washed over her: Her parents on Hearth Warming Eve, telling her how much they loved her. Being seen off on her first day of school. The wonderful feeling she got the first time she ever performed a magic trick for her schoolmates. Love, pure and unbridled, flowing through her soul.
A spark encircled and rose from her horn, and for the first time since all this began, a single magical firework shot up into the sky, bursting in a brilliant blue halo of light. Overjoyed, Trixie’s eyes followed it upwards, but what she saw after it faded sent her into shock all over again.
The sun, hanging high in the sky. The violet sun. It looked like a twisted, nightmare image of its normal self, with black streaks emanating from its corona into the sky around it. Yet it was beautiful in its own way, casting a breathtaking purple-pink light upon the land. It looked almost as though the sun was eclipsed by a translucent celestial body. She realized she could even look upon the sun itself without having to shield her eyes, allowing her to see the mesmerizing dance of the orb’s internal fire across its surface.
Then she felt something impact the back of her head, and everything went black.
Exploration log of Twilight Sparkle and Trixie Lulamoon.
First Entry. June 11, 1002 CR Coordinates: AR Orion Epsilon
There is a lot to say, but I should start with the immediate facts. This world is currently shrouded in a dense fog, and despite the time of day allegedly matching up with our own, the sunlight is much dimmer than ours. Whether that’s a result of the fog or not, I cannot currently say. I haven’t seen many ponies outdoors, but I suppose that’s to be expected considering the weather.
Unfortunately, Trixie and I got split up almost immediately upon arrival. We had the foresight to establish a meetup location if this should happen, deciding on Sugarcube Corner. We chose this location because the Library would have a high chance of an encounter with my alternate self. Whether there would be negative repercussions of such an incident, I cannot say.
My new companion, Octavia, informs me that the fog is temporary, put into place once a month for an event known as the ‘Day of the Hunt’. It’s a local tradition unique to Ponyville in this world, she tells me, in which volunteer ‘donors’ venture through the town to allow its few vampony residents to hunt them down and feed. Apparently, while most have a regular blood donor, being able to feed on multiple ponies once a month, in a more natural way, allows them to vent their predatory nature, keeping their minds safely grounded against their darker instincts.
I can’t believe I just put those words to paper. That’s right, in this world vamponies are real! I can confirm these facts firsthand as Octavia is one herself, and nearly bit me when I encountered her. She probably would have, too, if she hadn’t recognized me as a princess. It appears my other self still is one in this world. I’ll ponder the implications of that later.
They’re a fascinating species, or subspecies of pony. If I have time, I’ll conduct a full report on them. Or perhaps I can find one that’s already been written, and borrow it for study before we leave? According to my companion, they’ve been a known part of public society for centuries now, so somepony must have conducted appropriate research.
Though willing to answer, it’s clear Octavia finds my questions strange, as I should be well aware of these facts already. In fact, my counterpart from this world had a personal hoof in establishing this traditional hunt, and I feel some measure of pride in discovering that there have been no severe vampire-related injuries since its inception. Still, in light of these facts, I worry for Trixie’s safety.
Twilight looked up from the scroll levitating in front of her and rolled it up, tucking it away as she walked into Sugarcube Corner at last. A groggy and barely-conscious Vinyl Scratch lay sprawled out between her wings. Octavia followed just behind, helping Twilight set Vinyl down onto one of the many cots set up in the room.
The bakery had been specially set up as a recovery center for the victims of today’s event. Nurse Redheart was there, checking up on several groggy patients, and nodded in welcome to the two as they dropped off Vinyl. Pinkie Pie was helping out as well, bouncing between the cots and passing out cookies and juice to get the drained ponies back on their feet.
Octavia smiled warmly as she looked around the room, then turned her attention back to Twilight. “Thank you, pri—” she began, but was interrupted by Twilight putting up a hoof with a shake of her head. “—ah, right. Thank you for being so understanding with me, and for helping bring her here. You didn’t have to do any of that, and I appreciate it greatly.”
Twilight nodded, turning to her companion and pulling her mask down conspiratorily, so just Octavia could see her return the smile. “I’m happy to help. And don’t worry, sure it was a little scary at first, but I think I understand. Just try not to make a habit of greeting out-of-town ponies like that, please?”
Octavia blushed, pinning back her ears and nodding. “Right, sorry again, I was kind of caught up in my instincts… I’ve only been like this for a few years, it’s still hard for me to control.”
“Really? I’d love to hear about it sometime!” Twilight started excitedly, but her excitement was tempered when she saw her suggestion made her friend flinch. “...Ah, well, if it’s not too soft a subject that is.”
“It’s quite alright, perhaps another time. For now I must beg my leave, I’m burning daylight, as the saying goes.” Octavia smiled awkwardly, glancing over Twilight’s shoulder at Vinyl, as the princess was putting her mask back into place. “Keep her out of trouble, if you could?”
Twilight nodded. “I’ll try. Oh, if you see Trixie while you’re out there, can you help her find her way back here? We got split up almost as soon as we arrived.”
Octavia, who had already turned to walk out the door, halted in her tracks, her body unnaturally ceasing its motion mid-stride. “Did you say Trixie? As in, Trixie Lulamoon? You brought her. Here?
An icy ball formed in the pit of Twilight’s stomach, and she gulped worriedly as thoughts of the reputation of her friend’s counterpart began to play through her head. “...How bad is it?”
Octavia leveled a stern, yet terrified look into Twilight’s eyes. “There are ponies here who want her dead.”
“You can’t tell me you’re surprised. I mean, yes, most of us are aware she was basically mind-controlled at the time, but there are some ponies in town that simply don’t care… After what she did, I can’t really blame them.” Octavia frowned, turning away to look out the shop’s window. “It doesn’t mean I agree with them, but I can empathize.”
Twilight grimaced behind her mask. ’I suppose with infinite worlds there are infinite possibilities… I should have expected we’d run into a situation where one of our alternates had done something really bad sooner or later. I guess I didn’t expect it to happen so soon though...’
Twilight hesitated, choosing her words carefully. “Tell me… what exactly happened back then? I wasn’t here for most of it, and I believe that most ponies spared me the details when I came back.”
It was only half true, but Octavia didn’t need to know that right now. The musician just nodded quietly as she took in this information, her eyes taking on a distant expression as she traced back her memories.
“It was a very dark time for Ponyville. It started out mildly enough: Trixie forced your friends to do degrading chores for her, like making Rarity sew dozens of those banners with her face on them to hang up all over town, or making Applejack hoof-mash applesauce for her. Whomever wasn’t directly in the her path pretty much locked themselves in their homes to avoid her, which worked for a while.”
Octavia paused, turning back to look at Twilight. “Then she started getting weird, doing things like banishing the use of wheels for some reason. She got pretty steamed when she caught your friend Fluttershy trying to escape town to pass you a message, but thank Celestia that only happened on the first day.”
“What do you mean?” Twilight raised a brow. ’So in this world Fluttershy never got to warn me about the amulet…’
Octavia sighed and simply shook her head. “I need to gather my thoughts. Ask Vinyl to tell you the rest when she wakes up.”
Silence stretched out between the two for a few minutes, both girls lost in their own thoughts. After a while, Octavia’s expression hardened into a look of determination, and she stamped a forehoof decisively on the floor.
“Right, I’m going out there to find her. I’m trusting that if you brought her here, then she’s a different pony than she was back then.” The earth pony’s gaze met Twilight’s, who nodded in reply.
’More than you realize...’ “Alright. I have a question though. What you did when I first ran into you, it felt like you were speaking directly into my mind… was that telepathy?” Twilight raised a brow.
Octavia shook her head. “No, that little trick only works if I’m maintaining eye contact. It’s not actual telepathy, just hypnosis making you think it was.”
Twilight made a mental note of that. “Alright, then you should go get Spike to help you search. He can send a letter if you two find anything. He should be at the library this time of day, though I could be mistaken…”
“That’s a good suggestion, Princess. Thank you for offering his aid.” Octavia smiled, then bowed before her.
Twilight blushed a little as she watched the musician rise and make her exit into the foggy streets. ’That’s still going to take some getting used to...’ she thought, watching through the window until Octavia vanished into the mists. She considered going out herself to search as well, but that thought was interrupted by the groggy moan of a certain unicorn waking up next to her.
“Ohhh, I feel dizzy… Octy, I think you went a little overboard again…”
Vinyl Scratch stirred on her cot, sitting up slowly. She kept her eyes closed while she felt around for her glasses. Finding them on a table next to the bed, she smiled and immediately put them on. Right as she finished this act, a certain pink ball of energy bounded up, carrying a giant tray of sweets and juice boxes.
“Hey there sleepy-head! You should have a snack. They’re all packed full of sugary goodness and’ll have you back on your hooves and ready to party again in no time! Or rave in your case?” Pinkie giggled energetically, punctuating it with a happy snort. “I’ve got cupcakes and cookies and tarts and pie and doughnuts and cake and a whole buncha kindsa juice to wash it all down!”
“Huh? Oh, hey, thanks Pinks!” Vinyl grinned weakly, grabbing a few cookies and a box of apple juice up in her blue magical aura, levitating them off the tray.
“Welcome!” Pinkie Pie beamed her biggest smile. “Now you take it easy for a bit. Twilight, can you keep an eye on her? Thanks!” She then bounded off again before either could reply.
“...Oh, I give up.” Twilight grumbled, pulling off her mask and letting it hang loosely around her neck.
“Hey, don’t feel bad, Twi. She always sees through my disguises too. No idea how she always knows who’s who, but that’s Pinkie for ya.” Vinyl smiled tiredly, then scarfed down her cookies like a starved wildebeest, sending crumbs flying everywhere and even making little ‘nom nom nom’ noises as she went. “Mmmm, so gooood.”
“Some day I’ll figure out how she does that.” Twilight deadpanned, then turned back to Vinyl. “Feeling better?”
“Yeah, I’m gettin’ there. Kinda used to it by now.” She smiled. “Nice to see ya again, Twilight. Or is it ‘Princess’ now, eh?” Vinyl playfully nudged Twilight’s shoulder with her hoof. “Big step up since I saw ya at the wedding.”
Twilight smiled a little, but it quickly faded—she was too worried to keep it up. “Hey, Vinyl? Your friend Octavia was telling me about what happened when Trixie took over the town a while back, but she stopped after describing how Fluttershy got caught trying to escape. Would you mind filling in the rest?”
Vinyl whistled low, leaning back into her cot and looking up at the ceiling. “Wow. I’m amazed you got her to talk about it even that much; she’s still got some emotional scars from back then. Octy must really respect you, Twi.”
Twilight started to accept the compliment, but then felt her blood run cold. Her eyes quickly went wide as something occurred to her, and she gasped loudly while flaring her wings. “Wait, she told me there were ponies that wanted Trixie dead. Don’t tell me she’s one of them?!”
“Octy? Nah.” Vinyl shrugged, completely nonchalant about the accusation that had just been flung. “She wouldn’t hurt a fly. I know she’s been through some… interesting changes the last few years, and she can come off kinda fierce sometimes because of it, but she’s really a big sweetie under it all. Trust me, you’d be hard pressed to find a more noble or kind pony.” Vinyl smiled, then paused, leaning up to look at Twilight. “Uh... just don’t tell anypony I said that gushy stuff. I’ve got an image to worry about.”
Twilight relaxed her tense muscles and tucked her wings back to her sides. “Ahh… Just, how did she end up like that, anyways?”
“Heh, y’know most of the peeps who ask that seem to expect some weird or tragic backstory, but it’s nothin’ like that. One day a few years back she just decided ‘I’m going to be a vampony’, found somepony to make it happen, and that was that. When that mare decides something, Luna herself wouldn’t be able to stop her. She’s kinda scary when she gets like that.”
“Yeah, that’s what they usually say, too.” Vinyl smirked.
“Anyways, let’s get back on topic. What happened when Trixie took over the town, while I was trapped outside of it? After Fluttershy was caught?”
“Oh! Right. Let’s see.. well, she hadn’t really gone completely crazy at that point, so she let Flutters off with a warning. Still, every day that passed she just got worse and worse. She made crazy demands like ‘all apples must be grown to be skinless and perfect dodecahedrons in shape’, and she started snapping at anyone who disobeyed her. She’d use her magic to torture anyone who talked back, and she didn’t stick to feathers for that for very long…” Vinyl grimaced.
“By the time she’d been in charge for a week, Ponyville was a complete nightmare. She went totally paranoid, started claiming you were coming back any moment to ‘usurp her throne.’ She tortured ponies in the streets, left them there writhing in pain as a warning for the rest of us. Half a building blew up one night because she swore she saw something purple in the window. Thank Luna nopony was in there. But that’s just what she did to the normal ponies.”
“From the moment she put that amulet on it was like she was dimetri—diya—reicly?” Vinyl paused, scratching her head. “Well she suddenly just started absolutely hating vamponies out of the blue. She cancelled the monthly Hunt, and declared no vampony could leave their homes. Not all of them lived with their donors, though, and after a few days a few of them had to try to reach their friends. When Trixie found out, she was furious…” Vinyl looked down, shuddering. “She started blasting this horrible red lightning at any vamponies she saw, even if they’d obeyed her and stayed indoors. If she caught so much as a gliimpse of one in a window, boom.”
Twilight couldn’t hide the shock or horror on her face, and she didn’t try. Meanwhile, Vinyl sat up on the edge of her cot and continued. “Poor Roseluck got cornered in an alley while trying to sneak over to see Thunderlane. She couldn’t help it, Rose was starving, but Trixie didn’t care. She probably would have killed Rose right then and there, when out of nowhere who of all ponies suddenly drops out of the sky right between them? Fluttershy!”
Twilight’s jaw dropped. She could barely imagine her timid friend being the one to charge into danger. Yet Fluttershy had proven on several occasions that she could push past her fears when her friends were on the line, like the time she had stared down a cockatrice to protect the crusaders.
“Flutters put on her hardest stare at Trixie and started yelling at her, I mean actually yelling. Nopony could believe it! For a minute it almost looked like she was getting through to Trixie, but it didn’t last long before she started laughing all crazy-like and monologuing right back at her. Well, Flutters took that chance and got Rose to sneak away while she kept Trixie talking.”
Vinyl smiled a little at what Twilight assumed was the memory of a sweet, shy pegasus outwitting a raving madmare, but the smile faded and vanished as she continued. “It took almost two full minutes before Trixie managed to realize she’d been duped. Trixie was already mad at her for trying to leave town, but now? All that rage she’d been about to throw at Rose boiled over and found a new victim…” Vinyl swallowed hard. “I’ll never forget the screams… Fluttershy… she… s-she never even tried to run….”
Twilight felt warm wet trails flow down from her watering eyes. Her emotions overwhelmed her as every memory she had of the yellow and pink pegasus flitted through her mind. “…N-no…”
“Well that’s when you showed up, though! Somehow you just popped into the middle of town right there behind Trixie like the shield she’d put up was nothing! And your eyes were all glowing this crazy bright white and you were talking in like three voices at once, it was unreal! Then you two started fighting and there was magic and lasers and explosions flying everywh—whoa!” Vinyl was waving her hooves and gesturing wildly, and managed to fall off her cot in the process. She got back up on her hooves and brushed herself off like nothing happened, taking a sip of her juice before continuing.
“Anyways, as awesome as it was seeing Trixie get her flank handed to her, I couldn’t just stand there and watch.”
“W-wait,” Twilight interrupted after wiping her eyes with a hoof. “You were there?”
“Oh, yeah. When I saw what Trixie was doing to Flutters I had to try to help. When you showed up and got Trixie’s attention, I snuck in and got her. Man, I could feel the raw magic pouring off of you, being that close to you felt like my skin was on fire… I heard afterwards that somehow you managed to force Trixie to take off that amulet! How did you manage to learn to do something like that? Can that Zecora lady teach me that or is it someth—”
Vinyl settled down again, this time blushing sheepishly. “Right, heh, sorry… Anyways, I got her to the hospital, and thank Luna we’ve got some of the best doctors around. They saved her.” She sighed, her last word carrying a bitter undertone, “Mostly.”
Twilight nodded weakly, afraid to ask any further. ’It’s terrifying to think that some of this might have happened in our world if I’d never been warned... But the way Vinyl painted that fantastic picture of my return, the things this version of me allegedly did... Am I really capable of that much power?’
“Say Twi? Why are you suddenly so interested in all that, anyways? It’s been months, and you already knew what happened there at the end.”
Snapped out of her thoughts, Twilight was reminded of the urgency of the situation. “Oh right, I brought Trixie he—err, back to Ponyville with me a little while ago, but we got separated in the fog.”
Vinyl’s jaw hit the floor. “Wait, what?!”
“It’s okay, she’s good now!”
Vinyl leaned back just so she could facehoof with both hooves. “Twilight, are you nuts?! Don’t answer that—we’ve always known you are, just a little bit.”
“Hey!” Twilight frowned, which just got a chuckle from Vinyl. “Very funny,” she rolled her eyes, “but seriously, can I get your help, if you’re feeling up to it yet that is. I can’t just sit here knowing all that and hope Octavia finds Trixie first. I’m going out to try to help find her, can I count on you and Pinkie to join me?”
Vinyl finished her juice box and slammed it on the table next to her cot, then turned to Twilight and gave her an uncharacteristic salute. “Yes ma’am, Princess! HEY PINKS!” she yelled back into the shop. There was no response other than a curious look from Nurse Redheart. “...Pinkie? Huh, where’d she go?”
Darkness was the first thing which met Trixie’s eyes as she returned to consciousness. The sound of dripping water slowly echoed around her in steady, regular intervals. The air felt cool as well, suggesting she was likely to be underground. ’Am I in a cave?’ There was pressure around her head, something rough and uncomfortably warm wrapped around it and over her eyes. ’So I’ve been blindfolded...’ As her senses returned to her, she realized she was laying down on something rough, like hay, and her limbs ached almost as much as the back of her head. She couldn’t move them; a colder, hard pressure was binding her fore and rear hooves together in pairs. The sounds of rattling chains echoed above and below her when she tried to struggle against them. ’...and chained up. Well this is a good sign.’
“Finally awake, are we?” came a raspy whisper from right next to her ear, sending a wave of panic through Trixie’s body. As she tried to struggle against her chains, the voice laughed, cruelly mocking her. “Oh you poor thing, did I frighten you? Good…” it chuckled.
“Who are you?!” Trixie tried to shriek, but all that came out were muffled noises. Trying to move her muzzle woke up the muscles within, which were now reporting the sensation of being bound tightly shut. ’Oh ponyfeathers.’
The cruel laugh came again, this time in her other ear. Her captor was pacing around her as they spoke. “Oh, don’t bother trying to get free… I’ve had a long time to plan for this, you see. You’ll find your magic is useless against your chains. The metal is infused with null crystals from the Empire. They’re woven into the cloth as well.”
Trixie couldn’t recognize the voice, but then she wasn’t as familiar with the ponies of this town as she could’ve been. Whomever was speaking was female, but that was all she could determine—they seemed to be whispering to intentionally disguise their voice.
“To think, I almost let you go when you wandered by in your little disguise. I probably wouldn’t have thought twice about it, either. But when you passed I could smell it was you, little monster… That unique stench of candle wax and lilacs…”
Suddenly Trixie felt a hoof press harshly against her chest, making her yelp more from fright than pain. “You hurt so many ponies when you were here. Even the Princess couldn’t fully forgive you. You tried to claim it was the amulet controlling you, but you and I both know that was a lie. You knew exactly what you were doing, and you enjoyed it, didn’t you?” the voice angrily hissed.
The pressure on her chest got harder and harder as her captor spoke, making Trixie whimper as it started to get painful. “I don’t know how you got out of prison early, but I’m going to make you wish you’d stayed there…”
Just like that, the hoof was removed. Trixie gulped, afraid to make a sound. She was certain that was going to leave a mark, and definitely noticed her protective outfit had been removed. The sound of hooves started to move away, echoing in the chamber.
“I’ll just let you stew on that for a while… Sweet dreams…”
Chains rattled in the distance, and a loud, heavy creak rang out. As the sounds of hoofsteps left the chamber, the creaking returned along with a loud, heavy thud which thundered through the cavern. Trixie’s ears picked up the faint sound of something metallic slide and click into place after that. ’Well if nothing else, the acoustics in this prison are amazing. Heh. … Oh Celestia, I am in sooo much trouble…’
“Oh my, is somepony there?”
“Hello! It’s just me, dear. I came out to check up on you.”
Trixie could just make out the sound of two voices coming from outside. The first voice was quiet and demure compared to the second, and had a familiar tone to it. The other was entirely foreign to her—at least, she couldn’t recognize it, though it sounded female. Trixie strained her ears to listen; It was hard to make any of the words out, but neither voice sounded like the one that had just been tormenting her.
The conversation swiftly moved out of earshot, leaving Trixie alone with her thoughts. ’Right, okay. I just need to think. Let’s be logical about this—It sounded like a heavy, locked door is barring the exit, yet I could hear the voices outside. The air is only partly stale… Okay, but all that means is there has to be air shafts. How’s that… help?’
Trixie imagined a light bulb turning on over her head as an idea began to form. ’Oh, that could work. Now I just need to get out of these...’ Trixie forced her body to relax, taking several long, deep breaths. She began to wriggle her muzzle and hooves with a more focused purpose, smiling inwardly as her studies of the famous magician Hoofdini came back to her. ’Whoever did this to me made one fatal mistake. They forgot that there’s more than one kind of magic!’
“Alright, Vinyl I’ll need you to round up everypony you can who would be willing to help bring back Trixie safely. If you find anything, throw up a signal with your horn.”
“That’s… not going to be a lot of ponies. The only ones I can think of would be Rares, AJ and Dash. Pinks too, but well, yeah.” Vinyl shrugged.
“I understand. Do what you can, please. Let me worry about finding Rainbow Dash, I was going to ask her to do something about this fog, anyways.” Twilight looked back and stretched her wings a little, shaking them out. “Maybe I’ll be able to see something from the air.” ’The self-preservation center of the brain would like to mention it does not support this idea!’ ‘Quiet, you.’
“Hey, sounds like a plan to me!” Vinyl beamed.
Twilight then turned and got the nurse’s attention. “Nurse Redheart? If another pony shows up dressed like me, but in blue, please make sure they stay here and they stay safe.”
Redheart looked up from her current patient and nodded. “You can count on me, Princess.”
“Right. Let’s go!”
Vinyl snagged one more juice box for the road up in her sparkling blue aura and headed outside, Twilight right behind her. Once they got into the fog, Vinyl immediately broke into a full gallop towards Carousel Boutique to start her recruitment efforts. Twilight looked all around her—the fog was just as dense as it was when she arrived half an hour ago. It wasn’t a lot of time to have been split up, but considering the dangers she now knew of this world, she could feel her fears starting to get the better of her.
’I can’t think like that. How’s the saying go, hope for the best?’ Twilight slightly nodded to herself and spread her wings wide, shifting her hooves into a running stance for takeoff. “Alright, takeoff checklist!” Her horn lit up faintly, drawing a scroll out of her saddlebag to float in front of her.
“Step one, bend down into proper takeoff posture. Check!” Twilight fixed her face into a determined look. “Step two, use a strong burst from wings and legs together to get airborne. Step three, keep a steady wing beat-glide rhythm to maintain altitude without tiring out.” She nodded to herself again, putting the scroll back in her saddlebag and securing it.
“Here goes nothing!” She leaned down low, sticking out her tongue slightly. She gave her tail a little unconscious wiggle and flapped down hard, leaping into the air with a powerful burst that sent her soaring almost halfway through the fog in one shot. She felt her body start to tip forward at the top of her trajectory, but maintained her composure this time, flapping her wings again and beginning a steady rhythm which brought her higher and higher, climbing swiftly into the sky until the fog suddenly vanished beneath her.
The sight of the oddly lavender mid-afternoon sky nearly sent her plummeting back into that vast mattress of fluffy whiteness, when she spotted the sun itself on her ascent. Her flight faltered, and she nearly went into a barrel roll as one wing kept flapping while the other forgot to for a moment. “I-it’s purple! Why is the sun purple?!” she shouted to nopony in particular.
Unfortunately, Twilight was so preoccupied with this astrological conundrum, and maintaining her wobbly attempt at flight, that she didn’t notice the sleeping Rainbow Dash on the cloud up ahead until she barreled right into her.
“See anything yet?” asked Spike, who was riding on Octavia’s back as they scoured the fog-filled village.
Meanwhile, Octavia scanned the obscured landscape with her eyes aglow, looking all around herself while trotting at a brisk pace, “No, though I sense we are on the right track.”
“How can you even tell?”
She looked back at him with a warm smile and tapped the side of her nose. “By using all of my senses, of course.”
Shops and stalls faded eerily in and out of the fog around them as they continued, and hardly a sound carried through the still air, giving the town a ghostly atmosphere. Droplets of water clung to her coat, and while the chill and damp didn’t bother her, she could feel the young dragon starting to shiver on her back. Fortunately the perfect shop came into view just up ahead, one of the last ones before they reached the outskirts of town. Octavia gently set Spike down next to the shop’s entrance and gave his spines a little ruffle.
“Wait right here, please. I’ll be right back. Keep your eyes and ears open while I’m inside, alright?”
“Huh? Okay, I guess.” Spike nodded while she stepped inside, then turned to look out into the town while he waited, rubbing his arms for warmth.
Around fifteen minutes later the door opened again and Octavia stepped back outside, smiling when she saw Spike still looking away out into the fog. He must have heard her approach, as he looked up just as she leaned over behind him and wrapped a warm red scarf around the little guy’s neck.
“There, that’s better.” Octavia said, leaning down to let him climb onto her back again. She was wearing a small blanket draped over her back now as well, making the perch much more comfortable for him.
“Awww, thanks Miss Octavia, you didn’t have to do that!”
“Nonsense, you can’t be expected to endure this weather like I can without protection.”
He nodded as they set off again, Octavia sniffing the air and tilting her ears forward as she strained to pick up a trail. “I didn’t see anything while you were inside. What took so long, anyways? Were they low on cold weather gear?” asked Spike, leaning forward to one side a bit to see her face in the fog.
Octavia paused, smirking as she glanced back at him, just enough to show a little fang. “Well, I can’t be expected to endure this hunt without a little snack, either.” She winked at him, getting a quiet noise of comprehension from Spike.
Her ears twitched and she glanced towards the sky, listening intently to something in the distance. ’Pegasi overhead… Hmm, they’re starting to clear the fog? A bit early for that; Twilight must have something to do with it,’ she pondered, following their path with her senses until twin trails streaked through the fog cover directly overhead, starting to break up the dense weather. As they did so, the winds began to stir and a peculiar scent caught her nose, causing Octavia to jolt her attention back down the road towards it.
“W-whoa, what is it?” asked Spike
Her steady pace picked up into a swift canter, bringing the two of them towards the edge of Ponyville. They passed over the bridge and through the park in minutes, with Spike hanging on tightly to Octavia’s neck so he didn’t fall. When they finally stopped, they were staring face to face with the Everfree Forest, looming only meters ahead of the edge of the drifting fog bank.
“Oh man, are you telling me Trixie went in there?” groaned Spike. He looked up at the sky, judging the time. “That’s really not good, it’s going to get dark soon!”
“Agreed. You should send a letter to Twilight now. Tell her we’ve caught her trail heading into the Everfree, and we’ll wait here for instructions.” Octavia frowned, looking away from Spike back into the forest. “No sense going in after her alone.”
“Right.” Spike pulled out a quill and paper from Octavia’s saddlebag and scribbled a quick note down. Satisfied after giving it a second check, he rolled it up and breathed his magical flame onto it, burning the letter and sending it off. In turning away from his companion to do so, he spotted a familiar cottage off in the distance.
“Oh hey, Fluttershy’s cottage is pretty close, maybe we can wait there?”
Octavia smiled and opened her mouth as if to say something but then a series of emotions flickered across her face, starting with a frown and a raised eyebrow, then a grimace, and finally settling on a sigh and a shake of her head. “No, I don’t think so. She doesn’t need to get involved with this, considering who we’re looking for.”
Teams of pegasi streaked across the cloud cover above ponyville, tearing long lines through the top of the fog. From Twilight’s perch on a small cloud above the action, it looked like great beasts were raking the fog with giant claws, rapidly beginning to disperse the mist. A short distance away, Rainbow Dash was coordinating the groups of fliers. When the lines torn through the fog crossed, the other half of the weather team would swoop in and lift the remnant pieces of cloud away to be reused elsewhere.
“Alright, looking good so far everypony! Flitter, Cloudchaser and Thunderlane, I want you guys clearing the south sky. Snowflake, can you head over and give Blossomforth and Dust Devil a hoof taking out those cloud chunks?” called out Dash.
Dash observed the progress for a few more minutes, then flitted over to where Twilight was watching the show. “Hey Twi, we should have this wrapped up in about twenty minutes or so. You sure you don’t wanna give it a try?”
Twilight shook her head and looked back down, sweeping her eyes across the town. The fog, however, was still covering too much of the area to see anything useful. “Ohhh, no. I learned my lesson on jumping into jobs without experience or training from Winter Wrap-Up, thank you very much. I’ll just help you keep things organized from here. Hopefully somepony will spot you-know-who soon.”
Dash just smirked and folded her forehooves over her chest. “Well you’re not gonna learn about being part pegasus if you don’t dive in and try, y’know.”
“I got up here, didn’t I?” Twilight countered.
“Yeaaah, we still gotta work on that, too,” Rainbow shot back with a grin, rubbing the side where Twilight had crashed into her.
Twilight was just about to retort, when a flash of green flame signalled the arrival of a letter. A small scroll swirled into existence in front of Twilight, which she barely caught in her magic before gravity or wind could decide to take hold.
“What’s it say?” Dash asked, leaning in to peek as Twilight opened the scroll.
“It’s from Spike. He says Octavia found her trail out by the edge of the Everfree, and they’re waiting to hear back from me.” Twilight stood up, trying to hide a furtive glance at the alien sun while she shook out her wings. “I’m... going to head over and give them a hoof. We probably know the forest a bit better than she does, by now.”
“Awesome! I’m going—”
“—To stay here and keep these teams coordinated?” Twilight interrupted, raising a brow and shooting a knowing smile at her friend.
Rainbow almost pouted in response, but caught herself in time to keep up appearances for anypony but those who knew her best. “Errr, yeah. I guess I’d better do that first.”
Twilight smiled warmly, reaching over to give the suddenly surprised Rainbow Dash a hug. “Thanks so much for helping. I know Trixie’s persona non grata around here, and it means a lot that you can get so much help towards finding her.”
“Hey, I don’t know what the fancy words mean, but I never have a problem helping you out, Twi. Just, try not to lose your psycho again after you find her, kay?”
Twilight tilted her head a little. “Would you feel better if I told you she was literally a different Trixie?”
“…You lost me.”
“I figured as much. Goodbye!” Twilight waved to Rainbow, then stuck her tongue out slightly and wiggled her tail just before she leaped off the cloud. Even though she heard a snorting giggle ring out behind her, she kept her composure and spread out her wings wide, using them to glide towards the spot on the edge of town Spike mentioned in his brief letter.
’I still don’t understand what’s so funny.’
Despite the apparent darkness, Trixie knew the first step in her escape was being able to see what she was doing again. Slowly and calmly she rubbed the side of her head against her foreleg. Over and over, she would rub in the same direction, lift her head, lower it and repeat. Bit by bit the blindfold inched higher, until what felt like hours later the first crack of light was visible to the bottoms of her eyes. She couldn’t give up there, though, and with several more long minutes of single-minded persistence in her task, the rough cloth had slid up to the tops of her eyelids, finally giving her a good view of her surroundings.
She had been partially right in her earlier assumption. This was a cave, or at least, it had been originally. Somepony had fashioned an existing cavern into a storage cellar, as evidenced by rows of jar-filled shelves lining the walls deeper inside. At the other end of the room was a curving stone staircase, which followed the natural contour of the cavern upwards to a heavy wooden door. There were no windows or lights present, though a bit of natural light was filtering down through the air shaft she had correctly assumed was cut into the roof. The ‘bed’ she was laying on was simply a bit of straw that had been thrown down on the cold, natural cavern floor. The only other feature in the room with her was a small table just out of reach, with a single unlit candle on top.
The chained manacles binding her hooves, a rather unusual feature for a cellar, seemed to be a recent addition—there was still fresh stone dust around the impact points where they’d been driven into the wall and floor. Trixie tried giving a solid, coordinated tug, hoping the connections might be loose, but even after several minutes of exertion they hadn’t budged a bit.
’Right. Can’t break the mortar… What about the lock?’ Trixie recalled reading about several occasions where Hoofdini had proven he could escape from cuffs simply by banging the lock against something hard, should they have been constructed crudely enough. She looked down to the manacles binding her rear legs together and tried to twist them so they were facing the ground. Then with all the strength and leverage she could manage in her position, she bucked them hard against the ground right on the locks—to no avail. All she got for her effort was several sparks and an ache in her legs.
She winced, biting her lip gently. ’Oww… okay… plenty of methods left to try. What’s next?’ Trixie blinked a few times, forcing the slipping blindfold back to the top of her eyelids again. She screwed up her face in concentration and lit up her horn, illuminating the room momentarily in the soft blue of her aura. She used it to lift a long, supple length of straw from the floor and up towards the tumbler of one of the locks binding her forelegs. Carefully, she stuck the straw into the hole, but as soon as it entered she felt her control of the straw inside the lock fail. The magic-proof material was keeping her from manipulating anything once it got inside; she would have to do this the hard way.
Trixie maintained her breathing in long, smooth breaths, forcing herself to remain calm and steady as she worked. The straw was pushed carefully into the lock in a way so it would curve around the back wall of the tumbler and come back out across from where it entered, but it was slow going. Precious time ticked by, though she couldn’t tell how long this was taking her. She pulled the straw out and was about to start again when she realized the end had completely frayed inside the lock.
’Oh ponyfeathers, now what?’ She sighed, tossing the straw aside and looking away, trying to collect her thoughts. She stared at features of the room some more, searching for inspiration. When her eyes fell on the candle sitting on the table, it finally struck.
Aiming carefully, Trixie shot a short firework spark from her horn, cheering inwardly when the magic hit its mark and ignited the candle. She then levitated a fresh length of straw over to it. When the wax began to melt and build up, she dipped the ends of the straw into the wax carefully, then brought it back over to have another go at the lock. The now sealed end of the straw had no problem slipping around the inside of the lock and coming back out the other side, effectively lassoing the screw inside. With a final, solid yank, the bolt clicked into place and the first manacle fell open at last.
Trixie yanked the muzzle off her face and smiled triumphantly, setting herself to the task of freeing the rest of her limbs. 'If only Hoofdini could see me now.'
Octavia scanned the bushes at the edge of the forest, looking for some clue they could start with when whatever backup was coming arrived. She tested the air for the scent she’d followed this far, but just got a noseful of the unnatural flora of the Everfree. Very little sunlight was filtering into this section of the forest as well, cutting visibility beyond a few yards of underbrush.
“I don’t get it, why would she have come through here?” asked Spike, hopping off her back. “Not only is going in there alone crazy—well unless you’re Zecora, I guess—but the only path in and out of the forest is down by Fluttershy’s place!”
“I cannot presume to understand the mind of somepony like Trixie.” Octavia shrugged, somewhat distracted from the conversation as she tried to focus on finding some signs of passage. “Though considering her first order of business was to get separated from Princess Twilight, I’m not certain what to think of this situation.”
“Yeah, like I said, I don’t get it.” Spike threw up his arms in exasperation. “And why’d Twi decide to bring her to Ponyville today of all days, anyways? It’s almost like she wanted Trixie to get eaten by a bunch of angry vampires.”
Octavia paused in what she was doing, glancing back to Spike after a moment. “It isn’t my place to question a Princess.” She frowned, turning her attention back to a somewhat displaced bush she’d just noticed.
That concentration was broken when a cheerful “Hiya!” from her immediate left nearly sent her jumping out of her skin.
“Augh!” shrieked Octavia, her eyes going wide as saucers while her pupils shrunk to pinpricks. Pinkie Pie, standing right next to her now, devolved into a fit of giggles, giving Octavia enough time to regain her composure. She chose to do this by carefully applying a hoof to her forehead and sighing. “Oh, hello Miss Pie.”
“Hiya! Oh I said that already, didn’t I? Hee!” Pinkie beamed at the two. "Whatchadoin' Tavi?"
"Tavi?" Spike asked.
"Please do not call me that..." warned Octavia, glancing specifically back at Spike.
"Why not? I think it's cute—eeaugh!!" He backpedaled as Octavia hissed fiercely at him with all her vampiric might—an expression that turned simply to a deadpan glare at Pinkie when the bouncy pony wrapped a hoof around her neck and pulled her close in a one-armed hug.
"Oooh, that was a good one, Tavi! You're getting really scary!" Pinkie grinned and giggled playfully. Octavia just sighed and rolled her eyes.
"Hey, how come she gets to call you that?"
"Because," grumbled the musician, adjusting her bowtie back into place, "I learned a long time ago that there's no fighting it whenever Miss Pie is involved. Isn't that right, Diane?"
"Huh?" He blinked, even more confused than ever.
Octavia smirked. "She gets to call me 'Tavi', I get to call her 'Diane'. It's the only remotely proper name she has."
"And believe me, I have a lot of names!" Pinkie laughed.
The sound of flapping wings approaching behind and above the group alerted Octavia to the one she’d been waiting for. As she turned to gaze at the sky, she noticed the fog was starting to disperse across the town, and spotted groups of pegasi streaking through the clouds. She also spotted Twilight gliding down to meet them. Her enhanced sense of hearing picked up Twilight muttering, “Alright, now lean back…” to herself.
“It’s working! W-whoa!” Twilight cried as she swooped down, but then she leaned a little too far back. Everyone present winced and covered their eyes as the princess unceremoniously bounced off the ground, then skidded a dozen feet on her rump before coming to a stop.
“Oh man, are you okay Twi?” shouted Spike, while he and Pinkie ran over immediately to see if she was hurt.
“Nnhhh… oww… y-yeah… I think I’m okay… Good thing I’m a bit more durable than I used to be, heh.” Her cheeks burned an unsubtle shade of crimson while Spike helped her up. “I guess I still need to work on those landings.”
Pinkie grinned. “Hee, yeah, I can see why you still just teleport everywhere!”
“Pinkie? What are you doing here?” asked Twilight with a puzzled expression.
“Well I overheard that Trixie was lost and needed somepony to find her, so I went and I checked all over Ponyville but she wasn’t here at all! But then Berry Punch told me she saw her going into the forest and even though she was big mean meaniepants last time she was in town, it seemed so important to you that she got brought back safe so I went in and looked for her! Buuuuut I just finished checking the forest and she’s not in there anymore either.”
Twilight raised an eyebrow. “Oh… kay. Wait, you already checked the whole town? And the entire Everfree Forest? By yourself. How?! It’s only been an hour!”
“With my eyes, uh-doy!” replied Pinkie.
Twilight looked like she was starting to say something, but it was muffled by the lavender hoof suddenly covering her face.
Octavia decided enough was enough, walking over to gently comfort Twilight with a hoof on her shoulder. “Try not to think about it too hard.”
“Does that help?”
“...Not really, no,” Octavia deadpanned.
Twilight sighed, took a deep breath while moving her hoof to her chest, and then slowly let it out as she extended her hoof forward. Octavia could sense the tension releasing from the princess as she did, much to her relief. “Alright. Well if she’s not in there anymore then maybe we can figure out where she went? Let’s go over and check the path for clues.”
Pinkie beamed, breaking out the Sherlock and Watson hats, magnifying glass and bubble pipe. However, before they could get any further, the amethyst pendant hanging from Twilight’s neck began to glow. It rapidly brightened from a faint glimmer to a brilliant shine, illuminating the field. Octavia had to cover her eyes to avoid being blinded until the light faded to a less blinding, but still constant glow, but by then Twilight was already quietly walking towards Fluttershy’s cottage.
“My goodness, what was that?” The vampony winced and blinked several times while releasing the focus she’d put on her vision, still shielding her eyes until they faded from glowing red to their natural lavender color.
“Hey guys?” called Pinkie Pie, waving a hoof in front of Twilight’s eyes as she walked, “Something’s wrong with Twilight!”
“Twilight? Hey, snap out of it!” pleaded Spike, but her walk started to pick up speed instead. In moments she was charging towards Fluttershy’s home at a full gallop, closing the distance of a football field in under a minute with her companions in chase.
Trixie rubbed her sore hooves after the final lock clicked, thrilled not only to be free at last, but that her studies in practical stage magic had paid off so well.
’Hmm, maybe I should start doing my act again purely as an escape artist? Heh, if I wasn’t fearing for my life right now, I’d say that was almost... fun!’
She smirked to herself at the thought and got up on her hooves, taking a better look around. Candlelight now illuminated most of the cellar, and with the darkness dispelled she was able to find her discarded gear. It had been thrown into a haphazard pile at the back of one of the aisles of shelves, but other than a generous coating of floor dust it looked no worse for wear.
’Well, Rarity isn’t going to like this, but at least I didn’t lose my investment already...’
She grumbled a little and dusted the expensive ‘exploration outfit’ off, then used her magic to aid in quickly getting dressed. It definitely seemed easier now to her; the clothes and saddlebags felt lighter in her magical grasp than they had that morning, and she could even lift and put on the heavier vest with it now. Once finished getting dressed, she started examining the contents of the cellar for something she could use if her attacker returned.
There were at least a dozen shelves and many more boxes filled with food: mason jars filled with preserved fruit, scores of canned vegetables, two pallets of food-grade hay (sealed in serving-sized bags), and three untapped barrels of cider. The other half of the storage area was filled with food obviously meant for small animals, such as bird seed, acorns, carrots and the like. She certainly wouldn’t go hungry or thirsty if she ended up trapped in here. However, nothing stuck out as useful as a means of defense or escape.
She walked to the other end of the room to examine the door leading to freedom, pausing along the way to examine the magic-negating cloth that had been used to blind and muzzle her. They looked like ordinary blue strips of fabric, but her magic simply failed when she tried to lift them in it.
’Strange stuff, I’ve never heard of null crystals in my world. Who knows, maybe this could be useful? Or valuable...’
With a small smile she scooped the two pieces of fabric up and stuffed them in one of her suit’s pouches, then climbed the stone steps to the door. She tried pushing it open, but the door only budged a few millimeters before it thudded against the bolt latching it shut. Blue light shone from under her hood as she tried to telekinetically open the bolt, but just like the null fabric, her magic simply slid right off without finding purchase.
’Great, whoever she is even planned for if I got this far! There isn’t even a window or a keyhole to work with here! Great. I guess it’s time for my desperation plan. Now where are those air shafts?’
Twilight couldn’t remember ever feeling this bizarre sensation before, having no control over her own body. It was frightening, but from the standpoint of a scholar of magic, exhilarating at the same time. At least seven—no, eight questions had popped in her mind just in the short trip across the field to the cottage, and she couldn’t wait to ask Princess Celestia all of them when she got home.
’Okay, sure, this is a little scary, and maybe a bit inconvenient, and I can see it happening at a terrible time on another world and being unable to do anything about it, but Princess Celestia made it, I should be perfectly safe! Right? Though it is experimental magic, with possibly unforeseen side effects and maybe a glitch or two to be ironed—oh dear…’
Fortunately, before her thoughts could make way for abject terror, Twilight started to feel control of her body returning to her. The glow of the pendant dimmed as she opened the front door to Fluttershy’s home and stepped inside. Finally it went dark again, leaving a puzzled and somewhat worried Twilight Sparkle standing in front of Fluttershy’s coffee table, staring at the cover of a thick, purple book.
Twilight blinked a few times, shaking her head to clear the cobwebs, and read the cover out loud. The others finally caught up with her as she did, filtering into the room with her. “The Curse of Queen Vespa?”
“Oh hello Twilight!” came a voice from the other end of the room. Looking up, Twilight spotted a yellow-coated mare smiling back at her, with olive green eyes and a two-tone rose colored mane. Upon her flank was the image of a single rose. “Yeah, Discord was reading that this morning. Something about ‘catching up on what he missed.’”
“Wait, Discord was actually reading? But… but that actually makes sense! He usually just eats the paper...” grumbled Twilight, recalling the time he ate the pages out of a whole section of her spellbook collection.
“Yes, once he did that with my sheet music,” added Octavia. “Then he replaced it with sour eggnog.” She shivered at the memory. “Most unpleasant. Good evening, Roseluck.”
“Nice to see you again, Octavia.” Roseluck smiled, then shrugged helplessly. “Anyways, you got me there, Twi. I practically live with these two and I still don’t understand him most of the time.”
“Hmmm…” Twilight furrowed her brow and brought her attention back to the book. ’Something about this, I think it’s what was calling me...’
She sat down on the couch and turned the book towards herself, flipping it open to the first page. Spike and Pinkie Pie turned to each other and shrugged, then wandered over to make small talk with Roseluck, but she tuned out the spoken words and turned her entire focus to the written ones. Meanwhile, Octavia simply sat quietly on the other side of the couch, observing the princess with a curious gleam in her eyes.
The Curse of Queen Vespa
In the year 1262 PD, Princess Luna surprised her sister on her birthday with a beautiful rearrangement of the night sky, especially in her honor. However, the stars streaming across the night sky for Luna's presentation had the unforeseen side effect of triggering a stellar alignment. As a result, the spirit of King Sombra was set free, and he returned from his banishment to once again attempt a takeover of Equestria.
As the Crystal Empire was still lost to him, sealed away in a bubble in time by the princesses, he turned his attention to a race of creatures who had taken to living near the Crystal Mountains: The Changelings. At the time they were a peaceful race, coexisting in harmony with the pony and gryphon tribes, but Sombra planted a seed of darkness in their hearts. Before anypony had realized what was going on, Vespa, Queen of the Changelings, had been corrupted by the Shadow King, their two minds occupying one body.
She began leading a silent and bloodless revolution, taking over the land one city at a time. Thanks to the natural stealth of their people, it was months before anypony even realized what was happening. In this time Sombra and Vespa had enslaved nearly a quarter of the pony population.
Upon learning of the crisis their nation was faced with, the Princesses rallied the forces of Equestria to stand in defense against the dark alliance. Armed conflict was imminent, but Celestia insisted upon attempting a diplomatic solution, despite the warnings of her younger sister. She arrived at the front line of the standoff, escorted by half a legion of the Celestial Guard, and found Queen Vespa waiting to state her terms.
Sadly, Celestia’s downfall came in not knowing the true power behind Vespa’s sudden aggression against her ponies: As she began her speech to try to dissuade the changelings from fighting, Sombra’s spirit rose into the back ranks of her guard, spreading his corrupting influence through the crowd and warping their minds. Before Celestia knew what was happening, she was surrounded by her own guard, now Sombra’s willing puppets. She tried to fight back, but was eventually subdued by the combined forces of the changelings and the corrupted guardsponies, allowing Sombra to twist her mind. The mighty Sol Invictus had become a slave to evil.
Survivors of the ensuing battle warned Luna of what happened, and the Princess of the Night decided to bring the Elements of Harmony to bear in one massive, final confrontation to end the war as soon as possible. History knows but fragments of the ensuing clash between the sisters, only that both the Elements strengthened Luna and her Night Guard to become immune to Sombra’s influence, and made them an even match for the three villains combined.
Vespa, now fully twisted by Sombra, hatched a vile and desperate plan to try to tip the scales back in their favor. She ordered Celestia to blacken out the sun with dark magic, reasoning that their dark-magic enhanced army would become even more powerful under its altered rays. This was just the trigger Luna needed to stop holding back, however, and before Celestia could finish altering the sun she fired the full force of the Elements of Harmony at her sister, catching Vespa in the blast wave as well.
Miraculously, Celestia was freed of Sombra’s control by the elements, her mind and body returning to normal by the power of Harmony. Vespa and Sombra weren’t so lucky: both of them vanished without a trace. It is theorized that they were both too far gone to save, and so the Elements simply eradicated them. Regardless, the war had ended.
The curse Vespa ordered placed upon the sun, however, proved irreversible, despite many attempts to restore it. The shift in our celestial body did however have many positive and unintended side effects. Magic as a whole has become stronger and easier to wield in the light of day, which in turn has enhanced the growth of plants across Equis rather than stunting it. Vamponies, now able to walk in the light of the sun without fear, also eventually emerged from their isolation and joined pony society at large during a period of peaceful cultural exchange now known as ‘The Melding.’
“Wow…” spoke Twilight breathlessly as she finished the first chapter of the book. ’Hmmm, 1262 PD? That’s Post Discordia, the last calendar system before CR. If I remember correctly, that puts this date at… 72 CR: 930 years ago.’
Twilight triple checked her math and nodded silently to herself. Then her eyes widened in realization. “So there was never a Nightmare Moon?” she blurted out before she could stop herself.
Octavia tilted her head, regarding Twilight with intrigue. “Pardon me, nightmare what?”
“Err…. Don’t worry about it, it’s probably not important, eheh...” bluffed Twilight, scratching the back of her head and chuckling unconvincingly. She turned the next page, but instead of finding the second chapter, a hole had been carved into the remaining pages and a small jewelry box had been placed in the hollowed-out square inside.
“Oh come on!” Twilight exclaimed, flaring her wings irately while she lifted the box out of the destroyed book in her magic. “Why does he always have to destroy a perfectly good boo…” She trailed off as soon as she opened the box, where inside rested a shining lavender mote of energy. She watched, mesmerised, as it floated merrily up from the box and melted into her horn, causing the entire room to light up for just a second. Familiar memories of her brother and Cadence when she was a filly flitted through her mind, and she felt a warm sense of love spread through her body from head to tail. When the light faded, everypony was staring at Twilight, jaws agape at what they’d just seen.
“Whoa… Twilight, what was with the light show just now?” asked Spike, walking over next to her.
“W-well, it’s a little hard to explain,” she began to say.
“Ooh, look, there’s a note!” chimed in Pinkie, who had popped up behind the couch to look over Twilight’s shoulder. Sure enough, a notecard was resting on the bottom of the box, which Twilight picked up and read:
My Dearest Twilight 2.0,
Enjoy the book? By the way, I do believe this belongs to you!
Do try to keep better track of your things, would you? You seem to be losing them with alarming frequency lately.
-Discord, Lord of Chaos, Draconequus Extraordinaire Esquire, blah blah etceteras.
P.S. Be a dear and tell me I said 'Hello', would you?
“I— but— how— what?” Twilight screwed up her face, struggling for the right words.
While Pinkie gave Twilight a comforting hug, Octavia scooted over and read the note herself. “Ahhhh, I see.”
“I-It’s not scientifically possible!” Twilight complained.
Octavia smirked slightly and nodded. “Remember my advice for Diane? It goes double for Discord.”
Twilight gently placed her hoof over her face and shook her head, while Pinkie just hugged all the more. Roseluck chuckled softly and turned back to the dishes she was washing, though her attention was focused out the window above the sink, overlooking the backyard.
“I still don’t get it,” said Spike.
“Yes, I would like to know exactly what just happened as well, if that’s alright?” chimed in Octavia.
“Well…” Twilight frowned a little. ’What can I say without giving too much away?’ “It’s a side effect of some of my research. I lost a few things, and for whatever reason Discord had one of them here.” When the others just looked more confused, she added, “Don’t worry, assuming we find Tr—umm, you know who, I should be back to the Twilight you all know by the end of the day.”
Octavia nodded again. “Right. Speaking of which, we should probably get back to that,” she said, hopping off the couch with the others following suit.
“Right. Um, goodbye Roseluck, it was nice to see you?” Twilight smiled awkwardly.
“Leaving already?” asked Roseluck, turning back to Twilight with a small smile on her face. “You really should say hi to Fluttershy before you go, I’m sure she’d like that.” Rose set the last dish in the drying rack and pointed out the window facing the backyard. When Twilight’s eyes followed the hoof, she finally saw her.
Fluttershy was wearing a leg brace on her right foreleg, and when she moved she took slow, careful steps. Her wings were in little better condition: they looked unkempt and wet, perhaps from some kind of ointment, with feathers out of place from a lack of preening—though Twilight caught a few glints of metal among them as she moved. Her mane was also disheveled and limp, and it seemed to Twilight that she hadn’t been taking care of it like she normally would. On top of all of this, Fluttershy was wearing an aquamarine cloth around her eyes like a blindfold, tucked mostly under her mane.
“Fluttershy…” Twilight felt an ache inside, seeing her most gentle friend in such a state.
“The physical therapy has been going well so far, Dr. Trauma says she should finally be free of the braces in a few more months.” Roseluck smiled a little. “This morning she said she wanted to join everypony for the Running of the Leaves when they come off.”
Rose sighed quietly, her smile fading, and looked Twilight in the eyes. “Still not much hope for her vision, though… I just wish we could figure out some way to convince her to just let Discord use his powers to heal her. He keeps offering, she keeps refusing, and I can’t understand for the life of me why. Whatever it is, she still won’t tell anypony.”
Roseluck looked back out the window, watching Fluttershy tend to her chickens. “Well, whatever the case, I’ll just keep doing what I always do and help her take care of herself. I owe so much more, but for now it’s the least I can do.”
Twilight nodded, gazing back through the window to her friend until she felt a hoof on her shoulder. It was Octavia, who gave her a faint smile, but her eyes were stern. “We should go. She doesn’t need to get more involved.”
“Twitcha TWITCHA twitch..!” All eyes suddenly fell on Pinkie Pie and her alarmingly twitching tail.
”Take cover!” yelled Spike, diving under the coffee table.
Then Pinkie’s left eyelid blinked rapidly, followed by her ears flopping twice. “Ooohh, I love fireworks!” she beamed.
Outside, the sky erupted as a tower of brilliant golden sparks shot up in a thin stream nearby, coming out of the top of a large rocky mound where Fluttershy’s cellar was built. A loud, heavy thud and an ear-splitting clattering of metal accompanied the abrupt landing of the remains of a stovepipe style spout cover. It came crashing to the ground just yards away from Fluttershy and her animals, causing the timid pegasus to shriek in terror. In the sky, the sparks erupted into a display of fireworks in the shape of Trixie’s moon-and-wand cutie mark.
“What the buck?!” yelled Roseluck, dashing out the back door immediately.
“She’s involved now. Let’s go!” commanded Twilight, leading the rest outside to see what was going on.
’Where on Equis did that much energy come from? I just meant to send up a flare, not fire a cannon!’
Trixie furrowed her brow, getting into position behind the door. ’It just happened when I felt the light hit my horn… Oh well. Everypony will have seen that, including whoever put me down here. But I’m ready for her, whoever she is won’t catch Trixie by surprise again!’
Trixie braced herself as she heard the bolt raggedly being thrown open. She could hear yelling outside, multiple voices coming closer in a hurry, but Trixie assumed whoever had gotten here first must be the one that put her here in the first place. The door creaked outwards, a figure appeared in the light and Trixie bucked with all her might—busting through a weak and hastily thrown up magic barrier and sending Twilight flying backwards into a pile of hay.
“Hah! Nopony assaults Trixie and gets away wi—S-Sparkle? Uh oh...”
Trixie walked out into the waning sunlight at last, getting a look at everypony gathered in front of Fluttershy’s winter storage. There was Twilight, thankfully was getting up from the buck looking none the worse for wear. Fluttershy herself was hobbling her way across the yard with some help from Spike.
A musician she vaguely remembered from Canterlot was there as well, furtively glancing between Trixie and an irate-looking mare whose eyes were suddenly glowing a bright red. They might have complimented her mane nicely if the stranger didn’t look like she was trying to fire death beams at her with them. She snarled menacingly at Trixie, baring her fangs and losing herself rapidly to rage.
“Uh-” began Trixie, her eyes widening as far as they could go.
”You! I’ll tear you APART!” shrieked Roseluck, her voice warping frighteningly mid-sentence into a twisted facsimile of the Royal Canterlot Voice. She charged and lunged only to get tackled by Octavia, whose eyes were now glowing just as red.
“Control yourself! Rosel—Roseluck! Listen to me! S-she is not your enemy!” Octavia yelled, struggling to keep the furious vampony pinned to the ground.
Trixie backpedaled until she hit the cellar door, but didn’t dare to tear her eyes away from the scene to find an escape route. “Oh p-ponyfeathered horseapples! L-listen to her! I’m not b-b-bad!”
“You hurt everypony! You wanted to kill me! You tried to kill Fluttershy! SHE’S BLIND BECAUSE OF YOU!!
“It w-wasn’t m-me! I’m a dif-f-ferent pony! I’m not th-that Trixie!” she cried, starting to panic.
“I believe you.”
Everything stopped when the voice of Fluttershy rang out, her words somehow cutting cleanly through all the rage and silencing it. She hobbled serenely over between Roseluck and Trixie, facing the terrified magician.
“It’s been a long time, Trixie. I was worried about you.”
“Fluttershy..?” asked Roseluck, her eyes losing their murderous gleam.
“I knew you weren’t an evil pony, you know. Yes, the things you were doing were scary and bad, but you couldn’t help yourself, it was that curse! Oh you must have been so scared... When I tried to stop you, for just a moment I saw the real you underneath it all, in your eyes. You looked more terrified than anypony I’d ever seen! So when you started to lose yourself again I did the only thing I knew was right. I stayed, and I kept on trying to help you come back, because no matter what that amulet was making you do to us, you needed someone there for you.”
Trixie bit her lip while her eyes roamed over Fluttershy’s disabled body, and she found tears welling up in her eyes from the demure pegasus’ words, despite not understanding the whole story. ’The other me here did… Then I could have… Oh, Celestia…’
“When I woke up, they told me you wouldn’t be coming back. I’m glad you did, though, because I’ve waited a long time to say this: I forgive you, Trixie. And I’m sorry I wasn’t strong enough to help you.”
Fluttershy smiled and hugged the stunned Trixie, who weakly returned the gesture. She then hobbled over to where Octavia was letting the now calmer Roseluck back up on her hooves. Trixie couldn’t help but see the fresh wet trails rolling down Fluttershy’s cheeks from under her blindfold. She hugged Roseluck tightly and her body shuddered in a quiet sob, which dissolved the remains of the flower vendor’s anger.
“Roseluck, you’ve done so much for me. Thank you. But I think… I think everything’s going to be okay now.”
Nearby, Spike tugged Twilight down so he could whisper in her ear. “Isn’t anypony going to ask how Trixie ended up in Fluttershy’s cellar?”
Twilight just smiled wryly down to the little dragon and ruffled his spines, whispering back, “Don’t ruin the moment.”
Hours later, everypony had said their goodbyes and parted, leaving Twilight and Trixie walking back through Ponyville towards their gateway home. The air was clear and warm now, and not a hint that there had ever been any fog remained. This world’s night sky looked no different than the night sky back home, which was a refreshing change from the world’s bizarre sun.
“Did you really have to sneak into your own library and steal some books before we left?” chuckled Trixie, her smirk once again hidden behind her mask.
“I didn’t steal them, I borrowed them. There’s a difference! I just want to make a copy of these studies on vamponies when we get home. Plus now I’m really curious what’s in the rest of this book,” she claimed, pointing at a floating and fully intact copy of ‘The Curse of Queen Vespa’ before tucking it back in her saddlebag.
“You’ve read every other book in your library already, haven’t you?”
Twilight hesitated for just a moment. “At least twice,” she admitted.
“Heh. Sooo, Find your mote?”
“Mhmm, did you find yours?”
“Yes,” Trixie nodded. “and then I got blackjacked on the back of the head and locked in a cellar.”
Twilight uttered a small laugh. “Yikes. This has been quite an adventure for only… what’s it been, six hours?”
“Something like that.” Trixie sighed, looking back towards the forest as they reached the fountain. “It gave me a lot to think about…”
They stepped over the edge of the dry fountain and through the disguised portal back to their own world.
“Me too. And this is just the beginning!” She stopped just long enough to yawn. “Still, that’s more than enough for one day, I’m going straight to bed after this.”
Discord sat in a tall velvet chair in front of a lit fireplace, the only source of light in the unfamiliar reading room. He casually ate a few pages from a book as a cloaked figure walked up next to him, whom he smiled down towards.
“Well done, my dear, well done indeed! I say, your cutie mark should have been in acting, instead of… well, whatever bubbles are supposed to represent.” He smirked and snapped his fingers, making a muffin appear floating in the air.
“Thanks!” beamed the cloaked mare as she took the gift. “It was actually kinda fun. I hope I didn’t hurt her too much, though.”
“Oh don’t be silly, my young protege, she’ll be fine.”
Discord pulled out a plastic bubble pipe and puffed on it, blowing smoke rings out his ears. “You know, even I didn’t see this one coming, and that’s saying something. Another Trixie, and already reformed to boot? Quite fortuitous, I must say. This town needed some closure, especially my dear Fluttershy.”
He snapped his claws again, a pair of reading glasses appearing on his face simply so he could take them off and rub the bridge of his nose. “It recently became clear to me that my dearest friend bore her injuries as a sign of tribute, after failing to save Trixie.“
The cloaked mare tilted her head curiously up at him. “If that’s the case, why didn’t we just get the real Trixie to help?”
Discord turned and looked out a window into the night sky. “Because the real Trixie, well, our Trixie that is, didn’t survive Twilight’s greatest mistake. That nonsense about sending her to prison? Just a cover story to make the poor citizens of Ponyville feel better. The Alicorn Amulet was never meant to be removed by force, after all, and by then its influence had deeply taken root. They rushed her to Canterlot Hospital right away, but alas, poor Lulamoon’s heart simply couldn’t take the strain…”
He leaned down and booped the mare on the nose with the tip of his pipe, causing smoke rings to pop out of her ears as well. “Let that be a lesson to you, young lady—never use a magical macguffin from a shady shop without at least reading the manual. Otherwise things get, messy.”
The mare rubbed her nose and nodded. “Does anypony else know?”
“Aside from the princesses, just you and I, though I suspect Fluttershy was aware as well. Oh, and you, of course” he finished, pointing a finger straight at the one viewing these events. “Do try not to forget, would you?”
Twilight woke up with a start, looking around her bedroom blearily.
“Dsscor?” She blinked a few times, laying back down. “Mmh, jussa dream..?”
As she fell back asleep, a fine stream of pink mist flowed off of her horn and out the window, coalescing into a small pink cloud before it drifted away.
Spike scurried about the library with an armful of books, placing each one back in its assigned spot on the shelves with the practiced care and ease which came from having done this many times before. Around him three more books floated into place, each wrapped in the familiar violet glow of Twilight’s magic. A few beads of sweat collected on her forehead as she strained under the effort, but eventually she managed to float all of the books to their respective shelves without mishap.
’To think, just over a week ago I could’ve done that in my sleep... And just a few days ago I couldn’t have done that at all!’ Twilight smiled a bit, proud of her small accomplishment.
“Phew. I think that’s the last of it, Twi!”
Twilight nodded and looked around now spic and span library. The two of them had spent the morning finally cleaning up the gargantuan mess she had created from her recent fits of research, and it showed. The floor was no longer a maze of towering stacks of books. All her notes and writing supplies had been neatly organized atop her desks. Even the wooden statue which was the room’s centerpiece had been dusted and polished.
“Great work, Spike. Thanks for helping me out today. Here, it should be about time for lunch, and I think you’ve earned yourself a break.” She walked over and ruffled his spines as she spoke, levitating a pair of gems over to him.
“Ooohh, thanks Twi! But what about you?” he asked, grasping a gem in each hand.
Twilight glanced over to her writing desk. “I’ll grab something in a bit, I have a bit of writing I’d like to get done first.”
“Alright, just don’t forget to eat again.” Spike waved absently at the thought and scampered off to the kitchen to enjoy his meal, a little drool already evident at the corner of his mouth.
Twilight rolled her eyes and smiled at her assistant as he ran off. ’Some things never change.’
She trotted over to her writing desk and used her magic to collect a blank notebook from the shelf above it. She then lifted a quill from its surface, dipped it neatly in ink, and wrote in practiced calligraphy upon the cover: ‘Exploration Log: Supplemental.’
Personal log of Twilight Sparkle.
First Entry. June 17, 1002 CR
I’ve decided to start keeping a separate journal of my experiences with our mirror, to record my own thoughts and the goings-on at home between expeditions.
Things have been progressing well so far, for the most part. It’s already been one week now since my experiment landed Trixie and I in our first alternate reality. Trixie has actually been adjusting well to Ponyville, and thanks to the girls, news that she’s turned over a new leaf has started spreading through town.
She’s been staying with me since she came to town, though she still spends a lot of her time holed up in her trailer out back. She told me at first that was because she was trying to figure out what was wrong with our pendants. After we left the world with the violet sun, however, our magic diminished to almost nothing again, making that almost impossible. I wasn’t aware anypony short of a sailor knew so many, erm... colorful metaphors.
Still, I really am impressed with how much she’s changed over such a short time, and I have to admit, it’s been nice having her as a houseguest. She’s been surprisingly pleasant to be around, has a much wider range of knowledge of magic theory than most of my friends, and has even made a concerted effort to reduce her relapses into talking in the third person. She’s succeeded for the most part on that last point. Now if only I could get her to stop referring to me as ‘Sparkle.’
Speaking of the pendants, our first voluntary jump revealed some... issues with them, which Trixie and I both experienced (and which caused us to get split up), so we had them sent to Celestia and Luna to see if they could figure out what’s wrong. I also informed them of Discord’s ability to manipulate (and box up) my mote, which was worrisome; I hope I don’t have to deal with that too often in the future. Which, of course, means I most likely will.
We do have quite a lot of ground yet to cover in terms of motes and other worlds. At first I was upset that Trixie’s mirror used only the most basic representations of each constellation on its frame, but now I see what a blessing that really was. The Orion constellation alone would have had over 24 stars (and thus worlds) to visit had it been astronomically accurate. As it is, there are only seven—the three belt stars, and one for each limb. Averaging that over fifteen constellations, and… yeah, we could be at this for the next four months, easily.
Knowing this, we decided to go ahead and keep trying to at least finish the Orion cluster while we waited for the pendants to be adjusted or fixed. That of course meant we’d have to enter each world and wait it out while our motes came back naturally. The leftmost star on the belt (See: Exploration Log - AR Orion Zeta) was our first stop after the vampony world…
“I don’t get it, nothing looks different!” Twilight grumbled, reaching for the library door. Indeed, so far the idyllic, peaceful, and entirely normal alternate Ponyville had shown no difference between it and their home dimension.
“Are you sure this is a good idea, Sparkle?” asked Trixie, one eyebrow raised apprehensively as she followed Twilight.
Twilight paused with her hoof on the door. “I can’t help it, who knows how long we’re going to have to wait for our motes? The time will pass easier with some books, and besides, I have to know what’s different here. Checking history books is about the only thing left to try.”
“And if we bump into the other you?”
“Well, I guess now’s as good a time as any to find out what happens.”
Twilight shrugged, pushing the door open and trotting inside, with a reluctant Trixie following close behind. The library interior was thankfully clean and organized, with everything looking to be in its proper place. Even the furniture, walls and floor looked squeaky clean and sparkled with fresh wood polish in the sunlight, and a fresh lemon scent mingled with the familiar smell of knowledge.
“Huzzah, mystery solved. This world’s library isn’t a disaster area. Color me impressed,” Trixie deadpanned, eliciting a huff from Twilight.
Twilight’s retort was cut off as an eerily familiar, but kind voice called downstairs in greeting. “Welcome to the Golden Oak Library! I’ll be down in a minute, make yourselves at home and let me know if you need help finding anything.”
“Huh. Doesn’t sound like you, at least. Different librarian in this world?” Trixie half-whispered with a shrug, then headed over to the fiction section to browse.
Twilight furrowed her brow but followed suit, still intent on grabbing a few history books to read. “Strange, that voice sounds familiar…”
The two found the books they were looking for and found comfortable spots to sit and read, Twilight with a few history books and Trixie with the latest Daring Do novel. Then spent a little while like that, letting the time pass by peacefully with only the sound of turning pages breaking the silence now and then. Eventually Twilight couldn’t help but peek over at what Trixie was reading, and felt a smile creep onto her face when she recognized it.
“I didn’t know you liked Daring Do?”
“Mhmm,” replied Trixie, not looking up, “I like adventure stories. Ms. Yearling really does her research on these legends, too. Sometimes I wonder if it’s possible these stories really happened.”
Twilight laughed softly, “Hah, can you imagine? Rainbow would flip out if Daring Do was a real pony.”
“No way.” Trixie looked up now, a grin plastered on her face. “Rainbow Dash? I didn’t figure her the type!”
Twilight nodded, “Yep, I got her into reading those when she hurt her wing a while back. I’m pretty sure she’s secretly started up a Daring Do fan club now.”
While the two shared a lighthearted giggle over that tidbit of gossip, the sound of hooves descending from upstairs finally came to their ears. From the upper loft emerged not the alternate Twilight, but a very familiar unicorn with a yellow coat and fiery red and yellow mane. She was wearing a pair of black rimmed glasses and levitating a short stack of books along next to her in blob of teal magic. An unmistakable red and yellow sun adorned her flank.
“Sorry about that,” she smiled cheerfully, setting the books down on the central table, “I had a bit more to get done than I thought. Anything I can help you with?”
“Sunset Shimmer…” gasped Twilight, at a loss for words.
“Who?” asked Trixie.
Sunset raised an eyebrow at Twilight, “Uhh, yeah that’s me. Wait a minute...” she walked closer to Twilight, narrowing her eyes a little and peering curiously at her. Before Twilight could stop her, Sunset’s horn glowed and pulled back her hood and mask, revealing Twilight’s face.
“Hey, what are you—” Twilight tried to protest.
“Twilight?” Sunset interrupted with wide eyes, “What’re you doing here, kiddo? You’re supposed to be at the symposium in Canterlot!”
“Well, I, that is—” she stammered, but was interrupted by a sudden gentle zap from Sunset’s horn. “Oww! What was that for?”
Sunset frowned, confusion evident on her face. “Well, you’re not a changeling. Which doesn’t make sense, because I just got a letter from Princess Celestia updating me on how well your speech is going right now at the symposium,” she said, restating for emphasis, ”In Canterlot.”
Trixie looked over at the two worriedly, but couldn’t seem to find any words to add to the conversation.
Twilight opened her mouth to say something, but Sunset waved a hoof to cut her off again, then pinched the bridge of her nose. “Alright, which is it this time? Time travel?”
Twilight hesitated. “No.”
“Thank Celestia, I hate time travel. Mirror pool?”
Twilight and Trixie shared an uncomfortable glance. However, seeing this caused a wave of relief to wash over Sunset Shimmer’s face.
“Ahh. That’s not so bad, then.” She smiled, wrapping a hoof around Twilight’s shoulder. “Well, welcome to our world! Sorry about giving you the fifth degree there.”
Twilight raised a brow, looking up with confusion at how this version of Sunset was taking such a revelation in stride. “Does... this sort of thing happen often?”
Sunset smiled kindly down to Twilight, a look which, to her, seemed entirely alien on the yellow unicorn’s face. “Kiddo, I’ve been helping tutor you since you were a filly. If there’s anything I’ve learned about you over all those years, it’s to be patient, know where the fire extinguisher is at all times, and to expect something crazy at least twice a week.”
Twilight floated over a cup of tea and took a sip, looking out the window. She smiled, watching the town contentedly while remembering how the rest of that visit had gone. After a while she put down her tea, picked up the quill and continued.
It seems in that world, Sunset Shimmer had never lost her patience and left Princess Celestia’s tutelage. When Celestia discovered me during my entrance exam, Sunset had been given the additional task of helping to tutor and watch out for me, even though she was only a few years older than myself. Cadance had even been a foalsitter for both of us! It’s strange, seeing the results of a world that could’ve been if she had only been able to keep her temper in check here at home.
The three of us talked for a while after that. I introduced Sunset to Trixie (who, strangely, she’d never met), and we had a nice time chatting and reading. Our motes eventually came to us and we said our goodbyes. All in all it had been a nice, relaxing and largely uneventful expedition.
Heh, if only the next world had been that tame. As soon as we moved on to one of the ‘limb’ stars the next day (See: Exploration Log - AR Orion Alpha [HOSTILE]), things got weird…
Dull red light had poured out of the mirror since the girls went through, hours ago, illuminating the room with a malevolent glow. It had been relatively quiet for some time, but now a deep, rumbling roar began to echo through the room from the other side of the portal, sounding like the screech of some monstrous beast.
Moments later a twisted, writhing beam of energy shot through the portal and struck the far wall, leaving a jagged and charred line in the wood along its path of contact. Another roar, and a second beam flashed through the room, sending sparks flying where it struck one of Twilight’s dormant machines.
The mirror’s surface broke when Trixie suddenly dove through the portal, crashing down hard with a loud “Oof!” She struggled quickly back to her hooves, bits of charred white fluff flying from her mane as she looked around in panic for the alicorn who had been right behind her.
“Twilight!” she desperately called while turning to face the mirror, spotting the telltale sign of a growing shadow rapidly approaching its surface. Another twisting beam lanced through the portal, causing her to shriek and roll to the side.
“Twilight, come on!” she yelled back into the mirror.
Moments later Twilight barrelled through and skidded a few feet past the portal in her haste, covered head to tail in more of the charred mess.
Trixie scrambled back over and slammed her hoof into the star representing the world they just escaped from, causing the gateway to deactivate with a loud pop. Twilight collapsed to the floor, and the two just lay there for a few minutes, panting and catching their breath.
“Sparkle?” Trixie looked back over her shoulder at Twilight, leveling a dispassionate stare at her.
“Nnnh?” groaned Twilight, looking like she was about to pass out. A glob of white fluff fell out of her mane onto the floor.
Trixie continued, maintaining her blank expression despite how ridiculous her friend looked. “If somepony asks… If you’re a god..? You. Say. Yes!”
Twilight’s response was letting her forehead fall onto her hooves, while grumbling into the floor. “Least we got our motes.”
“Heh, yeah…” Trixie panted, rolling over on her back. “So, tell me. A marshmallow colt?”
Twilight groaned again, lifting her forehead slightly so she could drop it into her hoof once more. “I thought it would be harmless!”
Twilight frowned and rolled her eyes, shaking her head at the memory and scratching out part of what she had started to write.
Well, the less said about that world the better. Trixie even went so far as to cross that star off with a red marker so nopony accidentally opens it again. Besides, I already went into full detail on it in my official report.
One weird thing I've noticed, though? Ever since we returned, I've been kind of afraid to go anywhere near Rarity, but for the life of me I can’t figure out why. Hopefully that will wear off soon.
Anyways, after that trip went sideways we decided to put further expeditions on hold until we have the pendants again. If we run into another hostile universe, we’ll want to collect our motes and escape as quickly as possible. I’m certain the princesses will come through with something soon.
Speaking of which, Luna sent word that she’ll have news soon about the progress they’ve made working with Rainbow Dash. No indication whether it’s good or bad news, but it would really be nice to have another friend along to help. Rainbow’s due to come home tomorrow, so I’ll find out how it went then.
We’ve recovered four motes now. I’ve gotten back the ability to levitate most objects, though only up to three at a time. I tested my other spells, but the only one I could get to work was the one that grows somepony a moustache. Trixie is up to the same strength with her levitation, and now she can make simple fireworks again. It’s progress, for sure, and I’m looking forward to seeing what happens next.
Twilight smiled to herself as she tapped the last period into place, then set the book and quill aside to let the ink dry. Finishing off the last of her tea, she picked up her cup and headed for the kitchen, humming softly as she went. Surprisingly, Pinkie and Trixie were sitting at the kitchen table, and waved to her with unusually large grins as she approached.
“Oh, hi girls—” Twilight began.
Then her hoof hit the trip wire and a giant water balloon landed on her head, soaking her while the two broke down into a fit of giggles.
“It was her idea!” said Pinkie and Trixie simultaneously, still giggling their tails off. A wet hoof managed to find its way to Twilight’s face.
Twilight stood dripping wet, glaring at the ponies currently giggling like madmares in her kitchen. A smirk slowly crept across her face, coupled with the sound of the kitchen faucet turning on as her horn lit up.
“Of course you know, this means war.”
Pinkie and Trixie finally managed to pull themselves together and looked up just in time to see two magically-enveloped spheres of water being hurled towards them. All they managed were a pair of yelps and a frantic scramble out of their seats before they got pelted and soaked as well. Twilight couldn’t help herself any longer and burst into her own fit of giggles, which was quickly joined in by the others.
“That was great!” Pinkie beamed, shaking herself dry before her mane poofed back into place again. “You should totally come pranking with us, Twilight!”
Twilight just smiled and shook her head after she settled down. “As fun as that sounds, I think I’ll pass this time, Pinkie. That was never really my sort of thing, and besides,” she said wryly, looking around at the now dripping kitchen, “somepony has to clean this up.”
“Oh no problem, we’ll help!” chimed Pinkie happily, who suddenly produced three mops and three towels from off to the side, offering one of each to everypony present.
“We will?” asked Trixie with a touch of disdain in her voice, eyeing the mop being offered to her. When Pinkie simply nodded happily, she sighed and relented, levitating the mop and towel over and drying herself off first. “Right… I suppose we’d better keep the water balloons outside from now on.”
With the three ponies working together the kitchen was dried up in no time. Pinkie scooped up the mops when they’d finished, and before anypony thought to look she’d already stashed them wherever it is that Pinkie Pie stashes things. Trixie noticed this and gave Twilight a look, who only returned it with a shrug.
“Thanks girls,” Twilight said. “You two have fun out there. Oh and don’t forget, Rainbow Dash is coming home from Canterlot today!”
“Okie dokie lokie!”
The two turned to leave, but Twilight held Trixie back with a hoof on her shoulder while Pinkie bounced out the door.
“Do you think you’ll be up for another trip tonight?” she asked. “It’s been a few days since our last expedition.”
“Maybe… I just kind of need to clear my head first, though.”
Twilight grinned slightly. “Is that why Pinkie’s got you pulling pranks with her?”
Trixie couldn’t help but smile, looking back outside where the bubbly pink mare was waving happily in at them through a window. “You could say that. Pinkie’s nice, I suppose she takes after her folks like that. And she certainly knows how to get somepony to have fun despite themselves.”
Nodding knowingly, Twilight waved back to Pinkie. “That’s one of the first things I learned about her, too. She really goes out of her way to make ponies happy.”
Trixie felt something register in the back of her mind, but whatever it was just caused her to smile wider. “So I’ve seen. I’ll be back later tonight then, Sparkle.”
“Um, Trixie?” Twilight raised a hoof, her eyes lit up hopefully for a moment, but then she seemed to change her mind. “Err, would you mind stopping at Rarity’s on the way back? She finally managed to fix up our clothes from that last trip.”
“Eh, I suppose,” Trixie said with a subtle shrug, flicking her messy mane as she left.
The wagon’s timeworn hinges gave their familiar groan of protest as Trixie opened the door and stepped inside, the smell of the old wood interior making her feel at home. Specks of dust danced in the light of the morning sun which filtered through the doorway, illuminating the interior well enough for now. Pinkie Pie had temporarily vanished, but Trixie knew the excitable pony would probably pop up again shortly. It gave her a moment’s reprieve to gather her thoughts, as well as her favorite starry cloak, before they’d set off to have some more fun.
In the back a small, older wooden bedframe supported a firm and fairly new mattress, topped with a blue pillow and an old, matching blanket embroidered with her cutie mark. Next to it stood a small nightstand, on which sat a copy of the first Daring Do book. A small heatless candle rested beside it, enchanted to provide light when active, but never burn or run out. In such a cramped living space with so much flammable material nearby, this was an essential convenience.
Her gaze stopped on a shelf filled with notes and books which had been left in the corner to gather dust, the last remnant of her now long-abandoned studies on revenge. She had been a different mare when she last even looked at them closely. For the hundredth time she pondered just throwing it all away, but the information she’d managed to dig up was too potentially valuable to just discard. ‘Maybe I could donate the books to the library, at least.’
Trixie turned to the left side of the trailer, filled to the brim with props she’d used in her act over the years. A blue velvet curtain gathered dust along the left wall, which could fold out to form her stage. Innumerous decks of cards, fake flowers, silk coverings and the like were interspersed before it, along with the larger props such as the box for sawing ponies in half, or the chain-covered ‘Inescapable Chest of Doom.’
She paid little mind to most of it, finding herself drawn over to what had been her very first prop. It was a long, three-sectioned rectangular box made of solid oak which had been painted black, inside and out. Large enough and shaped for a pony to stand inside comfortably, its trick involved closing the hinged doors on the front, sliding in metal dividers between the sections, and moving the boxes containing the ‘split pony’ around the stage before revealing they were perfectly fine.
Trixie smiled as memories of her act came back. She closed her eyes and let her mind wander while gently running a hoof across the aging, slightly chipped paint which coated its dusty surface..
“Whatcha doin’?” piped up Pinkie from the doorway, almost on cue.
Trixie looked over her shoulder, her expression soft and distant from her mind swimming through a sea of nostalgia. “Oh, there you are. I was just thinking how much I miss doing magic sometimes.”
Pinkie tilted her head, not quite comprehending. “Don’t worry, I’m sure you and Twilight will be good as new in no time! Ooh, I know what’ll help, a song montage!”
“Wait, what?” Trixie blinked in disbelief.
Pinkie opened her mouth, took a deep breath, and began to belt out the first notes of a random song when Trixie regained her wits and cut Pinkie off with a hoof over her mouth.
“No, no Pinkie, not what I meant! I mean, I miss doing stage magic. My old act.”
Trixie nodded curtly. “I gave it up after my first trip here. I don’t think you were around that day...” She trailed off and looked back to the old prop again, her smile returning as she felt the aging wood under her hoof. “You know, I got my cutie mark with this old thing.”
Pinkie gasped, pulling a bucket of popcorn out of nowhere and suddenly plopping down on the bed with it. “Story time! Tell me aaaall about it, I love hearing cutie mark stories!”
Just then a deep, melodic male voice intoned through the room, seeming to echo from everywhere at once. “Now as much fun as that sounds, my dear, don’t you ponies have far more interesting things to be doing?”
A shadow which had disguised as collection of Trixie’s stage props unfurled into the mismatched serpentine form of Discord, standing just behind the former showmare.
Trixie turned to the source of the voice and sputtered, her pupils narrowing to dots in shock. “D-D-D-D—”
With a flash Discord was suddenly wearing a reversed ball cap, hoodie and shades, while he broke out a set of turntables and started scratching out a beat. Inexplicably, Trixie found she couldn’t stop stuttering along to the impromptu beat for as long as he kept scratching the records.
“—D-D, D-D, D-D-D, D-D, D-D-D-Discord?”
Another flash and his accessories vanished, replaced with a mischievous grin. “The one and only.” He laughed low and dramatically while Trixie scrambled backwards until she hit the wall.
“Hiya Discord! Are you here for story time too?” Pinkie beamed, waving from the bed like nothing unusual was happening in the slightest. She even offered forward some of her popcorn.
Trixie looked over to Pinkie incredulously. ’The spirit of Chaos just manifested in my wagon! How can she be so calm?’
“Well hello there my little Pinkie. I’m afraid not, though you always do know my favorite snacks!” he chortled playfully, reaching over to squirt a bottle of chocolate syrup on the popcorn only to pull the bucket out from underneath and eat it. Somehow the popcorn remained in bucket-shape regardless, which Pinkie took care of in one surprisingly massive bite.
Discord turned and stepped closer to Trixie, who responded by shrinking down and hiding her face behind her own frazzled mane in a near-perfect imitation of Fluttershy.
“Oh no need to be afraid, my little pony. Why we already have so much in common!” He smiled surreptitiously down at her, vanished, and reappeared behind her, draping an arm around her back and pressing her cheek next to his. “Trixie Lulamoon, formerly The Great and Powerful! Now doing her best to try to, yeugh, reform.” He spat the word like it tasted foul. “Just like me. Why you once even tried to take over the world!” He chuckled, holding up a globe before it popped in a burst of confetti. “Just like me... Though not quite as successfully. Oh yes, so much in common, my dear.”
Discord playfully flicked Trixie on the horn then vanished again, reappearing on the bed next to Pinkie Pie. That simple act made it feel like her entire nervous system had flooded with something spicy and subsequently washed it down with tapioca pudding. A bright pink light flashed across her vision, and when she blinked it away everything was back to normal again—except for a brief craving for chocolate milk.
“W-what did you just do?” she stammered, shaking her head to clear it. Pinkie shot Discord a look of suspicion as well, but he ignored it.
“Just returning a favor somepony insisted I owe you. Nothing to concern yourself about, but now we’re even.” He waved his lion paw dismissively, then clapped his mismatched hands together. “Well then, I do believe you two had some wonderful pranks and mischief to get into. Don’t let me keep you any longer. Ta-tah, out you go!”
“Hey, wait!” “Whee!” Both ponies found themselves swiftly ushered out the door by the draconequus, who closed it firmly behind them and vanished once again.
Trixie stared at the door to her wagon blankly for a minute before speaking up. “What just happened?”
Fog surrounded Twilight as she wandered the streets of Ponvyille that night, cutting visibility to no more than a few meters around her. It was enough.
Broken glass and debris crunched loudly under her hooves. Anytime she approached a structure she just found desolation and ruin: a burned out store; a partially collapsed home leaning atop cracked beams ready to give out; town hall reduced to smoking rubble. Amidst the devastation were signs there had been struggles and… worse. She shivered and forced herself to take a closer look, but she found no ponies among the ruins. Not a soul seemed to exist in this place besides herself.
Just as that thought occurred to her, a cry of terror echoed through the fog ahead. Twilight steeled herself and charged blindly through the fog towards the voice, dodging around the debris that littered the streets. For just a second a pulsating red light lit up the fog just ahead, coupled with somepony screaming in agony.
“Whoever you are, stop this right now!” Twilight heard herself shout, just as she turned a corner into an alleyway made up of rough stone walls.
Near the end of the alley stood Trixie, wearing a pitch black cape and facing the source of the screams. It was Fluttershy, wreathed in a malevolent red glow which held her limp form in midair, matching the red glow pulsating around Trixie’s horn. The unicorn slowly turned her neck to look back at Twilight, and her eyes were simply two blood red pools of light. Cracks of that light were tracing their way outwards from her eyes, and Twilight spotted the Alicorn Amulet around the mare’s throat.
“What’s the matter, Sparkle?” the monster that would be Trixie sneered, “Aren’t we friends yet?”
Red lightning erupted from Trixie’s horn into Fluttershy. Twilight looked on in horror as the pegasus screamed in agony.
Twilight jolted upright with a start, her heart pounding in her chest as she frantically looked about. Gone was the nightmarish fog, replaced by the soothing sight of bookshelves and soft, golden daylight. She took a deep breath and placed a hoof on her chest, feeling her fluttering heart begin to calm down. As she tried to slow her labored breathing to a normal pace, she recognized her familiar work desk beneath her—not that she’d had much work to catch up on lately.
Since her current crisis had begun, the princesses had put Twilight’s already gradual introduction to the duties of royalty on hold. The fact that Equestria’s newest princess had lost most of her magic was now a state secret being kept closely under wraps. Not even the guard or her family knew anything had happened.
Where her head had been resting lay papers showing Rarity’s suggested ‘royal renovations’ to the library—including a tower and parapets—along with a small drool stain in the corner. She blushed a little and wiped it away; it certainly wasn’t the first time she’d dozed off at her desk, and likely wouldn’t be the last.
“Just a nightmare...” She thought aloud, before the knocking of hooves on the front door caught her attention.
“Twilight! Hey egghead, you in there?”
“Dost thou normally address Princess Twilight as such?”
“Well, yeah, it’s what I’ve always called her. You should try it!”
“Ah, a term of endearment! Most intriguing.”
Twilight smiled groggily and straightened her mane a little. ’Sounds like Rainbow’s back, and she brought Luna with her.’ “Spike, would you get the…” She looked around the room but saw no sign of the little dragon. ’Oh right, I remember, he went off to help Apple Bloom with something.’
She shook off the rest of the sleep as she trotted over to the door and opened it, revealing the very ponies she expected. Rainbow looked somewhat haggard, but had a smile on her face nonetheless.
“Greetings, Princess Egghead!” Luna boomed with a bright smile, while Rainbow struggled to contain a snicker.
“I see Rainbow Dash has been a good influence on you.” Twilight deadpanned, running a hoof down her face—much to Luna’s confusion. Rainbow covered her mouth, though it did little to prevent her intensifying snorts and giggles from escaping.
Twilight shared a nuzzle with the lunar princess, which returned the smile to her face. “Rainbow was just pulling a little prank, your highness. There seems to be a lot of that going around today.” Twilight smirked, then waved them both inside. “It’s wonderful to see you again!”
“And you as well, my friend. Though we would remind you that you may call us Luna.”
Twilight’s face flushed slightly, and her smile turned a little sheepish. “Right. So, I guess since you came here personally, that means you’ve found something?”
“Indeed we have. With the brave assistance of Rainbow Dash, we believe to have developed a method to adapt thy portal to allow the passage of others.”
Rainbow puffed out her chest proudly. “Aw, it was nothing. I mean, okay, the first few misfires were a bit rough, but that’s why you needed a tough pony like me to help!”
Twilight’s eyes lit up with awe and started talking a mile a minute, her voice getting progressively nerdier as she went. “That’s amazing! You’ve got to tell me how it works! What sort of testing was involved? Did you find some books that I didn’t have? I know I checked out almost everything on old artifact magic and didn’t find out anything about who made them, so I’m not sure where you would even find the theory behind—oh wait, of course, Princess Celestia analyzed it when she was here. Silly me, of course she’d know how it works now. So how did you account for—”
Luna smiled slyly down to the rambling princess, raising a hoof to interrupt. “Perhaps it would be simpler to show you. Please, retrieve the Element of Loyalty and lead us to thy gateway.”
“Oh, right, of course, just a second.” Twilight beamed and trotted to the display case which contained the Elements, which rested against the stairs up to her room. Her horn lit up and a magenta glow enveloped the large glass cover. It resisted being lifted, however, so she puffed and strained, putting all her effort into trying to lift the glass. Unfortunately she only managed to raise it a centimeter before it clacked back down into place and her magic evaporated.
“Huff, hoo… that’s… that’s heavier than I remember…” Twilight panted in defeat.
Rainbow looked over at her worriedly and put a hoof on her shoulder. “No worries, Twi, I got this.” She trotted up to the display and grabbed it with her front hooves, grunting as she tried to lift the glass. They watched her strain against it for half a minute before she stopped to pant and look over her shoulder. “Oof, wow Twilight, is this made of glass or lead?”
“Well considering how often ponies come crashing through here, I had them make it out heavy duty glass so it wouldn’t break,” replied Twilight, rubbing the back of her head with a hoof.
Luna stepped in and her midnight blue aura enveloped the display, lifting the lid easily and floating the necklace emblazoned with a red lightning bolt jewel onto Dash’s neck.
“Heh, thanks Princess.” Dash smiled, and Luna nodded to her.
Twilight led everypony downstairs into the lab. There the portal lay dormant, the doorway appearing as an ordinary mirror in its deactivated state. She’d kept it deactivated and hadn’t touched it since their last little jaunt had landed them in a hostile world.
She noticed Luna eyeing the burn marks on the wall warily as they descended the stairs—the fallout of their tumultuous return. “Oh, um, don’t mind that. Turns out magic or energy can pass through the mirror, even if most ponies can’t. I’m sure it’ll buff out! Eheh...”
“Has this been a common occurrence?” Luna raised an eyebrow and turned to Twilight. “We worry for thy safety, Twilight Sparkle, and that of your ally.”
Twilight waved a hoof to try to dismiss her concerns. “Oh, no, that’s the first time anything like that happened. Really most of these trips have been pretty safe and normal. I doubt we’ll run into that situation again.” ’Seriously,’ she thought, ’that was impressive technology, but I really hope to never hear the words ‘Cutie Mark Crusaders Ghost Catchers, Yay!’ again so long as I live…’
“Kay, that’s fascinating and all, egghead, but shouldn’t we get this show on the road?” chimed in Dash. She had to stop and stifle a yawn, and Twilight finally took notice of the deep bags under her eyes. Rainbow caught Twilight staring at her and smiled weakly. “Yeah, heh, kiiinda need a nap before I’m ready to go anywhere else.”
Twilight raised her eyebrows in concern. “Are you sure you’re okay? We can wait a day or two if you’re too exhaus—”
“Nuh-uh-uh, I’m fine, Twi.” She held up a hoof to silence Twilight. “You’ve got too much on the line for me to leave you hangin’! I just need a quick nap later, is all. I’ve still got enough in me to get this over with, so let’s get this over with already!” She punctuated her statement with a brisk stomp of her hoof, and Twilight knew there’d be no talking her into resting.
“Very well,” spoke Luna, striding over to the portal. “Let us proceed.”
The lunar princess’ horn lit up with her signature midnight blue aura, and she cast a trio of large, crescent-shaped slivers of moonlight around the mirror. The crescents swirled and danced around it in a smooth gyroscopic pattern, bending and turning at higher and higher speeds, always gracefully curving to avoid touching the frame as they encircled one another. Luna closed her eyes briefly, and when they opened they had been replaced by glowing pools of white, while the glow around her horn intensified. Electricity started to crackle between the crescents and the topaz which topped the frame, and she turned to Rainbow Dash.
“Approach the mirror,” she commanded.
Rainbow took her cue and walked past Luna towards the mirror, cautiously treading one hoofstep at a time closer to it. Twilight watched in rapt fascination from Luna’s side, and took note when Rainbow stopped just a few meters in front of the mirror, halfway between it and Luna. ’They must have practiced this part...’
Blue light arched out from the mirror’s enormous gem and connected with Luna’s horn, the light surrounding it intensifying with the connection. Twilight could barely make out pitch black runes trailing through the midnight blue beam towards the princess. Luna then sent out another beam which connected to the back of Rainbow Dash’s head, who stiffened and flared her wings from the contact but held her ground.
The crescents of light stopped, then flattened out and connected tip to tip to form a complete circle around the mirror. Twilight could see it was spinning rapidly when it began to oscillate, and the electricity arcing around the topaz suddenly shot out towards Rainbow. It hit her square in the throat, and Twilight heard a restrained yelp from her friend, but Luna lowered a wing to prevent Twilight from rushing forward. She looked up and saw intense focus on Luna’s face, and even a few beads of sweat forming on the alicorn’s brow.
Twilight looked back to Dash and saw two rotating beams of electricity pulling away from the pegasus, taking the jewel from the Element of Loyalty with it. The bolt-shaped jewel was lifted into place against one of the five wooden prongs radiating from the topaz’s setting. The element glowed radiant red, accompanied by a soft sizzling sound and the smell of burning wood. Finally, everything simply ceased. Luna released her spell and all the magic and energy weaving itself through the air dissipated.
The topaz rapidly shifted colors from amber to blue, lavender and finally red, holding the red glow for just a few seconds longer before fading back to its natural color again.
Luna smiled, wiping her forehead with the edge of her wing. “It is done.”
“Cool…” Rainbow wobbled and turned around slowly to face the two of them, a giant goofy grin on her face and an empty necklace around her throat. “Nap time...”
“Oh my…” Rarity murmured quietly, evaluating the condition of the case which had been brought before her.
Trixie’s starry blue cloak was laid out on a table, covered in tears and scrapes. A sizable hole had been ripped down one shoulder and a few thorns were still tangled within the loose threads. Not to mention that it was in severe need of cleaning from whatever the mare had barreled through.
Trixie herself stood to the side in only slightly better condition. Several scrapes and bruises dotted her body, while her mane and tail were tangled with nettles. She wasn’t paying that any mind, however. She simply watched Rarity look over the cloak, shuffling anxiously from hoof to hoof.
Rarity raised a brow and looked across the table to her. “How in Equestria did this happen?”
“W-well, Pinkie and I, one of our pranks went bad and we had to run. I kinda zigged when she zagged, and since I don’t really know Ponyville that well… Erm.” She cleared her throat, then quietly muttered, “I didn’t know there was a hill under those bushes…”
“Oh my.” Rarity raised both her eyebrows in mild astonishment and nodded, turning back to the table.
“Can you fix it?” she practically whimpered while unconsciously giving Rarity the saddest, most soulful puppy-eyes she could muster.
Rarity smiled at the display. “Of course, dear. It may take a day or two, but I’m certain I can restore it for you.”
“Oh thank Celestia!” Trixie let out a deep breath of relief, sinking down to lay on the ground. She winced a little when her barrel met the floor and rolled slightly to one side to get off of a bruise.
Rarity knelt down next to her, bandages and a bottle of salve appearing in the air with a flash of her horn. “Perhaps I’d better see about fixing you up first though, hm?” With gentle care she salved and wrapped Trixie’s mild injuries, while at the same time a brush hovered over and set to work removing the thorns from her hair. After the last bandage was in place, Rarity closed her eyes and let more magic flare through her horn. Trixie felt warmth flow through the all the bandaged spots, and the pain rapidly faded away to nothing.
Trixie relaxed a little and looked up as Rarity opened her eyes again. “Thank you. I didn’t realize you knew healing magic?”
Rarity smiled again. “Yes, well, those spells require much more in the way of finesse than power, which is something I’ve always been good at.” She looked away wistfully. “You know, as a filly I’d actually considered becoming a nurse. That was before I discovered my true special talent, of course.”
Trixie nodded and raised herself back into a sitting position. “I never could get the hang of healing spells, myself.”
“Well, that certainly takes some of the wind out of Twilight’s theory.” Rarity chuckled. When Trixie raised a brow in response, she continued. “Oh, she had this theory that unicorns with golden, pink or blue auras were more naturally gifted with healing spells than others.” Rarity glanced around the room then leaned in to whisper conspiratorially. “She can’t get them to work either.”
Trixie scoffed at the thought. “Really, magic that Sparkle can’t do?”
“Oh, don’t be like that,” admonished Rarity. “Twilight works very hard to learn as much as she can about everything she can. The talent for healing is rare, though. Zecora has been teaching her how to make up for it with potions.”
’Kind of like me and artifacts,’ Trixie considered. “Hmm. While we’re on the topic of magic…” She reached back to her saddlebag and pulled out a pair of glittering white squares of cloth with her teeth, dropping them in front of Rarity. “I got these on a previous jump. I was thinking maybe you could work with them?”
“Oh? Let’s have a closer look, then.” Rarity lit her horn to grab the cloth samples, but her eyes went wide when a matching aura refused to appear around them. “What? What are these?”
Trixie frowned just a hint, remembering how she came about them in the first place. “They’re made with something called ‘null crystals’, which block magic. Allegedly they came from that world’s version of the Crystal Empire. I’ve never heard of anything like that here though, have you?”
Rarity shook her head. “Perhaps Twilight could ask her brother about it? Shining Armor is the prince of the Crystal Empire, after all. He and Princess Cadance would certainly be the best ones to ask.”
“He’s the—of course he is...” Trixie groaned, dropping to sit on her haunches so she could drape a hoof over her eyes.
“Is something the matter?” asked Rarity, tilting her head a bit.
“Trixie is—!” she started to shout, but caught herself. ’No, nothing’s wrong. My formal rival is now an alicorn princess, her brother is the freaking prince of the Crystal Empire, and I had to change careers out of shame.’ She felt her face and ears burning as a wave of spite rose through her.
’Stop it, stop thinking like that. It’s not her fault, and we’re friends now, aren’t we?’ She took a long, deep breath and slowly exhaled, feeling the heat slowly drain away from her face. Another long breath and she felt composed enough to get back on her hooves. She tried to resume her place and pretend her outburst had never happened, but immediately noticed the way Rarity was biting her lip. “Fine. I’m fine.”
Rarity looked her over with worry crossing her eyes. “If you’re sure… But if you need somepony to talk to about it, whatever it may be, I’ll always be ready to listen.”
“I’m...” Trixie sighed, then nodded slowly. “Thank you.”
“So!” Rarity clapped her hooves together, as if dismissing the change in mood. “What would you like me to do with these?”
“Actually, I might have some ideas about that.”
The gentle sounds of snoring drifted downstairs to the ears of Luna and Twilight, assuring them that Rainbow Dash was resting comfortably in bed. The two were now taking the time to chat while they waited in the reading room.
Luna nursed a steaming mug of coffee between her hooves and took gentle sips now and again. Twilight drank less daintily from her own mug, enjoying the familiar zing of energy from the brew which often accompanied her late night endeavors. Flitting memories of long nights and sleep deprivation caused her to take a closer look at the lunar princess. While Luna was showing no outward signs of exhaustion, Twilight was certain she had grown adept at hiding such things over the course of her long life.
“Luna? It really is wonderful to have a chance to see you again, and I don’t mean to sound rude or anything, but... shouldn’t you be sleeping this time of day? Why did you come instead of Celestia?”
Luna blinked a few times in mild surprise at the remark, then smiled faintly down to Twilight. “I suppose that is the obvious question, isn’t it?”
Twilight nodded, and Luna paused, taking another sip of coffee. “Well there are several reasons. I’ve always been more suited to scientific pursuits than my sister, so I was chosen to lead the research that might aid in thy recovery. Not that we are not equally talented at the field, mind, but between us I always found science to be quite stimulating. ‘Fun’, as one would say these days.” She winked, prompting Twilight to recall their encounter on Nightmare Night.
She glanced out the window facing Canterlot, the mountaintop capital city shining in the daylight. “Also, my dear sister is currently entertaining ambassadors from Zebrica, a rather rare event, so the Day Court has kept her too occupied to leave Canterlot.” She took one more long sip from her mug, finishing the contents then giving a contented sigh. “Besides, it has been quite some time since I was able to simply visit thee.” Luna closed her eyes and smiled brightly.
Twilight briefly returned the smile, but her thoughts drifted unbidden to the horrible nightmare from earlier. Unlike most dreams, the memory of it had remained sharp in her mind since she’d woken. “I need to tell you something.” She paused, continuing once the princess began listening intently. “When you first got here I was having a pretty bad nightmare—”
“Yes, I sensed as much when I arrived,” interrupted Luna, “for which I am sorry. I can only guard against such under the light of the moon.”
Twilight nodded slightly. “So you didn’t see it, then.” Luna shook her head, and Twilight took a deep breath to calm herself. ’Best to just get it off my chest...’
“Well, it was pretty bad. Trixie was there but she was dressed all in black, her eyes were red and she had this horrible lightning spell! She was using it to torture one of my friends, and… and she said... something to me? What was it…” Twilight frowned and furrowed her brow. It had all been sharp and clear just a moment ago, but now she was grasping for the details as they faded.
She felt Luna’s surprisingly soft wing wrap around her, helping her relax as she continued. “I guess I just don’t know what to make of it. I mean, Trixie and I are friends now—I think. But that nightmare was so real, and it was based on what I was told really happened in another world.”
Twilight frowned again, looking up to meet Luna’s gaze. “Everywhere we’ve gone either nopony had ever heard of Trixie, or she had descended into a complete monster. Our Trixie is the only exception: she had a close call once, but we managed to save her from herself.”
“And recent events make you wonder upon which side of the coin Miss Lulamoon will ultimately fall—light, or darkness?” Luna asked, receiving a hesitant nod from her friend. “Twilight Sparkle, you of all ponies should know how important it is to trust your friends. Be there for her, as you would for any of your friends, and things will always work out for the best.”
Twilight smiled slightly at her words, and nodded slowly. “It’s surprising, really.”
“What’s that?” asked Luna.
Twilight’s smile turned into a full grin as she met Luna’s eyes. “How often the answer is so simple, I need to be reminded to look at it.”
Any further conversation was halted when the library’s front door swung open. Rarity walked inside, humming happily to herself as she went. Above her head levitated a sky blue, gift-wrapped box. She was followed by a somewhat more encumbered Trixie, who was having some trouble balancing a pair of plainer clothing boxes on her back. She was focused on nudging them this way or that with her weak magic to keep them in place, and nearly ran into Rarity when the other unicorn stopped.
Rarity bowed reverently. “Princess Luna, how lovely to see you again!”
When Rarity began to speak, Trixie’s attention was finally brought from her boxes to the princess sitting in the room. She tried to follow suit and bow, but this caused the boxes on her back to slide forward and clunk ungently against the back of her head. Despite the abrupt impact, she maintained her composure and her bow only wavered slightly.
“Greetings to you, Lady Rarity and Miss Lulamoon. I welcome thy presence!” boomed Luna at a volume just shy of acceptable for the small room. She used her magic to lift the boxes from Trixie’s back and put them on the table. If she was amused at Trixie’s expense it didn’t show, her face the royal mask of neutrality and respect held when addressing guests at court.
Rarity rose first, setting her own package on the table next to the others. “Thank you princess, and Twilight—oh.” She paused, looking upstairs towards the sounds of snoring while she pursed her lips. “I see Rainbow wasted no time in finding a chance to take a nap.”
Twilight nodded, motioning the two over to have a seat. “Yeah, she was really out of it when she got here. Luna tells me Rainbow had been pushing herself almost over her limit the whole time she was at Canterlot.”
“Really?” asked Trixie as she sat down, “Why would she do that, doesn’t she know how unhealthy that is?”
Rarity found her seat as well, daintily adjusting it until everything was just right. “Rainbow Dash would do anything for her friends, dear. Any one of us would.”
Trixie furrowed her brow in silence, her eyes wandering down to scrutinize the grain of the wood on the edge of the table.
“Well, now that you are here I may return these to you,” said Luna. In a burst of midnight light two pendants appeared on the table, each in front of its respective owner.
Twilight beamed and lifted hers up around her neck with her hooves instead of her magic. “You fixed them! Great! So what ended up being wrong with them, anyways?”
“Ah, well, it seems we had a few things reversed in the formulae of the enchantments. Instead of showing you to your motes, they were moving you to them. The effect shouldn’t have been as strong as you reported, but I suspect the enhanced ambient magic of that world may have been partially to blame.”
As if in answer to the expected next question, Luna made a matching set of papers appear in front of everypony seated. Twilight lifted hers to see detailed diagrams and formula dissecting the appearance and functionality of her pendant in complete detail. Everything had been perfectly accounted for: the size and shape of the facets on the gem, the exact length of the chain which supported it, even the metal composition and purity had been factored in down to a margin of error of five thousandths of a percent—and that was just on the first page.
The following pages went into excruciating detail about the magic formulae of the enchantment placed on each pendant, enough to even give Twilight a run for her money. She glanced across the table and saw Rarity with her head practically spinning. She was making a show out of barely understanding a word on the paper, lifting one page up like it was a filthy dishrag. Trixie, however, was voraciously devouring every word and symbol on the pages. She was taking her time and hesitating to turn to the next page when she’d finished one, as if afraid she’d missed anything. Twilight turned her attention back to her copy of the notes, reaching the last page which contained a laypony’s summary of the contents.
“Questions?” asked Luna expectantly, enthusiasm bleeding into her tone.
Twilight lifted up the gem hanging from her neck. “So, it’s supposed to be... a map?” she began.
“And mine is a form of compass,” Trixie finished.
Luna gave a curt nod. “Indeed! As you can see, simply focus a small amount of magic into your pendant and it shall activate for as long as you hold it there. Twilight’s pendant shall provide the big picture of the location of your motes, while Trixie’s will show you their direction from thy perspective.”
“So let’s go put ‘em to use!” yawned a familiar voice from above the group, and only then did Twilight realize that the steady sounds of snoring had stopped some time ago. They all glanced upward as a groggy-looking Rainbow Dash descended. The pegasus rubbed some sleep from her eyes and fluttered down to an open spot at the table. “I’m ready to get my adventure on, so let’s go already!”
“Dash, how long have you been up there?” yelped Twilight, raising her eyebrows at the display while worry lines creased the corners of her eyes. “And are you sure you’ve gotten enough rest? You still look pretty tired.”
“Pssh.” Rainbow waved a hoof dismissively, ignoring the question otherwise while she turned her attention to the boxes covering a good portion of the table. “So what’s all this stuff?”
“Those are the disguises I made, and recently repaired—” Rarity shot a glare at a suddenly sheepish looking Twilight and Trixie, “—for when you go visiting other worlds. I’ve created a new one just for you, Rainbow.” Rarity grinned, levitating over the gift-wrapped box she’d brought in herself.
Dash’s expression withered and she leaned back as if the box was a coiling snake about to strike. “Uhh… Rares, why are you looking at me like that?”
Rarity advanced around the table, her bright smile not abating. “Twilight, Trixie, why don’t you adjourn to the basement and get dressed while I help Rainbow with this?”
“Uhh…” Rainbow blanched, backpedaling a step and falling on her rear. “You know, maybe I do need more sleep after all...”
“Seriously, Rares, do I have to wear a wig?” groaned Rainbow. The two made their way downstairs now that the pegasus had been fully suited-up in her new outfit.
Rarity simply smiled and followed Rainbow down the staircase. “Darling, you know your coiffure is unmistakably unique. Why, you’d stick out like a sore hoof without a wig.”
“I look like somepony lit a disco ball on fire,” deadpanned Dash.
Rainbow’s new outfit was a silver full-body flight suit which covered every bit of her from head to hooves save her wings, ears, mouth and eyes. A set of yellow-tinted flight goggles covered those eyes, the hue mixing with her natural magenta to outwardly tint her irises bright red. Her signature mane was actually sealed under the suit itself, and a surprisingly natural-looking, fiery red wig had been expertly stitched into place on top of it to take its place. A matching tail-wig was sewn as a sleeve into the rear of the suit, within which Rainbow’s own tail was comfortably tucked away. Instead of the normal lightning bolt motif, bands of embroidered flames encircled her hooves, and the suit lacked a cutie mark. Rarity had even provided her with an unmarked pair of silver saddlebags.
Rarity clucked her tongue. “There wasn’t much choice over material if I was going to incorporate a hurricane suit into your disguise. Besides, I think it makes you look rather heroic! In fact I might even say you look rather… dashing?”
Rainbow stopped cold on the last step of the staircase, turning her head to stare deadpan at Rarity, whose unabashed and mischievous grin was already ear-to-ear and growing wider by the second. “You did not, seriously, make me wear this just to set up for that horrible pun.”
A barely contained snicker came from across the room, and Rainbow looked forward in time to catch Luna of all ponies trying to suppress her mirth with a hoof to her mouth. Trixie wore an unamused look which mirrored Dash’s own, while Twilight wasn’t paying any attention to the exchange, too busy setting up the portal. The two were already fully outfitted in their own disguises.
Rainbow rolled her eyes and brought a hoof to her forehead. “I should’ve just worn the Mare-Do-Well costume.”
“Oh please.” Rarity brushed past Rainbow and walked into the lab proper. “Odds are most of the other worlds had a Mare-Do-Well of their own. You need to look like somepony nobody knows.” Her eyes lit up as an idea came to her. “Oh! Perhaps you could draw inspiration from your new look to come up with a new name while you travel as well? How about ‘Firefly’?”
“That’s my mom’s name!” whined Dash.
“Is it?” Rarity stood dumbfounded for a moment.
Just then the mirror flared to life with a woosh, the portal surface glowing a mild bronze color this time. Up above, the Element of Loyalty gave a single pulse, then emitted a soft red glow. The light it gave off felt surprisingly comforting to everypony present, particularly Rainbow Dash, who calmed down almost immediately.
“There, it’s ready. We can go at any time,” Twilight said, her tone reverent towards the miracle of magic and science before them. That sense of awe her creation inspired had never quite left her, no matter how often they’d used it.
Luna nodded curtly, fixing her posture to stand tall and regal before addressing the group as a whole. “Very well. Proceed with caution, my friends! Know that I shall remain here should my aid be required. I have made arrangements to stay in Ponyville for a few days so that I may monitor your progress.”
“Thank you, Luna. I really appreciate all your help.” Twilight smiled, then fixed her scarf into place to hide her face for the journey.
“Right. Time to find out if all this work paid off.” Rainbow strode towards the mirror, where Twilight and Trixie stood aside, waiting. She looked between the two of them, from Trixie’s curiously raised eyebrow to Twilight’s encouraging nod, then back to the glowing bronze rectangle of light in front of her. She took a deep breath, let it out slowly, and pressed a hoof against the surface of the mirror.
It went through.
Rainbow shut her eyes for a moment as she crossed the shimmering threshold, opening on the other side to see the town square of Ponyville as one big blur. After her first hoof ended up in the fountain’s water, she lifted off and flew across to the grass. While the others waded across the fountain, she took a moment to let her eyes adjust to the light and briefly take in her surroundings.
Across from the fountain she spotted a gentlecolt wearing formal attire, even a top hat and monocle, who had been pouring himself a cup of tea at the outdoor cafe. He was now staring at the group emerging from the fountain’s statue, his teacup overflowing obliviously and his monocle hanging from its chain.
“Uhh…” She blinked and looked around a bit more, realizing where she was. “Hey, what gives? Why’re we still in Ponyville? I thought this was supposed to go to another wo… woah…” Rainbow craned her head back and looked nearly straight up, her jaw falling open.
A huge shadow was passing over the girls as they finished their trek across the watery gateway. Whatever it was blanketed the entire town square in darkness deeper than a passing cloud should create. Both Twilight and Trixie followed Dash’s gaze upwards, and their jaws hit the floor as well.
A massive behemoth of wood and brass flew over the town. It looked similar to a ship, yet it was far larger than the biggest seafaring ship Twilight had ever seen. It held suspended in the air under a massive gas bag which looked big enough to hold easily twenty times the weight her own hot air balloon could.
Machinery the likes of which she’d only ever imagined covered it from bow to stern. Pneumatic intakes fed into brass tubes which wrapped around the sides of the ship in a mass of ordered chaos. Steam valves blew gallons of white smoke into the air. All of this lead to five impressively large mechanical cylinders on the rear. They appeared to be powering an equal number of enormous double-prop propellers which whirled lazily behind this airborne monster of science.
Then they saw more of them. The sky over Ponyville was filled with these aerial steamships. Very few pegasi flew through the air, and those that did were wearing bizarre mechanoid exo-wings which trailed twin plumes of white smoke behind them. The three foreigners to this land stood agape for several minutes, just watching the skies. Finally, Trixie decided to break the silence.
“Oh. My. Celestia…” she said, not taking her eyes off the sky.
Twilight slowly nodded, closing and opening her mouth a few times trying to form words.
Rainbow just kept staring, tilting her head to one side. “So… how does it fly?”
No answer was immediately forthcoming from either unicorn. Trixie looked between the two after another minute, shrugged, and cleared her throat. “Hem, while I am of course a mare of numerous spectacular and amazing talents… I am afraid engineering is not one of them.”
“Okay.” Rainbow rolled her eyes and looked back to the sky, suddenly flaring her wings. “Then I’m gonna find out!” In an instant she was in the air, soaring upwards.
“Rainbow, wait! It could be dangerous!” Twilight yelled, snapped out of her stupor by Rainbow’s brash action.
However, Dash suddenly streaking into the sky caught more than just Twilight’s attention. One of the pegasi sporting exo-wings took notice and veered straight towards her in a blur of speed, cutting her off from flying any higher before she’d even cleared the rooftops.
A pegasus with a rainbow mane.
“You! Down! Now!” she barked with the full force of a commander giving a subordinate an order.
Rainbow froze up and hugged her forelegs to her chest, slowly drifting down while staring back up at her doppelganger. Her wings fluttered weakly just enough to control her descent straight back down to the ground. The alternate Dash followed her closely while giving her a look frighteningly similar to Fluttershy’s ‘stare’, made even more intimidating by the large vertical scar that crossed the left side of her face, right over her eye.
“What the buck were you thinking, newbie? Do you want to get your foalish flank sucked into a turbine?!” she yelled, leaning her face right up against Rainbow’s.
“No, ma’am!” Rainbow shouted, her posture stiffening and her eyes locking forward. Instincts drilled into her from Wonderbolt Academy took hold in the face of an apparently superior officer. Her voice was strangled and lower-pitched in an obvious attempt to disguise it, but her grizzled alternate paid that no mind.
“You’re damn right, no! Do you have any idea how much paperwork that would make?! I’m not sitting at a bucking desk for five hours because some hotshot thought she was too strong of a flier to need a jetwing around airships!” The other Dash sized Rainbow up with her good eye, glaring the entire time. “Unless you’re going to tell me you’ve somehow got two hundred wingpower hiding in those feather dusters? Are you some kind of freak, newbie?”
“Ma’am, no ma’am!” Rainbow yelled at the top of her lungs. Twilight and Trixie could only sit back and stare at the display.
“What’s your name, newbie?” asked Alternate Dash, while raising one hoof to check a dial strapped to her wrist.
The alternate huffed and lowered her hoof again, looking Rainbow straight in the eye. “Firebug I don’t know what fancy outfit gave you that pretty little dress you’re wearing, but you’d better report back and tell them you need another run through basic if you even think about pulling a stunt like that again! All pegasi are grounded in port towns unless you have a jetwing, am I understood?!”
“Ma’am, yes ma’am!” shouted Rainbow, snapping a salute.
“Hmph, good.” Alternate Dash stamped her rear hoof twice and the sleek exo-wing strapped over her back kicked to life, sending her in a graceful arc back into the skies and leaving the dumbfounded group in a swirl of strangely cold steam.
Twilight walked over and rested a hoof gently on Dash’s shoulder. “Are you alright?”
“Did you see that? That was me!” Rainbow grinned widely. “She was so badflank! I want to be just like her when I grow up.”
“Aren’t you already grown up?” chimed in Trixie, but her comment went ignored.
“Oh! Do you think you could get her to come back? I only got a partial sketch of that pack she was wearing.” Twilight bounced on her hooves, while turning around a floating parchment to show her a rough outline of the exo-wing.
Trixie waved her hoof at the two. “Hey, far be it for me to be the voice of reason of our little group, but maybe we should focus on why we’re here?” She raised her eyebrows and craned her head twice towards a nearby alley, which looked empty at the moment.
Twilight’s cheeks reddened, and she hastily rolled up and stored the scroll. “Right, of course. Plenty of time for science later. Eheh...”
Trixie rolled her eyes and turned to trot into the alley, leaving the two of them to follow. Rainbow took a moment to look around and make sure the coast was clear. Then, satisfied, she cantered quickly to catch up to Twilight.
“So, ‘Firebug’ huh? You know that makes you sound like an arsonist,” teased Trixie.
Rainbow had to catch herself from facehoofing mid-stride. “Ugh, I panicked, okay? Blame Rarity! It’s totally her fault for putting that idea in my head.”
Twilight allowed herself a hidden smile before she set to work. Focusing a drop of magic into her horn, the pendant around her neck began to glow softly while she let it flow down. A small hum of the amethyst charging up was the only warning they had before a midnight blue grid suddenly projected into the air between the group.
Red and green dots rapidly coalesced from a fuzzy blob into a map of the whole of Equis upon it. A box formed around the continent which held Equestria, and with a blink the map zoomed in. Another box framed Equestria itself and zoomed in again, revealing a scale map of their country in high-contrast tones of red and green. A small purple dot marked their location, blinking just off-center in Ponyville.
“Cool! So where’s the magic thingies?” asked Dash. Possibly in response, a large pink dot appeared on the map just northwest of Cloudsdale. A dotted pink line then traced itself from the pink dot to their purple one. A second line branched off the top of the pink spot, underlining a series of numbers which were adjusting in real-time.
“Uhh…” Dash stared at the map while squinting her eyes.
Twilight leaned in closer, looking over every detail with a critical eye. “Okay, let’s see. The pink dot must be our motes, and the dotted line is their trajectory. Altitude is one point two miles, so they’re definitely coming through Cloudsdale. Speed is… point one seven miles per hour? Uh oh.” She turned and drew a ruler from her saddlebag, using it to measure the distance between the two points. She closed her eyes in thought as she did the math, then frowned deeply, though the others couldn’t see it.
“Girls?” said Twilight, “We’ve got to go to Cloudsdale.”
“Two weeks, huh?” Trixie asked as the group made their way uptown via a busy street.
“Well, sure, if you want to ignore the decimals,” responded Twilight with an eyeroll, sidestepping to avoid bumping into a pair of ponies moving crates. “On top of that, we’ve only got a two day window to catch them in Cloudsdale. After that our choices are either catch our motes in open air, or wait for them to reach us.”
Trixie trailed at the back of the group, frowning now as she mulled over her options. “Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad? I mean, this place is really, uh…” She stopped, twirling a hoof while she searched for a word. “Um… sciencey? Who wouldn’t love that? Heh…”
Rainbow paused a moment at the head of the group for the others to catch up. She was wary of losing sight of her friends while grounded, especially in this much busier version of Ponyville. “Stuck somewhere for two weeks when I can’t fly? No way! Besides, I gotta see what Cloudsdale looks like here.”
“Right, that should be… something…” Trixie mumbled.
The crowd was definitely getting thicker as the girls made their way down the street. This section of town seemed to be growing architecturally more in common with what one would expect in a boomtown, akin to the founding days of Manehattan. The soft dirt road had shifted to cobblestone pavement a few blocks back, so the sounds of hooves on stone now mixed with the voices of dozens of ponies around them. Wooden beams were being lifted with both magic and rope pulleys to support the construction of second and even third stories on the local businesses. Now and then a wide swath of one side of the street would be taken up entirely by a large warehouse, completely out of place in their home dimension.
Twilight noted steam or smoke billowing not only from sewer manholes dotting the middle of the street, but from all manner of clockwork contraptions built into many of the buildings around them. Boilers and brass-work seemed to provide power, heat, or maybe both to most of the town. It was difficult for her to tell—the unfamiliar technology had a bizarrely elegant, yet slapdash style to it all.
When she tried to work it out in her head, she found she struggled to see which parts were functional and which were entirely superfluous or redundant. It was almost as though here, technology was fashionable.‘Finally,’ she thought with a wry smile, ‘fashion I could really get behind.’
She stopped to peer inside one of the shops they were passing. Above the door a sign read “Doc Turner’s Time Machines, Perception Enhancements & Filters.” Inside, rows of wooden shelves lined the walls with hourglasses and pocket-watches of every shape and size a pony could want. A selection of telescopes took up half of the store’s space—some were familiar models, while others looked far more advanced than even her own personal Stargazer-800, which back home was the top-of-the-line. Stands in the front window hosted a display of loupes, microscopes, and even a pair of goggles with several magnifying glasses attached to the right lens. A stack of large red boxes on the right were labeled “X-109 Air Filter.”
’Well that’s an odd play on words,’ she idly thought while staring inside. Twilight got so caught up in window shopping that she only noticed the presence of Rainbow next to her when the pegasus started waving her hoof in front of her eyes.
“Hey, you in there?” Dash was asking.
“Huh? Oh, sorry Rainbow. I just…” Twilight stared wistfully into the store again. “I wonder how many bits that telescope costs? Would it be wrong of me to bring advanced technology home with us?”
Rainbow Dash just shrugged. “Heck if I know. C’mon, I think I see the airfield, you can worry about the egghead stuff later.”
With a little nudging she got Twilight on the move, and the group eventually reached the end of the road. What would normally have been the northern fields had been converted into a vast airfield, devoted entirely to the docking and loading of airships. There were currently nine of the behemoths ‘docked’ at the airfield, each surrounded by ponies loading cargo, doing maintenance, or seeing passengers aboard.
Front and center before reaching all of that was a station built in the same style as the local train station. At the center ticket window sat a lanky young stallion wearing a blue cap, while several ponies waited in line for tickets. The girls filed into line themselves, which fortunately was moving along at a steady pace. Within only a few short minutes it was their turn at the booth.
The stallion flashed the girls a charming smile and launched his standard greeting. “Welcome to Ponyville Air Terminal, how can I help you?”
The girls looked at each other, and Twilight nodded for Rainbow to take the lead. She stepped up to the window and spoke confidently. “Heya, I need three passenger tickets to Cloudsdale.”
“Cloudsdale?” the stallion parroted, raising a brow before looking down at his timesheets. “One moment, let’s see here… Cloudsdale, Cloudsdale…” He reached up a hoof and scratched his head, knocking his hat back a bit before straightening it. “I’m sorry ladies, I’ve got nothing coming or going to any ‘Cloudsdale’ on the books.”
Twilight and Trixie looked at each other, while Rainbow tilted her head and addressed him again. “Seriously? Nothing? What about tomorrow?”
The stallion shook his head and gave her an apologetic look. “I’m sorry, I mean I don’t have it on any of our books. None of our routes go there.”
“Wait, what?” Rainbow blinked in confusion behind her goggles.
He shrugged. “Is there anything else I can help you with?”
While Rainbow groaned and smacked a hoof to her face, Twilight just shook her head at him. “No, I guess not. Thank you anyways. Come on, girls.”
“So now what?” asked Dash, following Twilight and Trixie off to the side of the station.
Twilight looked around, hoping to get some inspiration from her surroundings. Trixie and Rainbow were talking about the problem, but she tuned out the conversation so she could think. She knew they couldn’t just leave and wait it out at home—well, strictly speaking they could leave, but whatever force attracted their motes would cease to pull on them until they returned. She looked up in time to spy a pair of pegasi soaring overhead, their exo-wings leaving twin jet trails in their wake. “Hmmm… Maybe we could see about getting three of those ‘jetwings’ the other you mentioned?”
Trixie visibly blanched at the suggestion. “Please tell me you’re kidding! Those devices don’t look even remotely safe to Trixie! B-besides, wouldn’t I need wings to use one?”
Rainbow Dash shrugged. “I could just carry you.”
Trixie took a step back, her eyes getting even wider. “N-no!”
“Well how else are we supposed to get to Cloudsdale?” demanded Dash, throwing her hooves up in frustration.
“Girls, settle do—” began Twilight, but she was interrupted by a laugh from somepony outside their huddle.
“Did one of you fillies say Cloudsdale? Why I haven’t heard that name in years!” When they looked up, there was Granny Smith of all ponies walking up to them. She smiled wistfully, as she often did when recounting her younger days, creating a look that spoke of her mind being halfway between the past and the present. “You girls need a lift?”
Despite everything else that had changed, Sweet Apple Acres looked just the same as it always had. Here the only sounds that broke the peace and quiet was the occasional bark from Winona, playing in the fields. In fact, it seemed to the trio that the modestly sized airship parked in the backyard was no more than a second barn until they’d gotten up close.
Instead of the elegant curves of the airships seen until now, the one before them looked like somepony had flipped a barn upside-down and then strapped a balloon and engines to it. In fact, a set of actual barn doors on the side of the hull lay open for a ramp to the ground, where Applejack and Big Mac were pushing several crates of their family product onboard. Another difference was the balloon—well, balloons—were attached to the sides and front of the hull in a triangular pattern rather than having one large balloon suspended above the ship.
AJ noticed the approaching group as she walked back down the ramp to get the last of her cargo. Twilight could see an eyebrow raise at first, but her friend’s double quickly replaced it with a big, welcoming smile.
“Welcome back, Granny! We’re just about done loadin’ up here. I see we’ve got guests!” she beamed and walked up to the group, stopping at Twilight and extending a hoof. “I’m Applejack.”
Twilight blinked in confusion for a moment, before the reality of the situation came back to her. “Oh, hi! I’m—” ’Don’t panic, Twilight! Name… name... think of someth-- Oh!’ “—Horizon, and this is—”
As soon as Twilight’s hoof met Applejack’s, the farm pony grabbed her hoof up in both of hers and started shaking like crazy, immediately bringing back memories of the first time they’d met. “Well howdy-do Miss Horizon! A pleasure to meet you and your friends! We here at Sweet Apple Acres sure do like making new friends!”
Twilight gritted her teeth while her foreleg still kept swinging up and down wildly of its own accord, even after Applejack had let go. Rainbow reached out and stopped Twi’s leg, failing to suppress a snicker in the process. ’I really should have seen that coming,’ she thought wryly.
Applejack grinned and turned to Rainbow, who spat in her hoof and raised it for a bump. “Name’s Firebug, nice to meetcha!” she said with a smug smile.
Applejack let her grin slip into a smirk as she returned the bump. “Likewise, though I gotta be honest—yer name kinda makes ya sound like an arsonist.”
Rainbow blinked, then pouted. “Why does everypony keep saying that?”
Trixie took her turn to snicker, earning a sour look from Dash. She ignored it and stepped forward, giving a short bow to Applejack. “You may call me Wanda.”
“Well then, Horizon, Firebug ‘n Wanda, nice to meet y’all. So, what can I do ya for?” asked Applejack, crossing one hoof in front of the other proudly.
Granny Smith spoke up first, “Why, these here fillies are buying a ride up to Cloudsdale with us.”
“Cloudsdale? Huh… Well if’n it’s not too far off course, I don’t see why not.” Applejack rubbed her chin, a perplexed look creeping across her face.
“Oh it’s right on the way, don’t you worry.” replied Granny, immediately laughing at a joke only she seemed to get.
Big Macintosh came walking down the ramp just then, the sounds of his heavy hooves descending the wooden ramp getting everypony’s attention. He looked around the yard slowly, sweeping his gaze back and forth twice, and then nodded to Applejack.
“We all ready to go, Big Mac?” she asked.
Twilight heard an audible gulp from her right, and she turned to see Trixie had moved up next to her. Her friend was staring up at the ship before them with wide eyes, but she saw immediately that those eyes weren’t expressing the wonder or fascination she herself had been feeling. “‘Wanda’? What’s wrong?”
Trixie opened her mouth as if to respond to Twilight, but Applejack interrupted.
“Alright then, all aboard, everypony!” Applejack smiled, then waved her hoof up the ramp while the group made their way aboard.
All that came of whatever Trixie had been about to say was a strangled squeak—a sort of noise which would have made Fluttershy proud. She didn’t move at first, which got an eyeroll from Rainbow before the pegasus literally headbutted Trixie’s flank up the ramp.
Inside was a long, low-ceilinged cargo hold. Two rows of slightly raised platforms lay on either side of a central aisle, filled with well-secured crates of Apple Family products. Thick support beams lined the aisle from the ramp entrance to the stairs on the other end, while wrought-iron sconces held a few heatless candles to illuminate the interior.
A short climb up the stairs brought them to a door leading to the middle deck, with a wooden sign above that simply read “Engines.” They all had to duck a brass pipe leading between the walls to reach the next flight up, but when they finally reached the top of those stairs, the group was treated to the breathtaking view of the ship’s deck.
The layout looked similar to a traditional sailing ship, with large raised cabins both in the front and the rear, and a solid, two-foot high wooden bulwark lining both edges of the ship in-between. A giant vertical shield of wood rose from the cabin at the bow, following a V-shape around the hull. More slats of wood stood spaced evenly outward from there along the first third of the ship, all standing nearly six ponies high and connected along the top with a rail. In the very center of the deck, a mast supported a crow’s nest just slightly higher than the shield, with a spiral ramp winding around it to an observation platform on top—all of which were lined with surprisingly fancy wrought-iron railings.
A pony Twilight didn’t recognize saluted down to Applejack from the top, who returned the gesture. She then lead the group into the cabin at the bow, which turned out to be the ship’s bridge. The entire front and sides of the room were made of tall glass panes, giving them a perfect view of the outside. Macintosh had taken his place at the wheel and Granny Smith sat down at a table with a strange metal box connected to a microphone and telegraph key. An orange-haired, yellow-coated unicorn sitting at a table with a large map of Equestria looked up and smiled when they entered. A pair of compasses—both kinds, noted Twilight—adorned her flank.
“Marmalade, let me introduce ya to Horizon, Firebug and Wanda. They’re hitchin’ a ride with us to uh, Cloudsdale?” Applejack motioned to the trio, then turned to face them. “Everypony, this here’s mah cousin Orange Marmalade, our ship’s cartographer.”
Marmalade gave Applejack a nod, then stood and bowed her head politely to the group, speaking in an upper-crust accent. “A pleasure to meet you all.”
“Likewise!” chimed Twilight brightly, barely remembering in time to keep her voice disguised.
Rainbow leaned her head closer to Twilight and whispered, “That’s weird, I never met her in our world, and I’ve known AJ a long time.”
All Twilight could do was shrug in response, while Marmalade went back to her maps. Meanwhile, Applejack walked up to what looked like the end of a brass trumpet with a pipe leading into the walls. “Bloom, we’re ready up here, fire her up!” Moments later, Apple Bloom’s voice responded with “Roger that, sis!” from the device. Applejack turned back to her guests and pointed to the door. “Alright y’all, welcome aboard The Harvester! The passenger cabins are on the other side of the deck. Why don’t y’all go make yourselves comfortable?“
“Cool, thanks!” Rainbow beamed, zipping out the door in a flash. Twilight caught herself giggling at her friend’s antics and started heading that way herself, but paused when she saw Trixie shuffling on her hooves anxiously by the door.
“Are you sure you’re alright?” asked Twilight, placing a hoof on her friend’s back.
“O-of course, t-the Calm and Collected W-wanda is perf-fectly f-fine!” she stammered back at Twilight, doing nothing to ease her concerns. Before Twilight could respond, Trixie jerkily swung the door wide with a mortified look on her face and stormed stiffly out onto the deck.
The two were halfway across when what appeared to be two long metal stacks, connected to some sort of complex gear assemblies lining the rear half of the bulwark, came to life. They raised high above the deck, then folded outwards into a fan shape, forming a set of glistening metal wings. Steam billowed out of an array of pipeworks at the rear of the ship with a shrill whistle, and the ship began to rise into the air as the engines groaned to life.
Twilight covered her ears, wondering if the shrill sound would ever die down, but after a minute she realized it hadn’t been the steampipes making the commotion. When she looked back to her side, there was Trixie, wrapped solidly around the mast with pupils the size of pinpricks.
The noise was the sound of her screaming.
“Why didn’t you tell us you were afraid of heights?!” asked Twilight, hints of panic entering her voice.
”Trixie tried to!” cried the terrified mare, her hooves clinging to the the ship’s mast with an iron grip.
“Just come down from there! We can go in the cabin, then you won’t have to see how high we are anymore and Rainbow, that is not helping!” Twilight turned to glare at Rainbow Dash, who had taken to rolling around on the deck laughing as soon as she’d seen Trixie’s predicament.
“Now just what the hay is all the commotion out here?” asked Applejack, having just walked out onto the deck from the bridge. She was momentarily taken aback at the spectacle before her, but recovered quickly enough and trotted the rest of the way over at an increased pace. “What happened? Is anypony hurt?”
“Tr—ah, turns out Wanda is afraid of heights…” came a partially muffled response from Twilight. She seemed to have decided that, yes, her hoof rather was a comfortable place to rest her face after all, and it should remain there for the foreseeable future.
Relief washed over Applejack’s face. “Shoot, is that all? I thought it was something serious!”
“S-serious?!” Trixie wailed indignantly, her cheeks flushing red. “Everything is upside down and spinning!”
Applejack smirked just a bit. “Horizon, why don’t you take the hyena there and head on inside? I know just the thing to help with flight jitters.”
Twilight arched an eyebrow. “Are you sure? I really don’t want to leave her like this.”
Applejack nodded. “Trust me, a little one-on-one time and I’ll have her right as rain.”
Twilight hummed slightly while moving over toward Rainbow. “Well, I guess you know what you’re doing. Wanda, are you okay with that?”
“S-sure! Yes! Help! Anything!” stammered Trixie, her mouth contorted into a grimace and her eyes slightly crossed. ’Ohh Celestia, everything is spinning again!’
“Okay, we’ll be just inside if you need us,” said Twilight. A gentle kick and an ”oof!” later, Rainbow got the cue to restrain herself and managed to follow Twilight into the cabin.
Applejack trotted over to the terribly panicked mare and sat down next to her, looking her in the eye. Trixie wasn’t sure what she’d expected to see when she looked back, but what she found was a strangely calming sense of… understanding? It was an odd thing, a sensation only ever felt the one time she met Princess Celestia as a filly at the School for Gifted Unicorns.
“You alright there, sugarcube?” cut in Applejack’s voice through her reverie, interrupting her trip down memory lane.
Her first thought was to respond sarcastically, but then Trixie felt a surge of panic rush through her heart as the ship began a slow turn, sending her vision spinning once again. “Nnh, not so much…” she whimpered, the visible portions of her face somewhat green.
Applejack nodded and reached over, gently placing her hoof over Trixie’s. “Now don’tcha fret, sugarcube, the Harvester is perfectly safe. Never once had an accident and I don’t see that record slipping anytime soon.” She smiled slightly, letting her gaze wander to the clouds drifting past, glittering in the sunlight, then met Trixie’s eyes again. “You know, not a whole lotta ponies know this about me, but I used to be terrified of heights too. Actually, they still get to me a bit.”
Trixie’s eyebrows went up at that. “But y-you must have to fly this thing all the time!”
Applejack frowned just slightly, tipping back her hat. “Yep. Never felt natural for an earth pony like me to be up in the air like this all the time, but that’s the world we live in.” Her face softened a bit, seeing ‘Wanda’ shiver a little and readjust her forehooves’ grip around the mast. “Do you know what exactly made you so scared of bein’ up high in the first place?”
Trixie scowled behind her mask. Embarrassment and frustration over her predicament compounded with a flash of something just at the periphery of her memory, and it all suddenly boiled over into a shout. “I just am! I don’t know! There’s no reason for it! Fear of heights is an irrational fear, anypony knows that!” she snapped. Applejack didn’t recoil, but when Trixie saw her ears pin down slightly, her eyes widened further than they already were and she looked down sullenly. “S-sorry...”
Applejack paused, then ducked her head down slowly to the deck, tilting her face up so she could look up into Trixie’s eyes again. “It’s alright, I know you don’t mean nothin’ by it. But I don’t believe that for one second, either. There has to be a reason for what’s got ya so afraid. It was the same way with me—I couldn’t get over my own fears until I faced what caused ‘em in the first place. Once I started bein’ honest with myself and took a good hard look at it, that’s when I could finally come to terms with it. Ya understand?”
Trixie blinked, nodding slightly. “I… I think so…”
Applejack smiled softly again, raising her head back to a comfortable level while Trixie did the same. “Alright, so just relax and think back. Don’t try to deny or suppress it, just let the memory come to you. When did you start being afraid of heights?”
Trixie sighed, shaking the dizziness out of her head one last time before she closed her eyes and tried not to focus on how the ship was bobbing lazily beneath her through the sky. ’Why am I afraid…. why am I afraid…?’ At first, she felt nothing, just the tense knot of her mind trying to recall the past in the darkness. But then, just as she let out a long sigh and was about to give up, it all came rushing back.
Trixie stood on a small wooden platform at the front of the classroom, looking up at her teacher with wide eyes. Ms. Fairweather was going over the elements of the spell used for teleportation while she listened intently one last time. It was an unusually high level technique for unicorns her age to attempt, but Trixie had always shown an unusually high magical aptitude and an insatiable need to learn more about it. Trixie had insisted she could learn it and demonstrate it to her class for this quarter’s practical exam, despite her teacher’s apparent trepidation over the idea.
She distinctly recalled thinking, ’Why are old ponies so afraid of everything?’ in the moment before she started casting her spell. Her horn glowed brilliant pink, the casting only lasting about a second. From her perspective, that second stretched into a minute’s worth of fractured moments as the sigils and lines came together in her mind’s eye.
She first saw herself and everything around her as she envisioned her point of origin, then focused on her destination—the other side of the classroom. The next moment she glanced toward it, seeing the spot which had been cleared for her, as well as the window and its spectacular view of Canterlot Castle up on the mountain, far above the School for Gifted Unicorns which lay at the city center. The moment that would be her undoing, when a stray thought seeped into her mind as she saw the palace in the distance.
’Wouldn’t it be nice to go there?’
In a starburst of pink she was gone, followed by another starburst of light and the rushing of air. Trixie opened her eyes just in time to see the ground rapidly approaching, and only had time to put the first piece of a bubble shield around herself before impact.
Trixie remembered everything now. Her first and final attempt to teleport. The screams of her classmates and teacher when she’d appeared three stories up outside the window instead of the other end of the room. The month she’d spent in the hospital while a quarter of the bones in her body had to mend, the partial shield she’d created having been the only thing keeping her skull from sharing the same fate. Her parents had pulled her from the school shortly afterwards, despite how much of an honor it was seen as to attend by the common populace. Her accident had robbed her of the chance to graduate.
All this came back to her in a vivid rush, and she felt hot, wet tear streaks marring her face. She heard her own shuddering, cracked voice, and realized she had been describing every word of the memory to Applejack as it came back, pouring out her soul to the mare beside her. Applejack simply hugged her gently and let her get it all out.
“Shhhh, it’s okay sugarcube. It’s okay,” cooed the farm pony in a motherly tone of voice, one more suited to another of Twilight’s friends. “That’s some mighty serious hurt you had buried inside you, but now it makes a lot more sense why you’ve been so afraid. I know falling hurts, and it can be hard to pick yourself back up again afterwards, but every time you do, it makes you that much stronger and that much wiser.”
Trixie wiped her nose with a hoof and nodded slightly while she put her slipping mask back into place. A strangled sound escaped her throat, halfway between a sob and a laugh. “I never did try to teleport again…”
Applejack chuckled slightly, letting up on the hug and sitting up. “Yeah I can’t imagine why not. Trust me though, nothin’ like that is going to happen here. We’ve got just about every safety measure possible, and Steel Flight up top there has a jetwing in case of emergencies,” she motioned up to the pegasus sitting in the crow’s nest high above, who gave a curt nod to his captain. “Even if, Celestia forbid, you or anypony fell, somepony will be there to catch ya.”
“You promise?” asked Trixie, wiping her eyes with the other hoof.
Applejack grinned, sitting back on her haunches so she could motion with her forehooves. “Pinkie promise. Cross mah heart, hope to fly, stick a cupcake in my eye.”
Trixie once again felt something register in the back of her mind, and she blinked a few times to clear a sudden pink haze from her eyes. It had grown more powerful than the last time she noticed it. A warm feeling filled her heart, and she let her smile return to her face at last. However, she noticed Applejack was now staring at her with her jaw slightly agape.
She looked down at herself to see what was the matter, but didn’t notice anything right away. Then she realized—she wasn’t clinging to the mast anymore. All four hooves were firmly planted on the deck, and she didn’t feel the dizziness washing over her like she once did.
Her smile grew brighter and she threw her arms around Applejack in a hug, surprising the captain. “Thank you.”
Applejack’s apparent shock wore off, and she returned the hug gently. “You’re welcome. Why don’t ya head on inside now and see your friends? I should probably check in on Mac and see how we’re coming along.”
Trixie nodded, but then blanched when another realization hit her and she looked up to the crow’s nest, spying the stoic, dark brown pegasus stallion up above. “W-wait, he didn’t hear all of that, did he?”
Applejack looked up and shook her head. “Naw, the wind up here’s too loud and strong for that, don’t you worry. Steel’s eyes don’t miss a thing, though, so don’t worry ‘bout that either. Like I said, if anything happens, he’ll be there. Now you go inside and have yourself a good rest. We should have a few hours before we get to where we’re going.”
Trixie nodded one last time and turned towards the door to the cabin, finally confident enough to cross the deck on her own. Her fears still lurked at the edges of her mind, but no longer did they haunt and consume her like they once did. She opened the door to see Twilight and Rainbow look up from their own conversation as she entered, relieved expressions softening both their eyes.
What Trixie didn’t notice, however, was a suddenly flustered looking Applejack turn to look up at her scout, mouthing the words “Did her eyes just glow?” Likewise, she couldn’t know that when the hard-jawed pegasus looked down to his captain, he would simply nod.
Rainbow Dash grinned broadly, waiting just the right amount of time to deliver her punchline. A muffled snort of laughter from Twilight let her know that time had come. “So then Pinkie says, ‘Oatmeal? Are you crazy?!’”
Twilight exploded in laughter, rolling onto her back with her wings puffed out beneath her. Her hind legs kicked in the air with each fit of giggles as though pedaling an invisible bicycle. “I,” she gasped for air, “I f-finally get it!”
Trixie just tilted her head, completely lost. “I just… but… what? That doesn’t make any sense!”
Rainbow turned a smug smile to Trixie. “Try not to think about it too hard. Pinkie’s stories usually need a couple of tellings for them to really sink in.”
“I guess...” Trixie hummed halfheartedly, sipping at a drink from her spot next to Twilight on the cabin’s large, plush couch. For a cargo ship, The Harvester had rather comfortable passenger accommodations. “Trixie does appreciate the attempt to cheer her up though.”
“Hey, that’s what friends are for. But, uh…” Rainbow’s smile slipped, her brow tightening as she walked around the coffee table separating them and rested a hoof on the couch’s armrest. “You’re waffling in and out of third person again. Are you sure you’re gonna be okay?”
“Was I?” Trixie blinked, then rubbed her face gently. “I hadn’t noticed... I’ll be fine; it did help a bit to just get it all out.” She let out a slow sigh, leaning back into the cushions again.
By now Twilight had come down from her laughter, collecting herself in the face of the room’s change in mood. “You know,” she said, “I could help you learn to teleport once we get enough magic back for it.”
Trixie lips curled up a little. “That’d be—” she began, just in time to be interrupted by the overhead speakers.
”Hey there everypony! We’re just about to reach our destination, so come on up to the bridge if y’all wanna see!”
Trixie sighed at the interruption. “That’d be nice,” she finished, then drew her mask and hood back into place. “Well, why not? I think I can handle a walk across the ship now.”
Rainbow sat back and snapped her goggles back over her eyes as well. “Took us long enough. I could’ve flown there and back six times by now!”
“Well, it is a cargo vessel after all, I’m willing to bet there are faster models,” said Twilight as she followed suit with her own disguise.
Meanwhile, Trixie had already made her way to the door, stopping there to wait for the others. She closed her eyes and took several deep breaths in the time it took the others to catch up. Her eyes opened, a nod was exchanged between the three ponies, and Rainbow pushed the door open into the light of day.
The sun was already beginning its descent as they crossed the deck. At this altitude only a handful of clouds drifted past the ship, but the group was treated to a spectacular display as one breezed through the slatted wind barrier, which protected the deck from gusts. The cloud split into ribbons which swirled around the deck, following the air currents as they streamed past. Twilight reached her hoof out into one of the cloud-bands as it blew between her and Rainbow, watching in wonder as the glittering mist furrowed around it.
“It’s still so surreal to me, being able to actually touch a cloud naturally,” she mused, even as her eyes followed the cloud ribbon’s path over and through the ship’s glittering metal wings.
Trixie stuck close to her side, looking up as they passed under the shadow of the crow’s nest. Steel Flight was still up there, eyes on the horizon. He looked down just as she looked up, a small smile gracing his hard jaw before his eyes returned forward.
“Huh…” Trixie muttered distractedly, but it went unnoticed.
The sounds of creaking wood timbers, the steady thrum of the engines and the blowing wind all kept them company as they made the rest of the way across the deck. Trixie shivered as they approached the door to the bridge, pulling her cloak tighter around her. Twilight reached the door first and pulled it open, but none of them were prepared for the sight waiting on the other side.
Beyond Big Mac steadily controlling the wheel, past Granny Smith adjusting dials on her metal box or Marmalade measuring a new line on her map, outside the glass windows Applejack stood before, was a city unlike any the three had ever seen before. It was Cloudsdale; at least, it was supposed to be. But in so many ways, it was something Cloudsdale could never dream of becoming.
The now massive city looked like someone had created seven copies of the original cloudsdale and linked them all together with cloud-sculpted roads, stairways and bridges in a beautiful Escherian image. The architectural style of the original remained, however, with its emphasis on open buildings supported by sculpted columns. Massive metal spires rose at random intervals throughout the city, each sending arcs of lightning from one to the next. Glass tubes curved and spiralled whimsically along the skyline, transporting neon colored fluids from district to district. Rivers of rainbows flowed throughout the city, spidering outwards in a network of colors.
One unique cloud house on the outskirts caught Twilight’s attention in particular. A river flowed through it with water wheels at either end, before falling off the edge of the city to the ground miles below. This had the effect of drawing her eye to the true elephant in the room, though nopony present could possibly have missed it.
Incomprehensibly massive mechanical platforms of brass, woodwork and silver now made up the foundation of the city, with equally unfathomably large propellers spinning lazily beneath each one. The propellers appeared to spin slowly to the naked eye, but she figured that considering their size, they must be moving at hundreds of miles per hour. There seemed to be one underneath each district, and could only serve one possible purpose: these platforms held the entire city aloft.
Applejack turned to the group and tipped her hat back, a self-satisfied smile finding itself at home on her face as she read her passengers’ expressions.
“Howdy, everypony! Welcome to Laputa.”
The last ten minutes had been spent with guests staring out the windows as the Harvester approached the city. Even Rainbow Dash had been uncharacteristically quiet, her face practically pressed against the glass whenever she fluttered from one vantage point to another.
“So, this is why everypony was acting weird whenever we brought up Cloudsdale?” asked Twilight, dragging her gaze from the windows with visible effort. “They changed the name?”
“That’s right,” replied Applejack with a nod. “This city’s been called Laputa for longer than I’ve been alive. I didn’t even know what you lot were on about with the ‘Cloudsdale’ stuff until Granny filled me in. Honestly, it’s kinda weird that you lot only know it by a name three decades out of use...”
Twilight froze, her pupils shrinking for a moment. "U-uh..."
“Heh, that is so like you, Horizon.” Rainbow Dash turned her head from the window to look back at Twilight, a smirk plastered on her face. “You’ve always got your nose so buried in the past, you forget to think about what’s going on now before dragging us along somewhere for your research.”
“Huh?” asked Twilight and Applejack at roughly the same time.
Rainbow’s smirk grew a half inch. “Horizon’s a scholar, Applejack. She’s out here to fill in the blanks for her history research on a place called ‘Cloudsdale.’ None of us caught on that it was really just Laputa. As for Wanda and I, well, she asked for help, so we came.” She shrugged nonchalantly in the way that comes so naturally to her. “S’what friends do.”
Rainbow let her smirk slip slightly and a wistful look overtake her eyes just long enough to be caught by the two as she turned her head back to the window. “Besides, it’s been a few years since I’ve been back home. Sure has changed…”
Twilight could only stand there and blink dumbly at her friend’s acting. It took her a moment to realize that Applejack was nodding, apparently placated by the improvised explanation. ’Wow, she’s good. Forget a Wonderbolt, Rainbow should try being an actress.’
“Shoot, that sounds just like a friend of mine.” Applejack briefly smiled and closed her eyes at the same time. “I think you’d get along with Twilight just fine, Horizon. I’m just sorry you wasted a trip.”
Twilight let oblivious silence hang in the air for just a moment longer than was appropriate, before her eyes widened just a hair. “O-oh! Well, I might as well dig into the whole story so long as we’re here. When life gives you lemons and all that, right? Eheh, heh...” she trailed off awkwardly, in the way that comes so naturally to her.
Out of the corner of her eye, she caught Trixie slap a hoof her face. Twilight did her best not to shoot her a dirty look.
Ahead the group could now see a ring of smaller floating islands surrounding the city at a distance. Most had at least one airship either coming or going, but the one theirs was heading towards was empty at the moment. Glowing white bridges connected the islands to the city proper, but the details were still fuzzy from this distance.
Just as the group had turned their attention to what was outside again, the box on Granny Smith’s table crackled to life with a sharp squawk.
A grainy voice cut through a noticable amount of static. “Tower to incoming vessel, please transmit identification.”
Granny reached over and pulled her mic closer. “Hey there, young’n! This is the Harvester, on approach.”
“ksssh—Good to hear from you Granny Smith! Hey, did you bring that extra jar of Zap Apple Jam I asked for?”
“Sure did! We’ll have it ready for ya when we land.”
“ksssh—Sweet! Oh, and uh, Harvester you are cleared to land on platform seven, dry-dock three. Thank you and welcome to Laputa.”
Applejack nodded in satisfaction before walking over to stand next to her brother. “You heard ‘im, Mac. Take us down.”
Big Macintosh nodded stoically, turning the wheel and adjusting levers to guide the ship on its intended path. The girls watched the descent, and within minutes the ship came to a stop on the outer edge of the cloud isle.
“Alright Bloom, we’re docked,” said Applejack, speaking into the brass horn by the wheel. A moment later the steady thrum of the engines ceased, replaced by only the gentle swish of air washing over the ship as the propellers spun down.
Orange Marmalade put away her tools, then rolled up her giant map in the amber glow of her horn. As the trio made to walk past her for the exit, she set a hoof on Twilight’s shoulder and gave her a reserved smile. “How about I show you around a bit?”
“Off to the Guild, Marmalade?” asked Applejack, making for the door herself.
“Indeed,” she replied, sliding her map into a capped tube she was strapping to her back. “This way I can at least compensate our guests by answering any questions they have along the way.”
Twilight smiled under her mask. “I’d appreciate that, thank you.”
The five of them made their way through the hull of the ship to the cargo exit, passing a grease-covered but cheerful Apple Bloom along the way. Twilight curiously spared a peek at Bloom's flank, but the oil and grease precluded any chance of seeing if anything was there.
The group reached the bottom of the stairs and reached the far side of the cargo bay in short order. While Rainbow helped Applejack open the double-doors at the end, Trixie decided to speak up.
“So, obvious statement, but three of us aren’t pegasi. How are we supposed to, you know…” She paled slightly, shifting her eyes nervously towards the growing crack of light in the doorway.
Marmalade gave Trixie a sideways look. She charged her horn, and before Trixie could respond an amber burst of light enveloped the room. As it faded, Twilight could feel a mild tingling in her hooves and recognized it as the cloudwalk spell she was familiar with—not that she needed it herself these days.
Trixie looked down at her own hooves, shifting from one to the other a few times. “Ooh, that… that feels weird. Tingly.”
“Customs normally will cast the cloudwalk spell on any non-pegasi that arrive.” Marmalade smiled, turning back to the door which was now fully opened, using her magic to extend the ramp for her cousin. “But it saves time to put it on us sooner rather than later.”
Their eyes quickly adjusted to the bright light outside as they walked down the ramp. The area the ship had come to rest on was a circular cloud plaza, roughly forty ponies in diameter. The ‘ground’ had been smoothed flat and carefully textured to look like it was square-tiled. Here and there the platform was dotted with small pony-operated cranes and other cargo moving equipment.. At the bottom of the ramp waited two pegasus stallions and a unicorn mare, all dressed in matching brown uniforms—brown suit jackets, striped vests, and bowler hats, each with a silver pin bearing the letters ‘LCA.’ The unicorn held a pocketwatch in her magic while noting the time on a clipboard.
However, they never got a chance to introduce themselves. Without warning a burst of blue light flashed between the customs ponies and the group. Just like that, Princess Luna stood before them, wearing the same regalia as ever.
“Greetings, fair Applejack!” she declared while smiling at the group, though it faltered as everypony began to bow.
“Please rise, there is neither the need nor the time for formalities. We are afraid something foul is afoot, fair Applejack, and we require thy aid. Come.” Luna opened a wing and motioned her to come closer, but Applejack hesitated.
“Princess? I…” She shook her head. “Now hang on, what about our shipment? I can’t just up and abandon my responsibility like that! Somepony’s gotta help Mac and Steel get everything unloaded.”
The lunar princess furrowed her brow. “But there is—hm, very well.”
Luna turned to the customs ponies, the three of whom dropped to the floor as her gaze swept over them. “Hear us now! The Apple family is to receive all available assistance in delivering their cargo this day! Please also inform them that we are taking lady Applejack with us on a mission of great importance! Are we understood?”
The three nodded rapidly and scattered without a word, off to carry out the orders of the Princess.
Luna turned back to Applejack, a satisfied smile on her face. “Is everything in order now?”
“Err, well, yeah I suppose,” she replied, tipping back her hat and scratching her hair.
“Excellent! We must be off at once. Our sister is gathering the rest of thy friends so that we might assess the nature of this new threat.” Luna stepped up next to Applejack and wrapped a wing around her. There was another flash of blue magic, leaving nothing behind save for a faint crackling noise in the background.
Trixie raised a brow, looking between the other three remaining ponies present. “So… that happened.”
Marmalade scratched her head. “Quite.”
Twilight blinked a few times, then shrugged to nopony in particular. ’It feels weird to be on the spectator’s side of that sort of thing for a change,’ she thought.
The group collectively shook off what just happened and took their first steps onto the cloud platform. Rainbow, Twilight and even Marmalade walked onto the cushiony surface like it was second nature. Trixie however was very hesitant to do more than poke it with her hoof.
“A-are you sure it will hold?”
“Relax, Wanda. The spell is clearly working on me, so logically it should be for you too. Even if it doesn’t, there’s a solid platform no more than a foot under the clouds, both here and in the city,” explained Marmalade.
Trixie shuffled on her hooves a few times, took a deep breath, and jumped out onto the cloud with a shrill squeak. The springiness of the cloud seemed to catch her by surprise and she stumbled to her knees with her eyes tightly closed. When nothing further happened after a second she let one eye peek open, then the other.
“I-i did it! I’m walking on a cloud!” Trixie cheered, shooting up a tiny light from her horn which burst in the air, showering them with blue sparkles of magic. Rainbow chuckled, while a gentle smile graced Twilight’s features as Trixie scooped up a bit of cloud in her forelegs and nuzzled it.
“Alright, come on Wanda, we need to get on with our research,” spoke up Twilight, while subtly tilting her head toward their escort. “Plus we shouldn’t keep Marmalade waiting.”
“Oh! Ahem—right, right.” Trixie stood up again, a slight flush painting her cheeks. The cloud she’d scooped up sprung back into place and smoothed out on its own.
Taking a right from the ship, the group headed for the bridge spanning the gap between them and Laputa. The bridge and its railings glowed a soft yellow-white, and as they got closer, there was a distinctive crackle in the air. Beyond that, the ornately decorated platform they could see under this part of the city silently did its work, its propeller spinning lazily just on the edge of vision. Up close they could actually see exposed bands of cogs and clockwork moving within.
“So I can already guess what Sp—Horizon’s first question will be.” She pointed out from where they stood, away from the nearby luminescent bridge towards the city in the near distance—specifically, the monstrous mechanisms rotating lazily beneath it. “What’s with the giant propellers?”
Twilight smirked. “Not quite how I’d phrase it, but good guess.”
Marmalade smiled, leading the group closer to the edge of the platform for a better look while speaking in her smooth trottingham accent. “Well, I did agree to play tour guide. I suppose a brief history lesson is in order.”
Twilight sat down so she could open one of her saddlebags by hoof before Marmalade began. “Wanda, could you take notes please?” she asked, motioning to her notepad and writing supplies inside with a wing.
“Why do—oh. Oh! Right, I can do that.” Trixie’s horn lit and the items lifted in front of her.
Marmalade sat down as well and began. “Well, it started about forty years ago, when the airship boom came into full force. Cloudsdale was facing rapid expansion, being the only high-altitude city in Equestria aside from Canterlot. Unfortunately, trading had to be done entirely ship-to-ship, because the weight from trying to store goods in the city would cause the clouds to start sinking. It was, well, less than ideal.”
“The city council commissioned Professor Nickel Coil of Coil Innovations to create a solution. It took seven years of planning, construction, and even inventing new means to make it possible, but the results are what you see before you. These floating platforms support Laputa’s weight through some esoteric combination of magic and science. I don’t know how it works; pretty much nopony does, but the propellers spin perpetually with no need for fuel. It’s a technology Professor Coil created specifically for the project. There’s nothing else like them in the world. The same goes for the lightning bridges, they’re unique to Laputa.”
Marmalade tilted her head, a contemplative look crossing her face while she rubbed a hoof under her chin. “I’m not sure why they never mass-produced or released the technology behind them to the public.”
The scratching of Trixie’s quill slowed as she finished writing. “Lightniiing… briiidgeees…” she muttered. Then her eyes widened and shot over to Marmalade, then to the softly glowing bridge behind the cartographer. “Wait, what?!”
“Mhmm.” Marmalade nodded, walking the dozen remaining yards to the bridge with the group in tow. In the place of wooden posts one would see with a normal suspension bridge, there were an odd pair of metal coils on either side of the path. Between them lay a translucent, glowing ten foot wide road that looked like it was made from Celestia’s magic, solidified. It was perfectly straight, rather than bowing in the middle, and similarly colored railways of light stretched from the coils to the opposite side.
“Don’t ask me how it works. Something about captured lightning drawing in ambient magic hornlessly, bound mist particles and some such. I just know I never get tired of this.” She grinned impishly as she stepped out onto the bridge. Where her hooves touched it, electricity appeared to spider out beneath the surface.
“Wow…” breathlessly muttered Twilight.
“Yeah that’s pretty cool, but let’s get over there already!” announced Rainbow, who seemed to have run out of patience and was already trotting past Marmalade across the bridge. This caught their guide by surprise, who floundered for a moment before turning to follow her. Twilight and Trixie shared a look, then followed suit.
About halfway across, Twilight realized how still the air was around them. “The wind’s stopped…” she muttered, stopping to look around. The propellers were still spinning beneath, and above the city she could see plenty of pegasi flying about.
Marmalade looked back to Twilight for a moment. "That's right. It's an intentional side effect of the bridges. They nullify any and all air currents from below, so neither the city or it's ponies get sucked down by the prop wash."
Twilight just nodded, continuing to look around at everything. She was shaken out of her introspection when Trixie bumped into her. The unicorn’s eyes were darting about as she recovered, and her legs were trembling.
“Are you okay?” asked Twilight in concern.
“F-fin..n… no. No T-Trixie is n-not… It’s s-so h-high! S-so high...” she whimpered.
Twilight nodded and moved up against her, surprising the showmare.
“W-what are you doing?” asked Trixie.
Twilight wrapped a wing over Trixie’s back, smiling when she felt her trembling subside a little. “Helping, I hope. Princess Celestia would often do this for me when I was nervous.”
Trixie nodded. “T-thank you, Twilight.”
Twilight’s eyes widened a little, and she felt a warm giddiness inside her at hearing Trixie finally call her by her first name.
With her help the two managed to make the rest of the trip across the bridge without incident. On the far side they caught up to Marmalade and a barely self-restrained Rainbow Dash. Without further adieu, they set off into the city.
Marmalade lead the way for a while, pointing out landmarks and giving historical tidbits about how the city was re-formed, and how it came about being renamed. They traveled up and around through meandering paths and breezy boulevards, soon leaving the warehouses behind.
The first region beyond the docks was packed with multitudes of shops and marketplaces, all facilitating the trade of the incredible range of goods Laputa’s unique position in the world attracted. Silks from Saddle Arabia, the latest in household gadgetry from the tinkers of Trottingham, even exotic herbs and grasses from the wilds of Zebrica. It was difficult for them all to find an excuse to leave it behind, as every shop brought something new and exciting from the world both within and beyond Equestria.
The next district seemed entirely dedicated to the arts: Parks, forums and wide open spaces where ponies of all walks of life were out painting, sculpting, doing photography and sharing their work and ideas with one another. From here they could see wide swaths of the city around them, each district varying in architecture and style with their own unique purposes.
Their path climbed uphill, taking them through a sculpture garden where a master cloud-sculptor was giving lessons. Further along they found a mare who introduced herself as Sky Garden, when Twilight stopped to ask how she’d managed to find a way to transplant soil into the clouds in order to grow a small hedge maze.
Sky wiped her brow with a dirty towel and set her gardening tools down, motioning Twilight over to a bench where they and Marmalade had a seat. “Well, at first I thought I could just have enough soil hauled up that I could make a bed on the platform, but it turns out that wouldn’t work.”
“Why not?” asked Twilight.
Sky Garden gave a tired looking smile. “Well, come to find out the city is actually constantly shifting on top of it, a little bit back and forth at a time. This is construction-grade cloud we’re standing on, too, so in the end it would just push the soil all back and forth until it’s too spread out and my plants would uproot.”
“Ahh. So how’d you solve that problem?”
“Well, it wasn’t easy. First I…”
Trixie tuned out the conversation, wandering off a little with Rainbow while Twilight and Sky traded notes. She had to smile when she looked aside at Rainbow, seeing the pegasus staring all around them with wide eyes. She could tell Rainbow was anxious to fly, too, with the way she kept fidgeting with her wings.
“So 'Firebug', what do you think? How does this Laputa compare to Cloudsdale back home?” she asked.
Rainbow took a little while to come up with something to say. “Cloudsdale has always been a big, wide open place, but this? I just… wow.”
Trixie smiled, giving her a little nudge. “Go on, get up there and fly around. I know you want to. This stop is probably going to take a while anyways. You have some fun—I’ll send up a signal when we’re ready to go.”
Rainbow brightened right up, throwing Trixie an excited grin. “Really? Awesomebebacksoon!” She wasted no further time, shooting into the skies like a rocket and leaving a rainbow trail in her wake.
Trixie smirked a little as she watched Rainbow soar off. ’Silly pony.’ She shook her head and rolled her eyes playfully at the display, then turned her attention to the scenery around her.
A group of fillies and colts played around the hedge maze, with their parents keeping a close watch from above. Pegasi were free to flutter through the air overhead without the restriction of having to wear exo-wings here in the city. Many ponies took advantage of this here and simply soared overhead, just out enjoying the day.
Trixie sat down, enjoying how amazing sitting on a cloud actually felt. ’Wow that’s comfortable. I hate to admit, but it’s pretty nice up here… As far in as we are now, it’s easy to forget how high up we actually are.’ She snorted. ’Listen to me… When did Trixie, the Great and Powerful, start going so soft?’
As she thought about that, Trixie found her eyes drifting back to Twilight. She simply sat there for a while, watching Twilight talk animatedly with the gardener. She hardly noticed that she was smiling when Twilight finally said her goodbyes, then she and Marmalade got up and walked over to her.
“Hey there Wanda, ready to go? Where’s Firebug?”
Trixie kept smiling faintly. “Yeah.” She focused on her horn for a moment and sent a pink spark into the air, which burst into glitter above them. Within seconds, Rainbow came zipping down to land next to the three of them, and started chattering on about what she’d seen.
Soon the group began to pass structures meant for higher learning and education. The first they came across was a library, which took some urging to keep Twilight out of. Not far from there they approached the sprawling campus of the local university, nestled near the heart of the city.
Marmalade turned them in the opposite direction from the campus however, and a few minutes later they found themselves at a small building marked as the Equestrian Geographer’s Guild. It was here that Marmalade took her leave at last, bidding farewell to the trio before heading inside.
Rainbow Dash looked around once Orange Marmalade was out of sight, then made eye contact with Twilight. “Alright, let’s go find what we came here for.”
The girls walked into an empty alley a few streets away. As before, Rainbow Dash scouted it out to be sure nopony was watching or eavesdropping. Satisfied, she moved to stand lookout closer to the entrance.
“Alright you two, ready when you are,” she said.
“Right,” said Twilight, who then turned to look at Trixie. “Your turn this time.”
Trixie nodded, pink light starting to shine through her hood from her forehead. “Okay. Here goes.”
The sapphire gem on the end of Trixie’s necklace began to glow and hum as her magic trickled its way down into it. A matching deep blue haze appeared over Trixie’s eyes, and the world suddenly changed colors for her. Buildings became transparent and ponies disappeared from her view, replaced by translucent outlines. She felt herself drawn to look to her left, and when she acquiesced her eyes snapped onto something she couldn’t see in the distance.
All at once it felt like she was rushing forward; her sight shot into the distance as though she were flying through everything in-between. There at last they were, a pink and lavender mote spinning slowly around each other. They were on the far side of the district, but looked as if they were right in front of her face.
“What’s happening?” asked Twilight.
Trixie blinked and looked down, realizing that she hadn’t moved a hoof from her spot. “Wow, that is weird. I can actually see our motes from here.” She looked back up, her vision zooming out towards the motes again, then pointed a hoof towards them. “Out there, on the other side of the university. Hang on, there’s an alternate spell for this thing...”
Rainbow turned around to look at the two, then made a startled cry. “Uwaah! Whoa… freaky.”
Trixie tilted her head, oblivious to the starfield covering her face. From the outside, it looked like a piece of Luna’s mane was obscuring her eyes. She shrugged and went back to what she was doing, sending magic down to the pendant again.
The sapphire flashed twice in succession, and the starry substance vanished only to begin to flow out from the gem itself. It flowed into the air and off in the direction of the motes in a stream. After about thirty yards the stream vanished, only to flow out from the pendant and repeat its path again and again.
“Is that doing what I think it’s doing?” Twilight asked, stretching out her wings instinctively as she followed the stream with her gaze.
“Luna’s notes called it a ‘waypoint’ spell. It will keep showing us the path to our motes until we collect them or I stop channeling.” Twilight opened her mouth, but Trixie continued before she could speak up. “Before you ask, no, only we can see it. The spell for this makes me designate ponies for it first.”
Twilight grumbled, “There’s been a lot of interrupting going on lately, am I the only one who’s noticed that?”
“Well c’mon, let’s go!” Rainbow grinned, grabbing Trixie suddenly and zipping off into the air after the starlight, quick enough to leave her signature rainbow streak in her wake. Twilight groaned, now having to skip most of her pre-flight checklist if she had any hope of keeping up. With a wiggle of her tail and her tongue determinedly stuck out of the corner of her mouth, she leaped into the air after them.
Twilight hadn’t been having too much trouble keeping up with Rainbow and Trixie, which surprised her—then again, it wasn’t hard to keep track of them, all she had to do was follow the wails of a terrified unicorn.
’Well, Trixie’s weighing Rainbow down, so that slows her a bit. Plus she’s almost definitely struggling, so there’s that too. I swear, Dash is so reckless when she gets excited.’ She shook her head, then steadied her path when that act made her wobble a bit. ’My takeoff is getting much better though, I wish she’d been there to see that.’ she thought, her chest puffing up a bit in pride. Or exertion. No, definitely the pride, she decided.
She certainly wasn’t getting winded just following the two across one city district.
’... No more cheating on my diet. I mean it this time!’
Twilight’s thoughts faded from delicious hayburgers as she perked her ears forward, picking up Trixie’s voice ahead.
“Oh come on, we’re almost there!” countered Dash. Twilight crested a rooftop and saw them just ahead. She was almost caught up to the two now.
“I said put me doooown!” Trixie whined, her hooves flailing while Rainbow held her torso in a death grip. “If we get too close it’ll reach me up here, and if it reaches me I’ll space out, and when I space out I’m probably going to go boneless, and nopony wants that happening in mid-air!”
She saw Rainbow coast down to a landing next to a small building on the far side of a hoofball field, where Trixie started stamping her hooves and fuming at the pegasus. Twilight giggled softly and let herself glide the rest of the way over, losing herself in thought again.
’Hum, a hoofball field in the clouds? I’d hate to be the one that has to get the ball when they kick it out of bounds... Oh dear, with the propellers they couldn’t even get one back anymore could they? No wonder they put the field all the way in the middle of—’ Which is as far as that train of thought got. Then she face-planted near her friends, leaving just her hind end dangling out of the small crater she’d made in the clouds.
Rainbow sighed in exasperation. “Jeez, Twi. I thought you said you were getting better at landing? Looks like we’re back to square one.”
Meanwhile, Trixie’s irritation evaporated, replaced by a grimace while she moved closer. “Uh… Twilight, are you okay?”
Twilight’s right leg twitched.
Trixie winced. “Does that mean no?”
Rainbow snickered softly. “According to Pinkie, a twitchy leg means ‘beware of falling alicorns’ now. Bit late for that warning, Twi!”
Her leg twitched again, and after a pause she spoke. “I have verified that there is indeed a solid surface under the clouds… Ow.”
Rainbow grabbed Twi’s tail in her teeth and pulled her free, with an assist from Trixie’s levitation. Twilight wobbled and smiled awkwardly once she got back on her hooves.
“Thanks girls. So, how much further?”
Trixie leaned against the building. “Just a minute, I’m still a bit dizzy from riding the Rainbow Coaster.” She frowned and glared at Dash, getting a sheepish grin in return. “But we should be close. Our motes will probably catch up to us right about—”
A pale blue orb of smoky light chose just that moment to phase through the wall next to Trixie’s face, immediately touching and suffusing into her horn. The unicorn stopped mid-sentence, her eyes glazing over, while at the same time her irises sparkled and glowed.
“See! Interruptions left and right today. It’s like the universe is just conspiring to—oh so that’s what that looks like, I didn’t actually get to see her face last time we found a set of these. Too much running.” Twilight realized she’d just interrupted herself there when Rainbow made a face. “No the coincidence is not lost on me.”
“Isn’t the word supposed to be irony?”
Twilight deadpanned as she leveled a unamused glare at Rainbow Dash. “No. No it is not.”
She then immediately brightened and sat down at the corner of the building when a smoky, lavender speck of light drifted through the wall and past Trixie. “There’s mine! I’m not sure how long this will take. Oh, there’s an idea. Could you try timing it, Rainbow? Trixie has the hourglass in her saddlebag.”
Rainbow tilted her head and lifted her goggles out of her eyes for a moment. “I don’t see anything... Huh? Oh, yeah, sure Twi.” She shrugged and walked over to the still out-of-it Trixie, rummaging through the bag.
“Better start counting the seconds until you get it out.” She eyed the slowly moving mote as it got closer and closer to her horn. “Start now, it’s about to connec—”
The lavender mote touched her horn, causing her vision to go into a haze as the memories came. Eerily, she could hear Rainbow counting in the background, but her friend’s voice echoed in her mind like it was coming across a great distance.
A classroom faded into view in her mindscape. No, not a classroom, a school gymnasium. Up on the stage a young blue unicorn filly with a frosted white and blue mane stood in front of her peers, smiling under a wide-brimmed wizard hat.
“Wait, this isn’t my memory…” echoed her own voice. Nopony seemed to notice.
”Watch and be amazed, as the Grreat and Powerful Trrrixie performs feats never before seen by ponykind!” declared the filly. Trixie’s younger self nodded to another student who pulled a curtain aside, revealing a pony-shaped black box with several slots on it. “If Trixie could have a volunteer, please?”
A tan unicorn colt raised his hoof, and was called up onto the stage. “Please, step into the box.” Trixie opened up the doors on the box and motioned him toward it, and he complied. The doors were shut, leaving his face, legs and tail visible through holes cut in the panels.
“Notice now the ring on Trixie’s horn. As you can see, Trixie cannot use her horn to assist in this performance tonight.” She pointed up to a small band at the base of her horn. She turned the box around so it faced away from the audience, then picked up a long flat blade using her hooves. “Now avert your eyes if you are of the faint of heart, gentle ponies. But be assured, my volunteer will come to no harm!”
Before anypony could react to that, she shoved the first blade into a slot in the box, the only sound following being a ‘shhhnk’ and he clack of it hitting the wood on the other side.
Twilight heard herself gasp.
“Volunteer, tell Trixie if you feel anything.”
“Uh, okay? Is something happening yet?” he replied.
She turned to her stunned audience and winked, then slid in three more blades into similar slots in the box. “Now for the magic words… Veni, vidi, vici!”
Trixie pulled the box apart into three pieces, moving them about the stage to varied gasps from her fellow students. She even reached up and turned the section containing the volunteer’s head on its side, but left that on top of the part containing his front, before turning them all around to face the audience. The colt looked around at the awestruck student body, his eyes going somewhat wide when he saw one of the teachers faint. On the left side of the stage, his rear legs and tail shuffled, while on the right his front legs fidgeted. There in the middle his head blinked a few times. “Why’s everything sideways?”
The crowd erupted in applause, filling the filly on stage with pride. There was a sparkle and a sudden glow behind the filly, and when she turned to look, Trixie’s cutie mark had appeared on her flank at long last.
The applause doubled in intensity.
Twilight could feel Trixie’s emotions from the memory surging through herself as well. It was as though she were connected to Trixie, experiencing what she felt. Then there was the surreal sensation of her mind somehow expanding. Possibilities reawakened that hadn’t been there the day before. A piece of her magic had returned to where it belonged, and now she felt more… more.
“Hey, get out of there!” echoed Rainbow’s voice around her.
“Wait… what?” Twilight wondered aloud, and the scene faded back to reality again.
Twilight felt a tug on her flank. Something jostled her saddlebag, and Rainbow was yelling. She shook her head in an attempt to clear it, which actually helped. She looked back behind her in time to see a hooded figure lift its head out of her saddlebag. An inconvenient shadow from the hood obscured the offender’s face, but dangling from their muzzle was one of Twilight’s prized possessions.
The figure took off, doll in tow, around the corner of the building. The hooded pony then cut a quick path towards a road leading to a much denser district of the city, threatening to vanish into the metropolis before they could react.
“Come on!” yelled Rainbow, shoving the hourglass back into Trixie’s pack before giving chase. Trixie followed quickly, having already recovered from her own experience.
Twilight stumbled to her hooves, but found it surprisingly easy to snap out of her daze and gallop off after the thief. The boost she’d gotten from connecting to another mote of her magic had energized her with an adrenaline rush. Not only had she already caught up with Rainbow Dash, but she found herself having to hold back slightly not to surge ahead of her friend.
Within moments the group had left the universities behind and were dodging through narrow streets and alleyways once again, hot on the blonde tail of the thief.
“Twenty-three seconds, by the way,” commented Rainbow.
“Huh? Oh, right! Thanks.” Twilight smiled.
“Ahuh. So seriously though, Twi. You brought that dumb doll?” she grumbled.
Twilight huffed. “She is not dumb! Smarty Pants is a valuable research assistant.”
Rainbow deadpanned. “Okayyyy... I thought Big Mac still had her after last time?”
Trixie narrowed her eyes, glancing over at the two for a moment as she kept up. “You mean that big guy related to Applejack?”
The three of them skidded around a corner in order to make a ninety degree turn down a side street. Trixie’s hooves actually gave off sparks of magic friction from her cloudwalk spell. They seemed to be moving through dense urban housing now, somewhat ramshackle compared to the outer districts of the city. The thief spared a glance back at the trio before pulling ahead just a bit.
Twilight sighed, at least as well as she could while galloping at full tilt. “You have no idea how hard it was to get her back. I really don’t want to lose her again, okay? Can we drop it until we catch that... that… dollnapper!? Rainbow, go up!”
Rainbow immediately unfolded her wings and took to the skies. The thief happened to choose that moment to look back at the group and took a hard right down another old road. Within seconds the girls zipped around the corner, only to find an empty dead end.
“What the? Where’d he go?” exclaimed Rainbow, zipping down to the high cloud-brick wall blocking the path.
There was a clatter and a bang behind the group, and they turned in time to see an overturned trash can roll around while the thief had turned their shadowed face back towards the group in apparent alarm.
“Got ya!” yelled Rainbow, who surged into the air as the thief ran off again.
Twilight and Trixie took off running, getting back onto the main road. Twilight glanced aside at the can when the corner of her eye caught something: a weird multicolored scorch mark. It was heat-blurred, but it looked almost like blue... plaid? She shook it off and focused, having to dodge a few bystanders once they hit the street again, but didn’t lose much ground.
Trixie panted, starting to run out of breath. “At least,” she huffed again, “they aren’t doing that cliche thing where they knock over these fruit or paper stands,” commented Trixie.
“Don’t give ‘em ideas!” snapped Twilight.
Rainbow’s contrail sailed overhead as she poured on a burst of speed. Unfettered by the ground, she was free to pull out all the stops and show this thief exactly who they were messing with. The thief cut down another corner which forced her to slow down long enough to take it. She focused her attention on the thief; just a few more seconds and the chase would end—then her instincts screamed at her to pull up.
”Buck! Tunnel!” she cursed and slammed herself upwards, her belly sliding against the thankfully soft wall blocking further pursuit by air. Rainbow pulled a backwards loop and swooped back to the ground, dropping to her hooves again next to her friends just in time for the trio to plunge into a poorly lit tunnel.
“Where the heck are they going?” asked Trixie.
“The sign over the tunnel said ‘Cogworks,’” Dash replied. “Also ‘no unauthorized entry’, so there’s that.”
Trixie grunted softly. She and Twilight simultaneously decided to use their horns to light the tunnel, sparing each other a glance and a determined smile before refocusing on the task at hand.
A task which was taking them underground. A wisp of blonde hair was visible flitting down a flight of metal steps in the side of the tunnel, and the sounds of slowing hooves echoed below them. The trio slowed just enough to carefully descend one at a time on the narrow stairway, and found themselves in a much better lit section at the bottom.
The clouds had given way to a tunnel of brass and yellow stone, with caged light bulbs embedded in the walls at regular intervals. Perhaps it was the light from the bulbs which cast everything in a yellow glow, but Twilight compartmentalized the thoughts of optical illusions and light spectrums to the back of her mind. The tunnel was wide enough for four ponies to stand abreast, and tall enough for even Celestia to walk comfortably down it.
It was humid and warm down here, and the ground sounded oddly hollow with each step they took. Twilight wasn’t certain, but it felt as though the tunnel had a downward slant to it. They had lost sight of the thief, but the sounds of their hoofsteps persisted just ahead of them at all times. The sound lead them past the occasional fork or intersection and gradually slowed down to a walk, allowing the three to slow down to catch their breath.
“So, Trixie…” Twilight began, moving so she and Trixie were walking next to each other. She licked her lips while she thought how to continue. It felt funny with the mask in the way.
Trixie arched a brow. “Yes?”
“Um… well.” She cleared her throat. “When I connected with my mote, I didn’t see one of my memories this time. It seemed to be one of yours, actually.”
“Hm.” Trixie turned her eyes forward, her expression hardening somewhat. Twilight knew that look. Her friend was bracing for bad news.
She bit her lip, but ventured to continue. “I saw how you got your cutie mark.”
Trixie blinked, her face relaxing. “Y-you did? Oh. Well, um… Yes! Feel privileged knowing you have seen the very first awe-inspiring performance of The Great and Powerful Trixie!”
Twilight giggled softly. “I do, it was really impressive.”
Trixie puffed up a bit and smiled. “Yes, well... so was yours. Terrifying,” she emphasised, “but impressive.”
The alicorn grimaced under her mask. “You have no idea how scared I was when that happened.”
“Actually, I know exactly how scared you were. I could feel it.” Trixie looked at her sympathetically. “I was afraid you’d seen something from my life that felt that way too.”
Rainbow had listened in quietly, paying as much attention to their conversation as their surroundings. She chose now to speak up, however. “Hey girls, listen.”
They could hear the rhythmic chugging of machinery through the walls, here. Bursts of steam, cogs slowly turning, engines hard at work, the unfamiliar industrial song was putting the ponies on edge.
The sound of the thief’s hooves abruptly stopped. Moments later they came across Smarty Pants, abandoned on the floor in front of a large wooden door marked ‘Engineering.’
Rainbow gulped quietly, her wings fidgeting on her sides. “Okay, this is creepy...”
Twilight ignored her, immediately lifting Smarty up in her horn’s glow and bringing the doll to her so she could hug it. “Oh I’m so sorry! I never should’ve taken you on my expeditions with me! I’m going to get you such a nice display case when we get home. With a lock.” She paused. “A big lock.”
Trixie sighed in relief and sat down. “I’m just glad that’s over with. Maybe now we can all go home?” She grumbled, stamping a forehoof on the stone floor. “At least down here, Trixie doesn’t have to worry about falling.”
A tremor shook the tunnel. In the background, the rhythm of machinery was interrupted with a loud *thunk*, replaced entirely by a long hiss of steam. All three felt their stomachs flop when the world around them suddenly dropped about a foot, then stopped again.
“You had to say it!” growled Rainbow.
Twilight stowed her doll securely away and yanked open the door. “Come on!”
After barreling through the doorway they had immediately found themselves on a narrow metal catwalk on the other side. It was barely two ponies wide, and lined on either side with a chain-link fence which stretched all the way to the ceiling, connecting there in order to suspend the catwalk in midair. Below and around them on all sides, as far as they could see, was nothing. They were surrounded by a pitch-black, vast emptiness. The only light came from evenly spaced exposed light bulbs sticking from the ceiling, and the only sound aside from hooves on metal was the sustained hiss of releasing steam.
Twilight glanced behind her at Trixie worriedly, but the blue unicorn was putting on a brave face and ignoring the vertigo. The three crossed thirty yards of catwalk as quickly as they could before reaching the far side—a large metal shaft that stretched from the ceiling down into the blackness below. It had a polished brass double-door in front and a hoof-shaped button next to them.
“What the hay is that?” asked Rainbow.
Twilight’s eyes lit up in recognition and she hit the button before she started to explain. “It’s an elevator!”
Rainbow cocked her head. “An ‘elevator’?”
Trixie nodded. “They use them in all the major cities, like Manehattan.”
“Yup! They had one of these at Equestria High, too. It’s a machine, well, a moving box, that moves ponies from one floor to another without needing to use stairs. The school was only two stories high, but according to law there, one is required in any public institution for the use of those who cannot physically use stairs.” Twilight beamed, just in time for the elevator bell to ding behind her, and the doors to slide open. “I looked it up.”
She walked inside, followed by her friends, and looked at the panel. It only had two buttons to choose from, so she hit the lower one and off they went, once again making their stomachs flop slightly from the descent.
“Ah, I haven’t been out to Manehattan yet. I guess that makes sense, though.” Rainbow grunted when the lift began to move. “Whuh, that feels weird.”
“Feels a bit out of place here though, doesn’t it?” asked Trixie.
Twilight rubbed her chin. “Well, from what I read, steam-powered elevators were invented around the humans’ mid-nineteenth century, and first put to use in their coal mines.”
While she was looking up, she noticed the bulb in the elevator’s ceiling flickered and dimmed a bit. The elevator slowed its descent, and the bulb started to slowly fade. “Oh no... we have to fix whatever’s happening, fast!”
“So what was that when everything just dropped for a second? If this platform is shutting down, why aren’t we sinking yet?” asked Rainbow, her eyebrows creased upwards in worry.
“If I had to guess,” chimed in Trixie, her eyes glowing pink briefly, “when the engines stopped some sort of safety system engaged to disconnect this district from the rest of the city. That’s why we dropped, the edges snapped away so it doesn’t drag the rest of the city down. Momentum should keep the propellers spinning for a while but when they start to slow, we’ll start to drop—if we aren’t already. Hard to tell on the elevator.”
Twilight and Rainbow just stared at her for a minute. Trixie blinked, the glow vanishing from her irises. “What?”
“Eyes,” muttered a dumbstruck Rainbow.
“U-uh… I thought you weren’t an engineer?” ventured Twilight.
“Yeah…” Trixie frowned. “I’m not sure where that came from. Sounds about right though.”
The elevator came to a halt with a weak chime of the bell, and the doors opened, but chugged to a halt three quarters of the way. The light bulb above shut off, leaving the girls to climb out of the darkened box into the equally dark ground floor of the open pit they’d gone down into. Just ahead, working light spilled out of another doorway, joined suddenly by a crash and clatter of metal.
“We’ll worry about it later, this has to be it!” declared Trixie, leading the three in the charge to the room ahead.
They didn’t have to run far, as the other side of the doorway immediately opened up into the true belly of the beast. A very short flight of steps dropped down into a moderately sized, but very high-ceilinged chamber which opened up around them. Cogs, cables, clockwork and other machinery lined the walls in their periphery, but everypony’s attention was immediately brought to what laid directly before them at the center of the room.
A tan pegasus stallion stood with his back turned to the group, attempting to crowbar open a large hatch on the front of what looked like one of three massive copper boilers. He was wearing a black beret, mask, striped white and black shirt, and black suspenders holding up black trousers in probably the most cliche burglar outfit possible. His mane and tail were a deep russet brown, however. Whoever the girls had been chasing, this wasn’t them.
The machines he stood in front of were four-foot thick columns of copper, covered in lights and readout gauges, spaced evenly apart in a triangular pattern and stretching from floor to ceiling. One of them was already missing its front hatch—it now lay on the floor in a twisted heap—while the inside revealed an incomprehensible mass of cables and devices all linked up to what was now a gaping hole. Next to the stallion was a sack with a glowing blue crystal sticking out the top, easily as big as a pony’s head and matching the shape of the empty hole in the machine.
The stallion succeeded in prying off the second hatch just as the trio galloped inside, which flew open on its hinges and hit the machine’s side with a loud bang before the top hinge broke off, leaving it dangling there. Inside was another crystal glowing a radiant green, magnitudes brighter than the disconnected one. Before the door fell, Twilight had spotted a large cog on the room’s back wall had been dislodged as well, now laying on the floor while its surrounding cogs had been bent out of position.
“What do you think you’re doing?! Stop it!” declared Twilight, spreading out her hooves and wings in an aggressive posture. Rainbow and Trixie stopped on either side of her, doing the same.
“Yeah! Are you nuts? You’re going to sink the city!” pressed Rainbow.
The stallion slowly turned around, an eyebrow raised and a cocky sneer on his face. A five-o'clock shadow covered his bulky chin. The lights in the room flickered, fading slightly while casting menacing shadows across his features. “That’s the idea. And here I thought this was getting boring!” He laughed callously, then shook his head.
“But is this seriously all the opposition anyone is going to muster? Three weak little mares? Well…” he raised his crowbar, somehow gripping it in his hoof as easily as a guard might hold a sword in his teeth.
Just then everypony felt the room shift, a steady and accelerating sensation of falling telling the obvious—the city had started to sink.
He smirked, finishing his thought. “I won’t complain about it being too easy. After all, clock is ticking.”
Rainbow charged. Just as she was about to fly into him, the stallion spun and kicked her in the chin, sending her flying across the room. Twilight and Trixie rushed him from opposite sides, but he rolled out of the way, leaving the two to slide into each others’ sides.
The stallion gave a wild-eyed grin and made to rush the dazed pair with his weapon. He was caught from behind by a flying buck from Rainbow and went skidding across the room himself.
“I’ll handle this guy,” she yelled, “you two try to fix this mess before we all crash!”
While Rainbow chased after the saboteur and the two began to brawl in earnest, the duo got to work. Twilight ran over to the machine and peered inside, studying the workings while Trixie dragged the sack over with her mouth.
“Does it matter which end goes up or anything?” Trixie asked, trying to lift the crystal into the air in her pink aura. She got a jolt to her horn for her effort, convulsing briefly and being thrown to the ground.
“Trixie!” Twilight turned and kneeled down next to her. “Are you okay?”
“Y-yes, I t-think s-so,” she stammered, still having spasms. “Guess we c-can’t use m-magic on it-t-t.” The unicorn struggled to get to her hooves, but her legs were trembling too badly from the shock.
“Stay down until you recover, I’ll figure out something.”
Twilight stood up and looked around, analyzing her options while watching the stallion and Rainbow trade blows, their fight having taken to the air at this point. ’Okay, facts at hand: I can’t use magic on the crystal. Could lift using the sack, but risk of magic field contact too high. He got the crystal out of the engine. He’s a pegasus. He’s not wearing anything on his hooves. No visible tools beyond the crowbar. Hypothesis: Safe to touch by hoof.’
She turned and grabbed the sack in her mouth, finding its contents surprisingly light for its size. ’Low mass. Delicate.’ she thought, hyper-focus removing the narrative from her inner monologue. Using that lack of weight, Twilight stood on her hind legs and lifted the sack as high as she could toward the gap in the engine with her mouth, bracing her wings against the machine to hold her steady.
A yell from Rainbow and a crash behind her told her the fight was getting uncomfortably close. There was a grunt from the stallion as he landed nearby. Twilight caught a whiff of sulfur, which was accompanied by a loud snap and a surprised yelp from the saboteur.
“Hah! Wand-da is never weak-k and helpless!”
”You leave her alone!” *slam!*
Twilight forced herself to tune it out, concentrating on maneuvering her forehooves in a way as to grab the crystal from the sack. She eyed the hole with careful scrutiny, comparing it to the shape of the crystal: a rectangular prism capped on both ends with square pyramids. It was warm and vibrated subtly in her grasp, and it gave off an electric buzz whenever her horn got close to touching it.
A few more moments of lifting and it was almost in place. Desperate for the last bit of leverage she needed, she had to use her chin to nudge it in the rest of the way. This close to her face, she could feel tingles of electricity jumping from it to her horn, which amplified the instant the crystal reconnected to its reactor with a loud click. She jumped back to avoid what happened to Trixie happening to her, just in time to see the crystal’s blue light intensify to match its twin and forcing her to shield her eyes.
But they were still falling, and the city was picking up speed.
“Augh!” cried Rainbow, crashing to the ground one more time and sliding into Twilight, knocking her backwards off her hooves into a heap on top of her friend. Rainbow wasn’t stirring, she’d been knocked out cold.
The stallion chuckled darkly, flapping his wings slowly before his form landed and filled Twilight’s upside-down view of world. “Like I said. Easy.” He smirked, readying his crowbar.
Twilight tried to get up, but Rainbow had her hind legs pinned. She could see Trixie struggling to her hooves at last, but there wasn’t time for her to reach them. She wasn’t sure the weakened unicorn could even do much to help if she could. She poured all her meager power into forming a bubble shield to buy some time, but even with her latest boost in power she realized it would only survive one hit, at best. Twilight closed her eyes and hoped for a miracle.
“Lafiette! I should have known one of Charge’s lackeys would be behind this!”
Twilight opened her eyes, blinking and looking around for the source of the voice. There at the top of the stairs was Orange Marmalade, glaring at the stallion in contempt. She had a weird device with a grapple claw buckled to her right forehoof, was wearing a pith helmet with a hole for her horn, had her hair down in a way that made recognizing her difficult, and had saddlebags covering her flanks that didn’t depict her cutie mark, but rather one of a—
“Compass Rose!” Lafiette growled, breaking off his attack on Twilight to face the newcomer. “You would try to interfere.”
“This is a new low, even for you!” She jumped down the stairs, and the two started to circle each other. “Disabling Laputa’s reactors just to steal mana crystals, seriously?! There’s thousands of ponies in this district alone, and they’re not all pegasi!”
“What do I care? So long as this place goes down I get paid, Coil’s reputation is ruined, and the fat one’s stock goes up when he swoops in to pick up the pieces. Not to mention you’ll be buried in the wreckage. Taking the crystals was just gravy.” He grinned maliciously. “Maybe Charge can even spin it to put the blame on you when they find your body.” His grin widened, and he lunged at the unicorn with a swing of his crowbar.
Marmalade got up on her hind hooves and backpedaled in a surprising display of control, dodging the weapon. She returned the favor by jabbing him the in face with her right hoof, before immediately following with her left. When he stumbled back she pressed the advantage, hopping up and kicking Lafiette in the face to send him sprawling on his back.
Twilight turned her attention back to her own predicament and dropped the shield spell she'd been in the process of building. Instead she sent a burst of magic under her back, the concussive force helping to propel her forward onto her forehooves again. Now at least upright and no longer pinned under both Rainbow’s weight and her own, she started struggling to pull her hind legs out from under the pegasus’ unconscious form. Help came in the form of Trixie’s aura lifting Dash up enough for her to get out.
Twilight smiled faintly to Trixie and turned around to face the prone pegasus. “Come on, Rainbow. Wake up, please!” she said, nuzzling Dash’s cheek. Rainbow groaned quietly but didn’t get up.
“She’ll be fine,” said Trixie, “but we need to finish the job before the city hits the ground.” She motioned with her hoof toward the damaged clockwork in the back of the room.
Twilight nodded. “You’re right. Let’s go!”
As the two headed for the back, the fight grew in intensity. Twilight caught ‘Rose’ taking a vicious swing in the side from Lafiette’s crowbar and skid into the wall. Lucky for her, the machinery lining the walls wasn’t running at the moment, or that itself could have ended her. Unfortunately for them all, if they didn’t get it running, the point would soon be moot for everypony.
They ran up to the fallen cog, moving to either side of it. Twilight immediately lit her horn and engulfed the cogwheel in her aura, grunting as she tried to lift it. Trixie joined in, their magic merging and sparkling brightly around it as a result.
Lafiette suddenly crashed into the wall next to them, actually knocking one of the dislodged smaller gears back into place with his body.
Trixie smirked. “Thanks.”
“Why you—whoa!” Lafiette had started to counter, but then his leg was snagged by Marmalade’s grappling hook and he was dragged away again.
Twilight had to laugh, despite starting to sweat from the strain of trying to lift the heavy gear. “Rainbow is going to be so mad she’s missed seeing this when she wakes up.”
Trixie grinned, then grunted when the cog started to wobble at about head-level and reasserted her control. “Yeah, it’s just like something out of Daring Do!”
Both sets of eyes widened, and they nearly dropped the cog. They both yelped and increased the power they were sending to the levitation spells, raising the massive cog high enough that they could start trying to line it up with its socket.
“There’s no way,” stated Twilight. “Daring Do is clearly filed in the fiction section!”
“But it’s right there!” Trixie panted, glancing back to the fight still underway, and hushed her voice to a harsh whisper. “Daring Do and the Forbidden City of the Clouds, chapter four!”
Sweat pouring from their brows, the two growled and pushed with all their might. finally getting the cog properly aligned and sliding it into place on its axle. Trixie panted hard, catching her breath while Twilight kept at it, working on pressing the remainder of the dislodged gears back into alignment.
Trixie leaned closer, still whispering. “The mare that gave Daring the maps she needed to outmaneuver Dr. Caballeron, and helped her escape the ambush at bazaar? Her name was—”
“Compass Rose.” Twilight finished in her own whisper, shoving the final gear into place. “I remember, but it’s got to be a coincidence. Besides, when she went to Marapore with Daring in ‘The Marked Thief of Marapore’, Compass Rose was killed by Ahuizotl’s henchmen right in the introduction.”
Trixie pulled her hood back and wiped off her brow, before securing it back in place. “But her body fell in the river after she was stabbed. It’s only implied that she dies…”
The long, weakening hiss of steam that had permeated the air stopped as the gears slowly began to chug into motion again. As they quickly picked up speed the flickering lights above them started to come back to life as well. Pressure built under their legs, increasing gravity making it clear that the platform was slowing its descent.
Twilight turned back toward the center of the room and saw that Rainbow was finally waking up. She and Trixie ran back over to her just in time to see Lafiette growl and try to make his escape. He was thwarted when Marmalade’s grappling hook snagged him by the leg once again, and with a mighty tug assisted by an amber glow from her horn he was slammed back to the ground, this time out cold.
“Unhh…” groaned Rainbow, rolling over off of her back and shaking her head slowly. “Did I get ‘im? Did we win?”
The feeling of falling finally slowed to a stop. Twilight smiled, hugging the fallen pegasus and helping her to her hooves. “I think we did.”
“That takes care of this creep,” said Marmalade, using her magic to tie up Lafiette with a length of rope from her saddlebag. She walked over to a console near the reactors, looking at it with a raised eyebrow and a frown.
“Altitude holding stable at four hundred feet to ground level. Bloody hell...” She sighed. After a moment though, her frown melted into a smile and she looked over at the girls. “Good job, you lot.”
“Thanks, Marmalade.” Twilight raised an eyebrow. “Or is it Compass Rose? How’d you even find us?”
“Say what?” asked Rainbow, looking over at Marmalade for the first time since waking up. Twilight didn’t even have to look to know the fervent Daring Do fan was immediately connecting the dots, which was confirmed when she heard Dash gasp softly next to her and whisper, “No way…”
Marmalade gave a wan smile. “Cat’s out of the bag isn’t it? Kind of like how you’re actually an alicorn, Horizon.” She winked when Twilight blushed. “Don’t think I didn’t notice.”
Twilight sputtered and Marmalade used the chance to continue. “Compass Rose is just an alias I use when I’m off exploring on my own. A lot of bad elements out there, like this git, I don’t really want tracking me back to the family. You girls can still call me Marmalade.” She smiled. “As for how I found you, this odd little blonde thing in a cloak told me there was trouble brewing in the cogworks, so I came straight away. Good thing I did, too!”
The trio exchanged a shocked look. “It couldn’t be,” said Trixie, shaking her head.
“There’s been a lot of that happening today…” replied a perplexed Twilight. She looked back to Marmalade. “A pony matching that description brought us down here, too, but they vanished on us. It’s almost like they arranged for us to all be here in time to save the city...”
Marmalade raised her eyebrows. “That’s… I don’t know what to think about that.”
“Hey wait, how’d you get down here with the elevator shut down, anyways?” asked Rainbow.
Marmalade raised her right forearm, showing off the gadget attached. “Grappling hook. It’s an explorer’s best friend,” she said with a wink.
Trixie walked over to the tied up and unconscious saboteur, nudging him with a hoof. “So what are we going to do with this fool? Hmph. Cost me a perfectly good flash ball.”
“The authorities will handle him. I just wish we could prove Director Charge’s involvement in this, but the slimy bastard always covers his tracks too well, even if the police could get Lafiette to confess.” Marmalade sighed in irritation.
“Who is that?” asked the showmare. “I heard you mention him before.”
Marmalade’s brow furrowed, and she looked between the three of them. “I’m really getting the feeling you lot aren’t from around here…”
Twilight smiled sheepishly. “You could say that. Please don’t pry, though.”
“Alright…” she replied slowly. “Anyways, he runs Charge Industrial, the biggest power provider and airship manufacturer on the market. He and Nickel Coil were actually partners, back when this whole industrial revolution started, but disagreements split them apart and now they’re bitter rivals.”
The sound of voices approaching reached their ears from outside, and Marmalade sat down with a relieved sigh. “There’s the cavalry.” She winced, looking at the bruise forming on her side where Lafiette’s crowbar had struck. “I think I’m going to take a nice vacation after this. I’ve got a friend heading to Marapore that says it’s nice this time of year.”
All three of the girls went wide-eyed and shouted ”NO!!!” simultaneously, causing the navigator to pin down her ears and flinch.
“I mean, uh…” started Twilight.
“Applejack!” said Rainbow. “She said she and the family have really missed having you around lately. Maybe you should stay with them for a while, hang out in Ponyville? It’s a pretty nice place, y’know?”
“Huh… Maybe you’re right about that, I have been gone a lot lately.” She rubbed her chin, then turned to wave at a couple of uniformed officers who had walked into the room. “Come on girls, let’s get out of here.”
Exploration Log of Twilight Sparkle and Trixie Lulamoon
Fourth Entry, Supplemental: June 17, 1002 CR Coordinates: AR Orion Beta
This world was breathtaking, terrifying and fascinating all at the same time. I covered this already in my first entry here, how it’s a world of science turned almost sideways from the kind we know, but I just felt it needed to be said again. It can’t be said enough. It’s likely I’ll sneak back here now and then. The research possibilities alone...
I’m getting decidedly off-track here.
In the end, the fallen district of ‘Laputa’ had to be evacuated so that technicians from Coil Innovations could safely pilot it back into place. The four of us were evacuated via jetwing-equipped ponies up to the Apples’ ship not long after the police arrived to clean up and take the saboteur into custody. Coincidentally, The Harvester had been unloaded in record time. Luna certainly knows how to motivate ponies.
We never did find out what the trouble was that Applejack got called away for. She’s still gone, probably saving the world from giant evil snails or something with the rest of the girls. Including my own alternate self. Still not used to that idea, but hey, at least we know we won’t blow up or anything if we touch, thanks to Rainbow and her own double.
I feel pretty guilty about letting her confirm that without saying anything first. I was certain that was just something sci-fi writers put in their stories to exaggerate the dangers.
… Okay, 97.8% certain. It was a minuscule risk, and it's not like Dash gave me any time to react...
Am I a bad pony?
Wait, why am I even writing this out on a paper meant for scholarly records? Why am I writing out ‘why am I writing this out’ instead of just thinki—
Getting off track again.
Anyways, Rainbow managed to convince Orange Marmalade, aka Compass Rose, to stay with her family rather than take a vacation halfway across the world. I’m just glad we’ve prevented the tragedy of the book’s events from happening to her.
Trixie kept looking at her like she wanted to get an autograph, but never worked up the nerve to ask for it. I can’t blame her, I kind of felt the same way. I still have a hard time believing that a fictional character wasn’t fictional after all, but then, alternate universe, alternate rules.
For Applejack’s sake, I hope that’s all it is… I don’t quite think I have the heart to ask her if she ever had a cousin named Orange Marmalade who may or may not have disappeared years ago.
I’m certainly not prepared to accept the possibility that Daring Do might be a real pony in our world. I’ll believe that when I see it.
Anyways, mote pair #5 collected. Another successful expedition! I don’t feel a whole lot different yet, but I haven’t had time to exercise my spell repertoire to see what possibilities have opened up. I would probably simplify the matter if I make a checklist of all the spells I know, in order of power requirements. If only that were a simple matter.
Still, it’s getting late and we’re on our way home now, so I’ll wrap up this entry here. I would like to make one more stop before we go, though.
The three said their goodbyes at last and made their way through Ponyville, towards the portal home. Twilight couldn’t resist stopping and buying that telescope she had her eyes on from before. She practically pranced all the way from the store to the portal with it in tow, despite needing both her and Trixie to lift it.
It was late evening now, the sky filled with the colors of sunset by the time they made it to the statue. While Trixie and Twilight had to work together to levitate the telescope over the fountain, it was feather-light to them compared to that cog earlier. Trixie went first, disappearing into the side of the statue while her magic kept its hold on the telescope.
“Hurry up and head through,” said Rainbow, “before anypony—”
There was a crash nearby, and the two looked up in time to see a stallion who had smacked into a wall. Another was right behind behind him, staring at the group while he walked before he too crashed into it.
Twilight sighed and finished the journey to the other side of the portal. “I wish we had some control over what the portal exit was bound to. A fountain smack in the middle of town square isn’t exactly discrete…”
“Woo! That world was so awesome!” cheered Dash, emerging on the library side of the portal. She flitted about excitedly in the air while Twilight and Trixie set the telescope down in the lab’s corner.
Twilight smiled up at her. “I’m glad you had fun, sometimes we get to see some really amazing things.”
Rainbow grinned, and flew down to the mirror as soon as Trixie had finished stepping through. “So what are we waiting for, then? Let’s go to another one!”
Trixie nearly tripped moving aside to make way for Rainbow, and her face paled when she processed what the pegasus had said. “What? But we just got back! Doesn’t Trixie get any time to recover from that harrowing ordeal?!”
“Pfft, come on, Trixie. Heights aren’t that bad.” Rainbow rolled her eyes.
Trixie glared at her. “Says the pony with wings.”
Twilight bit her lip gently and inserted herself between the two. “All right, settle down girls. Dash, Trixie’s probably right. We should take a little break before rushing off again. It is pretty late.”
Rainbow shot Twilight a bemused look. “Well no wonder you’ve only got four of those magic light thingies back so far if that’s how you two have been doing things!”
“Five,” shot back Trixie, “and they’re called motes.”
“Whatever.” Rainbow waved a hoof dismissively. “Now that I’m here, we’ll be able to get all of them back in just a couple days, easy!”
She beamed a bright smile and puffed her chest out proudly. Trixie just rolled her eyes, but Twilight chuckled politely behind a hoof. “With you as our trainer, I’m sure we’ll all be the Wonderbolts of exploration in no time.” Twilight said with a hint of playful sarcasm.
“Eeex-actly!” Dash continued proudly, ignoring Twilight’s tone. “So, uh…” She paused to give all the constellations, lights and symbols on the frame a serious look. “How does this work, anyways?”
Twilight smiled and closed her eyes, her body language shifting as she donned her imaginary professor’s cap. “Well, the enchantment interpreted the constellations painted on the frame into a holomagic interface for lack of other controls. It’s constantly projecting the representative coordinates of each alternate universe as one of the stars, and you can trigger the dimensional realignment via tactile contact.” When she opened her eyes again she was slightly crestfallen to see Rainbow giving her a confused stare. “Er… You just touch a star and it sets that universe as the next destination. You can tap the active star to shut it down entirely.”
“We still need a name for this thing,” commented Trixie with a small smirk.
Rainbow nodded slowly in comprehension. “So, like this?” She reached up and tapped a star in the middle of a new constellation, which Twilight recognized as Cassiopeia.
The topaz topping the mirror glowed bright red in concert with a harsh buzzing noise emitting from the contraption for a second. The reverberation made Twilight’s teeth buzz, and all three girls pinned their ears against their heads until the noise stopped. Even the magical interface depicting the stars was jarred out of focus momentarily.
“Oww! Hey, what gives?” cried Rainbow, glaring at the mirror as if it would answer her.
Twilight blinked away the discomfort and tried to get a closer look. “It’s never done that before...”
Stubbornly, the Rainbow pressed her hoof on the same star again, and was punished with the same result. Trixie winced and dropped to her haunches, covering her ears with her hooves. Twilight gritted her teeth and raised a hoof to protest, but the brash pegasus wasn’t about to let some inanimate object get the better of her.
“I said we’re going here, so we’re going here!” she yelled, pressing the star down and holding it down.
The buzzing was worse this time, increasing in orders of magnitude to an ear-splitting volume as the star was held in place, but Rainbow persisted. A couple seconds later the buzz was replaced with an even louder sound of harsh static filling the air.
The red glow of the topaz intensified and started flashing rapidly, filling the room with pulses of red light. The smell of ozone assaulted their nostrils just as they heard a crackling noise. Electricity surrounded the gem before shooting down to arc around the entire frame like it was a giant tesla coil. Rainbow yelped as the shock coursed through her, and she was thrown back from the mirror in a shower of sparks.
“Rainbow!” Twilight cried, her eyes wide and pupils shrinking as she ran to her friend’s side.
“Sparkle, it’s not stopping!” came Trixie’s panicked voice behind her, barely audible.
Twilight looked back to Trixie, seeing the mirror going berserk behind them. Her adrenaline surged, temporarily giving her enough magical strength to yank both Trixie and Rainbow with her to take cover behind the pile of sandbags still standing from her experiments.
But instead of some kind of critical reaction and explosion like she braced for, there was a burst of white light from the mirror’s doorway and it suddenly calmed down. The lights stopped flashing, the electricity ceased and the static faded away.
As her ears stopped ringing, Twilight could just make out a voice coming from the other side of the mirror.
“...nknown energy source. Working... Energy flow stabilized. Working… Data marriage complete. New user profiles online.”
In a room somewhere outside of space, beyond the reach of time, a fire crackled and roared in an exquisitely crafted fireplace. The light it cast danced across immaculate bookshelves and over an enormously tall chair. A pipe lay on a tall, narrow side table next to it, bubbles still streaming lazily from its mouthpiece.
In the privacy of his study, the god of chaos smiled.
A grey pegasus with a blonde mane and tail popped into existence next to him. She shrugged her cloak aside and looked up at him with her lopsided eyes.
“Excellent work, my dear.” The young pegasus beamed from the praise, and Discord looked back into the fire.
Twilight urgently nudged her fallen friend’s cheek. The smell of burnt hair assaulted her nostrils as she did so; Rainbow’s wig was singed at the tips and many of her tertial feathers had been blackened around the edges.
Already she felt a wave of panic set in, an icy chill building in her stomach. While it had only been moments since the event, Dash had yet to stir since the blast of electricity had assaulted her. A spark arced briefly between the wig’s synthetic bangs despite the fact that Rainbow’s suit should have insulated her against such shocks. Twilight’s mind raced, trying to piece together just how powerful the jolt had been.
Trixie moved up behind her, absently dusting some loose sand from her cloak while worry creased her eyes. In the process of being yanked to cover, she’d landed on a spilled sandbag which nopony had ever gotten around to cleaning up. Not that it mattered much to her right now.
The door to the lab slammed open, making Trixie jump slightly. Like a switch had been thrown, she snapped out of her own dumbfounded haze and quickly rummaged through the large pocket strapped to her vest. The sound of clinking glass blended with the steps of those entering the room before she pulled out a small metal-capped glass vial.
“Here, Twilight, try this,” she offered in a quiet, soothing voice, levitating the vial of smelling salts to her. Meanwhile Princess Luna swept gracefully down the stairwell on her wings, coming to a landing a few steps away. Above her, Spike was just beginning his descent.
“What was that terrible—” Luna had begun to say on the way down, only to catch in her throat when she spied the group by the makeshift bunker. “Lady Dash!”
Twilight snorted involuntarily, the salts wobbling slightly in the air as they were uncapped and waved under Rainbow’s nose. She quickly wiped her face clean with a fetlock, a ghost of a smile on her unmasked muzzle. “Don’t let her hear you call her ‘lady’, Luna. Anyways, I’m pretty sure she’s just unconscious.” Her eyes wavered, and she turned her attention back to Rainbow. “Just unconscious…”
Spike bounded off the final steps to the floor, scampering quickly over to Luna with a black costume mask sitting prominently upon his face. “Gee willikers, what happened to Rainbow Dash?”
Trixie raised a brow at the young dragon with a barely suppressed scowl, noticing the bit of costume. “‘Gee willikers,’ Spike?”
“Huh? Oh! Sorry, Luna was playing superheroes with me and I just kinda got into the role,” he announced, causing Luna’s cheeks to shift a shade closer to purple. Twilight felt herself try to smile again, but she only managed it faintly—until the fallen pegasus began to move.
Rainbow groaned, shaking her head as the odor assaulting her nostrils finally got her to stir. “Ughh… Did anypony get the number of that train?” She looked up at Twilight, blinking blearily as the world came back into focus.
Twilight let out a breath, but rather than relax, her shoulders tensed and one eyebrow began twitching subtly. She then summoned up a deep breath and flared her wings, her next words coming out at such an impressive volume that they were likely heard several houses down. “What were you thinking?!”
Rainbow stared a moment, her ears pinning back against her skull. “Errr… it’s what I do when my toaster is on the fritz…?” she hesitantly replied, then blew upwards at the still smoking strand of hair dangling in her face. “So, did I break it?”
Twilight groaned in response to her friend’s incomprehensible stubbornness, but moved out of the way of the mirror all the same. “Somehow, no. It looks like you managed to make the mirror work as intended.”
“Whoo! Dumb luck for the win!” Rainbow cheered, perking back up again.
Trixie harrumphed. “Yes, and with acceptable losses, too.”
“Yeah, I- Hey!” Rainbow shot Trixie a dirty look for the jab. “Aren’t you supposed to be trying to be nice?”
That got a roll of the eyes out of Trixie. “Well of course, but I’m not going to sugar-coat recklessness, Dash. Sparkle already has a hundred criticisms for you about tampering with sensitive magical paraphernalia, I’m sure.”
Rainbow Dash flickered an embarrassed look between the two unicorns frowning at her, before folding her front legs and turning away. “Whatever, I’m fine and it worked, didn’t it?”
Spike raised a hand, trying to join the conversation. “So uh… Could anypony actually tell us just what happened down here?”
Heaving a sigh, Twilight sat back with a thoughtful expression on her face, looking between her friends and the portal standing on the far side of the basement. “I’m not entirely sure of that myself, Spike.”
She spent a few minutes recapping what just happened to the two of them. Meanwhile, Luna split her attention between listening to Twilight and giving Rainbow some magical attention. Her skill with mending magics being on par with her sister’s, she was able to rapidly heal the pegasus’ residual injuries and restore her feathers and outfit to pristine condition.
“...Then you both came down. So now it looks like, well, that, and I’m not sure if it’s supposed to or not,” she finished, turning her gaze towards the mirror once again.
Now that it had calmed down, the mirror had returned to its normal appearance with little sign that anything had gone wrong in the first place. The typical glow given off by the surface when active however was replaced by pitch black. It was as though they were looking into a blank void. Only at the edges was there a thin line of silver giving off any light.
Trixie frowned, following Twilight’s gaze. “Yeah… that certainly looks inviting.”
“Perhaps a test is in order?” suggested Luna, stepping a bit closer.
“Not it!” said Trixie and Rainbow simultaneously.
Luna smirked, lighting her horn without another word. With a quiet rapport she teleported in a red ball from somewhere, holding it in the air between her and the mirror.
Twilight walked up next to her, giving her a small nod. “That’s a good idea, Luna. Give it a try.”
The elder princess smiled and tossed the ball through the portal. It emitted a squeak as it hit the ground on the other side, but they got another response as well.
”Foreign object detected. Scanning…” spoke Twilight’s voice from the other side, but with a tinny edge to it. Then with a trio of squeaks, the ball rebounded off something on the other side and came right back through again, rolling to a stop in front of Spike. ”Error. Scan inconclusive. Returning to sleep mode…”
He picked up the ball, looking back to the others. “Whoa. Twilight, that sounded like you!”
“It did, but there’s… something off about it.” Twilight frowned, rubbing her chin.
“Well, the ball looks fine to me,” said Spike, showing off its visibly unmarred surface and giving it a squeak for good measure.
Rainbow leaned towards the gathered group and raised a hoof for attention. “Hey, here’s a question. How come that ball could go through the mirror just fine, but Luna and I had to go through Tartarus so I could be able to use it?”
“I believe I can answer that, Rainbow Dash,” spoke up Trixie. “You see, unlike you, the ball—or any of our belongings for that matter—has no life force. Thus it produces no innate magic of its own, and is forced to accept any magic fields passing through it. Living creatures on the other hoof—and to a much lesser extent, most plants—have their own innate magical field, which naturally tries to resist any unwanted magic. This portal conflicts with that resistance, sees it as foreign, and erects a defense to block any approaching fields that have not been made to harmonize with it.” Finished, Trixie smiled and bowed with a little hoof-flourish.
“Pretty much,” said Twilight, smirking at the magician’s bow.
“A… huh…” responded Dash, her ears flattening. “Okay you know what? I think some sleep is in order after all. I’m so tired I’m not only asking an egghead question, but I actually understood that because my brain is so desperate to stay awake it paid extra attention.”
That got a round of laughs from everyone present. With that they all headed upstairs, intent on getting some food and rest. After dinner it was agreed that, in spite of what had happened, they should keep pressing onwards with all possible haste towards Twilight and Trixie’s recovery. Assuaged of any trepidations with a good meal and friendly company, the trio would be setting out once more into the unknown the next day.
The next morning they all got an early start on things. After breakfast, while everypony was getting geared up, Princess Luna set up a little area of the lab with some cushions and a summoned desk. That way she could keep tabs on the mirror while having a space to attend to what royal duties she could by mail.
“Twilight, are you sure you want to go in there alone?” asked Rainbow, continuing a thread of discussion they’d touched upon over breakfast.
Twilight nodded firmly, then went back to checking her wings one last time for loose feathers. Even now she was still getting used to needing to preen in the morning. “I’m sure. After everything that’s happened, I don’t want us all barreling through the portal without knowing what we’re getting into. Besides, that was my voice I heard on the other side of that mirror. I should be the one to go through and find out why.”
“Just please, do be careful, dear Twilight,” spoke up Luna.
“We’ll be right behind you if you need us,” said Trixie, nodding.
Twilight smiled and turned to face the blackened portal. “I’ll remember that, thanks. Well.. here goes nothing!” she announced, stepping forth into the darkness.
Twilight immediately realized something was off when she emerged into a small glass chamber. It was roughly as tall as the mirror, a few strides longer than her body and just wide enough to give her room to stretch if she needed to, with a soft rubber mat for flooring. The glass all around her was frosted and a sealed metal door opposite her served as the only exit. As such, she couldn’t see much other than the light of the portal shining on a grey, tiled floor outside.
“Not town square this time? But then, where…?” she muttered to herself, perking up her ears.
The distinctly alien sound of fans whirring and quiet, mechanical clicking slowly came to life around her, though she had no idea what was making it. She was startled when a head-sized rectangular light suddenly flicked to life in the darkness beyond the glass, accompanied by a copy of her own voice echoing back at her.
“Exiting sleep mode. Ingress of user zero-zero-one logged. Welcome back, Twilight Sparkle. It has been,” the voice paused, returning in a series of mismatching inflections, “Five. Hundred, and... Seventeen. Days. Since last active login.”
Twilight listened as the odd-sounding copy of her voice spoke. “Hello? Uh, ‘local’ Twilight, is that you out there? What does any of that mean?”
Behind her, Trixie called through the mirror. “Twilight, are you alright? Is it safe to come through?”
Twilight angled her head back toward the portal but kept her eyes on the new light source. “Yes, I’m fine. Give me a minute to figure out what’s going on though first, okay?”
“Please stand by. Decontamination in progress.”
The chamber was briefly illuminated by a blacklight in the roof, accompanied by a quiet crackling sound, like static. Whatever was happening made her fur stand on end, but it only lasted a few seconds before the light and noise went away again.
A pair of metal armatures then began sliding from the front of the chamber towards the back, drawing a strange, thin curtain of green light over her body as it went. She flexed a wing toward it but felt nothing as the light passed over her, so she curiously stood and watched it do its job. As it slid past towards the back of the chamber, her eyes followed, giving her the first look at what she’d stepped out of.
On this side, the portal was shimmering within a rather large metal frame, roughly the same dimensions as the mirror she’d just entered. Unlike the organic, arcane appearance of their wooden mirror frame, however, this was stark and clinical, a mechanical edifice of right angles in the shape of a tall rectangular doorway.
Numerous thick cables were mounted to its sides, while dozens of small rectangular status lights glowed along the front of the frame. Most were red, but as she watched many were turning yellow and then green.
The frame itself was at least a hoof thick all the way around and several hooves deep. Rather than a solid pane of light, the threshold of the portal flowed like water, with a bright light source beneath the surface. Despite the amount of light pouring out of it, nothing reflected off the frame’s cold grey surface—rather, it seemed to absorb all light cast upon it instead.
’That’s strange… Is the portal unstable on this side? The door frame… that looks like starmetal, but how could anypony ever find so much of it? Let alone shape it?’
By now, the armature had returned to the front of the chamber and shut off. Once again she heard her own voice speak up from somewhere nearby. Now that she’d had time to listen, she felt more and more that something sounded off about it.
“Decontamination complete. Working… no foreign contaminants detected. User biorhythm optimal.” She started to relax, but then an brief alarm klaxon sounded out, startling her. “Warning! Body mass differs significantly from records. Possible mutation detected. Please consult a doctor immediately.” The klaxon shut off, but an extra warning light stayed lit on the ‘scanning chamber’, as she’d decided to label it. “You may now exit,” said the disjointed, cloned voice. With that, the door at the end of the chamber slid open, the metal slipping down into the floor.
“Heh, okay, well I imagine you have a lot of ques…” Twilight trailed off, looking around as she exited the chamber and seeing nopony there. Just the rectangle of light behind and to her right, shining through an old white sheet which had been thrown over the machine’s terminal.
She furrowed her brow, looking left and right and squinting into the dark. “He… Hello? Isn’t there somepony here?”
“That’s it,” she heard Rainbow say, “I’m going in.”
“Err, right, sorry.” Twilight turned back around to talk towards the portal. “I think it’s safe girls, just come in one at a time. There’s a sort of… checkpoint set up.”
Rainbow walked through the mirror, a curious expression hitting her face immediately. “What do you mean checkpoint? How’s that even… work…” she trailed off as she saw her surroundings. “Whoa.”
“Ingress of user zero-zero-five logged. Welcome back—name not found!” said the machine.
“Huh?” Dash balked. The machine responded by snapping shut the door between the two on its own, while the scanner went to work around her.
Twilight stepped back with a start, but quickly released her surprise in a long exhale. “I’m holding off on hypotheses until I gather more information. Just hold still until it’s done, it’s some sort of medical scanner. I think. Let Trixie know to come through when you’re done.”
“Uh… ‘kay…” came the muffled reply.
She turned around and set out to explore her surroundings a bit, ignoring further remarks for now resulting from Rainbow recognizing ‘Twilight’s’ voice coming from the machine.
As Twilight walked out into the darkness, lights began to come to life in the ceiling, illuminating the place at last. She blinked and had to squint for a moment as her eyes adjusted to the light. In spite of that, recognition hit her almost immediately. The walls had been painted over in black paint and the furnishings were different, but she knew this was the very room she had just left: The library’s basement.
Only, it looked like nopony had been here for a long, long time. There were no active experiments, no hoofprints on the floor aside her own. Her only company besides Rainbow in that room was a dozen or so bulky devices, likely machines or lab equipment, lining its edges and covered by old white sheets. Everything was blanketed in a thin layer of dust.
Twilight’s ears flattened involuntarily as she took a few tentative steps into the lab. “What… what happened here?”
A flickering light drew her eyes upwards. As if just to put the finishing touch towards making the atmosphere scream ’this place is abandoned’ to her, one of the two electric lightbulbs was flickering constantly and threatening to go out. Still, even with dust clinging to them, they were significantly sleeker and more modern looking than the ones in the industrial, airship-filled world she’d just left the night before.
Within a few minutes, both companions had passed through the scanner and were looking around in bewilderment along with her, hooves clacking on the grey tile and leaving faint prints in the dust.
“This place is supposed to be your basement, Twi?” asked Rainbow, tentatively poking a hoof at a sheet-covered table. Quiet clinking sounds were made, and she pulled her hoof away.
Trixie bit her lip, tiptoeing warily past the portal’s terminal. “Unless there’s some other reason that somepony would have used this bizarre machine to copy her voice… Actually, that line of thinking is creeping me out even more, now.” Trixie shuddered, increasing her pace to get past the device in question and explore the far side.
“Well, if it’s something the other me built, it should be safe… Still, everypony be careful.” She looked around at her companions one more time, then the room. With a brief nod, more to herself than anything, she called on her magic to pull her logbook and an ‘auto-quill’—A pre-filled and refillable quill-and-ink device she’d purchased in the previous world—and started taking notes.
“I know we’ve got to get down to business looking for motes soon, but they’ll be coming to us anyways, so let’s investigate a bit. I’m particularly interested in trying to figure out how this end of our portal got bound to this device instead of the fountain, like it usually leads to. Any objections?” she asked, looking over to her friends.
Rainbow by now had pulled the whole sheet off what was just a simple chemistry set—though Twilight noted it lacked much of the normal magical paraphernalia associated with alchemy. “Hum, yeah I guess it’s okay for a few minutes. Just don’t get carried away.”
“Yes, yes, it’s fine, Spark--er, Twilight. Just… well I agree with Rainbow. Please try not to take too long.” her voice quieted, the next phrase probably not intended to be picked up by her alicorn ears. “Something about this world is creeping me out…”
Twilight smiled softly to herself, instincts wanting to go comfort her friend. Still, they had a job to do, and if she was going to start logging what they’d found, she needed to get to it. With another, determined nod, she turned and headed towards the nearest covered machine, pen at the ready to take notes in her explorer’s log, and pulled the sheet away.
She found another glass-encased chamber, similar to the scanning checkpoint, but with a medical red cross on the side. Peeking inside she found glass shelves covered in medical supplies, while a once-sterile looking medical bed was attached to the opposite wall. Disabled monitors lined the alcove the bed was set into, and above it she spied far more articulated arms, with dozens of needles, tubes, and surgical devices sticking to them. An aged spatter of dark brown stained the wall and sheets lightly. Twilight couldn’t get closer to investigate in detail; a tape barrier had been stretched across the entrance, saying ‘AUTOMED PROJECT: CANCELLED’. To be fair, she didn’t really want to get closer.
“That’s…” Twilight gulped, looking down at her notes and crossing out mention of this thing.
“Sup, Twi?” asked Rainbow, standing near another sheet and looking ready to pull it away.
“Um, it’s just… Well, I don’t want to admit it, but I’m getting the feeling that not everything that went on down here with the other me was… well, ethical.”
“Ehh, so your alternate has a creepy lab. It’s not the worst thing we’ve run up against,” she sighed to exacerbate the point. “‘Sides, for all that, she had a lot of boring stuff too. I keep finding diddly over here.“ Rainbow took a minute to point out how she’d found more or less a collection of empty bookshelves. If they had once contained notebooks, textbooks or reference material of any kind, they had long since been packed and taken away, in favor of letting cobwebs and dust bunnies take up residence upon the empty shelves.
“Girls?” came Trixie’s voice, back behind the machinery where she’d gone to investigate. “I think I may be onto something back here. Come look?”, she asked, and then quieter, “ ...Please?”
Twilight and Rainbow looked at each other and nodded. “Coming, Trixie!” said Twilight, leading them to carefully pick their way to the back.
Trixie stood huddled in the back corner of the lab, peeking on top of a simple work desk. There was a slim black terminal window sitting atop which still gave off the weak light of it’s bright green lettering. “It looks like log files of some kind,” she said, pointing a hoof at it as the other two walked up close enough to see it clearly.
“Good work, Trixie!” Twilight smiled, earning a blush and a small smile back from the showmare.
“Alright, I can read the first line, but how do we get more?” asked Rainbow, who had walked up in front of it.
Twilight thought a moment, rubbing her chin. “I’ve seen things like this, back on the human world. If this works like they did there, then I think I can operate it. Let’s see…” she stepped up, looking at the devices on the desk with the monitor. “Yes, this here is called a ‘keyboard’, and the metal block on a cord here is the ‘mouse’.”
Rainbow nodded, backing off to let the egghead work. “Alright, so read it already!”
“Okay... Ahem,” and with a clear throat, she started reading off the log entries.
“Log Entry #11: ‘Another failure. Another wasted night. Spike is the only one who keeps me from spending the mornings with my face planted in a puddle of drool on my workbench. Bless him. I don’t tell him enough how much his help means to me. Meanwhile, all I can do is keep moving forward. I’ll make this work.’
“Log Entry #12: ‘My theory is sound, I know it is, but generating enough power to produce results has been a challenge. Last night’s test confirmed that the lab’s meagre mana refraction generator, capable of producing ten times more power than I need for both the house and the entire lab combined, didn’t even come close to sufficient for a stable reaction with the crystals I’m fueling it with. Sadly, they’re the best I can afford right now. I’m going to have to start looking for alternatives. I’ll need to check the math again, too. Despite what my previous estimate suggested, the power requirement for wormhole stability is well outside the gigawatt range.’
“Log Entry #17: ‘Funds are drying up. The monthly research grant and living stipends from Princess Celestia are keeping me from going into debt, at least, but just barely. Manehattan University has pulled its funding, though. I knew it was coming, but that doesn’t do much to soften the blow. The project keeps increasing in size and scope, and procuring what I need to advance to each next stage of testing is becoming difficult. I refuse to push things so far that I’d compromise our home life; Spike deserves better than an overly obsessed pony spending his gemstone money on Flux Capacitors and Thaumic Aggregators. Meaning if I can’t get it working soon, can’t produce measurable results, I may have to put everything on hold for a few months. Unacceptable.’
“Log Entry #24: ‘It’s over. After last night I’m lucky I’m not being kicked out of town or arrested. I’ve always been useful to them, at least. A credit to Ponyville, they said. It was just an accident, they said. It’s not true. I knew what I was doing, I just never expected that to be the result... The damage can be fixed, but with how long it’s going to take…’” Twilight trailed off, swallowing hard before continuing, her voice shaking and quiet. “‘I can’t bear to face my neighbors’ angry eyes now. Oh Spike… what have I done?’”
Twilight sniffled, surprised to find two differently colored hooves on each of her shoulders. She looked up to see the worried faces of her friends, trying to comfort her however they could. “T..thanks. Just… give me a few minutes, I’ll be okay.”
Rainbow bit her lip. “You sure, Twilight?”
Twilight nodded, a little weakly. “Yeah. I’m sure. See if you can find anything more somewhere else in here. I need some time to think…”
Her friends nodded, giving her gentle words of encouragement, and a pat on the hoof from Trixie. They acquiesced to her desire for some space and went out to explore the rest of the lab. However, a few minutes soon became half an hour, but nothing new was turned up. A full hour later, Rainbow Dash had finally stretched her patience out to its absolute limits.
“Well, I’m bored,” said Rainbow, after staring into the same empty bookshelf for the fifth time.
“Agreed, perhaps we should get on with it?” suggested Trixie. “At least it’s secluded here.”
“Hey, yeah! How ‘bout that, Twi? Looks like you got your wish after all.” Rainbow grinned at her friend.
“Ahuh.” responded Twilight faintly, her eyes looking a hundred miles away as she kept combing over the room.
Rainbow’s grin faltered and was replaced by a small frown. She walked over to her friend and waved a hoof in front of her face. “You okay there?”
“Huh?” Twilight asked, turning to meet Rainbow’s concerned face. “S-sorry, just… weirded out by this, I guess. I mean, the machine indicated the local Twilight hasn’t been here for almost two years...”
Trixie sighed faintly and made as if to sit down, but grimaced and caught herself before she sat in the dust. She shook her head and turned away from the exchange, setting her gaze upwards toward the stairs instead. Then she closed her eyes and conjured a bit of magic into her pendant, momentarily casting pink light down her face. Her focus turned inward until the pendant’s magic took form, obscuring her face with starscape once again.
Unexpectedly, when she opened her eyes, her enhanced sight didn’t move very far from where she’d already been looking. She saw through the ceiling into the library’s upper room, her gaze shifting to a pair of tiny, gift-wrapped boxes sitting on the upstairs table. Looking just a bit further, she could see one mote within each box, gently pulsing with light at regular intervals.
“Hmm. Well. That’s a new one,” she said, before letting the spell drop.
The others walked over, Twilight looking a little more focused and speaking up first. “What’s a new one?”
Trixie screwed up her face. “Somehow our motes are sitting on the upstairs table. Gift-wrapped.”
Twilight’s eyes widened. “Gift-wrapped?” She looked up the stairs, immediately starting to head up and muttering as she went. “Discord, what are you up to…?”
“Discord? Wait, what’s he got to do with anything?” asked Dash.
Twilight looked back as she reached the door. “Well, on one of our earlier trips, I found my mote had been put in a little box by Discord. I can’t imagine anypony else who could do that.”
She tried to push the door open, but surprisingly it refused to budge.
“That’s odd,” she said, trying again and getting the same result. “It feels like something’s blocking the door.”
Rainbow moved up next to Twilight and gave the door a harder shove. Her effort was rewarded with a short scraping sound and the door budging just an inch. “Yeesh, whatever it is, it’s heavy.”
“Maybe if we all push together?” suggested Trixie.
Twilight and Rainbow nodded to one another, and the three got into position in short order. “Alright, on three,” said Twilight. “One… Two… Three!”
Together the group strained to push the door open, a loud scraping sound of wood on wood accompanying their effort. With their combined strength it didn’t take long before the door was finally pushed open enough for them to get past.
They piled through, turning to see the door had been blocked off by a rather large and well-stocked bookshelf. Several books had hit the floor from all the jostling and were now strewn in disarray. A cursory glance by Twilight showed her that they were all books on equestrian law and civic codes.
It also didn’t escape anypony’s notice just how dark it was inside right now. A glance through the windows showed Twilight a dark and foreboding night sky, with black clouds gathering overhead. Wind could be heard strongly rustling the great oak’s upper branches, a sound accompanied by the occasional rumble of thunder in the background.
Twilight visibly flinched when her wandering gaze landed on the cover of a book which had been wedged under the bookshelf. It had obviously only ended up there from their pushing, leaving the poor periodical a torn and mangled mess. She tugged it free with her magic in a fit of panic, which just served to rip the front cover clean off.
“Noo!” she cried, cradling the ruined remnants of ’Rudimentary Rezoning Rubrics’ in her hooves. Without even thinking about it, she cast a repairing spell on the remains. Only when the tattered tome actually knit itself back together into one piece did she really realize what she’d just done.
“Oh, hey! Look!” She beamed a bright smile to the others, lifting the now spotless book in the air. “I got a ‘Fix-It’ spell to work!”
Trixie perked up immediately. “Ooh! Let Trixie try!” she exclaimed.
She looked around the room for something else to mend, but the rest of the library proper appeared perfectly spotless and organized, in stark contrast to their point of arrival. “Huh. Well maybe if I tear one—”
“No!” shouted a suddenly wide-eyed Twilight, forcing her companions to pin back their ears from the volume.
“Alright, alright, fine! Sheesh.” Trixie shook her head, looking around the room again. “You know, from the state of the basement, I expected this place to be in more disarray.”
“Yeah, I was thinking that’s kinda weird, myself,” commented Dash, who walked out towards the middle of the room. “And who puts a bookshelf in front of a door, which itself is already behind a staircase?” She looked back to the others and gestured to the adjacent stairwell to the upper floor, but neither could muster an answer right away.
“Well, whatever...” She shrugged.
Rainbow looked across the big table in the center of the room, spotting two small gift boxes on the far side of the wooden bust. One was wrapped with blue paper, and the other a lavender ribbon. Not the color, mind; the ribbon was literally woven out of sprigs of fresh lavender.
“Hey, Trixie was right,” Dash pointed out. “Looks like you’ve got presents to open. And there’s a card...”
Twilight quickly reshelved her book and trotted over to see what Rainbow was talking about. There, leaning against the gift boxes, was a note written on a small index card. The text itself looked like somepony had cut out letters from a magazine, magically shrunk them down to average writing size, and pasted them in place.
“Well then, let’s see what he has to say.” Twilight leaned closer and cleared her throat before reading it aloud.
“‘Dear Thing One and Thing Two—’”
“Hey!” Trixie huffed.
“Ahem,” Twilight continued, “‘As much fun as it would be to watch you two and your prismatic tagalong floundering about, you are about to have much bigger problems on your hooves. So, take these with the following advice: (turn card over.)’”
Twilight gave the card a quick flip, and was immediately taken aback by four words taking up almost the entirety of the next side in large, flowing calligraphy. She gulped as she read them, uncertain why they had already begun to fill her with dread.
“‘Take them and leave,’” she said, reading them off just before the weather took the opportunity to release a particularly loud peal of thunder. The three shared a look.
“Well that’s not ominous at all,” piped up Trixie half-heartedly.
Other than that, this side of the card was blank, save for a small note in the lower right which read ‘(Turn card over.)’ After taking a moment to shake off the absurdity of that instruction, she remembered who they were dealing with and just turned it over again, finding the words had returned to their pasted-style lettering.
“‘However, I know you won’t listen to my advice, because it’s my advice, so I’ll be watching what happens next with great interest. Be aware that as much as I’d love to help my good friends, I simply cannot interfere any more than I already have. For reasons. Some of them actually good ones!
So do be careful, my dears.
P.S. You never did tell me I said hello. I’m wounded! Be a dear and don’t forget this time, if you would?’”
Rainbow remained silent as she’d been since Twilight began reading, a frown plastered on her face. Trixie, meanwhile, raised an eyebrow, having to get in a word edgewise.
“Surely he can’t be serious?”
The note card flipped itself over of its own accord, the newly rewritten back side reading, ‘I am serious. And don’t call her Shirley.’
Rainbow snorted, a little smile finding its way to her lips. Trixie gave a small groan, while Twilight just face-hoofed.
‘Discord, you are one of a kind… Thank Harmony.’ She frowned, slowly lowering her hoof to rest on the table. ‘Still, that’s a pretty worrying message to get from him of all beings…’
“Well, let’s get on with it then,” she firmly decided. She checked the presents for name tags and hoofed Trixie’s blue package over to her, taking the lavender one for herself. For a moment before opening the box, she found herself pondering upon the fact that she was now more often instinctively using her hooves rather than magic for simple tasks.
She smiled softly, cradling the box in her hooves. “You know, I think this has been all been a good experience for me, losing my magic.”
Rainbow balked, turning so she could be face-to-face with Twilight. “How could you say that? It’d be like me losing a wing!” She shuddered. “Just thinking about it gives me the heebie jeebies.”
Twilight smirked towards her. “I know, but it’s given me more of an appreciation for ponies that don’t have it. I guess after I learned to use magic as a filly, I pretty much stopped using my hooves for things when I could use levitation instead.” The smile faded now, her eyes softening. “You know, I can’t honestly remember the last time I physically touched a book before I lost it...”
She trailed off, thoughts wandering to that first day when she couldn’t use her horn. 'What would have become of me if that first mote hadn’t returned as soon as it had?', she wondered, imagining herself struggling to learn how to do basic tasks again without being able to rely on levitation. Even the brief period she’d been without her magic had felt like she’d lost a limb. At the time, the shock of what happened and the adrenaline driving them to get themselves to medical care had kept her from dwelling on it. Well, no, it wasn’t adrenaline, she realized. Just having a course of action to follow, having hope that it could be fixed.
But what if it hadn’t?
Twilight sat there for a while, her head swimming in circles as she dwelled on her spiralling thoughts, until she felt the warm embrace of a wing around her. She blinked open her eyes, unconsciously registering a little moisture had formed at the corners. She felt more than saw Rainbow Dash’s mane nestling under her chin, and the pegasus’ forehooves wrapping around her in a gentle hug.
Twilight smiled, returning the embrace and letting herself calm down. No words needed to be said; Rainbow empathized with how it felt to be helpless from occasional serious sports injuries, and Twilight knew that. She relaxed, just listening to the sounds of their breathing. After a minute or so, a shuffling of hoofsteps drew her attention upwards.
Trixie looked on pensively, chewing unconsciously on her lower lip as though conflicted. “You and your friends do so much hugging…”
Twilight felt Rainbow snort quietly under her chin, and she couldn’t help a grin spreading across her own face as well. “Oh come here, you,” she said, lighting her horn and pulling Trixie in to join a group hug.
Trixie’s eyes widened and she gave a little yip of surprise as a blue wing and lavender hoof wrapped around her. “Gah! You’re wrinkling my cape!” she protested. There was no conviction behind her words, though, and she quickly relented and hugged them both back.
“Stupid touchy-feely friendship… stuff,” she grumbled, turning her head to hide her small smile.
After another few minutes the group finally broke apart again, their spirits bolstered and the mood having risen considerably. Rainbow Dash reached over, picking up the two forgotten gift boxes—each the size of a jewelry box—and offering them to the others.
“Alright you two, time to open your presents.”
They obliged, tearing open their boxes and releasing their motes, which immediately sought their respective owners.
There were no memories this time, no flashbacks. Twilight simply felt warmth and happiness spread through her; the content joy of their shared laughter suffusing her being. The experience was slow to fade, leaving her feeling blissful and relaxed in its wake.
That moment was interrupted by the sounds of two sets of rapidly approaching hooves. Before anypony had a chance to raise a question as to the source, the library’s door was thrown open and a trio of familiar ponies and an owl rushed in. The electric-maned unicorn of the trio brought up the rear, slamming the door shut behind her with a burst of telekinesis.
There stood Davenport and Vinyl Scratch, both gasping for breath and appearing rather disheveled and scuffed-up. Laying draped across Davenport’s back was a barely conscious Octavia. Vinyl was missing her signature shades, and Octavia’s normally primly tied mane was hanging loosely around her head. Owloysius flapped over and settled on top of the bust on the table, looking down at the six ponies present and uttering a hoot.
“Uhhh…” said Rainbow Dash, raising a hoof.
At this, the exhausted ponies, sans Octavia, looked up at the trio, and aside from their slowly calming pulls for air, neither side made any noise for the breadth of a few seconds. Just enough time for Twilight’s thoughts to return to Discord’s message.