Double Trouble: The Flaws Within

by Masterius

First published

Two Twilight Sparkles are not better than one, especially when each are stranded in the wrong world! With the Crystal Mirror broken, is there any way for them to find the way back to their respective homes?

When Sunset Shimmer decided to return to Equestria to right past wrongs, neither she nor her friend Princess Twilight Sparkle could possibly imagine the series of events resulting from that decision.

With the Crystal Mirror irrevocably broken, Princess Twilight is now stranded in the other world, while the highly agitated, furious, and unhelpful human Twilight is equally stranded in Equestria. Sunset Shimmer--still new to friendship--now faces enormous challenges as she struggles to solve the seemingly impossible: how to send the human Twilight back while also bringing Princess Twilight back, when the only portal between worlds has been destroyed...and how to heal her former mentor and teacher, Princess Celestia, who has been stricken by a debilitating illness.

With the prickly and standoffish Twilight refusing to help--and, more often than not, injuring feelings and infuriating tempers--the fate of both worlds rests squarely on her shoulders.

[Best viewed with reader formatting set to: 1) paragraph: both; 2) Alignment: justified]

Pre-read, edited, and critiqued by my friend and fellow equestrian, Toriandthehorse

Artwork by: Yakovlev-vad

Featured on Equestria Daily 04/11/2020

Prologue / Chapter 1

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“No doubt about it, Spike; there’s definitely something strange going on at that school.”

From behind her, Spike lifted his muzzle up from his bowl of bone‑shaped kibble and barked several times in response, stubby tail wagging back and forth. When she didn’t say anything else, he lowered his head back down and returned to busily eating.

Twilight Sparkle nudged glasses back up her nose as she intently gazed at the cork board in front of her. Tacked or taped to it were quite a few photos, graphs, charts, readouts, and even a small prism. Along with all of that were a hefty sprinkling of yellow pushpins, all of them connected by what appeared to be a haphazard connection of thick red yarn.

But appearances could be deceiving.

Dead‑center of the cork board—‍and, not‑so‑incidentally, pinned to the board by the exact middle pushpin—was a photograph of the school in question. That school. The one that every cord originated from, radiating outwards like the spokes of a wheel.

A school which Twilight was extremely familiar with.

After all, she’d attended it once.

Chapter One

“It’ll be OK. Honest.”

Twilight gazed back at Sunset Shimmer, who had hesitated behind her. Both of them were standing at the rear of the equine rampant sculpture in front of Canterlot High School. A statue which, to most eyes, was just that: a mere statue. But as the both of them were very well aware, it could be far more than just a “mere” statue. In fact, both Princess Twilight Sparkle and Sunset Shimmer, due to their past studies and innate abilities, could sense the portal that invisibly gleamed before them.

This was not the first time, or even second time, that Sunset Shimmer had been present when the portal had been active. It was, however, going to be the first time passing through it since the consequences she’d suffered—both disastrous and wondrous—from stealing Princess Twilight’s crown.

Passing through it…

…and into Equestria.

Equestria. The world of her birth.

It was also, to her shame, the world where she’d made some of the worse decisions in her life. The land where she’d willingly chosen to follow an extremely selfish and extraordinarily dark path. The land she’d willingly decided to leave, choosing a life of temporary exile in exchange for the pursuit of power, glory, and adoration.

The key word there, of course, being “temporary”. For Sunset Shimmer had always intended to return to Equestria, and not as any sort of prodigal filly, either!

No. No, her return would be as a conqueror; subduing her birth world, deposing her former teacher and Equestria’s monarch, Princess Celestia, and taking the reins of power and control into her own hooves.

In fact, if it hadn’t been for the combined efforts of Twilight Sparkle and her friends, Sunset Shimmer would have succeeded, achieving, at the very least, the level of power she’d always craved.

She shivered, running hands up and down upper arms, leather jacket providing no warmth at all against feeling as if a cloud had just covered the sun and plunged her into deep, icy shadows. Yes. Oh yes! She’d finally attained the power she’d always known was her due.

And in doing so had almost forever lost the pony she’d once been.

Would have lost herself to the monster she’d become.

Except for Twilight Sparkle and her friends.

Who, miracles of miracles, were now also her friends!

Not only didn’t they hold her past errors in judgement—“boo‑boos”, as Rarity put it—against her, but they’d actively forgiven her and had extended their friendship to her.

That would have been wonderful in and of itself, but they had been equally determined to help others come to learn of, and accept, her contrition and change of heart. That hadn’t been easy at all and, to be honest, things had remained quite rocky for a while. But after the events of the “Battle of The Bands”—after the very clear and unmistakable evidence of Sunset Shimmer’s remorse and determination—her classmates’ and teachers’ viewpoint had undergone a very significant change.

Oh, there were still some that remained a bit standoffish to her. Then again, even the Magic of Friendship didn’t automatically make every person best friends with everyone. But by the time the school year had wound down, Sunset Shimmer could honestly say that everyone had at least forgiven—if not forgotten—her for her past actions.

But while she’d confronted all of her past demons—excuse the pun— here, in this world, there remained a few more lurking in her closet. There.

There. In Equestria.

The chill intensified, her skin goose‑bumping.

Twilight seemed to understand what was going on with her friend. Turning fully around and stepping up to her, she hugged Sunset Shimmer in a gentle yet firm embrace. “Honest, it’ll be OK,” she repeated. Stepping back and resting hands atop Sunset Shimmer’s shoulders, she softly said, “If you’ve changed your mind, that’s OK, too. Nothing says we have to do this now, you know.”

Sunset Shimmer nodded. “I know. But I’m afraid if I bail now I’ll never have the courage to face this again.”

Twilight Sparkle snorted. “One thing you’re not short on is courage, Sunset Shimmer. We’ve all seen that!”

Sunset Shimmer ducked her head, feeling her cheeks heat up. By now, between months of writing back‑and‑forth with Twilight and conversations with their mutual friends, Sunset Shimmer had learned quite a bit about the Princess of Friendship and her extensive experiences. So having Twilight tell her that she was brave was an extremely treasured compliment!

In fact, one of the many results between those back‑and‑forth messages and of the conversations and tales told by the others—even if Pinkie Pie’s needed to be taken with an often large dose of salt—was that Sunset Shimmer now possessed a very clear idea of who Twilight Sparkle was and all she’d endured.

Or, more accurately—and respectfully—Princess Twilight Sparkle.

One of many things she’d learned had been discovering the many traits she’d shared in common with Princess Twilight. Both of them loved learning. Both of them were magically powerful, way above and beyond most unicorns. Both of them had valued scholarly pursuits, and lessons, and learning, above anything else…including socialization and friendship.

And both of them had once been Princess Celestia’s personal, private student: her protégé.

There had also been one crucial lesson both of them had found difficult to learn, and that was the value of friends and friendship. And in Sunset Shimmer’s case, that had been compounded by both a lack of humility as well as a sense of entitlement. She’d known she was meant to be an Alicorn Princess. Known she was destined to rule Equestria!

Even now, Sunset Shimmer cringed, recalling in exquisite detail exactly what she’d said to Princess Celestia the last time they’d spoken, remembering the spiteful words she’d thrown in her face.

And now she about to return to her birth world for the express purpose of reuniting with her former mentor, a reunion she’d once sworn would never, ever occur unless it was in triumphant victory. One starting with Sunset Shimmer having conquered Equestria before finally facing, at last, a defeated Celestia, and ending with deposing and kicking her beaten foe off the throne before claiming her rightful position as Queen.

Even though that had definitely changed, nonetheless Sunset Shimmer had felt no real desire to return, even if simply to visit. She had no friends there, and, honestly, held no good memories, either. She’d alienated everyone—well, everypony, that is—on her quest for power and entitlement, and, much as she’d like erasing those memories from her mind, she knew keeping them were valuable as lessons to remember. Painful lessons at times, yes, but valuable nonetheless.

Here, though…here she had friends. She’d earned her place here. She had a future here, and one that was bright and wonderful. That still surprised her, for there had been a time when the only future mattering to her were power and privileges. Here, the only things she could absolutely count on, could depend on, were her friends and the power of their shared friendship…and Sunset Shimmer had come to realize, and accept, that those were more valuable to her than the throne of Equestria could ever be.

So, for the most part, Sunset Shimmer was content leaving Equestria as a part of her past. However…

Twilight quietly stood there, patient and supportive in her silence, quite certain she knew what was running through Sunset Shimmer’s thoughts at the moment. Although, she admitted, try as she might, she couldn’t really imagine what Sunset Shimmer had to be thinking about.

Which was meeting Princess Celestia again.

Princess Twilight’s heart had been fit to burst when Sunset Shimmer had—albeit diffidently—broached the possibility of—perhaps, someday—meeting with Princess Celestia, confessing that her words and actions to her had been increasingly weighing, especially as the Magic of Friendship had continued growing and flourishing inside. As time passed, Sunset Shimmer understood, more and more, just how patient, kind, and loving Princess Celestia truly had been. And because of that understanding she’d also grown in appreciation and acceptance how terrible her words and actions must have wounded her teacher and mentor. With the insight the Magic of Friendship had gifted her, Sunset Shimmer could replay all that had passed between them with fresh eyes, and realized just how awful, how horrid, how wicked and evil a filly she’d been. And how much pain Princess Celestia must have felt when she’d been left no choice but to dismiss Sunset Shimmer as her personal student and expel her from the Castle.

And how much agony she must have felt once she’d realized Sunset Shimmer had hated her so much she’d willingly chosen to leave Equestria for a world that she’d known nothing about.

Or how much heartache she felt each and every time she thought about her former student.

Which, as Sunset Shimmer now knew, was quite often, for Princess Twilight had, when asked, been completely honest about things.

What made it even worse was that Princess Celestia wasn’t prying. It wasn’t as if she was asking about Sunset Shimmer because she worried what sort of evil, nefarious plans she might be plotting or carrying out. Oh no. That wasn’t it at all. Instead, her former teacher and mentor asked about Sunset Shimmer’s health. Her feelings. Was she adapting well? Was she happy? Was she settling in OK?

Sunset Shimmer’s vision blurred a bit as tears spangled her view. Princess Celestia had never given up on her student, not even long after she’d had so many good reasons for doing so. She’d believed in Sunset Shimmer. She’d cared about her.

And still did.

Which is why Sunset Shimmer had finally decided to make at least this one trip back to Equestria. She wasn’t sure how long she’d stay, or if she’d ever return again after this, but she was going to make at least this one trip.

Because she owed it to her teacher and mentor.

Because the Magic of Friendship had shown Sunset Shimmer the price of her betrayal of Princess Celestia’s trust and belief in her.

This visit wasn’t going to be easy for her, that much she was sure and certain about. Then again, few things that involved emotions were easy, because emotions were quite often intense. The fact she’d been entirely in the wrong about everything while Princess Celestia had been entirely correct was unpleasantly distressing, too. Add in the fact Princess Celestia had only been loving in her concern, mix all of that together and you had a recipe guaranteed to make Sunset Shimmer feel like an inch‑tall foal.

Her lips suddenly twitched. At least she never saw me as a raging she‑demon, she mordantly thought before growing sober and serious. Yes, it had been truly awful those first few months after the Fall Formal debacle. Having to see—having to be with, having to interact with—all her classmates every school day—fellow students that had seen her turn into that…had, for that matter, been turned into zombies by her—hadn’t been easy. Nope, not easy at all. And if it hadn’t been for the friendship that Fluttershy, Rarity, Applejack, Pinkie Pie, and Rainbow Dash had extended to her, ‘not easy’ would have been ‘impossible’, instead. They had been, and still were, a warm, welcome refuge embracing her in a loving, supportive hug whenever she’d needed one. And she’d needed a lot in the beginning.

But she’d never had any emotional connection with her classmates back then. They’d been nothing but pawns to her; at best cat’s‑paws, and at worst expendable cannon fodder. She’d known their strengths and weaknesses, but those were only important as providing ways and means of manipulation.

But she did have an emotional connection with Princess Celestia.

She’d been a student of Princess Celestia’s for years. Her personal student.

They’d shared a relationship that had been so close an uninformed observer could have been forgiven if they’d assumed Princess Celestia and Sunset Shimmer had been mother and daughter rather than teacher and student. The Canterlot aristocracy and nobility certainly hadn’t been unaware! In fact, most of them had been green with envy at the access to, and relationship with, Princess Celestia that Sunset Shimmer had enjoyed. After all, how many of them could say they’d enjoyed private picnics with her Highness? Had virtually complete and free access to the entire Palace? Could, for just about any reason and at just about any time, waltz right up to Princess Celestia and request—and be granted!—an immediate, private conversation?

Sunset Shimmer had done an excellent job of forcing all those emotional feelings and connections into a teeny‑tiny box deep inside her, locking them away into a place where she could conveniently ignore them. But she couldn’t ignore them anymore, not since she’d opened herself back up to feeling again.

In the beginning, she’d had to focus on the immediacy of dealing with school and classmates in the aftermath of the Fall Formal disaster, but the groundwork there was now firmly established. Sunset Shimmer didn’t need to maintain constant focus there. And now that school was over for the year, she could begin broadening her horizons, as it were…and that included righting old wrongs everywhere, to the best of her abilities.

She loved the friendship she had with all her friends, but they did make tough examples to follow. True, each of them had their own little flaws—who didn’t, after all?—but their strengths…those blazed!

Sunset Shimmer often basked in the fiery power of their strengths and, amazingly, because of the friendship she shared with each of them, she shared those strengths with them. Not as powerfully, perhaps, but nevertheless they were there. And because of that, Sunset Shimmer now could no more not try to right a wrong than any of them could.

Which didn’t mean the experience was going to be pleasant.

Princess Twilight had tried, quietly yet sincerely, easing Sunset Shimmer’s worries over that. Indeed, in addition to the many, many messages they’d exchanged, she’d taken two occasions to arrange for, and take, time from her duties in Equestria in order to physically travel through the portal, doing so for no other reason than to sit down and talk with Sunset Shimmer.


Not to also visit her other friends while she was here, but to privately visit with Sunset Shimmer.

Because Sunset Shimmer needed a friend with whom she could confide; to consult with; to have an ear to listen and a shoulder to lean on.

Another tough act to follow.

Facing Princess Celestia wasn’t the only fear worrying Sunset Shimmer, although in this case terror was much, much closer to the mark. For, once she’d made the decision to accompany Princess Twilight back to Equestria, once that had become a done deal, she’d discovered another anxiety worming its way inside her.

When Sunset Shimmer had first arrived here, she’d been dismayed at discovering there was no Equestrian magic, not even the smallest trace. She’d gone from being an individual whose power rivaled that of a true Equestrian Princess (even if Princess Celestia had refused to admit that or grant her the actual title) to somepony no stronger than anypony else about her. However, although she might have lacked the magic that had always been a part of her, Sunset Shimmer hadn’t lost a single iota of her cunning intellect or scheming nature. So, although she might have, indeed, been disarmed of her mighty arsenal of magic, in those arenas she was just as dangerous as ever before.

Plus, she’d also known exactly what was needed to regain all that she’d lost—and more!—and precisely how to go about doing that, too!

However, it hadn’t been until she’d placed Princess Twilight Sparkle’s stolen crown containing the Magic Element of Harmony atop her head that Sunset Shimmer had felt the magic she’d lost fill her again.

And, needless to say, that hadn’t turned out well at all.

Since then, Sunset Shimmer hadn’t had the feeling of her old power back, any more than she’d felt since she’d first arrived here. However, she did feel the Magic whenever she played music, the same that all of her friends now felt whenever they played. Well, played, or sang, or even sometimes hummed. It was a peculiar sort of Magic, one that apparently only manifested whenever it involved something melodic.

Because of its very nature, one firmly established in the Magic of Friendship, it was a power meant to be shared, meant to bring pleasure, fun, enjoyment. It wasn’t one that should, or even could, be used for wicked, selfish ends.

Unlike the power Sunset Shimmer had once controlled.

Back in Equestria.

Where she was about to travel.

Sunset Shimmer wished she had as much faith in herself as all her friends had in her. If she had, she’d be feeling a lot more copacetic about her return!

Princess Twilight had assured Sunset Shimmer she’d no reason to fear anything. (Granted, she’d also admitted having no evidence, empirical or otherwise, to support her conclusion; Princess Twilight was nothing if not scrupulously honest when dealing with research) She could still vividly remember Princess Twilight’s soft violet eyes gleaming as she’d declared her trust in Sunset Shimmer.

I don’t know exactly what will happen, or even how it might happen, she’d said. I know what it does with me, and how it feels. It’s very odd coming here and, well, ‘losing’ my horn, and my magic. That I notice, but it’s not really something that stands out when I go home and I get both back. My hypothesis is, because that’s normal for me and being human isn’t, becoming, and remaining, human is a bit unsettling. But for you, well, this is now your ‘normal’, so you’ll likely feel odd at first when all those sensations and feelings come back. But I know that’s not really what’s worrying you. Princess Twilight had paused a moment, her eyes gleaming even more intensely. You’re scared that, once your magic comes back, so will everything else. All the things that made the old Sunset Shimmer who she was.

And, indeed, that was what had been—and still was, for that matter—frightening Sunset Shimmer. She was terrified of the powerful temptations that old power could rouse in her.

But if she was panicking over that, Princess Twilight wasn’t, for all she’d said at the end had been, But the old Sunset Shimmer is just that: old. You’ve grown. There’s far more to you now. Learn from the past, but don’t let the past define who you are now. Trust in yourself. I do.

One tough act after another!

Closing her eyes, Sunset Shimmer took a deep breath, steeling herself. Opening them again, she felt a sudden intense flood of warmth as Princess Twilight, saying not a word, just stood there, arm outstretched and hand open, a gentle, supportive smile on her face. Reaching out, Sunset Shimmer took the proffered hand then felt a tingle as Princess Twilight gave it a gentle squeeze. “Ready?” she asked.

Sunset Shimmer took a second, even deeper breath, then nodded. “Now, or never!” she lopsidedly grinned. of them looked about, making sure no one was actually looking their way…then they stepped forward, passing at the same time side‑by‑side, together, through the portal.

Neither having paid any attention to the rather plain, white van parked just across the street.

The drum of the integrated electronic piezoelectric accelerometer slowly revolved, the recording needle holding steady as it traced a thin red line down the center of the paper. Nearby sat a modified quantum gyroscope, at the moment detecting nothing unusual. Twilight Sparkle sat at the small table inside the cramped quarters of her mobile lab, nibbling the eraser nub of the pencil usually stuck into the bun at the back of her head. She was totally focused on her apparatus, all of which required constant fiddling as none of them were off‑the‑shelf items. In fact, virtually all of her devices were either built from scratch or heavily modified beyond their makers’ wildest dreams.

Which made sense, of course, as you couldn’t find magic detectors and analyzers anywhere.

A very small part of her wanted, out of sheer frustration, to bite the pencil in half, but Twilight had long ago learned to control emotions, unruly things that they were. Emotions were disorderly, chaotic, and undisciplined. Give her cool, clinical, orderly, and organized facts and figures any day! She’d always believed that, and had spent her life so far honing that as her own personal philosophy.

Regardless of what others had tried telling her to do.

Still, at this moment it was harder than usual to remain cool and analytic. She’d waited months for CHS to let out for the year so she could bring her equipment there for on‑site analysis, and now that she was finally here there was a girl just hanging out next to Canterlot’s school statue in front of the main entrance. Why she was loitering there, Twilight hadn’t a clue; in Twilight’s experience, most kids wanted to be as far away from school as they possibly could.

Sighing in exasperation, Twilight took a sip of herbal tea as she waited. Today had been a long time in coming, but she was certain it would culminate in success, confirming her research and validating her doctorate thesis:

Magic: A Natural, Measurable Force.

It wasn’t that people didn’t believe in magic, precisely, because they did. The problem, as Twilight saw it, was that anything producing results through mysterious influences or unexplained powers that couldn’t currently be measured or otherwise explained wound up being called “magic”. Twilight simply didn’t believe the natural world could be that chaotic, that messy. There were Rules. Logic. Organization. Action A produces Result B. Pure and simple.

Twilight flat‑out refused to believe there was a force in the universe that didn’t follow logical rules. Granted, people might not know the rules or understand how they worked, but that didn’t mean those rules didn’t exist.

For reasons Twilight couldn’t understand, though, it seemed people felt that organization and rules weren’t always necessary, and nowhere was that more clearly seen than in personal relationships and socialization. Take, for instance, the crystal‑clear concept of honesty: speaking the, plain, unvarnished truth; stating pure, obvious fact. Nothing could be simpler than that! Yet when dealing with people, it was apparent the last thing they wanted hearing at times was honesty!

It hadn’t been all that noticeable at first, but as Twilight had grown older and had been exposed to more and more people, she’d come to realize just how chaotic, even purposeless, relationships actually were. They took far more energy from a person than you ever got back, and they distracted you from the more important things: lessons, research, study, and knowledge.

That realization became especially obvious whenever Twilight got the bit between her teeth when something interesting came along. When that happened, anything that came between her and her studies not only exasperated her but could, under the right circumstances, actually infuriate her.

Peeking through the small, dark‑tinted window again, Twilight glanced once more at the statue. One of those circumstances had happened here, in fact. She’d been a freshman at Canterlot High School at the time, but only because “society”—she disdainfully sneered at the term—had decided, then decreed, a girl her age had to be at that specific grade level. The thing was, Twilight had already, on her own, been pursuing online, college‑level courses…and passing them. Indeed, not only that, but had contacted several universities and colleges, submitting to them her application for early admission.

Much to her delight, she’d been provisionally accepted by one of the more prestigious ones, and one that was local, too. She’d just needed a recommendation from her principal as one of the requirements...and that hadn’t gone very well at all. Nudging glasses back up, Twilight scowled, emotions getting the better of her as those memories surfaced.

She hadn’t given the need for that requirement a second thought—or a first thought, for that matter. Twilight hadn’t seen any reason for that to be a difficulty, and so had walked into the meeting with Principal Celestia completely confident the necessary recommendation was a done‑deal.

Except Principal Celestia hadn’t seen it the same way.

Regarding anything of a purely scholastic nature, she’d been more than willing granting Twilight the highest of honors; which had greatly pleased her, even as expected as that had been. Nonetheless, Principal Celestia had been reluctant signing off on the required recommendation. And why?

Because she’d been concerned about Twilight’s lack of social skills and interpersonal relationships!

Whether Principal Celestia had meant to do it, whether she’d known it or not—and that hadn’t mattered to Twilight; not then, not now, and not ever—she’d made herself an enemy of Twilight’s for life.

Principal Celestia would not sign off on the recommendation.

For one of the very few times in her life, Twilight had flown into a rage. She’d pounded her fist on Principal Celestia’s desk; she’d yelled loud enough that Vice Principal Luna had, alarmed, stepped into Principal Celestia’s office. She had reveled in the shock and pain she’d seen in Principal Celestia’s face as she’d coldly, clinically, dissected her to pieces. She hadn’t focused on nor had stopped with the reservations Principal Celestia had presented, but had excoriated Celestia herself. Both Principal Celestia and Vice Principal Luna had been so shocked and stunned at the sheer venom and vitriol Twilight had hurled they’d been paralyzed and rendered speechless.

Twilight had stormed out of Principal Celestia’s office when finished her tirade. She’d no idea how she must have looked, but had basked in an odd sense of pleasure when the entire hallway of students parted before her like a school of panicked minnows before a shark as she’d stormed off, stalked out the main entrance, and left school early.

There had been a fringe benefit to that outburst: from that moment on the entire school had shunned her, leaving her free from the annoying distractions of feeble attempts at socializing. Considering how loudly, and how acidly, Twilight had expressed her opinion to Principal Celestia regarding how “valuable” she considered relationships and friendships, well, it hadn’t surprised her that her outburst had been overheard and then gossip‑spread throughout the school. And while other people might consider the cold shoulders she’d gotten as hurtful, Twilight herself had only seen that as an absolute positive.

By the end of her freshman year Principal Celestia had finally relented. It wasn’t that she’d reconsidered Twilight’s passionate pleas, but she’d unhappily accepted Twilight had irreparably damaged any chance of establishing any sort of friendship with any of the students at Canterlot High School, and that, perhaps, just perhaps, she’d find the value of friendship with others sharing her level of academia and knowledge.

And so Twilight—finally!—was enrolled at Everfree University.

Within a year she’d earned three Bachelor’s Degrees. Within the next she’d earned four Master’s. And now, this year, she was working on her doctorate.

Soft violet eyes glittered behind lenses as Twilight glanced again at the rearing horse statue in the school foreground. She no more believed in Fate or Destiny than she did in anything else except, of course, that of pure, clean Science, so finding the largest incidences of detectable magic—by far!—were centered here was almost nauseating. She’d almost believed they’d found out about her research and were somehow tricking her with false signals. Almost believed; Twilight softly snorted in disdain. There was, of course, no way anyone there had the ability, know‑how, skills, or abilities to do that!

Which meant, naturally, that the data she’d painstakingly accumulated was real evidence!

In addition to the cold, hard facts her devices had accumulated, she’d also collected a great deal of anecdotal tales these last few months. She would have dismissed them as tall tales, as fables, except her detectors had also responded during those episodes. As well, even she had seen the blazing, double‑helix rainbow that had towered up into the skies last Fall. So those tales, rather than making her feel skeptical had, in fact, whetted her beliefs.

This last month, Twilight had been patiently taking up stations around the school, accumulating data, refining the harvested information, and triangulating positions and vectors. To the best of her analysis and interpretations there were two loci: one, more general, was Canterlot High School itself, and a second, much more focused, was that statue itself.

She’d just picked up her mug of herbal tea and was taking a sip when every device in the van went berserk. The cup went flying as Twilight jerked forward, utterly focused on her instruments; adjusting a dial there, a slide here, an antenna there. Within moments she’d refined the power and position of the signals, and wasn’t really all that surprised seeing them match those of the statue. Whirling about, Twilight peered through the tinted glass again, fervently hoping that girl had finally left, almost snarling seeing two girls now there !

That grimace instantly vanished a moment later. Where did she come from? Twilight wondered, puzzled. She hadn’t been there before, and it wasn’t very likely she could have passed by Twilight without being seen, either. Granted, it wasn’t totally impossible, but it wasn’t very likely, either.

Returning to her apparatus, Twilight could clearly see the energy signals were just as strong as ever. Whatever had just happened was obviously still happening, even if she couldn’t tell at the moment just what that something was. But the one thing she was absolutely sure and certain about was that the energy she was detecting wasn’t anything that Science currently recognized! This was the breakthrough she’d been seeking!

Fiddling with the various devices, Twilight continued refining the data streaming to them and, as she did, a dawning realization came over her. Not only was this energy something she’d become intimately familiar with over these last few months, but, with a few minor adjustments, several pieces of her measuring equipment could be altered to generate and transmit, instead of receive, those same energy pulses!

Small fingers flew over the selected pieces of equipment as Twilight rapidly made the necessary adjustments. She’d just about finished when, without warning, every remaining measuring device suddenly went silent.

“Oh no!” she cried out. “No no no no no!

Whirling to the tinted window, Twilight stared out then felt her jaw drop a bit. The scenery remained unchanged, nothing of obvious note having appeared or changed…

…except there was now no one at all standing by that statue!

Chapter 2

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Chapter Two

A gentle pink glow flickered and danced in the small circular room, that coruscating luminescence emanating from the strange apparatus centered there.

More precisely, emitting from the mirror positioned there.

The mirror stood three ponies tall and sat within a frame mounted atop two flat, circular bases, the upper one slightly smaller in diameter than the lower. The edge of the lower base was decorated with embossed, deep purple, heels-upwards horseshoes, while the upper base’s edge was lightly scalloped. The support frame was a light purple, elongated horseshoe resting on its heels, the face decorated with a pattern of eleven, pink tourmaline stones facet cut as oblong hexagons.

Atop the support frame was a crown‑shaped crest, and positioned atop that, at the very apex, was a second, smaller horseshoe frame of the same color and material as the larger. Roughly one pony in height and with heels facing upwards, it appeared as if floating in space, buttressed by wavy filigrees cleverly holding it in a fashion which reinforced that illusion. Mounted within the smaller frame was a second mirror, the face of which was decorated with an engraved, stylized rearing pony. The heels of this frame were connected by metal—which also completed enclosing the smaller, upper mirror with its frame—having a diamond‑facet‑cut, pink tourmaline stone centered there. The outer edges of both horseshoe frames had wavy lattices matching the fretwork supporting the upper frame atop the lower.

Normally the polished face of the mirror showed the typical reflection of any other mirror…normally. However…

This was no normal mirror. This was the Crystal Mirror.

The main mirror’s pearlescent flat surface was neither silvered glass nor polished metal. Instead, it was a lustrous, slivered piece of burnished crystal, and while it usually functioned the same as a normal mirror, under special circumstances and certain situations it did far more. Some ponies, when gazing into its depths, saw reflected back to them far more than their mere likeness, and, depending on the pony in question, that revelation could have profound consequences.

That, however, was only one of its obscure, mystic properties. Unbeknownst to almost everypony was a very different, utterly unique, attribute: the Crystal Mirror was a portal, a gateway to another world.

Every thirty moons, one could walk through the face of the Crystal Mirror and enter a world entirely separate from, and independent of, Equestria. And in many ways it was a very odd, quite weird world there, indeed. That opening, however, lasted only for a short time: a period of three days, ending when the moon in that world reached its zenith the night of that third day.

However, the Crystal Mirror wasn’t the only item in the room.

The room itself was perfectly smooth and round, the wall and ceiling an unblemished hemisphere about thirty paces in width. The floor, walls, and ceiling were a soft, deep charcoal gray stone, almost smoky in appearance. The Crystal Mirror sat in the exact middle, partially surrounded by what could only be described as ‘an infernal contraption’.

Princess Twilight had originally built and assembled the device in her library, for that was where she’d first placed the Crystal Mirror when it had been entrusted to her care. However, the device’s size—’large’ and ‘clunky’ described it quite accurately—took up a substantial portion of the library interior, and, well, Princess Twilight wouldn’t have it remain that way. Libraries were essential!

Most importantly, however, were both the device and the Crystal Mirror needed relocation someplace more private, and much more secure…

…Because Princess Twilight no longer needed waiting thirty moons to pass through the portal gateway.

At the moment, perched at the very top of that contrivance and settled into a niche exactly its size, rested a thick, heavy book whose cover was emblazoned with Princess Celestia’s cutie mark. Its mate was currently in that other world: identical to this one save for being embossed with Sunset Shimmer’s cutie mark on its cover. That one had been a gift to Sunset Shimmer from Princess Celestia when she had been her student and protégé. These were a very special pair of books, for whatever was penned on the pages of one book instantly appeared on the pages of the other.

Princess Twilight had never needed anything like that to communicate with her teacher, since all she’d ever had to do was have Spike take dictation, pen scrolls, and then use his fiery breath to burn them up and magically send the ashes of the note to Princess Celestia. While anything that Princess Celestia wanted to send back, Spike just burped up in a puff of green flame once Princess Celestia had “posted” it.

Normally, this book was on the nightstand in Princess Twilight’s bedroom, for that was where, in the evenings and before retiring to bed, she’d relax and keep up with any messages from Sunset Shimmer, one of her friends back in that other world. And, against all odds—especially considering how they’d first met!—Sunset Shimmer truly was one of Twilight Sparkle’s friends. A very close one, in fact.

There were aspects of Sunset Shimmer that Princess Twilight found very comforting. Familiar even. It was hard to describe, actually. In fact, there were times she suspected Sunset Shimmer represented a facet of the Magic of Friendship that, somehow, the Elements of Harmony had inexplicably overlooked, as she not only complemented her friends, Twilight included, but seemed also to complete their group, too.

In no way was this more apparent than when they played together as a group. It was as if she catalyzed their power, somehow increased it beyond mere addition. As if, instead of it being seven plus seven it was seven times seven.

It also hadn’t escaped Twilight’s notice that the one time when their powers had truly meshed together, with Sunset Shimmer’s being added to theirs, they had merged into a true rainbow. Which, as anypony knew, was actually seven prismatic colors, not six.

However, as curious as Twilight might be about Sunset Shimmer’s potential aspects—and she was very curious, indeed!—and what those might entail, she wasn’t about to treat her as some sort of lab experiment. That didn’t stop her, of course, from researching things from her end, examining every script, scroll, record, and book she could find, hunting for any possible clue about a seventh Element.

Of course, the explanation could be as simple as magic—or what passed for magic there, at any rate—operated quite differently there than it did in Equestria. After all, none of her friends in that world had ever possessed anything like the Elements of Harmony, yet they nevertheless were channels of the Magic of Friendship.

The interesting point of all these musings of hers was that, truly, what was known as fact about the Elements of Harmony was quite small, while what was conjectured was rather extensive. Which made Princess Twilight wonder if there might not be, under the right concatenation of circumstances, yet another, as yet unnamed and unknown, Element lurking about.

And whether or not Sunset Shimmer might be the Holder of—if not outright personification of—that Element.

There was a brilliant flash of light from the mirror as Princess Twilight stepped through it and back into the Portal Room. Moments later, there was a second flash as Sunset Shimmer passed through. The difference between their actual arrivals, however, was rather profound.

Princess Twilight was basically an old hoof at this by now, having more than half‑a‑dozen passages under her wings, and so was used to the physical and spatial disorientation felt when shifting between the normal horizontal, quadrupedal position and the awkward and unnatural vertical, bipedal.

Sunset Shimmer, however, was not so experienced, sharply gasping upon exiting the mirror, at first trying to maintain balance on two rear hooves as forelegs wildly flailed for balance. It wasn’t until dropping down and standing on all four hooves that she stopped wobbling and weaving about as if struck by a disorientation spell. Eyelids tightly squinched shut and violently shaking her head, her brilliant yellow and vivid crimson mane waved like a dazzling, rolling surf.

For the first time, Princess Twilight had a good, long look at Sunset Shimmer as a unicorn. The last time—and, actually, the first time as well—things had been rather busy and hectic, more focused on pursuit than observation. But now she had that opportunity, and the first thought flicking into her head was that Rarity would die to get her hooves on that thick expanse of mane and work her own brand of “magic” on those luxurious, flowing tresses.

But that mental smile vanished, replaced by a physical look of concern when Sunset Shimmer remained standing there, all four legs set apart and braced, barrel heaving as if she’d just run a race. Her eyes remained tightly shut and her skin twitched as if shaking off flies. Her horn began glowing; softly at first, little firefly flashes chasing each other ‘round and ‘round the helixed spiral before gradually spreading along the length until the entire horn refulgently illumined the room.

Princess Twilight closed the distance between them in two small steps then lowered her head alongside Sunset Shimmer’s. “It’s OK,” she softly, reassuringly murmured. “I’m right here. Everything’s going to be just fine. I promise.”

Sunset Shimmer softly groaned, trembling as she stood there. “I…I can feel it,” she agonizingly whimpered. “It…it’s coming back!”

“Well, of course it is, silly!” Princess Twilight soothingly chided. “You are a unicorn, after all!”

The tone was so unexpected—gentle teasing mixed with mild admonishment—that Sunset Shimmer’s eyes flew open in startled surprise as her head reared back in astonishment. Princess Twilight just grinned as if that was of no import, as if everything was just spiffy and perfectly normal.

Taking a deep breath, Sunset Shimmer gustily exhaled; then took a second one, eyes this time softly closed, and exhaled again. The skin twitching slowed, then ceased. Raspy gasps gradually eased, while the coruscation of her horn gradually dimmed and died, not so much disappearing as being absorbed. Finally, after what seemed a long time but in actuality wasn’t more than a minute, she took a final, deep breath before calmly exhaling.

Giving a last head shake, mane rippling as she did, Sunset Shimmer finally opened her eyes. Princess Twilight still just stood there, looking perfectly calm and at ease as if she hadn’t a worry in the world. And that wasn’t an act: Sunset Shimmer knew that on soooo many levels, not the least of which—this time—was also arcane, for she could sense with the replenishment of her powers that Princess Twilight had activated absolutely no defensive or protective magicks.

She was wide open to anything Sunset Shimmer might choose to do. And, even as a filly in her first year in magic school, Sunset Shimmer had possessed the raw power and ability to have floored Princess Twilight where she stood.

And Sunset Shimmer knew Princess Twilight knew that.

A gentle yet intense warmth bloomed and blossomed inside, a sensation no longer foreign to her. Of course Princess Twilight hadn’t activated any such thing! Because she trusted Sunset Shimmer. Trusted her as a friend.

“Feeling better?” Princess Twilight solicitously inquired.

Sunset Shimmer licked lips that felt a bit dry. Closing her eyes again, this time to assist with concentration, Sunset Shimmer ran a bit of an internal self-diagnostic. For the most part, nothing felt wrong…exactly. Weird and strange, definitely, particularly those inner conduits now shimmering and brimming with magic. And yes, now that she’d had a few minutes to, well, adjust, she was feeling better, especially since her fears didn’t seem to be coming true.

Not coming true, yet, anyway, she mentally qualified. Still, she’d be extremely untruthful if she’d said this wasn’t feeling at least a bit disorienting!

“Ummm…errr…” she faltered. “Yeah. I think so, anyway,” she finally replied, then jerked back in alarm, cyan eyes round and wide as saucers, feeling…something…wash over her. But all she could see that might have caused that sensation was Princess Twilight levitating the book “battery” from its niche atop the device which, as soon as the book was removed, powered down and closed the portal. Using skills she hadn’t employed in a long time, Sunset Shimmer quickly determined that what she’d felt—and what had spooked her—was sensing Princess Twilight’s use of unicorn magic.

Although, she wryly thought, in Princess Twilight’s case it was more accurate to say Alicorn magic.

As there wasn’t any place inside this special room to shelve the book, Twilight simply kept it hovering overhead. “I don’t have any idea what you’re actually feeling right now,” she admitted to Sunset Shimmer. “The few times in the past when I’d completely lost my magic had never lasted very long. I remember how that made me feel, though, and I feel pretty certain‑sure that comparing what I felt when losing magic to how you’re feeling regaining it isn’t at all the same.” Pausing for a moment, Princess Twilight gently gazed at Sunset Shimmer. “So,” she softly murmured, “What are you feeling?”

“Hooooo!” Sunset Shimmer gusted. “Where to begin?”

“At the beginning, of course!” Princess Twilight grinned.

Sunset Shimmer lopsidedly grinned back. As long as she had her friend with her she felt a lot more settled, a lot more safe and secure, about all this. “Well,” she began, “Physically, I’m feeling a bit disoriented. Mentally, more than a bit flustered.” She took a cautious step forwards, then a second. “My perspective makes things look odd and makes me a bit dizzy but it’s getting better. Starting to feel more, well, natural. Pretty much the same way as I’d felt the last time I, erm...” Shamefaced, she took several deep, cleansing breaths before continuing. “It took me a while to adjust the last time, too.”

Slowly pacing around the circumference of the Portal Room, Princess Twilight patiently gave her all the time she needed to reacclimatize to the world of her birth.

Twilight Sparkle grunted with effort as she hoisted the transmitter out of the van. She’d used a hand truck getting it to the van, but she hadn’t ever planned on transporting it except between the van and her dorm...which is where the aforementioned—and highly useful—trolley currently resided. Taking several minutes to lug the unwieldy, awkward mechanism across the street and up to the statue, she was puffing like a bellows by the time she unceremoniously thumped it down.

Everything else she needed—or could think of needing, anyway—was already placed by the statue, and for the next couple of minutes, Twilight was busy attaching various and sundry electrodes and terminals to the statue base. Fingers—the tips ink‑stained, the nails nibbled and ragged—flew like dancing bolts of lightning as she rapidly connected wires to their attachment points. It felt as if she were wading through molasses, but in actuality, Twilight had things set up and running in record speed, and in a very short period of time her devices were busy humming, buzzing, or ticking away.

Pushing glasses back up, Twilight quizzically stared at the statue. There was absolutely no doubt about it: this statue was the primary locus for the energies she’d been detecting and tracking these long months, yet there wasn’t anything extraordinary about it. Especially at this moment, for it wasn’t emitting anything; for all its discernable activity it could very well be merely the hunk of chiseled marble it resembled.

Or probably was, rather than resembled—mere marble, that is; Twilight decided to chip off a piece for later analysis back at her lab, to determine what, exactly, its actual composition was.

Still, just because it was quiescent now didn’t mean it hadn’t been active in the past. Especially the recent past.

Twilight kept a very careful eye on the quantum gyroscope. That seemed to be the most sensitive of her detection equipment, and Twilight already had the beginnings of several monographs started, documenting the correlation between quantum effects—like quantum entanglement, teleportation, and tunneling—and the effects the uneducated, unwashed masses called “magic”. In fact, the waveforms and frequencies she’d been recording…

Flicking the power toggle on, Twilight waited as the transmitter powered up, humming as it warmed. Adjusting dials and rheostats, she closely watched the oscilloscope as she did so, stopping once the displayed waveform matched the tracings recorded by the integrated electronic piezoelectric accelerometer. Her eyes widened when, at the moment the oscilloscope output matched the accelerometer tracings, the rear base of the statue flickered.

It wasn’t an exact match, she noted, and began the delicate task of matching signals to each other. Within a few seconds, though, she realized the signals seemed to be taking on a life of their own, adjusting themselves to each other. And not just adjusting, either! They were augmenting each other in a self‑propagating, self‑amplifying, feedback loop; in some ways resembling, and functioning, very much like the typical harmonic oscillator.

It wasn’t until the quantum gyroscope abruptly spun up so fast and so furious that it disintegrated, that Twilight abruptly realized there was a great deal more energy involved here than she had ever envisioned. This was—somehow!—a quantum harmonic oscillator she’d energized!

She knew, without any false modesty or humility, this was far more powerful and esoteric than she had the ability, knowledge, or experience, to handle, let alone contain and control! The power levels were enormously strong and exponentially growing, and if she didn’t disconnect the equipment right now!

Twilight had just reached for the main power bus when the base of the statue erupted in a silent globe of blinding kaleidoscopic energy, enveloping not just Twilight’s equipment

…but also Twilight herself.

Soft clip‑clops lightly echoed in the portal chamber as Sunset Shimmer deliberately paced around the room. Getting her hooves back under her was proceeding much faster than she’d believed she would or could do, and as long as she didn’t really focus on what she was doing, it didn’t feel awkward or strange. Princess Twilight was going to be right…again, she suspected, crookedly grinning at that admission.

Steadily circling, she gradually permitted herself to feel, slowly yet surely, the energies roiling within her. For quite some time, she kept flinching from appraising too deeply that inner, blinding radiance, fearing being overtaken by that power. Actually, and more accurately, nervous and anxious of being subsumed by former, fierce, selfish desires and temptations, that consumption being augmented by the resumption of her power. The other times she’d returned, initially to reconnoiter and research and then finally to steal Princess Twilight’s Crown―and, more importantly, the Element of Magic that powered it—the replenishment of her magicks had also intensified her diabolic thirst for Power. However, those other times she’d still hungered for power and vengeance, while, this time…

But—again!—Princess Twilight was correct—or seemed to be, anyway: just because Sunset Shimmer had the ability, talent, skills—and now power—to do something didn’t mean she would.

However, Sunset Shimmer was also a wiser mare than she’d once been. Temptations, she knew, never really went away for good. Like any sneaky foe, a beaten temptation might withdraw from the field of battle, but a battle wasn’t a war, and forcing a retreat wasn’t a total victory. So Sunset Shimmer wasn’t about to let her guard down; not for a very long time, if ever. All the same, she wasn’t going to walk around huddled in fear, afraid of her own shadow because of “what‑mights”. Like Fluttershy.

At that, Sunset Shimmer felt a wave of shamed heat flood her face. That really wasn’t fair to Fluttershy and she knew it. Not only was Fluttershy a friend of hers, but Sunset Shimmer knew there was a core of steel inside Fluttershy’s normally timid diffidence. And Celestia help anyone if they threatened harm to an animal if she was there! Why, they’d be lucky if—

“Here. Catch!”

Sunset Shimmer blinked, startled as Princess Twilight called out. Then staggered back, eyes wide in alarm, as Twilight simply heaved the Book over towards her, the magenta aura of levitation disappearing once the Book reached the zenith of its arced trajectory… and which was now rapidly descending directly towards Sunset Shimmer.

“Ack!” The Book came to a halt, hovering in mid‑air, surrounded by a faint, shimmering light crimson aura.

The same auroral glow that flickered and danced over her horn.

“What are you doing!?” Sunset Shimmer gibbered.

“At the moment? At the moment, I’m not doing anything. You are,” Princess Twilight patiently stated, as sober and serious as any of Sunset Shimmer’s stodgy teachers had ever been, especially when they’d been stating the obvious. Alas, the twinkling of gleaming violet eyes gave the game away.

Once she’d gotten over the sheer shock of having the heavy book flung her way without warning, she suffered a second, more intense one at feeling the magic—her magic—actively flowing through her as she levitated the Book. After the last few years that felt decidedly…odd. Strange. Peculiar.

But also nice.

Very nice, in fact.

Pleasant. Pleasurable. Satisfying. Delightful. Oh, so many feelings, and all of them good! So, so good!

“Back atcha!” Sunset Shimmer grinned, “tossing” the Book back to Princess Twilight.

For the next couple of minutes the two of them acted like silly little foals, hugely grinning as they took turns pitching the Book back and forth, sometimes lobbing it in a high arc and sometimes firing it like a missile. Princess Twilight had picked the best way to get Sunset Shimmer to relax about her magic, it seemed, because once she’d gotten over the initial shock, she abandoned herself with playful passion to the game.

In fact, Sunset Shimmer was frisking about, giddy with the euphoria of relief from her most immediate fears. Pealing giggles rang out as she suddenly pictured herself having done this back when she had still been a student at Princess Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns! The other students would have been bowled over, knocked for a loop!

Abruptly pausing and holding still, she kept the Book hovering just overhead. “Is something wrong?” Princess Twilight asked, voice full of concern. Sunset Shimmer quickly shook her head. No. Nothing was wrong. But she’d suddenly pictured how Princess Celestia might have looked, seeing her student gamboling about in exuberant fun with friends.

Well, better a slow learner, she wryly thought, than a complete dunce and dolt‑colt! “She’s pretty amazing, isn’t she,” Sunset Shimmer murmured.

Taking the abrupt change in direction totally in stride, Princess Twilight replied, “Princess Celestia, you mean?”

Sunset Shimmer wasn’t at all surprised she’d straightaway deduced whom Sunset Shimmer had meant. Nodding, she’d just opened her mouth to continue when she stopped, becoming cognizant of a sensation that, she realized, she’d been superficially growing more and more aware. “Ummm,” she semi‑stammered, “Is that supposed to be doing that?”

Princess Twilight turned and fully faced the Crystal Mirror, that having been the first “that” Sunset Shimmer had referenced. Jaw dropping, she looked quite stunned, for the Crystal Mirror’s surface was flickering: flashing and flaring in a discordant pattern, but whose intensity was growing noticeably stronger, that burgeoning power being the second “that” Sunset Shimmer had implied.

“No. No, it’s not,” Princess Twilight answered, narrowing eyes as she focused fully on the misbehaving Mirror. Granted, she’d only been using the Mirror for less than three moons, so it wasn’t as if she considered herself an expert regarding it. But what she was seeing now was totally unique in her experience.

Worse, much, much worse, was that it should also be totally impossible.

For one of the very few times in her life, Princess Twilight reacted instead of acted. Her immediate assessment were the power levels of the Mirror were unsteadily fluctuating and therefore needed a regulating moderator. The best way of doing that, she intuited, was using an external stabilizer, especially if that could also provide its own steady, reliable source of power.

And she just happened to have a hoofy‑doofy one right here!

Before Sunset Shimmer could say anything—not that she had a clue, afterwards, what she might have said—Princess Twilight had levitated the Book up and ensconced it into its niche.

And that’s when everything went to Tartarus in a basket.

For a moment it looked as if Princess Twilight’s idea had worked: the irregular flashes and flares died down into a steady, albeit bright, glow. But that lasted only for a moment. Sunset Shimmer cried out, feeling energy suddenly, painfully, wash over her, forcing her eyes closed lest she be blinded by the radiance. It felt very much like what had happened to her back in her other world, the first—and only!—time she’d learned what having bare skin instead of a pony coat meant when staying out in the sun too long. She’d gotten a ferocious sunburn, and her skin had been so sensitive that, until she’d healed, feeling sunlight against the burned skin had hurt!

This felt much the same, but ten—nay, a hundred!—times worse!

She felt, more than heard, a silent explosion, then all was quiet. Raw, untamed and uncontrolled magic no longer shrilled along her nerves. Sunset Shimmer cautiously slitted one eye, and seeing that the room was dark now save for the four bracketed, flameless torches in their wall sconces, blew out a gusty sigh as she opened both. “That was—Twilight!!

Sunset Shimmer leapt over to Princess Twilight, who was lying bonelessly sprawled in an untidy heap on the floor. “Princess Twilight!” Sunset Shimmer cried out. “Are you OK? What’s wrong?” Sunset Shimmer danced in place, hooves tattooing little clip‑clops that echoed in the small chamber. She was about to race off and find help when she heard a low, soft groan. “It’s OK, I’m right here,” she reassured, feeling uncharacteristically helpless. “Everything’s going to be fine, I promise.”

Looking about, Sunset Shimmer hoped she was telling the truth. Although she’d felt…whatever that had been!…with her arcane senses, she hadn’t felt anything physical. No sound. No pressure. Nothing at all. But it appeared Princess Twilight’s device hadn’t fared anywhere near so well. Bits and pieces were loosely dangling, and as best as she could tell—considering she’d never seen the device in operation before—it wasn’t functioning.

Which made the fact the Crystal Mirror was beginning to fitfully spit sparks extremely alarming.

Princess Twilight softly groaned again before weakly moving, slowly lifting her head up and gingerly shaking it, slowly and unsteadily getting hooves back under her. Then she opened her eyes…

A hysterical shriek sounding like a scalded dragon burst from her as she stared, horrified, at her forehooves. With an eruption of fearful energy she surged upright…

…onto rear hooves.

Sunset Shimmer stared, eyes rounded saucers, as Princess Twilight heaved herself up onto her hind legs then stood there, forelegs windmilling about, eyes wide with horror. She kept staring at her forehooves as if they were fiends; beasts about to rend and savage her. Wobbling on hind legs she kept sharply flicking forelegs as if trying to shake her hooves off, all the while howling in distress.

Watch out!!

It was too late. Sunset Shimmer had been so transfixed by Princess Twilight’s—histrionics? Possession seemed more accurate!—that she hadn’t noticed when that infernal device began partially collapsing. At the very last moment, she’d seen the Book dropping like a rock from the heavens, having fallen from its shattered niche, and her warning came the same instant it smacked Princess Twilight right in the back of the head. The hysterical alicorn’s wails came to an abrupt stop as she, too, dropped like the self‑same metaphoric rock.


Sunset Shimmer screamed, completely frozen, unable to do a thing as she watched the Book take a bounce behind Princess Twilight as she was collapsing from the impact…

…then, in a smooth arc, take a second bounce…

…right through the Crystal Mirror.

There was another explosion, just as silent as the first but insanely more powerful. It took several minutes before Sunset Shimmer could see past the stars and spangles the glaring, blinding blast had imprinted on her vision. And when she finally could see, her stomach knotted up so badly she wished she’d remained still dazzled-blinded.

The Crystal Mirror was no longer spitefully sparking and flaring. It was completely dark and quiescent.

And, based upon the fact its crystal surface was now cracked and crazed like a shattered eggshell, it was quite broken, as well.

Chapter 3

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Chapter Three

The moment Princess Twilight fell to her knees, she'd known something was terribly, terribly wrong. She shouldn’t have knees!

More accurately, she shouldn’t have only two knees! She should have four!…

…when in Equestria.

When she then fell forwards, landed on her palms and began reeling on hands and knees, she really knew she was in trouble; so dizzy, so disoriented, she couldn’t focus enough to make sense of anything; stomach so nauseated her concentration was primarily focused on keeping from getting sicker. Harshly panting and violently trembling, Twilight was so weak she let herself gradually collapse until sprawled on the pavement, the heat radiating upwards from the absorbed sunlight revitalizing.

Gradually, her insides ceased fiercely whirling, and she started taking stock of her situation. Without opening eyes she knew—positively knew—she was no longer in Equestria, and was almost as certain about her current location. Let’s see…

Hands. Feet. Arms. Legs. Clothes.


Her breathing calmed and slowed; tummy stopped roller‑coastering; heart stopped pounding; pulse no longer throbbed and raced. She didn’t remember going through the mirror—crabapples, she didn’t remember activating the portal, for that matter!—but clearly she had, somehow, returned to the world of her human friends.

Sweet Celestia, please let it be that world and not a different one!

The thought that, perhaps, she might have somehow wound up someplace else was stimulus enough for Twilight to open eyes and take a quick look about. Once confirming that, indeed, this was the world of her human friends, she quickly closed them again because, at the moment, her sight was still rolling back and forth in a decidedly seasick manner.


mmmmmmmmmmmmmmMMMMMMMMMMMMM putt-putt-putt-putt sqck…

“Twilight? Is that you? Are you all right?”

Something had just passed by, making a peculiar sound as it had, but Twilight had been too woozy to crack open an eye to see what weird oddity that might have been. Even when it appeared to loop around and return, she’d much rather keep her eyes closed. But then it had squeaked to a stop quite close to her, making it much more difficult to ignore. And when someone had then called her name…

Lifting her head, Twilight looked towards the sound of the voice, her vision blurring a moment before finally settling into semi‑focused clarity.

“Mystery Mint? Is that you?”

Pushing her scooter up onto its stand, Mystery Mint nodded as she walked over. “Uh‑huh. It’s me.” Crouching next to Twilight and tossing her scarf over her shoulder, she observed, “You don’t look so good. Are you all right?” she repeated. “Did you hurt yourself? Did someone hurt you?” she asked, sounding more concerned.

She carefully helped ease Twilight up until she was sitting mostly upright with legs curled at her side. “I…I think I am,” Twilight hesitantly answered. “I’m more dizzy than anything else. I’m not hurt, at any rate.”

“That’s good!” Mystery Mint exhaled in relief. “What’s all this stuff for?” she asked.

“This stuff” turned out to be quite a few devices, none of which Twilight immediately recognized as anything familiar. They were placed in a roughly semicircular arc on the pavement at the rear of the statue, and she had absolutely no idea why they were there.

Suddenly, Mystery Mint gasped in alarm. Twilight looked up, startled and concerned. “What?”

Mystery Mint just pointed to the rear of the statue pedestal. Twilight’s eyes rounded in alarm before she’d even looked up, feeling sick and dizzy all over again. The rear face of the statue pedestal, the portal entrance…

…looked as if an angry giant had smashed an enormous sledgehammer right in the center.

“Yep. By the statue.”…“I don’t how many. As many as we can get for now.”…“She might need all our help. Definitely gotta get Velvet and Wiz though; pretty sure we’re gonna need their help.”…“It’s pretty weird and awful bad.”…“OK, see you soon!” Mystery Mint ended the call then slipped her cell phone into her pocket.

“Just called Cherry Crash,” she explained to Twilight, whom Mystery Mint had earlier assisted with leaning upright against an unbroken side of the statue. “She’ll round up the others to help.”

Twilight was feeling much better by now. If circumstances had been different, she’d have said she was feeling completely better. But circumstances weren’t different.

The portal was broken.

Just leaning against it, Twilight could sense it was broken. She hadn’t needed to see the shattered face to know she was stranded here.

Stranded here. All alone, and with no way at all returning!

Crouching next to her, Mystery Mint held out the water bottle she’d taken from her scooter. “Here, have some; it’ll be good for you.”

“Thanks,” Twilight softly replied, taking the proffered bottle and sipping. The water was still chill, and had an interesting minerally taste. Normally that would have quite intrigued her, but not at this point in time.

Then what else Mystery Mint had said finally percolated through. “‘Round up the others’? What others?”

Standing back up, Mystery Mint put small, fisted hands on her hips. “Twilight. Really,” raising a hand, she semi‑scolded as small fingers flicked a lock of her hair. “I’m lavender and rose; I’m not blonde.” Twilight blushed but Mystery Mint just grinned, obviously teasing. “Everyone at Canterlot High knows how much we owe you. We might not know everything about you,” she added, “but we know enough to understand what you’ve done for us.”

Hunkering back down, Mystery Mint gazed at Twilight. “We might not make a big deal about that, but that doesn’t mean we haven’t noticed. Or that we don’t care. Mostly it’s because we don’t want to embarrass you and the others,” whereupon Mystery Mint grinned as Twilight blushed, “but also because we respect your privacy. Not that most of us aren’t dying of curiosity!” she grinned again.

Twilight took another swallow. “Ummm…so what do you know?” she asked, at which point Mystery Mint made Pinkie Pie’s original guesstimate of whom Twilight had been, back during the Fall Formal, seem rather…mild and tame.

Considering Pinkie’s “guesstimate” had been, You’re from an alternate world and you’re a pony princess there and the crown actually has a magical element embedded in it that helps power up other magical elements, and without it they don’t work anymore, and you need them all to help protect your magical world, and if you don’t get the crown tonight, you’ll be stuck in this world and you won’t be able to get back for, like, a really, really long time!

Twilight’s eyes were wide in astonishment by the time Mystery Mint was finished.

“So that’s why I know that that,” Mystery Mint gestured towards the shattered portal face, “is terrible! It’s your way home.” Then she looked all around at the scattered instruments. “I just have no idea what these things are, or are supposed to do. They aren’t yours, I’m guessing?”

Twilight shook her head. “No, they aren’t. They look like measuring instruments though.”

Mystery Mint looked at Twilight in surprise. Twilight just snorted, semi‑amused. “It might not seem that way to you, but we really don’t use magic for everything. And back in Equestria you’d probably consider me as much a scientist and a researcher as well as, well…”

“A Magical Alicorn Pony Princess of Friendship and Magic?” Mystery Mint helpfully offered, giggling as Twilight blushed an even deeper rose.

Rising up, Mystery Mint padded over to her scooter, fetching a granola bar from a saddle pocket. She was opening up the packaging when she stopped, her expression puzzled, before crouching and picking something up. “I…I think this is something you need to see,” she stated as she walked back over to Twilight. Hunkering down in front of her, she held out a book. “This looks more like your type of thing than the rest of this stuff does.”

Reaching out, Twilight took the book, then stiffened. She paled so badly she turned a ghostly, ghastly gray.

“Twilight! What’s wrong?” Mystery Mint cried, freezing in the middle of handing Twilight the granola bar.

Embossed on the cover of the Book was a radiant, golden, stylized sun; a very familiar image to Twilight.

After all, it was the cutie mark of her former teacher and mentor…the Royal Sun Princess of Equestria, Princess Celestia.

“She’s been like that ever since I gave her the book,” Mystery Mint whispered to Applejack, the only close friend of Twilight’s they’d so far been able to reach. “Just sitting there, holding it to her chest, and softly crying. We’ve all tried talking to her,” she tearfully said, “But she just sits there. None of us know what to do!”

“Thankee, Mystery Mint,” Applejack said, giving her a quick hug. “Ah’m not sure whut’s up, but Ah’ll go have a talk with Twalaight and see what Ah can find out.”

Applejack had been very surprised getting a call from, of all people, Trixie Lulamoon; who, in turn, had relayed the message she’d gotten from Octavia Melody; who, in her turn, had gotten one from Cherry Crash. And a very frightening message that had been, too.

The Great and Powerful Trrrrixie wishes to inform you that…oh shoot, Trixie’s voice dramatically changed. Octavia just called me. Twilight’s in trouble. Meet us at the school statue out front.

Twilight did look awful, her eyes swollen and red, her face splotchy. Squatting in front of her friend and tipping her Stetson back a bit as she hunkered down, “Ah’m here, Twalaight. It’s me: Applejack. Me and a heap more of yer friends. We want t’ help. Whut’s wrong, Sugarcube?”

For the longest time, Twilight just sat there, clutching her Book. Finally, after what seemed like forever, Twilight slowly looked up, meeting her eyes at last, and it took everything Applejack had not to flinch from the awful, dead look in Twilight’s normally bright, dancing eyes. Just as slowly, like a drawbridge ponderously being lowered, Twilight tipped the book down and exposed the cover.

Now, Applejack had seen Sunset Shimmer’s book before. Plus—being such close friends and all now—Applejack also knew there was a similar book of sorts back where Twilight lived. A book that was matched and paired to Sunset Shimmer’s…magically matched and paired. Heck, Applejack had even seen Twilight’s messages to Sunset Shimmer magically appear on the pages of her book!

But this certainly wasn’t Sunset Shimmer’s book. Which meant…did it really mean what Applejack thought it meant?

“Thet’s t’other book, ain’t it?”

Twilight just nodded.

“An’ thet one’s s’pposed’ta be back there, right?”

Twilight nodded again.

“This’s a bad thing, right.” And it wasn’t a question this time.

Tears trickled down Twilight’s cheeks as she nodded again, as Applejack felt her heart plummet to the ground.

“OK, here’s what we have so far.”

Sitting cross‑legged in front and a bit to either side of Twilight were two of the younger kids there. Actually, they were the two youngest. They were also, for the moment, the complete center of attention of everyone.

Neither Velvet Sky nor Wiz Kid were used to being paid this close of attention by their classmates. Especially when they were about to go all techie!

Velvet: “First off, it doesn’t look like anything actually broke the statue.”

Wiz: “Right,” he nodded. “It looks as if, well, it broke itself.”

Velvet: “I know, that sounds absurd.” (Someone whispered, “That means silly.”)

Wiz: “But it appears as if it either absorbed, or was processing, more energy than it was meant to handle, and shattered under the stress.”

Velvet: “We’re not sure it can be repaired. We don’t know enough about the mechanics or science behind it.” (Someone else muttered, “Or magic.”)

Wiz: “Well, yes. That, too.” (in response to aforesaid anonymous mutters)

Velvet: “As for the equipment around the statue, we know what they’re for and what they do.”

Wiz: “Well, what most of it does, anyway.” It was obvious he disliked having to admit that.

The students leaned closer, not wanting to miss anything.

Velvet: “All of it is meant to detect and measure energy. And apparently a very special, very distinct, type of energy.”

Wiz: “Well, all but one piece,” he scrupulously clarified, and Velvet nodded.

Velvet: “That one over there,” she pointed to the statue, “had wires connected to electrodes that were attached to the statue. It looks as if those were originally connected to a measuring device. But that…” Velvet pointed to another device.

Wiz: “That,” Wiz continued, “Isn’t a measuring device. It’s a transmitter.”

Continuing to speak back‑and‑forth, seamlessly finishing each other’s sentences, Wiz and Velvet explained that someone must have detected strange happenings going on (there were lots of nods, ‘Hmmmms’ and murmurs at that) and traced them back here.

To Canterlot High.

That wasn’t terribly surprising, after all. After all, you couldn’t have hidden the effects—or aftereffects, for that matter—that had occurred during the Fall Formal or the following Spring’s Musical Showcase/“Battle of the Bands”.

But strange things randomly happened everywhere. Granted, Canterlot High had come in for more than its fair share, and in such a short time, but there had been reasons for that.

But it wasn’t that the ones at CHS had been just strange events. They had been strange, otherworldly events.

They had involved magic, and powers, from Equestria. Twilight Sparkle’s home.

More properly, and respectfully—as they were all very aware—Princess Twilight Sparkle.

Velvet and Wiz hypothesized (Guessed, someone whispered) someone had detected the esoteric (I have no idea, another murmured) energies specific to Princess Twilight Sparkle and of Equestria in general, and decided to isolate (Wait! I know this one!) its location.

While those two continued sharing their speculations and deductions, Mystery Mint walked back over to and crouched down alongside Applejack, who was hunkered alongside her friend. “Twilight?” she murmured, “Take a bite. It’ll make you feel better,” she softly said as she held out the granola bar. Her heart broke seeing the terrible, lost expression on Twilight’s face. Neither did she miss the way Twilight was holding her hands: fingers together, wrists bent, as if the hooves she’d been borne with. Which was another reason Mystery Mint wanted Twilight to have the granola bar: in addition to providing a boost of energy, it was mostly mixed grains, and perhaps that would be a familiar, homey taste.

Twilight gripped the unwrapped bar between her “hooved” hands then lowered her head and took a nibble. She slowly chewed, then swallowed, then took a slightly bigger bite.

“That’s right, Twalaight. Get a little grub inside. Y’all feel better for it.” Applejack gave Mystery Mint a grateful smile as Twilight took yet another small bite.

Twilight had almost finished the bar when Lyra Heartstrings walked over. “Wiz Kid and Velvet Sky are just about done explaining things. It’s not that we don’t care, Applejack,” she apologized, “But it doesn’t sound as if there’s much that most of us can do to help right this minute. We can barely understand what those two are saying. So most of us are going to be heading off. But if there’s anything we can do…”

“Thankee kindly, Lyra. And thank th’ others for me and Twalaight, too, okay?”

“Sure thing Applejack. And Twilight?” Lyra gazed down at her. “We’re all here for you. Just say the word and we’ll do whatever is needed. Promise.”

Most of the kids had departed, unhappily accepting they could be of no practical help at the moment, but reassured they would be called once something had been figured out. Wiz Kid and Velvet Sky were comparing notes, heads almost touching together where they sat cross‑legged, when came the sudden cry:

TWILIGHT! Where is she?”

Heads popped up as Pinkie Pie came screeching in on a bicycle, handlebar tassels flying, bells ringing, spokes clicking like castanets from the plastic cards pinned there, and a horn blatting as she rapidly honked it.

Pinkie Pie braked so hard it went up on its front wheel, almost dumping her on top of Twilight. “Pinkie Pah!” Applejack yelped. “Watch out thar!”

“I would have been here sooner,” Pinkie Pie panted, hopping off the bike which, against all odds, remained upright on just its front wheel. “But I had to make an emergency stop first!”

“What in tarnation could be more of an emergency, Pinkie Pah?” Applejack asked.

“This!” Pinkie Pie chirped, taking a rectangular paperboard container from the bike basket…whereupon the bike promptly teetered over. “Cupcakes!” she brightly piped, plopping down next to Twilight and almost knocking Mystery Mint right onto her rump as she did.

“Cupcakes?” Applejack hooted. “Cupcakes!?” She stared at Pinkie Pie in indignation. “Cupcakes were th’ emergency?”

Nodding, Pinkie Pie opened the lid and reached inside. “Not just any cupcakes, either!” she enthused, eyes turning glassy‑dreamy, “Ookie‑gookie, icky‑sticky, molten lava chocolate cupcakes!” she said, voice just as dreamy and practically oozing ‘yummy’.

“Pinkeh Pah,” Applejack said, her voice accented even thicker with exasperation, “Did y’all miss th’ fact thet Twalaight’s in real serious trouble?”

“Of course not, silly‑billy!” Pinkie Pie replied, returning from wherever her mind had just wandered off, “That’s why getting the cupcakes was an emergency!”

Before Applejack could form any sort of retort, Pinkie Pie had removed a cupcake and lightly smooshed it against Twilight’s mouth.

Pinkie Pah!

Twilight lifted “hooved” hands up, grasping the cupcake even as she took a bite. Within a moment or two her expression relaxed, eyes looking less haunted and tense shoulders relaxing as she slowly chewed.

“Whhu?” Pinkie Pie asked, eyes ingenuously wide, having stuffed a cupcake fully into her mouth.

By the time Pinkie Pie managed working her cupcake down, Twilight had more daintily finished hers, licking fingers and lips as she chased the last of the gooey icing. Both Applejack and Mystery Mint were flabbergasted at the change in Twilight, both their jaws dropped in astonishment.

They just stared at each other as Pinkie Pie fished out another cupcake for herself. That one went the same as the first and, as she handed—this time—a second one to Twilight, Pinkie Pie looked at Applejack and Mystery Mint, shrugging at their expressions. “Whhu? Ccpkhs rr gghhd!”

All Applejack and Mystery Mint could do was look at each other and shrug…and grin, of course. It was Pinkie Pie, after all!

By the time Twilight had finished her second cupcake—and Pinkie Pie had devoured her fourth—she felt much better; enough so that she’d noticed Mystery Mint looking somewhat dejected, and could even take a perceptive guess why.

Reaching out, Twilight gently squeezed her hand. “Thanks for the granola bar. It really helped,” Twilight gratefully said, and was pleased to see her spark right back up. “And for the water, too,” she added, taking another swallow before handing the bottle back.

Gazing around, she noticed that while the number of her classmates had significantly dwindled, the few that remained seemed even more dedicated. Twilight felt a little hurt, though, seeing so many of her closest friends absent. Pinkie Pie was still busy chasing icing off her nose, but Applejack noticed the hurt expression on her friend’s face as she surreptitiously looked around.

Applejack shrewdly guessed the source of Twilight’s melancholy. “Rarity’s away on vacation,” she informed, “along with Sweetie Belle. Rainbow Dash is away at sports camp. So’s Scootaloo. They went t’gether.” Applejack grinned. “Lil’ scamp was so excited t’ go with her “big sis” too! An’ Fluttershah’ll be by later; she volunteers at the Animal Shelter, otherwise she’d be here, you betcha.”

Seeing Twilight’s expression ease and relax told Applejack she’d hit the mark dead on. Quite deadpan, she added, “An’ Flash Sentry, he’s at band camp,” hiding a grin as her friend brightly blushed.

“I have to go for now.” Mystery Mint morosely stood there. “I’m sorry I couldn’t do anything to help.”

Twilight was astonished. “Couldn’t do anything?” she said in amazement. Pushing off the ground with a hand, she gingerly stood up then pulled Mystery Mint into a tight hug. “You stopped to help. You called, and rounded up, everyone to help. You stayed with me the entire time. What do you mean ‘couldn’t do anything’?”

Ducking her head, Mystery Mint blushed. “You know what I mean. I couldn’t make it better. Fix things.”

Twilight snorted. “Mystery Mint,” she softly chided, “you don’t have to actually fix something to have helped someone. Sometimes just knowing they’re there is all they need. And I’d be in a really bad fix if you hadn’t done what you did. You were a big help. Honest.”

“Hey, Twilight.” Cherry Crash walked up, stopping next to Mystery Mint. “I have no idea what those two are talking about,” indicating Wiz Kid and Velvet Sky with a hooked thumb, “but they seem to think you’ll understand.” She wrinkled her nose in mock disgust, and was pleased when Twilight responded with a little smile. “Yo, Mystery Mint.”


“Can I grab a ride with you? I took a cab over, but I’m busted for coin now.”

“Sure thing. Even have a spare helmet. We’re not gonna be driving fast though, not doubled up on that!”

Cherry Crash hugged Twilight and then so did Mystery Mint. Both of them gave Applejack a ‘look’ before heading over to Mystery Mint’s scooter. Twilight guessed she wasn’t supposed to have seen them exchange that glance, and they must have thought she wouldn’t see them do so. It didn’t upset her, though, not when she understood their message as loud and clear as if they’d spoken. Theirs had been ‘She’s going to be OK, right?’ while Applejack’s had been ‘We’ve got her back’.

Just several years ago, that exchange would have flown right by her as something incomprehensible. But she’d learned a lot about things since then, and relaxed even further surrounded by friends that cared for her.

About then the “Dangerous Duo” gestured at Twilight, motioning for her to come over to where they were huddled. Twilight and Applejack waved in farewell to the girls as they headed off to Mystery Mint’s scooter, while Pinkie Pie jumped up and down, flapping her hand in a motion more akin to a one‑winged albatross trying to lift off. “Oo! Oo! Wait! Wait!” While the two of them headed over to Wiz and Velvet, Pinkie Pie dashed over to Mystery Mint and Cherry Crash, bakery box in hand. “You can’t leave without cupcakes!”

Velvet pouted as they came to a stop next to them. “I like cupcakes,” she grumbled.

“I prefer danish myself,” Wiz grinned, earning a poke from Velvet, before turning serious as he met Twilight’s eyes. “We can’t tell you exactly what happened,” he honestly confessed, Velvet also turning solemn and nodding. “But we have a pretty good idea what this stuff is and what is does.”

“We even have a good idea what it’s supposed to do,” Velvet stated.

Applejack softly whistled, quite impressed.

“But there is one thing we have to guess at. It’s a pretty good guess, though, we think.” Wiz confessed

“What’s that?” Twilight asked.

“Well,” Velvet began, gesturing to all the various and sundry pieces of equipment, “here’s all this stuff. And a lot of it looks very expensive. So…”

“Where is the owner of all these instruments?” Wiz finished.

Twilight felt her mouth open; Applejack’s actually dropped. For the very first time it truly dawned on them that whomever had set all this apparatus in place, whomever had been using it, was nowhere to be found.

Four heads swiveled as one, staring at the fractured portal surface. “Yeah,” both tech wizards extraordinaire said in unison, “That’s what we thought, too.”

Considerate of their audience, they condensed into a brief synopsis what they’d learned, so it didn’t take long for them to finish. “We don’t know where this all came from, though,” they admitted. “Hopefully it isn’t some sort of secret government agency,” they worried.

Pinkie Pie giggled. “It isn’t funny, Pinkie Pie,” Wiz Kid scolded. “It could be, you know.”

She giggled again. “It’s just somebody from Everfree University. Probably some geeky student. Ummm, no offense, guys,” she hastily apologized.

Velvet just gave Pinkie Pie a look. “Now how do you know that?” she challenged. “We can’t even tell you where it came from.”

Gesturing across the way, Pinkie Pie pointed to the white van parked there. “Because that has EU parking stickers on it!” Pinkie Pie grinned, then held out the bakery box. “Cupcakes?”

Once Pinkie Pie had pointed out the van, it became obvious she was most likely correct. There wasn’t any reason for a motor vehicle to be parked there, after all: school was closed and there weren’t any local businesses, parks, or nearby homes. Besides, it made far too much sense that a University student might have been drawn to the peculiar energy discharges that had occurred this last year. So the group, much smaller now, traipsed over to the van to see what might be found.

Alas, the van was locked, and their mystery scientist/secret agent/whomever had neglected to leave their keys behind. “I don’t feel right about breaking out a window,” Twilight confessed, “Not even to get answers.”

“Make way for the Great and Powerful Trrrrixie!”

Eyes rolled as Trixie Lulamoon theatrically—how else?—forged her way to the front. “The Great and Powerful Trrrrixie shall open the door for you!”

“Oo! Oo!” Pinkie Pie enthused, clapping her hands as she bounced up and down. “This I have to see!”

Applejack muttered, sotto voce, to Twilight, “You and me both!” as Twilight smothered a grin.

Reaching up to her hair, Trixie unfastened her barrette, an extremely pretty, star‑shaped ornamental hair clip, pausing a moment and wincing a little before bending the spring clip back of the barrette straight out. Leaning over and looking very closely at the key entrance, she pressed the bent metal clip inside then started working it back and forth, jiggling it up and down. The very tip of her tongue peeked out past her lips as she intensely focused on picking the lock.

Several minutes passed, and sweat was now beading her forehead. There was a growing look of desperation on her face, and Applejack was pretty sure the barely audible, ‘C’mon, c’mon! Trixie’s gotta do this!’ she overheard was never meant to be heard at all.

Several more minutes passed, and Applejack was about to tap Trixie on the shoulder and tell her to give it up as a lost cause when, suddenly, to her surprise—and everyone else’s, too, not the least being Trixie herself—the lock knob lifted up with an audible *pop*.

“I…I…I did it!” Trixie stuttered, wide‑eyed and astonished. An incredible smile of delight and accomplishment spread across her face, for once utterly guileless and unpretentious.

“Let’s hear it fer th’ Great and Powerful Trixie!” Applejack hollered. Everyone cheered, with Pinkie Pie doing a cheerleader routine using two cupcakes for pompoms.

“Thanks, Trixie,” Twilight said as she tightly hugged her. “That was amazing!”

“It was, wasn’t it?” she said, her voice soft and wondrous, her expression elatedly stunned; her face falling as, moments later, her beautiful barrette broke apart and fell to the ground. “Trixie needs a new hairclip,” she mournfully said.

Octavia Melody crouched down and picked up the pieces before standing back up alongside Trixie. Gently squeezing her shoulder, she said in that cultured voice no few of her classmates envied—or mooncalfed over—“This is such a lovely ornament. My uncle is a jeweler; if anyone can fix this, he can. Shall we go and ask him? When I tell him that you broke it as the only means of helping a friend, he will spare no effort making it as good as new.”

“Really?” Trixie asked, heart on her sleeve. “It is very special to Trixie.”

“Yes. Really,” Octavia smiled and nodded. After verifying they weren’t needed right that moment, Octavia guided Trixie to the side before they headed off together.

“Wait! You need cupcakes!” Pinkie Pie hollered, chasing off after them.

“Ah gotta admit, Twalaight, Ah thought fer sure ol’ Trixie was jes’ up t’ her old tricks again. Ah never thought she’d really do it!” Applejack sounded quite impressed.

Wiz stepped around from the far side of the van at that point, with the oddest expression to his face, looking as if he’d just swallowed a worm and was trying to keep it down. He was also slipping a small device into his pocket as he approached them. Twilight lifted an eyebrow at him and Wiz blushed, looking sheepish; unaccountably shy, yet also quite pleased with himself.

After checking around and assuring no one was paying either of them especial attention at the moment, Twilight leaned down and whispered, “Do I want to know?”

His ears turned bright red, yet a grin kept fighting to break out. “Promise to keep a secret?”

“Cross my heart, hope to fly, stick a cupcake in my eye.”

At the word “cupcake” they both shot glances Pinkie Pie’s way, but she was still busy handing out cupcakes to the departing pair.

Wiz partially removed the device from his pocket. “Electric door locks; I hacked the locks and opened them.” He gazed Trixie’s direction, an odd look on his face. “She needed to win; she hardly ever does, you know.”

“And you like her.”

Wiz shot her an anxious, alarmed look.

“Cupcakes, remember?” Twilight assured.

She didn’t need an answer and, truthfully, wasn’t looking for one, but Wiz Kid, after giving her a searching look for a few moments, simply nodded as he glanced Trixie’s way. “And I like her.”

Both of them jumped as Pinkie Pie suddenly appeared between them. “Did somebody mention cupcakes?”

“Guys, you aren’t going to believe this,” Velvet said a few minutes later.

They’d opened the van’s doors, torn between necessity and feeling like burglars, and were astounded by the mobile lab they’d discovered inside. While the rest of them had been distracted by that bonanza, Velvet—surprisingly, since she was every bit as intrigued by that lab as Wiz and Twilight were—had decided to be a bit more pragmatic in her search. She’d focused on the map compartment and the backpack on the forward passenger floor. Inside the backpack, buried amidst papers, documents, books, and other scholarly items, had been a small, plain, functional clutch. And inside that…

Velvet held out the small billfold that had been inside the clutch, already opened and folded back to reveal the driver’s license inside.

The driver’s license issued to one Twilight Sparkle.

Chapter 4

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Chapter Four

Something…something wasn’t quite right, Twilight Sparkle sensed. She wasn’t exactly sure what it was, but she was certain it was something. At first, she thought she was having an extremely vivid, incredibly bad dream, and so struggled to wake up from it. But, as time passed, it gradually became clear that the intense throbbing pain and visceral queasiness were real and not imaginary.

At which point, she desperately started wishing she was dreaming!

She sensed being sprawled atop something flat, hard, and chill; sensed as well her limbs awkwardly spread akimbo. Whatever it was she was lying atop felt as if it was rocking to‑and‑fro like a wallowing scow, her stomach quite predictably reacting to that perceived motion. The back of her head was throbbing, a slow, steady drumbeat keeping time with her pulse and contributing to the nausea.

Something about the way she was sprawled and how her limbs were spread didn’t feel right. Fighting to control the fear rising at the back of her throat, and struggling to make sense out of things, at the moment she simply couldn’t remember anything. Shreds of thoughts, feelings, and memories kept fluttering past as if fragile streamers shredded by a strong wind, always just beyond her grasp.

That fear abruptly surged stronger; Twilight disliked anything—especially herself—being out of her control. Swallowing, she felt the physical effects of that simple action, cataloging it.

Check One.

Focusing next on listening to her pulse, feeling that slow, steady throb…which, unfortunately, was echoed by that lump on the back of her head.

Check Two.

Listening to the sounds of her respiration, feeling each inhale and exhale.

Check Three.

Somewhere off in another country, someone was urgently calling to her, over and over.

Princess Twilight! Princess Twilight! Oh please!

Well, maybe they were calling to her. But what was up with that ‘Princess’ nonsense?

Twilight Sparkle cautiously cracked open an eyelid, wincing at the stabbing pain of light piercing through the slit, then hissed as that wince made her gorge heave. Gritting teeth and forcing innards to behave, next she—carefully!—opened both eyes.

She hadn’t a clue where she was because she didn’t recognize anything. But, truly, she had only a moment to spare for her surroundings because that wasn’t what immediately drew her attention. No. Not that at all.

Currently filling her—albeit limited—point of view was a head; a head which had just lowered down and blocked most everything else from sight. Actually, what was mostly blocking her view was the thick, tumbling mass of hair billowing down from aforementioned head. Eye‑watering hair, at that; Twilight cringed, squeezing eyes shut in protection from the visually painful combination of brilliant canary yellow and dazzling vivid scarlet.

That annoying voice once more urgently called out, Twilight feeling pretty confident deducing the origination of that. Undoubtedly the speaker thought they were being soothing and helpful but, frankly, her head was hurting too much for any sort of sound above a whisper to be comfortable.

And then the rest of what she’d seen in that short glimpse percolated through to her consciousness.

Good Heavens! Twilight thought in panic. Something must be dreadfully wrong with me. I must be very badly injured! Or I’ve had some sort of nervous, mental breakdown!

The next‑to‑very last thing Twilight Sparkle wanted to do at that moment was reopening her eyes, for doing so would then compare what she’d imagined seeing versus actual reality, while the very last thing she wanted was truly confirming she’d suffered a nervous breakdown and was hallucinating. However…

Carefully peeping through half‑slit lids, Twilight flinched as now-current sight verified moments-past memory. No. No, obviously she had cracked up.

The blazing mass of hair billowing down in silken ringlets was just as eye‑watering as she’d remembered. The only mistake she’d made was in identification, for it wasn’t hair. Well, not precisely.

It was a mane.

Said mane artfully descended from the head peering at her. And that, too, wasn’t quite accurate. True, if you wanted to quibble about it, it was a head. Just one with a muzzle. A decidedly unmistakable equine muzzle. Twilight might never have gone through the pony‑crazy stage most little girls did, but even she couldn’t mistake a horse when it was looking her in the face! Except—

Stee‑rike three!…

Twilight swallowed, closed her eyes, and rested her cheek against the chill stone…or tile—or whatever!—beneath her. A unicorn? There was a unicorn looking at her!?

I know Professor Harmony said I might be working too hard, and that I should take a break now and then, Twilight mentally wailed, But he only said, “might!” This can’t be happening, it just can’t!

“Princess Twilight? Please, are you all right? Don’t worry; I’ve called for help. Spike said help will be here real quick. Just…hold on. Please?”

Spike? Spike? What did Spike—her pet; her dog; the best friend and most perfect companion Twilight Sparkle ever had or known—have to do with anything? And Spike said? Spike didn’t talk; he was just a dog. And why was Spike suddenly ‘appearing’ in this fevered dream of hers?

Twilight cried out in distress, suddenly terrified that—in addition to whatever had happened to her—something dreadful had happened to her dearest, most treasured friend. That terror overrode any sense of disorientation, suffering, or nausea. She surged to her feet, in one exceptionally awkward motion…

…and realized, with the sickest feeling she’d ever before experienced in her entire life, something was terribly, horribly wrong.

Standing directly in front of her was, indeed, a unicorn. That would have been bad enough by itself to assure Twilight she was either suffering a major breakdown or was seriously injured. Of course, for some reason her damaged psyche wasn’t satisfied with the delusion of an archetypal mythical unicorn. Instead, for some unknown maleficent rationale, it had upped the stakes by a considerable margin, for Twilight wasn’t being favored by a magnificent, snowy‑white, spiral‑horned equine with cloven hooves, bearded chin, and tuft‑tipped leonine tail.

Instead, the unicorn in front of her was much smaller; about Twilight’s own size, in fact. Its coat looked normal…normal for a horse, anyway: a rather plain yet pretty amber. However, normality ended right there.

Twilight hadn’t been mistaken about the mane: it truly was crimson and yellow—with matching tail, no less—both colors so garishly bright and dazzling her aching head made eyes tear up and water. Its horn, oddly enough, wasn’t a pure white, but, instead, matched the buff coloration of its coat. Its eyes were huge, set in the front of the head, and gazed back at Twilight with an uncanny semblance of intelligence.

She staggered a step; then another, arms windmilling for balance. The landscape seemed to tip, roll, and oscillate—unsurprisingly considering how badly her head was throbbing—and there was also something…wrong…about her sense of balance. Something unnatural about her body.

That was when she took a good look at her hands. Or what should be her hands. She didn’t have hands any more. She had…

Twilight quite audibly swallowed as she stared down at her hooves. Hooves the same as that…that thing standing across from her. And her arms…they were covered in fine hair, dense enough to properly call a coat. She was still wobbling, teetering as she fought for balance—and sanity—then whimpered hearing the audible ‘clip’ and ‘clop’ as she took two wobbling, backpedaling steps. A distant part of her mind gibbered there was no need to look down to confirm she was standing on hooves.

What she hadn’t immediately recognized was whatever it had been that had flared out either side of her peripheral vision, so Twilight took a moment to dart a sideways glance.


Of course.

Her breathing grew ragged and shallow, feeling panic rising inside. No hallucination could, or would, be this real, not even if she’d truly lost her mind.

Sunset Shimmer had still been reeling in shock the first time the Crystal Mirror had erupted in a terrible explosion of raw, untamed energy, feeling as if lashes of fire had whipped her. Seeing Princess Twilight lying unconscious on the floor, looking as if she’d been flattened by whatever had just happened, had sent a jolt of sheer terror through her that cut right through that shock.

It hadn’t helped seeing the device Princess Twilight had constructed looking as if it had been beaten with clubs. Nor had it been comforting seeing the Crystal Mirror still hissing and spitting, especially since Sunset Shimmer had no idea what had happened or, worse, what might yet still happen.

Even with the omnipresent danger of that infernal device, her immediate and most important concern had been for her friend, and Sunset Shimmer had felt an incredible flood of relief wash over her when Princess Twilight began to stir. That relief had lasted just long enough for the dazed alicorn to open her eyes, and then she just…went berserk.

That was the only word Sunset Shimmer could think of at the moment to describe what had happened: Princess Twilight had just went crazy, like she’d been possessed! And before Sunset Shimmer could do anything to help…

She gazed over at the shattered Mirror, shuddering as she did. When Princess Celestia’s Book had sailed through the gateway—after having clobbered Princess Twilight on the head—the Crystal Mirror had truly exploded. The last time Sunset Shimmer could honestly say she’d felt anything close to that level of power had been when Princess Twilight had unleashed the combined power of her Crown, her friends, and herself upon Sunset Shimmer’s then‑demonic form.

And this had felt even worse!

She wasn’t sure if she’d actually been struck unconscious or had just been stunned. She didn’t think she’d been knocked out, but she couldn’t be positive. There had been no doubt, however, about Princess Twilight: she’d been laid out colder than a mackerel, a visibly rising lump at the back of her head.

Sunset Shimmer woozily made it to the door of the Portal Room, then nudged the door open before staggering outside. The Portal Room was at the end of a short, well‑illuminated cul‑de‑sac whose other end terminated in a T intersection. There hadn’t been anypony in the corridor at that precise moment, but immediately after Sunset Shimmer had stepped through the door, a passing pony happened to glance down the corridor and spotted her. Seeing her standing there, the pony had looked extremely surprised, pausing a moment before rapidly trotting off before Sunset Shimmer could call out.

Before the frantic unicorn could decide whether to go for help or stay behind with her injured friend, the matter had been solved by the appearance of a small, baby dragon skidding around the corner then rapidly scurrying her way. Sunset Shimmer wanted to sob with relief at Spike’s appearance.

She’d recognized him, of course. She’d even seen him as a dragon before, although at the time things had been a bit hectic, what with her stealing Princess Twilight’s crown and all. But even if she’d never seen him before as a dragon, she would have known it was him by his coloration—which matched the dog he became in the other world—and, well, that and the fact there simply weren’t that many baby dragons around!

“Oh, Spike!” she sobbed as the little dragon slid to a stop right in front of her. “Princess Twilight needs help! Something went wrong with the Crystal Mirror, and she’s gotten a fearful knock to the back of her head!”

Don’t leave her!” Spike yelled back over his shoulder, stubby tail whip‑cracking as he did a one‑eighty, dashing back down the hallway at a flat‑out run, little legs and arms pumping like pistons.

Spike still hadn’t come back with help by the time Princess Twilight stirred the second time, and Sunset Shimmer’s hopes that whatever had possessed her had vanished in the interim were dashed to pieces. She knew help was coming, but she didn’t know what shape that help would take or when it would arrive, and all she could do until then was try reassuring her friend with soothing murmurs.

There was…something…about the way Princess Twilight was behaving; something elusive. At the moment, Sunset Shimmer couldn’t put her hoof on it because things were happening too fast, too chaotic, for her to puzzle that out, but she instinctively sensed far more was going on than could be attributed by a simple bump on the head.

“Easy,” she calmed. “Easy now. It’s OK. Everything’s going to be fine. I promise. Just…just take a deep breath. That’s it. Now another. Good. Good. Help is on the way. You had a little accident and got a bump on the head and that’s why you’re feeling dizzy. It’s nothing serious, so don’t worry. Easy now!

*PAMF* *pamf*

Sunset Shimmer froze in place, dreadful horror kicking her in the barrel. She hadn’t meant to raise her voice, but Princess Twilight had abruptly staggered, about to fall. Startled, she’d called out as she’d stepped forward to catch and brace her friend…

Who had promptly winked out, reappearing a body-length back and away from a now very spooked Sunset Shimmer.

“Shhhh…easy now. Easy,” she crooned, desperately hoping fear wasn’t noticeable in her voice. That had been wrong. Very wrong.

Oh, not that Princess Twilight had teleported; she was an alicorn, after all, and alicorns possessed the same traits and innate talents of their unicorn relatives. And one of those traits all unicorns possessed—although to differing and varying degrees—was the ability to teleport. Some never managed doing so except under extreme duress, while others achieved great distances without batting an eye. But teleportation had two major restrictions: you needed to see where you were going, and there couldn’t be any physical obstructions between you and your objective.

In hushed whispers, young unicorns often traded spooky horror stories about winking. Ghastly tales about foals who didn’t listen to their parents about the dangers of teleportation, like the disobedient filly who tried winking through a wall, or the brash colt to the other, unseen side of a hill.

Stories that always ended rather gruesomely, sending chills through them.

(Naturally, pegasus foals traded similar stories, just about the hazards of flight)

But Princess Twilight hadn’t looked where she was going, and had almost clipped the side of the mirror and damaged device in her traversal. Worse, she’d reappeared only a few paces from the wall now behind her, which was cutting far too fine a line for an alicorn as skilled as Princess Celestia’s prized, most faithful, student.

And that wasn’t just wrong…it was dreadfully, horribly dangerous.

Before she could calm her friend, somehow talk her down off the deadly‑dangerous ledge she was unknowingly perched on, the door behind her flew open. Sunset Shimmer had an instant to realize Princess Twilight, out of whatever fear she was experiencing, was about to commit the fatal mistake of winking out…with nowhere clear to go.

Lowering her head, her horn blazed as she leveled it at her friend, casting the most powerful sleep spell she could remember. Princess Twilight’s body was briefly outlined by green‑blue fire before slumping to the ground. She leapt forward to catch her friend and ease her down, but from behind her rang out deep, angry voices.


“It’s that traitor! Seize her!”

Before she could turn around and try explaining, Sunset Shimmer was hit by two very similar lances of magic. Unlike hers, neither were at all gentle. Twisting in agony, Sunset Shimmer hit the floor in a deep, coma‑like unconsciousness.

Chapter 5

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Chapter Five

“No way!”

“You’ve got to be kidding!”

A low, soft whistle, then “Whoo‑ee!”

Road trip!!

Everyone turned and stared at Pinkie Pie. “Ah, ‘road trip’?” Applejack carefully repeated.

“Well of course, silly‑billy!” Pinkie Pie enthused. “Now that we know where she lives, let’s go there and see what we can find out!”

They’d been busily passing around to each other the billfold Velvet Sky had discovered, looking—well, gawking, actually—at the driver’s license displayed within. Well, not so much at the license itself as at the photo of Twilight Sparkle, comparing that image to the real one standing with them. Or the real one…at the moment…from the other world.

It was rather mind‑boggling to be honest.

Even more so for Twilight when it was her turn to examine the small, laminated rectangle, feeling peculiar as she scrutinized the rather familiar face looking back at her. After all, it was one she saw every time she looked in the mirror—in this world, anyway.

Upon closer examination, there were small, subtle differences. That Twilight Sparkle wasn’t smiling. In fact, that sober, serious face looked as if it seldom, if ever, smiled, and her grooming and demeanor were ascetic and severe. Twilight had the oddest impression of a person who had distilled their very essence, pared away and eliminated anything frivolous and extraneous, removing everything that might potentially impede her purpose.

That might seem a great deal to deduce from a mere photo, but something about that image resonated inside Twilight. Is that how I would have turned out, she wondered, if I hadn’t met my friends?

She handed the billfold to an impatiently dancing‑in‑place Pinkie Pie, and jumped when, seconds later, she’d enthusiastically yelled out her suggestion.

The remaining four—Twilight, Applejack, Wiz Kid, and Velvet Sky—turned their heads and looked at each other. “Ah,” Applejack diffidently began, “Pinkie Pah, Ah’m not sure if y’all are aware of it, but that’s a bit of a trek t’ go hoofin’ over thar. It’s all th’ way ‘cross town and miles outside,” she finished, tapping the address on the license for emphasis.

“So?” Pinkie Pie shrugged. “We have the address, and we have the van. And we have the keys!” she brightly chirped.

“Jes’ missin’ one thing thar, Pinkie Pah,” Applejack noted.

“What’s that?”

“We don’t have a driver.”

“Sure we do!” Pinkie Pie beamed. Rooting in her pocket, she pulled out a rectangular card of her own. “Me!” she bounced.

“Ah’m sure Ah’ve done stupider things in mah life,” Applejack softly muttered. “Ah jes’ can’t remember any of them at th’ moment.”

“It’s not that bad, is it?” Twilight asked.

The two of them were carrying the last of the devices back to the van, unwilling to abandon and leave them behind, especially since they were likely to be needed at some future point. They’d already said their goodbyes to the rest of their classmates, since the van wasn’t big enough to carry everyone that had, so far, remained behind. Besides, even if it had been big enough, there weren’t that many daredevils and lunatics present to have volunteered coming along once they’d found out who was driving!

So the current group remained at Pinkie Pie, Twilight Sparkle, Applejack, Velvet Sky, and Wiz Kid. Applejack was actually of two minds about including the latter two, feeling uncomfortable having them risk themselves with Pinkie Pie driving, but accepting they were the most likely to make any sense out of whatever scientific stuff they might find at this Twilight’s home.

The inside of the van was extremely neat and orderly, even the pens and pencils precisely racked and stored. As all of the apparatus they’d hauled back had their own stowage, the only extra item they had to store was Pinkie Pie’s bicycle.

The only extra item, anyway.

The van was equipped for function, not for comfort or passengers. It had two bucket seats in front and a wheeled office chair in the back. Obviously, the office chair wasn’t intended for use while in transit, which meant only two of the five would have actual seats. Pinkie Pie—naturally, as the driver—took one, which left one. Wiz Kid and Velvet Sky volunteered to sit in the back. Applejack wasn’t too sure about that until seeing them hunkered down under the sturdy worktable, bracing themselves against that and each other. It wasn’t ideal but it would have to do.

“Go ahead, Twalaight,” Applejack stifled a sigh as she motioned to the passenger seat. “Better you than me belted up and safe.”

Twilight actually looked excited. “This is only my second time in one of these, you know!” she enthused as she sat down.

“Let’s just pray it ain’t yer last time, too!” Applejack muttered.

Seeing Pinkie Pie buckling up, Twilight looked about her own seat. Finding an identical harness arrangement, she examined it, quickly deducing how it worked. Pulling it across her lap and snapping the buckle in, she asked, “What’s this for?”

“In case of an accident, it’s t’ help keep from gettin’ hurt,” Applejack explained from the rear of the van, where she was settling herself in for the ride.

Twilight blinked. “Really? It doesn’t go that fast, does it?”

“Have mercy on us all an’ pray that it don’t,” Applejack implored the heavens.

“All set?” Pinkie Pie asked, keys jingling as she inserted one into the ignition. Various degrees of affirmative enthusiasm answered, with Applejack clasping her hands together and murmuring something just under her breath.

“Huh,” Pinkie Pie muttered, turning the key several times with nothing happening. “That’s strange. It should be starting.”

“Whut’s th’ matter, Pinkie Pah?” Applejack asked.

“It’s not starting. It’s like the battery is dead or something.”

“Better th’ battery than us.”


“Oh, nothin’. Nothin’ a‘tall.”

Pinkie Pie leaned forward and peered down. “What’s this third pedal for?”

Applejack yelped.

“Well, here we are!” Pinkie Pie caroled as she pulled into a parking space. “Toldja no problemo!”

Applejack cautiously cracked an eye open. “Seriously? We made it?” A moment later, after a chagrined, soft cough, “Ah meant, ahh…we made it…there?”

Pinkie Pie had already turned off the engine and hopped out. “Unless you told me the wrong address we’re sure there. C’mon! Ummm…Twilight? You OK?”

Twilight made a strange gargling sound, her hands white‑knuckled where they’d been gripped almost into the dashboard. She’d never before in her life moved that fast unless she’d been flying, and once they’d reached the highway she’d been petrified with terror. Perhaps if they’d been the only carriage contrivance on the roads she might have been more relaxed, but they hadn’t been the only ones, and Twilight couldn’t see any rhyme or reason that explained how those others were performing. There had to be some sort of order, otherwise they’d all wind up in one big pile…then again, Applejack had said this seat belt thing was for accidents. So…just how often did accidents happen?

Pinkie Pie had just kept chattering away like a sugar‑rushed magpie the entire trip, acting as if this was no big deal and something she did all the time, so Twilight told herself to just relax and trust in her friend. She’d actually managed relaxing quite a bit during the drive. But then they had entered what Pinkie Pie had called a “parking lot”…

Twilight decided she’d rather have her pinions plucked out, one at a time, than ever again endure a parking lot. People just walked in and out and willy‑nilly all about, paying no heed to traffic, while other cars pulled into and out of their line-painted stalls with grim abandon to common sense or safety.

Hearing Applejack muttering what sounded like under-the-breath prayers from where she sat in the rear hadn’t helped settle Twilight’s anxiety.

Velvet Sky and Wiz Kid slithered out from beneath the bench, idiotic grins on their faces. Applejack didn’t know whether to envy them or whack them upside the head as she unkinked herself and stood up.

Unbuckling the belt, Twilight opened the door and stepped out, then barked out a laugh as Applejack knelt on the pavement and pantomimed kissing the ground.

“Awww…c’mon Applejack!” Pinkie Pie pouted.

Applejack stood back up and grinned, but that smile faded as she saw the hurt look on her friend’s face. Swiftly closing, Applejack gave Pinkie Pie a tight hug. “I was just teasin’,” she apologized. “Mostly,” she grinned again, winking. Then she stiffened and pointed. “Although y’all might want t’ put th’ parking brake on,” gesturing to the slowly backwards‑rolling van.


After double‑checking the block address was correct, the five of them headed towards the long brick building in front of them. Three stories high, constructed with warm, red brick, green ivy traced its way up the face, a broad lawn in front with neatly trimmed shrubs immediately bordering the outside walls, and several tall oaks providing shade during the day, presenting both functionality along with welcome.

According to the information they’d gleaned from the license, registration, and some bills inside the backpack, they needed to find room 112. The front door to the dorm was locked, but Velvet Sky had also found Twilight’s school ID card. Taking it in hand, she stepped up to the door then swiped it through the attached reader, and was rewarded hearing a soft ‘click’.

It was very quiet inside, especially once the door closed behind them. A hallway extended both left and right, and a staircase going up was off to one side. Wiz Kid glanced at some wall plaques then motioned to the left. “This way,” he said before heading off that way.

Room 112 was at the furthest end of the hallway. Unlike all of the other doors, which had notes, letters, and other things fastened to them, this door was scrupulously clean, almost sterile. “Well, here goes nothing.” Since Velvet Sky had found the key—as well as the other all‑important items—no one challenged her as she stepped up to open the door.

The lock turned smoothly, without a sound. The door opened silently, without a squeak of complaint from the hinges. They cautiously started creeping inside, the room as quiet as a tomb. Until…

Loud, piercing barks echoed deafeningly in the room. Darting out from somewhere to the front and left raced a small dog, furiously barking at the intruders, jaws snapping, eyes flashing in anger.

“Ack!” “Eeek!” “Whoa, Nelly!” “Look out!” “It’s a cute doggie!”

Quickly backing out the door and closing it, they stared at each other, while from inside could still be heard furious barking.

“Now whut?” Applejack whispered, although why she was whispering when that demon dog was raising all sorts of cane was beyond explanation.

I don’t know!” replied Twilight. “I wish Fluttershy was here. She knows all about animals. She could probably get it to calm down.”

“Ummm…Twilight?” Pinkie Pie started.

“Huh? Yes? What is it, Pinkie Pie?”

“This is where you—well, your other you; the you that’s you when you aren’t here. You know?”

Trying to follow that made Twilight’s eyes water. “Um…ah. Sure. I guess,” she faltered. “So…this is where I, what, exactly?”

“Oh! Yeah!” Pinkie Pie wriggled. “Well, if this is the place that the other Twilight lives, and if she’s like you, and you have Spike, and Spike becomes a dog when he’s here—and that’s definitely a dog barking at us, yessireebob, no foolin’!—than that’s probably Spike in there, too. Just a doggy Spike and not a Spike‑dragony‑Spike. Knowhutimean?”

It took a few seconds to decipher what Pinkie Pie had said but, once she had, an excited look spread across her face. “You’re right! That’s got to be Spike. Well, the dog‑Spike that is, and not my baby dragon Spike.” Twilight quickly shook her head before she fell into the same alliteration as Pinkie Pie.

Cupping her hands and placing the resulting ‘tube’ against the door, Twilight softly called out. “Spike,” she announced. “It’s just me: Twilight.”

The barking abruptly ceased, a soft whine now heard from the other side of the door. Twilight looked over her shoulder at her friends, a triumphant look on her face. “That’s right, Spike. Easy now. It’s just me and some friends. Just shush now, OK? We don’t want to bother anypo— anyone.”

“No. No, we don’t want to be bothering anyone. Do we, Miss Sparkle.”

Everyone spun around at the snide, frosty voice coming from behind them, not the least of which because it was a very familiar voice at that.

All five felt their jaws drop as they stared at the person who had just walked up on them unnoticed.

“Sunset Shimmer??

Chapter 6

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Chapter Six

Considering the alternative—everypony enslaved by Lord Tirek; all of Equestria under his despotic, all‑powerful rule; Princesses Celestia, Luna and Cadence eternally imprisoned in Tartarus—having your treasured library home destroyed as a result of one’s battle to defeat that evil was a minuscule sacrifice, especially since vanquishing, and subsequently banishing, that evil tyrant had also freed everypony and restored their magicks: earth, unicorn, pegasus, and alicorn alike.

Truly, that was all Princess Twilight had seen as the goal: the defeating of Lord Tirek and the saving of Equestria. Moreover, just as honestly, she hadn’t expected any reward to accrue as a result of her decisions and actions. That hadn’t happened before, and this certainly hadn’t been significantly different than the numerous other times she had come to the defense of her monarchs, her friends, or her world.

Nevertheless and notwithstanding, events had been different this time, and on a much larger and more grandiose scale than even she had become—albeit grudgingly, at times—accustomed.

Poor Twilight hadn’t, as yet, grown used to her crown and Princess status, and now she had her own Kingdom.

Princess Twilight Sparkle, the Princess of Friendship, monarch of the Friendship Rainbow Kingdom…

With her own Castle, no less!

It was, everypony admitted, a unique yet appealing castle. The lower half resembled the destroyed Golden Oaks Library she had come to love as her home, but was several times larger and definitely crystalline in nature. The upper half, perched amongst the boughs of said “tree”, more closely resembled the typical castle, with spires, towers, balconies, turrets, ramparts, and watchtowers.

It was also much, much larger than Golden Oaks Library had been...and wasn’t “just a library” any longer. In fact, that not-so-little detail had been a major source for several of Twilight’s initial problems with settling in.

Princess Twilight hadn’t been the only one with acclimation difficulties. For years now, Spike had been Twilight’s assistant and, in fact, his duties—often self‑assigned and self‑assumed—went far beyond that of a mere assistant. In addition to aiding Twilight—and, now, Princess Twilight—with her studies and researches, Spike cooked, cleaned, laundered, mended, set and made appointments, drew baths, groomed Princess Twilight…the list went on and on.

The important detail, however, was that Spike did all of that.

The Castle of the Friendship Rainbow Kingdom, however (as previously noted) was enormous, many times the size of Golden Oaks Library. In addition, unlike the library, such a Castle was expected to be, for the most part, open and available to the public.

(Granted, Golden Oaks Library had originally been open to the public, too. However, once Twilight had started residing there, Ponyville had graciously and happily granted the Library to Twilight as her home. And, since it now was her home they’d treated it as such, granting her that measure of privacy and proprietorship.)

Princess Twilight—and Spike—had resisted tooth-and-hoof and fang-and-talon at first, but it rapidly became apparent to the both of them (sometimes for different reasons) things just couldn’t go on as they had before at Golden Oaks. They needed…



Once that door had been opened, it became a flood. You couldn’t have just one or two, because then those one or two needed management or assistance, and then those needed it…

There were ponies responsible for keeping things clean; ponies responsible for maintaining the castle interior and exterior, like linens, laundry, pennants, and banners; ponies responsible for keeping the castle grounds in good shape, like gardeners and landscapers; ponies responsible for administration, helping guide visitors and assist petitioners, setting up appointments and similar duties; ponies responsible for keeping all of those other ponies properly fed, keeping the pantries and larders decently stocked, and assuring the occasion feasts or banquets were exceptional.

The list just went on and on.

Poor Spike. He saw everything he took pride in accomplishing helplessly dribble through his claws. And the awful thing about it was he couldn’t really refute anything that was changing. Their Castle might not be as large as were either Canterlot Castle or Crystal Castle, but, within days, Spike had to miserably admit it was simply too big to keep up with on his own and by himself.

He wasn’t the only one having to come to grips with unpalatable necessity.

Now, there positively were things about her castle that Princess Twilight found a definite step‑up from Golden Oaks: the bedroom and bathroom, for instance. Or, more accurately, The Royal Bedroom Suite. Now, while Princess Twilight wasn’t as hedonistically inclined as her friend Rarity—who, when she’d gotten her first look at the furnishing and appurtenances, had cooed, rolled her eyes, and fainted in bliss—but even Twilight admitted having felt shivers of pleasure upon seeing the comfy canopy bed and the sunken Jacuzzi tub.

What wasn’t anywhere near as delightful, however, were the Royal Guards that Princess Celestia and Princess Luna had fobbed off on her.

Twilight thought it was grossly unkind and unfair of Princess Mi Amore Cadenza to have joined ranks with Celestia and Luna when she’d complained to Cadence when the Guards had first arrived. And double unkind of her when Cadence, instead of commiserating with Twilight, had, instead, then sent her own company of Crystal Pony Royal Guards!

Friendship Rainbow Kingdom, Princess Twilight had complained, was not at all the same as Equestria or Crystal Empire. Her castle was not the capital of a nation or seat of government! She didn’t need all the same trappings and appurtenances both Canterlot Castle and Crystal Castle did!

Her fellow Princesses sympathized with her, true enough, but stoically remained unmoved by her plaints. Her castle was, like it or not, more than just her home, more than just a library. And Royal Guards were more than just a token, more than just a visible symbol of her position and prestige: they helped guide as much as guard, assist as much as defend.

And so her castle now employed staff and servants—which didn’t please Spike even if he knew they were a necessity—as well as Royal Guards—which didn’t please Princess Twilight, even if she had grudgingly caved in to her fellow Princesses’ insistence.

There were, however, two things Princess Twilight flatly decreed that nopony was going to argue about, and both involved Spike.

First, Spike was her personal aid. Nopony else was going to interfere with, or get their grubby hooves involved with, Princess Twilight’s personal affairs. Spike kept her appointments, kept her rooms neat and clean, made sure her clothes and linens were laundered. The kitchen staff might prepare her meals, but Spike was the one that presented them, and cleaned up afterwards.

Secondly—and again, on this she would brook no arguments—Spike was her chamberlain. Although he was unable to personally perform all the chores her new castle household required, by Celestia’s Sun, he would be in charge of managing those duties!

Spike had been enormously flattered and extremely proud of that appointment. It was still difficult for him to let most things go, and he constantly struggled—often very hard—not to get bossy with everypony and continually stick his claws in where they weren’t needed.

Right this moment, though, Spike was desperately wishing somepony else was in charge!

He’d known that Twilight would be returning to the human world today and bringing Sunset Shimmer back with her. If it had involved a risky task or something potentially hazardous, Spike would, of course, have accompanied Twilight. However, this was just a quick trip back and forth, something completely innocuous and dull, so Spike had elected to remain behind and assure the “Welcome Home” refreshments were up to snuff.

He had not, at all, been expecting what had actually transpired.

Oh Spike! Princess Twilight needs help! Something went wrong with the Crystal Mirror, and she’s also gotten a fearful knock to the back of her head!

Those terrible words kept echoing in his head, Sunset Shimmer’s voice distorted with frantic fearfulness: Princess Twilight needs help! Princess Twilight needs help! Princess Twilight needs help!

He had dashed off, racing through the corridors to do just that: help Twilight. Problem was, he didn’t know what to do to help. He needed to get help.

But he was the one in charge. He was the one making the decisions. But he didn’t know what to do!

Skidding around the third corner, he almost barreled right into three Royal Guardsponies, two of them looking extremely spent, exhausted and heavily lathered, both of them unfamiliar to him. They jerked back in alarm as Spike almost charged into them, then, as he started heading around them, the third Castle Guardspony started speaking. Spike cut him off, holding up a paw as he panted. “It’ll have to wait. Princess Twilight needs help.”

All three Guardsponies tensed in alarm. Suddenly, a thought hit Spike. “You,” he stabbed a talon at the Castle Guardspony. “Sergeant Lance Bearer, right?” The Castle Guardspony nodded. “Twilight’s in the Portal Room along with Sunset Shimmer.” Spike didn’t notice the other two Royal Guardsponies’ sudden, widened eyes or flattened ears. “Go there and check up on her. I’m getting a doctor up here.”

“Yes, Sir!” Saluting Spike, the Castle Guardspony turned and rapidly trotted off. “You might as well go with him,” he told the remaining two before racing off again. Moments later, he was screeching to a halt at the main entrance, alarming the two Royal Guardsponies stationed just inside the main entrance and flanking the doorway itself.

Whoa, Spike! Hold on a second here, bud! he thought as he stood there, gasping for breath. You gotta stop running around like a headless cockatrice! Think! Think!

Taking deep breaths, Spike struggled for composure. One of the Guardsponies started addressing Spike, but he cut him off and shook his head at him. “It’ll have…to wait. Twilight needs help.” Both stiffened as Spike continued. “You,” he said, pointing a claw at one of them, “Go to…Ponyville Hospital. Tell them…to send a…doctor. Twilight’s been injured…and needs help,” he gasped.

“Yes, Sir!” the Guardspony saluted, immediately dashing off.

“Go with him,” he told the other.

“Yes, Sir!”

As he galloped off to rejoin his partner, Spike leaned over, paws on thighs as he huffed and puffed for breath, trying to think what else needed to be done or whom else he should call for. At the moment, he couldn’t think of anything else, so he stood there, fretting, gnawing on his claws as he impatiently waited for the Ponyville medical team to arrive, when what he really wanted to do was race back and be there at Twilight’s side. But somepony had to stand there at the door to guide the medical team when they showed up.

Dancing in place, fretting and fuming, Spike abruptly took off running, yelling out as he dashed past a roving pair of Guardsponies on routine patrol, “Watch the entrance!” He didn’t bother checking whether or not they’d listened, and his claws scraped and scrabbled as he sprinted through the castle and back to the Portal Room.

“Twilight!” he softly cried out as he entered the room, seeing her gracelessly sprawled unconscious on the floor. “Twilight! Are you all right?” Spike choked back a sob as he hastily knelt next to her. Gently resting a trembling paw on the side of her chest, he heaved a broken sigh feeling the slow, regular beat of her heart; seeing, as well as feeling, the steady rise and fall of her chest.

Glancing up, his eyes widened in horrified shock upon seeing the mirror and device…or what was left of them anyway. Even he could see that both were far more than just damaged: they were undeniably wrecked.

Behind and to one side, he was dimly aware of the unfamiliar Guardsponies helping Sunset Shimmer to her hooves before leading her out. Twilight, however, was still unconscious, so she must have borne the brunt of whatever had happened here. Whatever that was, Spike had no idea, but he wondered if Sunset Shimmer knew what had happened. Speaking of which…

He blinked, abruptly aware he had seen her being led off. Quickly gazing around, he confirmed she was, indeed, no longer inside. “Where’s Sunset Shimmer?” he asked the remaining Guardspony.

“They took her away.” he replied.

What!?” he blurted. “Who took her away? And why?”

“The other Guardsponies. They said she was under arrest.”

Spike lunged up, startling the Guardspony into snapping his head back and forcing him into backing up a pace. “Under arrest!?” he scowled. “For what? And who were they?”

Beads of sweat popped out on his head. “They…they said for treason. And they were Royal Canterlot Guardsponies, Sir.”

Watch Twilight!” Spike yelled as he dashed back out again.

Stupid idiots! Spike mentally growled. Do they still think Sunset Shimmer is a traitor? I’d thought that had all been cleared up by now!

He caught up with them just as they were approaching the main entrance. “Stop!” he yelled to the two Guardsponies there.

Spike skidded to a halt as he reached the five of them, the group just shy of the enormous double doors there. “I said stop!” he screeched, as the two Royal Canterlot Guardsponies, after having halted a moment, continued on their way, one of them tugging with his teeth the lead line connected to Sunset Shimmer’s halter.

Except it wasn’t a halter…it was a muzzle. And then everything else registered, and Spike felt a wave of white‑hot fury whelm him.

“Stop them!” he commanded the two Guardsponies at the door.

“But, Sir!” one quailed. “They’re Royal Canterlot Guards!”

Spike started replying but suddenly paused, eyes narrowing a moment as he focused on one of the two Castle Guardsponies, one that had been assigned to them by Princess Cadence herself.

A Crystal Pony Guardspony.

Stabbing a foreclaw at the hapless Guardspony, Spike growled, “Who am I?”

The Guardspony immediately snapped to attention. “You are ‘O Great and Honorable Spike the Brave and Glorious’.”

“Glad we have that settled. You will make sure these two,” he growled, “don’t leave this castle without my permission.” He didn’t bother to see if he’d be obeyed; he knew he would be, so now he was free to turn his attention to the true source of his fury.

“Release her. Now.”

Although he could be easily riled up, Spike scarcely ever became genuinely enraged. It took a great deal of provocation to truly fire up his furnace.

This was one of those times.

The two Royal Canterlot Guardsponies shot glances at each other before one gave Spike a hard stare. “Sunset Shimmer must accompany us to Canterlot, there to be judged of her crimes.”

“What crimes!?” Spike howled. “I know for a fact Princess Celestia pardoned her for what happened in the past.”

“We saw Sunset Shimmer strike down Princess Twilight with our own eyes, back there in her chambers.”

Spike’s head kept whipping back to Sunset Shimmer, his fury increasing each time he did so. Not only had they cast a magic muzzle to keep her silent, they’d also magically cast hobbles on forelegs and hind legs, forcing her to take half‑steps and thus preventing her from bolting. But as bad as all that was, what really had Spike poised on the brink of mayhem was left to the gleaming toroid seated over Sunset Shimmer’s horn.

An enchanted, steel dispersion ring.

No wonder Sunset Shimmer looked like the walking dead, her eyes empty and hollow.

“I don’t know what you think you saw,” Spike said in a deadly soft voice, flickers of flame escaping from gritted teeth, “but if it hadn’t been for Sunset Shimmer, Princess Twilight would still be in another world, trapped there. So would I. We would be adoring slaves of three Sirens there. Princess Twilight couldn’t have defeated them without Sunset Shimmer’s help. She’s our friend.

“Now get those awful things off her right now!” he roared, paws leaving the ground for a moment as a true jet of green flame lanced out.

Between Spike’s obvious fury and the now‑flat, hostile glares they were getting from the Castle Guardsponies, the two of them were beginning to look uneasy, tails nervously swishing back and forth.

“What are you two even doing here, anyway?” the highly irate little dragon growled. “You’re not assigned to our Guard.”

“Lord Spike,” the Crystal Pony Guardspony answered for them. “These two have been sent directly from Canterlot Castle bearing an urgent message for Princess Twilight.”

“So,” Spike rumbled, little wisps of flame still issuing from his clenched jaws. “What’s this message?”

The senior Royal Canterlot Guardspony paused a moment, obviously considering his orders versus the actual situation as currently obtained. “Princess Twilight Sparkle has been urgently summoned to immediately attend Princess Luna at Canterlot Castle.”

The muzzle and hobbles on Sunset Shimmer abruptly flashed into nonexistence as their spells were dismissed. As his partner levitated the dispersion ring up and off her horn, Sunset Shimmer powerfully shuddered. Turning her head, she gazed at Spike. “Thank you,” she softly said.

“What did happen back there?” he asked her.

“I…I don’t know, Spike,” she honestly replied. “Everything was fine at first. And then the Mirror, it…it just seemed to explode.” She slowly, haltingly, explained what had occurred as best as she could remember, and as she described how oddly Princess Twilight had been acting, Spike grew more and more fretful, gazing down the pathway and wondering how much longer the medical team was going to take.

“I did cast magic on Twilight, Spike. I had to!” she almost sobbed. “She was about to teleport out of the room and that would have been the end of her!” and at that she did cry, tears that had been filling her eyes now spilling down her cheeks. “I put her to sleep, but that was all. I swear!”

Spike glared at the two Royal Canterlot Guardsponies, quite audibly growling his anger. Thankfully, whatever he’d said about them was low enough to be inaudible. Then he grew thoughtful as something the senior of the two had said just earlier registered. “Why Princess Luna?” he asked. “Shouldn’t she still be asleep? Why not Princess Celestia? And why didn’t Princess Celestia send her summons through me like all the messages she sends to Twilight?”

The two of them looked at each other then back at Spike. The senior, once again, seemed to be weighing orders versus initiative. Finally, he sighed then nodded to himself. “That is why Princess Twilight had been urgently summoned. Princess Celestia has been struck down by some sort of magic and is in a coma.”

With an anguished cry, Sunset Shimmer rocked her head back and keened as her legs trembled, then slowly collapsed to the ground, as Spike stood there, stunned and shocked.

Chapter 7

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Chapter Seven

“Sunset Shimmer??

The young woman sternly gazing at them could not possibly be anyone else, her appearance absolutely identical to the classmate and friend they knew so well.

Knew so well now, anyway.

In fact, shivers rippled through Applejack and Pinkie Pie at the unhappily‑familiar, disdainful and dismissive sneer Sunset Shimmer was leveling upon Twilight Sparkle. Velvet Sky and Wiz Kid had not had as many personal interactions with the old Sunset Shimmer as had the others, but even they could remember her former persona with enough accuracy to feel uneasiness at the uncanny semblance.

As soon as all of them had simultaneously blurted out her name, Sunset Shimmer’s expression changed, Twilight’s stomach plummeting at that alteration. “How do you all know who—”

“Sunset Shimmer, so pleased to meet you!” Pinkie Pie gushed, stepping forward and pumping Sunset Shimmer’s hand in greeting. “Twilight’s told us all about her amazing RA, and it’s an honor to actually meet you.”

The rest remained frozen in place, Twilight’s expression looking rather ghastly as Pinkie Pie heroically forged onward.

“Um…ah…I see.” Trying to withdraw her hand from Pinkie Pie’s piston‑pumping handshake, her expression changed again, reverting to the scornful contempt she had started with. “Miss Sparkle,” she began. “Perhaps you can explain what you’re doing here with unauthorized visitors? You know the rules as well as I do,” she admonished, although by her tone she was clearly suggesting Twilight was totally clueless and completely inept. “All visitors need to be preauthorized. And then there’s that awful racket from that pet of yours. You know pets aren’t normally allowed in this building,” she berated, “and it’s only because Professor Harmony requested a deviance on your behalf that you’ve been allowed to keep him this long.” Sunset Shimmer smiled, a look that a shark would envy and one that contained all the warmth of a frozen star. “You also remember being told that if he disturbs the residents again, that that permission would be revoked?”

“Oh, Miss Shimmer,” Pinkie Pie looked at the sneering young woman who was absolutely delighting in triumph, “Please don’t be angry at Twilight. It’s really our fault. We’re, ummm, we’re only in town for today, and we’ve been wanting to check out Everfree University. Ah, for the kids,” she brightly smiled, patting Wiz Kid and Velvet Sky on their heads. “They’ve been really eager to visit, and especially for Twilight to show them her, ah, erm, her work.”

“Oh please!” the snide Resident Advisor rolled her eyes. “They’re just a little young to be considering—”

She completely missed the flash of fire in their eyes. But sweet as sweet they started talking right over her, the sugar in their voices thick and syrupy. “I’m really excited to see Miss Sparkle’s equations detailing the classical wave‑particle association, evanescent wave coupling, and the application of the non‑dispersive wave‑equation from acoustics applied to ‘waves on strings’,” Wiz Kid excitedly chirped.

“And how she’s applied Maxwell’s wave‑equation to light. And the way she’s utilized Schrödinger’s equation!” Velvet Sky gushed, in the tones young girls usually reserve for their favorite boy band.

They went back and forth a few more times, as their classmates’ eyes glazed and the RA’s burned with thwarted fire.

“Well, perhaps I was mistaken,” she gritted out. “You have such charming children,” she oozed.

“Thank you!” “Thankee kindly.”

Applejack facepalmed, looking as if she wanted to sink right into the floor…that she desperately wished would somehow happen. Sunset Shimmer looked back and forth between Pinkie Pie and Applejack. “Just whose children are they?”

“Hers.” “Hers.” Pinkie Pie and Applejack pointed at each other.

Before Sunset Shimmer’s suspicions could fully form, Velvet Sky looked at her and brightly smiled. “They’re both our mothers!”

Wiz Kid solemnly added, “We have a very progressive family.”

Shaking her head as if having taken a jab to the chin, Sunset Shimmer stabbed a finger at Twilight. Sharply, she bit off each word as if iron nails. “Fine. Take them on a little tour of your room. But if that mutt of yours makes another peep…” she trailed off in a not‑at‑all idle threat.

“Yes, Miss Shimmer.” “Yes, Ma’am.” “Thankee, Ma’am.”

Giving Twilight one last daggered glare, she turned about, almost storming her way back down the hall to her own room.

Once they were sure she was out of earshot, the two kids disgustedly looked at Pinkie Pie and Applejack. “Honestly! We can’t take you anywhere!”

“Pinkie Pie,” Twilight sounded amazed. “That…that was pretty brilliant!” Wiz Kid and Velvet Sky nodded in agreement.

“How did you know what a RA was?” Velvet Sky asked, quite curious.

“And how did you know she was the RA?” Wiz Kid added.

“Easy Peasy!” Pinkie Pie grinned. “Maud went to school here for her Master’s Degree, before she went off to earn her Doctorate in Geology.” She then pointed up the hallway toward the front entrance. “And I’d looked at the directory when we came in; it listed S. Shimmer, RA.”

“Twalaight; you OK?”

“Huh? Oh.” Twilight shook her head. “I just was really surprised, is all. It never occurred to me that Sunset Shimmer must have an analogue the same way I do, and that you and Pinkie Pie do, too.” She gazed down at the two younger kids. “For all I know there is a Velvet Sky and a Wiz Kid somewhere in Equestria as well, and I just haven’t met them yet.”

Turning back to the threshold, she cupped her hands again, placing them against the door. “Hey, Spike,” she softly called. “It’s just me: Twilight. And some friends.” She paused a moment, reconsidering; reminding herself this wasn’t her Spike—an intelligent, baby dragon—but was the other Twilight’s Spike—a dog. A dog just like Winona: Applejack’s pet, companion, and work dog. So just how did Applejack speak to Winona? She wished she could remember. Ah well, she’d heard Fluttershy often enough dealing with Angel Bunny when he became obnoxious, so…

“That’s my good widdle girl…erm, boy,” she cooed. “Yes you are, yes you are!” From the other side of the door she could hear a soft whine. Taking the key from Velvet Sky, she unlocked the door as she kept speaking. “Twilight’s coming in now, and her friends are with her. Won’t that be fun?” Turning the knob, she carefully started pushing the door open, almost squeaking as a soft, glistening black nose peeked out, followed by a panting purple muzzle with a lolling, wet pink tongue.

“That’s it. That’s my good boy!” Twilight nudged the door a bit further open, and before she knew it, Spike had squirmed all the way outside and into the hallway, jumping up, paws against her legs, little stub tail wagging so fast it was a blur.

It was almost painful seeing this Spike, for he was so identical in size and coloration to her Spike her heart tightened. Crouching down before the ecstatic canine, Spike hopped onto the newly‑created lap, paws on her chest and licking her face. For an instant, Twilight recoiled in dismay—and almost revulsion—taking several moments to realize her visceral response was due to reacting as if this were her Spike.

This isn’t going to be easy, she thought to herself. He looks so much like him that it’s scary. I think what’s throwing me is that this Spike is just an animal. Makes me wonder, what would happen if he went to Equestria? Would he change into a baby Dragon like Spike, but with simply animal intellect? Or would he remain a dog there, too, like Winona?

Well, Twilight might be having adjustment issues, but Spike was not having any such trouble. As far as he was concerned, this was his Twilight, and he kept wriggling and squirming in delight atop her lap.

“Kinda odd, comparin’ this‘un t’ yer Spike,” Applejack said, unknowingly echoing Twilight’s very thoughts. “Cute as a button though, ain’t he?” she admired as she scratched the overjoyed dog behind his ears.

Twilight nodded in agreement. He was cute. And as long as she kept her eyes closed or focused elsewhere, she was OK. But every time she caught sight of this Spike it left an ache in her heart. She sorely missed her Spike and badly wished he were here with her. Never before had she realized, not with the intensity she was experiencing at this moment, what a comfort her “Number One Assistant” had always been!

Glancing back down the hallway, she softly considered, “I think we should go inside now. Before we bother anyone else.”

Setting Spike down, she opened the door wider before entering, pausing just inside due to the interior murkiness. The few windows had thick drapes that were fully closed, the only inside illumination a nightlight from another room. The other four followed her inside, crowding up beside her. Twilight squeaked when Pinkie Pie closed the door behind them, as once that had closed the room was plunged into Stygian tenebrosity.

A few seconds later and suddenly Twilight was blinking, eyes dazzled by bright lights. “There we go!” said a satisfied Applejack, who had just found the wall switch. “Whoa,” she softly murmured as she glanced around.

“Wow!” Pinkie Pie chirped. “It’s a mausomuseum!”

“A whut?” Applejack exasperatedly asked.

“You know! A mausomuseum!”

Oddly enough, Twilight knew exactly what Pinkie Pie meant. With Spike happily frisking about her feet as she walked about and explored, she realized her excitable friend had nailed the shoe right on the hoof.

The place was neat as a pin. Aseptically so. There were no pictures on the walls. Tabular arrays, charts, and formulae? Yes. Pictures or photos? None at all. There were no knickknacks, no bric‑à‑brac, no decorations anywhere. The interior had been stripped down of anything ornamental or nonessential, leaving behind only the purely functional.

The atmosphere was funereal, utterly cheerless and drab, feeling very much like a mausoleum.

Obviously, the others felt the same way as she did, because even the ever‑ebullient Pinkie Pie was quiet and subdued as they crept about as a group through the residence, Spike following them about, sniffing all five of them as he did.

It was substantially larger than your typical, single-occupancy dorm room; six times larger, in fact, closer in size to a studio apartment. Upon entering the apartment through the front door, one immediately stepped into the generous-sized living area. Situated on the right hand side of the studio, the open plan living area was approximately two-thirds of the apartment. Directly opposite the front door and stretched along the left-hand side of the rear wall was the kitchenette, which butted against the wall to its left, while to the right-hand side were sliding doors leading out to a small patio. To the immediate left of the entryway was a wall extending halfway towards the back, the doorway in its middle leading into the full bathroom, spacious enough to hold a shower tub along with a mirrored sink and commode. As one walked straight ahead towards the kitchenette, the partial wall to the left ended about halfway back, revealing the bedroom tucked away in the left rear corner of the apartment. Turning into the bedroom, to the left was another wall, this one with two doors. Behind those doors were a walk in closet and a small, apartment sized washer/drier combination stacked one atop the other.

The bedroom might have been of generous size, but it was jammed pack full of everything except a bed. Applejack softly whistled as she peered around Twilight’s shoulder. “Looks like some sorta mad scientist’s lab’ratory, don’t it?”

“Hmmm,” she murmured in reply before pacing over to one wall, intently staring at the corkboard there. “Well,” she stated, "if I had any lingering doubts about things, this,” she pointed at the board, “sure just put them to rest.”

Smack‑dab in the middle was a photograph of Canterlot High School, surrounded by pushpin‑secured charts, graphs, readouts, and tables. “She hadn’t just chosen Canterlot High at random,” Twilight declared. “And all of this,” she gestured to the information tacked to the board, pushpins joined by thick red yarn to the middle one holding up the photograph, “sure seems to indicate she had good reason for that deduction, too.”

Wiz Kid and Velvet Sky immediately approached the wall bookcase, which was crammed full of reference books, textbooks, monographs, and similar publications, drawn to that like bees to honey. Within a few steps, however, they caught themselves and, instead, headed over to the workstation area, where Wiz Kid began checking out the desk while Velvet Sky started sorting through various documents atop the bench.

As much as Twilight was intrigued with science and research, she knew, beyond any doubt, that this was way beyond her knowledge and understanding, so she left those two to their own devices and continued exploring the place.

They finally did find the bed...such as it was: a simple, narrow, padded cot, set inside the walk‑in closet adjacent the bedroom. The bathroom was even more austere, and Twilight could not help thinking how horrified Rarity would be at that spartan sterility. The living and dining areas were effectively devoid of furniture save for a small desk and chair; several worktables, yes, holding varying degrees of clutter in differing stages of completion, but absolutely no cozy, comfortable furnishings. There was no stereo, no television, no radio.

It was the kitchenette, though, that brought a lump to Twilight’s throat and tears to her eyes.

The refrigerator held nothing but bottled water; the freezer packaged TV dinners. The cabinets contained, for the most part, nothing but cup after cup of identically flavored, prepackaged instant noodles.

For the most part.

One upper cabinet held multiple rows of neatly‑stacked cans of dog food. And were they generic brands or identical flavors? No. Oh no, not at all. There were multiple varieties from different vendors, and quality brands instead of generic. The lower cabinet contained several tightly‑sealed plastic containers holding different flavors and styles of dried kibble, as well as treats—rawhide bones and chew toys; biscuits, dental chews and jerky; crunchy and chewy snacks. Tucked inside the under sink cabinet was a small plastic tub literally overflowing with dog toys.

The pullout drawers that normally held flatware instead stored canine medicines and vitamins in one, while the other held so many different combs, brushes, and other grooming supplies that Twilight felt as if she was looking at something her fashionista friend—in either world!—would have organized.

An exquisite, almost palatial, dog bed was positioned at the far end of the kitchenette. Nearby were two small bowls—both currently empty—with an automatic water fountain next to them, the stream of water tinkling as it cascaded down.

Something inside Twilight caught, then tightened, gripping her hard, the lump in her throat growing even thicker. “Twalaight?” Applejack asked, alarmed at the sudden change in her friend. “You OK?”

Twilight shook her head, her vision blurry as tears filled them; then nodded, not wanting to upset her. “I’m OK,” she replied, knowing even as she did her voice was going to tell Applejack she was not at all ‘OK’.

Because she really wasn’t.

If Princess Celestia hadn’t ordered me to Ponyville, Twilight thought, If I hadn’t met my friends there, this would have been me. Not could have been me…would have been me. This Twilight is as much trapped as I’d been, and she doesn’t even realize it. I sure hadn’t realized it. I was happy the way I was. I hadn’t just thought I was, I’d known it.

Gazing around the cheerless residence, her vision blurred as tears filled, then trickled, down her cheeks. Oh, please, Princess Celestia, please see how badly this Twilight Sparkle needs your help! she mentally begged.

“It is kinda dreary, ain’t it,” Applejack softly said, stepping up and squeezing her friend’s shoulder. “Looks like her only friend is Spike here.”

Hearing his name, Spike gave a soft ‘woof’ before gazing quite entreatingly at the treat cabinet, stubby tail wagging like mad. Applejack softly chuckled as she opened the cabinet. “Lil’ beggar,” she grinned, taking out a soft chew bone and handing it to the ecstatic dog.

She blinked, eyes widening, as Twilight abruptly grabbed her in a tight, almost strangulating, hug. “Whoa thar!” she exclaimed. “Whut in tarna—”

“Thank you,” Twilight said, her voice thick and indistinct, muffled from her face being buried in her friend’s shoulder. “Thank you for being my friend.” And for saving me from myself, she mentally added, knowing that Applejack would hear that whether spoken aloud or not.

Applejack felt as if her heart was melting. Hugging back, she softly murmured, her own voice suspiciously foggy, “Yer welcome, Twalaight. Ah’l always be there fer you. Always.”

Behind them, Pinkie Pie was looking into the refrigerator, then freezer, then the cabinets. “Bummer!” she pouted before pulling out her cell phone. “Anyone up for pizza? I’m starving!

Chapter 8

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Chapter Eight

The soft ‘tock’ of hooves sounded shockingly loud as Sunset Shimmer paced down the corridor along with her escorts. And they were escorts: guides, not jailers.

Not that escorts were necessary for guidance, she distantly thought, choking up inside. Even after all these years, she knew the paths of Canterlot Castle and its environs as intimately as if only a day had passed.

From the moment the wood under the drawbridge had vibrated from their hoofsteps those retrospections had blossomed, growing stronger and clearer as they’d quickly yet gravely paced through Canterlot and towards the castle proper, while actually entering the castle felt as powerful as a kick in her barrel. For a moment, no longer, it felt as if she had never left but, instead, had only gone into the city for a spot of shopping.

But, for a moment only.

However, circumstances did not permit lingering on that agonizing aspect of homecoming—and, make no mistake, it was terribly painful—not when Princess Celestia might very well be dying!

She was not surprised when, instead of heading towards the throne room, they entered the private wing of the Palace reserved for Princess Celestia. And here, too, she knew the way, for how often had she spent time with her teacher, her mentor, in her private, personal domain?

Her escorts—Royal Guardspony officers both—paused outside the bedroom suite, one of them raising a hoof and sharply knocking.

“Who is it?” demanded a curt, unfamiliar feminine voice.

“Lieutenant Arrow Storm, Your Highness.”

“Enter,” returned the brusque response.

The second Royal Guardspony opened the door, then motioned for Sunset Shimmer to enter. She was actually so distraught, so anxious, so terribly frantic about her beloved teacher, she’d actually taken several steps into the room before what he’d said filtered through her subliminal reception and into her consciousness.

Your Highness? But…But I thought Princess Celestia was in a coma? Who did he…oh. Oh. Oh, oh my…

Her thoughts slithered to a stop as she came to an abrupt halt, head rocking back, eyes wide as saucers.

Standing next to Princess Celestia’s bed was another pony. An alicorn to be precise. She was not any bigger than Sunset Shimmer herself. Or Princess Twilight Sparkle, for that matter. She certainly was not as big as Princess Celestia!

She swallowed. Hard. Physical size, she was realizing, did not necessarily mean a thing.

This alicorn was, for all her diminutive physical stature, radiating a power that was literally palpable to her. Sunset Shimmer felt as if she were shrinking in size and age down to a foal, with the eeriest sensation of this dreadfully imposing mare suddenly looming over her. Light blue eyes that harshly glittered pinned her to the spot; her tongue felt glued to the roof of her mouth.

She had been so overwrought with worry, first over Princess Twilight and then Princess Celestia, she hadn’t really thought all that much about current events, especially ones she hadn’t personally experienced when she’d still been in Equestria. When she had left, there had only been one reigning monarch, only one Royal Princess of Equestria.

But…now there were two.

And Sunset Shimmer was—quite unexpectedly and with no warning at all—facing the second.

Swallowing hard once more, she clumsily bowed, hastily stretching out right foreleg, sharply folding left at the knee, and extending her neck. “Y‑y‑Your H‑h‑h‑Highness,” she stuttered; for, although she had never actually met Princess Luna, there was no mistaking to whom she was giving obeisance.

“We were expecting Princess Twilight,” came the cool statement, yet one that rung in her head like brazen, bronze gongs that would brook no foolishness. “And thou art?”

“S‑Sunset S‑Shimmer, Your Highness,” the flustered unicorn whispered.

“Ah yes; the Betrayer.”

She had not thought it was possible to have shrunk any smaller, but she’d been wrong.

“Hold,” Princess Luna commanded, holding out a shod forehoof and silencing anything Sunset Shimmer might have intended to say. Neither gesture nor command had been at all necessary, for the poor mare had not even considered any response to that dreadful “entitlement”. “Prithee, accept mine apologies,” the grim‑visaged alicorn intoned. “That was unkind and churlish of me. I have no excuse save grief, yet that is a poor defense natheless. Rise, Sunset Shimmer.”

Awkwardly rising to her hooves, feeling more gawky and gangly than she had in years, she found herself standing almost nose‑to‑nose and horn‑to‑horn with Princess Luna, who was deeply gazing into her eyes with an intensity that was frightening.

There was a soft, pained gasp from the bed; Sunset Shimmer instantly jerked her head about, so fast her vision spangled. “Princess Celestia!” she cried out.

Unseen by the distraught unicorn, Princess Luna’s stern countenance softened. The pain in Sunset Shimmer’s voice told her everything she needed to know about this most prodigal of mares.

Stepping over and standing alongside Sunset Shimmer, Luna gazed down at her sister who was lying in bed, covered up to her chin beneath a griffin‑down comforter. Except for the faint, shallow rise and fall of her chest there was little sign of life.

Without preamble, Luna addressed Sunset Shimmer. “We had just retired to bed, having taken some respite after Our nightly duties and labours, and having finished Our ablutions. It seemed We had no sooner fallen into slumber when We abruptly awoke, terribly affrighted by direful impressions of doom and loss.” She glanced sideways at the unicorn standing next to her. “It might surprise thee to know that even The Princess of The Night may have nightmares. But She can, and She does…and some never go away,” she finished, much more softly and barely audible.

A moment passed, one that seemed to stretch for much longer, before she continued, giving a little toss of her head before speaking. “That dream—if dream it soothly was—was dire and dreadful, and didst but throw Our thoughts into a whirlwind of confusion and despair. We had tossed Our sheets off and staggered out of bed, still confounded and befuddled, whence from Our door came a fearsome pounding.” Princess Luna’s dark coat rippled as skin twitched in memory. “‘Twas the Royal Guards.”

She paused a moment, gazing down at her older sister with an expression of mingled love and fear. “Our sister had been holding Court, as is her wont in the morn. They say that, without warning, she simply collapsed.” Gesturing with her muzzle at Celestia, she finished, “As you see here. There has been no change in her condition.”

Turning her head, Luna gazed at the unicorn standing next to her. “Although We have detected no sign of magic upon Her, We are most certain the attack that has struck down Our sister is magical in nature. Certes, naught else could do so. Which is why We had summoned Princess Twilight Sparkle, for she is most puissant in magic. Why, therefore, has she not answered Our summons?”

Sunset Shimmer’s face crumpled as fresh tears filled her eyes. “Oh, Your Highness,” she replied, her voice thick and choked, “There’s been a terrible accident!” Luna’s head rocked back as the distraught unicorn continued, “It all started when…”

They sat facing each other across a small, round table that normally held a vase of fresh flowers. The vase had been temporarily removed so that a small coffee service could be placed there. Each for their own reasons—Luna, because she was normally asleep at this hour; Sunset Shimmer because she was too distraught and anxious to have any appetite at all—had turned down the offer of light hoof sandwiches.

It was very quiet in Princess Celestia’s bedroom. The drapes had been pulled back, providing both light and warmth, but nothing could truly dispel the chill each of them felt deep down to the marrow of their bones.

Sunset Shimmer had long ago finished her account of what had transpired back in Ponyville, starting with their arrival in the Portal Room at the Castle of the Friendship Rainbow Kingdom, and ending with her having cast sleep on her friend to prevent her from potentially making a fatal error. She did not mention being arrested, doing so not to hide the fact that she had been a suspect but to spare any potential repercussions against the two Royal Canterlot Guardsponies.

Princess Luna had remained silent the entire time, save for once. That had been when the tearful unicorn had taken complete responsibility for what had happened to Princess Twilight, claiming that if she had just been faster, had just been more competent, she could have stopped the Book from going through the Crystal Mirror. If she had stopped it, she had quavered, the Mirror would not have been destroyed, and, therefore, whatever had happened to Princess Twilight would not have occurred. At that point, Luna had reached out a foreleg and lightly touched the front of Sunset Shimmer’s muzzle with her hoof, gently silencing her.

With a solicitousness that had brought even more tears to her eyes, the Princess of The Night had mildly remonstrated Sunset Shimmer, protesting her self‑accusations. Hindsight, she had said, was perfect; ponies were not. It was one thing to honestly appraise one’s actions and accept fault where found, and quite another to assign blame when it was neither warranted nor deserved.

Her head snapped up from the contemplation of her coffee mug when Princess Luna cleared her throat. “I do not know thee as well as mine sister did,” she said, dropping the Royal “We”. “But she didst but speak of thee quite often.” Sunset Shimmer felt her cheeks and throat heat. “Thou wert, she hath saith, as mighty in promise as any unicorn she kenned, lacking only,” she gazed at her, “compassion, humility, charity, and sincerity to become truly extraordinary.”

This time, the deep flush was borne of intense shame, and she was startled when Princess Luna held up a hoof. Glancing up, her eyes were caught and held by Luna’s, feeling powerfully dumbfounded and staggered at the intensity of that penetrating scrutiny. There was no judgment there, no condemnation. Instead, and rather shockingly, there was commiseration and understanding.

That surprise, however, lasted only a moment, for she suddenly realized a fact she had already been aware of: the alicorn in front of her had once been Nightmare Moon. If anypony could empathize with having fallen from grace and the struggle for redemption and forgiveness after that, she would!

“Princess Twilight is, alas, unavailable, due to circumstances none may have predicted…or prevented. Wouldst thou, of thy courtesy,” Luna gravely requested, “see what thou mayest do for mine Sister?”

Heart thudded painfully at that, Sunset Shimmer deeply bowed her head, tilting forward until the tip of her horn touched the tabletop. “It—” she swallowed, “It would be my honor, Your Highness.”

Pushing her chair back, she rose, taking a moment to catch her breath once up on all four hooves before solemnly pacing over to the side of the bed. There was no visible change in Princess Celestia’s status, for good or for ill. Sunset Shimmer’s horn momentarily glowed as she “lifted” the comforter up, then down, exposing her to view.

It was odd. On the one hoof, she looked as if simply peacefully sleeping; there were no visible signs of distress or pain. On the other hoof, there was something…elusive…enigmatic…plainly radiating a sense of wrongness.

For several minutes, Sunset Shimmer simply watched, observing without actually focusing on any one thing in particular, before closing her eyes and “looking” at her magically, first using passive, then active, mage senses.

It was when she “looked” at Princess Celestia with active senses that she felt that wrongness even stronger. Contrary to expectations—and commonly understood, uncontroversial accepted fact—her passive sensing felt stronger to her than her active had felt.

Carefully probing Princess Celestia’s prostrate form, Sunset Shimmer continued the examination, her concentration as tightly focused as never before. There did not seem to be an iota of magic anywhere about her, and that was just wrong. Not peculiar; not unusual; just unmistakably, outright wrong. Opening her eyes and blinking a bit, she began simultaneously looking and ‘looking’, overlapping the purely visual with her inner, arcane senses.

And that was when something stuck out like a sore hoof.

Her normal perception clearly saw Princess Celestia’s cutie mark, plain as day and as sharply distinct as ever. However, to her mage sense…it was so dim as to be practically invisible, her flank appearing almost as blank as a foal’s.

“That’s odd,” she murmured, her voice distant, so utterly was she concentrating. “I wonder why—”

Her voice cut off with swift, shocking suddenness as she dropped to the ground as if shot, all of her magic drained from her the instant she had fully focused her power on that ghostly phantasmic cutie mark.

Chapter 9

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Chapter Nine

The urn was solid crystal, found only in one place in all of Equestria. It was a priceless antique, and weighed almost forty pounds.

It was also a blur as it shot across the room, impacting against the far wall and shattering into splinters the size of toothpicks, leaving a gouge in the stone of the wall itself.

There were eight ponies and one baby dragon in the room; all but one huddled together in absolute, sheer terror across the room from the eighth.

“Duck!” screamed Applejack, as a dresser followed the urn. It fared no better, the gorgeously engraved, beautiful mahogany bureau disintegrating into matchsticks, the fabrics within momentarily hovering in the air before being shredded into bits of threads.

The eighth was Princess Twilight Sparkle…or, at least, looked like her.

She was standing at the far end of the room, where the enormous canopy bed had rested. That had been one of the first objects to be destroyed.

Not broken, not wrecked.


Her wings were tightly compressed to her sides, she was standing stiff‑legged and braced, and there was not a shred of sanity in her expression. She was literally incoherent with rage, flames roiling in her eyes, wordless ululations of fury so intense it was painful.

All of them had slight bleeding cuts and scrapes from flying debris, and it was only by Celestia’s good graces that none of them were more badly hurt, for it was patently obvious that the raging alicorn was simply flinging objects any which way, with no rhyme or reason to their trajectory…

…and with no care of what, or who, might be in the line of flight.

She stood there, panting, the room now bereft of any intact, inanimate object it had once possessed. And now…she turned and faced the trembling, terrified group hunkered together, and they whimpered as her eyes flashed, turning completely white, as an aura of blinding coruscation surrounded her…

…as the stone beneath her hooves began cracking and spalling.

“Run!” several ponies screamed. Hooves slipped and skidded across the polished stone floor as they raced to the empty doorway, the thick door itself having been blasted to sawdust some moments ago.

“Yes,” a dreadful, petrifying voice belled out. “Run! Leave! NOW!” Nostrils flared, the insides glowing scarlet. Satisfied at their abrupt and immediate departure, she started to turn but halted, for not all of them had left. She turned back, fully facing the one pony that remained behind, staring at him the same hard, glittering way she had fixed every object she had destroyed before heaving it through the air. “I said LEAVE!” she raged.

His legs were wobbling so hard she could see that from where she stood, body quaking so violently his glasses fell off his muzzle. “I…I can’t,” he gargled out in an agonized tone.

She stamped the floor with a forehoof, shattering a small crater there. He closed his eyes, so tightly it was painful, then repeated in a whisper, “I…I can’t leave.”

“Why not?” she snorted in fury.

He swallowed, once. Then, shocking her, he took a deep breath before looking directly at her. In a voice that was suddenly composed, and much calmer than he visibly appeared—or, for that matter, had to be feeling—he simply said, “Because I’m a doctor, and because you’re my patient. And because you need me.”

“I’m not sick, and I don’t need a doctor,” she snapped.

Moving with extreme care and deliberation, he crouched down and retrieved his glasses, slipping them back in place as he straightened up.

“I didn’t say you were sick,” he clarified. “I just said that you needed me. And you do.”

Suddenly, whatever energy her rage had fueled drained away, leaving her weak and dizzy. “There’s nothing you can do,” she whispered, feeling utterly exhausted. “There’s nothing anyone can do.”

She turned to look at herself in the mirror—again—then blinked in surprise, startled, as the mirror was no longer there. And then the shambles of the room abruptly registered: the utter destruction that had scoured the chamber to bare stone and had left nothing behind and intact save for the two of them.

What have I become? she mentally wailed, What sort of monster am I now?

It was not the form she now wore that was the focus of that plaint. She was not a monster simply because she was an alicorn. No. She was a monster because she had been the source of this appalling, horrific storm of devastation. She did not remember doing any of it! Feeling the leash on her temper fraying, that tenuous control unraveling, that she remembered. She remembered feeling that rage finally loosed from its cage, bursting free, ravenous with hunger.

She remembered the feeling of exhilaration as she surrendered to that metaphoric bloodlust.

Choking back a sob, Twilight deeply shuddered in self‑disgust and loathing. She had not lost control like this in years. This was not like her at all. This was not her at all. This was not at all the person she had fought and struggled all her life to become.

Then again, she wasn’t the person she used to be.

She was an alicorn now.

She did not hear the light hoofsteps approaching, so it was not until she caught sight of him out of the corner of her eye that Twilight realized she had company. Lifting up and turning her head at the same time, she gazed at the unicorn now standing next to her. Considering the violence that had just occurred and the wreckage left behind, she could not help but forlornly note, “You’re being terribly brave, don’t you think?”

“You need me,” is all he said in reply.

Her stomach ached with hunger. She hadn’t eaten since being transplanted here—wherever here was; knowing it was called Equestria by its putative citizens was of absolutely no help at all in determining actual location—and she had no real idea how much time had actually elapsed. But for all that her belly was insistently clamoring for attention, she found that she had absolutely no appetite. At least hunger was a familiar sensation, and she clung to that like a drowning woman to a scrap of lumber.

There were other sensations swirling and churning inside her, ones she had never experienced before and therefore had no idea how to control. Control was vital to her; lack of control was a weakness, something to be despised.

That was something she feared, as well, but would never confess that to anyone, least of all herself. Refused to admit that. Fear was disabling, anger was empowering, and if given the choice between being prey or predator, well…she knew which one she was going to be.

She did, however, now have names, at least, for most of those new feelings. Doctor Horse—and then, later on, joined by his assistant Nurse Redheart—had stayed with Twilight. They had just let her talk and ramble, remain silent, or agitatedly pace: whatever she needed, or wanted, at that particular moment. It helped that they were professional specialists; Twilight might not have truly let her guard completely down with either of them, but at least she could appreciate a fellow professional.

It also helped—a very great deal, in fact—that he was a unicorn.

Most of those unsettling feelings she was experiencing were the same—albeit familiar to them—ones unicorns would feel, since they involved the innate, as well as learned, talents and skills common to them. Now, however, and thanks to Doctor Horse, she had names for them: levitation; teleportation; telekinesis; sensitivity to magic auras. Being an alicorn, however, those sensations were exceptionally stronger than your average run‑of‑the‑barn unicorn.

And, unlike their earth pony and pegasus pony brethren whose magicks were passive, the magicks of unicorns were active.

Twilight remembered the title of her Doctorate thesis: Magic: A Natural, Measurable Force, and she choked back a strangled…well, it wasn’t a laugh, for it was completely devoid of humor.

Well, it’s definitely a natural force, she sardonically thought, I just wasn’t ever anticipating having that naturally generating inside me.

Lying down on the padded cushion they’d had delivered to the room—Twilight flat‑out refused to leave there and move elsewhere, destruction notwithstanding, and equally refused to allow admission to anyone else except her doctor and nurse—she desperately tried putting her world back into order and control.

It had been bad enough waking to this new form of hers when it had been just that other unicorn present (and even now she was subliminally shocked at how easy she was already accepting outré and outrageous things like ‘unicorn’, ‘pegasus’, ‘magic’ and talking, intelligent ponies). She had not reacted well to that. Actually, she admitted to herself, to be scrupulously honest she had gone ballistic. Not like anyone could have realistically blamed her!

Now, had she awoken this last time to just that flamboyantly‑blazoned unicorn again, Twilight was—almost—certain events would have progressed better than they had. But, instead…

Closing her eyes, Twilight’s thoughts drifted back to just a few hours past…

She gradually roused to consciousness, becoming aware, as she was stirring, of a subdued clangor of multiple voices, most feminine in tone, one definitely masculine and one sounding quite juvenile in timbre. And the moment she cracked open a bleary eye they were on her, clamoring.

“Twilight! Thank Celestia you’re all right!” “Twalaight! Y’all gave us such a fright!” “Oh Twilight! We were so worried!”

Twilight. Twilight. Twilight. TWILIGHT. TWILIGHT!

She clapped hands over ears…and, since they were now hooves, she almost clobbered herself unconscious again. How they knew her name, she had no idea. They were crowding her, invading her space, making it impossible for her to ground and center, to regain precious control.

Outrageous colors surrounded her, blindingly dizzying with their enormous panoramic range. One creature hovered almost overhead, more colorful than the others. Another creature, this one a shocking bubblegum‑pink, was doing…cartwheels?? Then a…cannon?…appeared out of nowhere?? Discharging confetti??

Fear gibbered in her mind, slobbering in its hunger to consume. She hated being afraid, for that was also loss of control. She hated how it made her feel; she hated what it did to her.

She was afraid. Terrified. Horrified.

A tiny, rational part of her that remained lucid was pitiless in its automatous categorization:

She was now a pony. One with wings. Pegasus, that despicable lucid mind supplied.

These others, they were all ponies, too. Or ponies with a horn. Unicorn. Or ponies with wings. Pegasus

No, not everyone in the room was a pony, or pony variant. There was also a small…lizard of some sort. Bipedal at that. One whose coloration was disturbingly familiar.

They all knew her; or thought they did, anyway. The din they were raising was deafening, and they were jostling each other so much her pained eyes could not focus on any one of them at a time.

And now there was yet another pon…unicorn!…stepping forward. This one wearing clothing!?

Twilight felt her grip slipping faster and faster through an already tenuous grasp. This newest arrival, implausibly garbed in a lab coat over a shirt and tie, and with spectacles balanced on his muzzle, stepped up to her bedside as he pleaded with the others to take a few steps back and to settle down.

It took a few moments for the seeming bedlam to quiet down. Loud sush‑ings, sounding like a berserk teakettle, issued from the pink, bouffant one. Gradually, as a group they migrated to the farther wall, huddling together. The lab‑coated one finally gave a low “harrumph”, clearing his throat before turning back and facing her. “I’m Doctor Horse, from Ponyville Hospital. They tell me there’s been an accident and that you’ve been injured, and have also suffered several bouts of unconsciousness. Tell me,” he asked, his tone now clinical, “do you remember anything about the accident?”

Twilight’s eyes widened as his horn suddenly gently glowed, that same colored aura surrounding both a pencil and notepad which were now hovering in front of him, both unmistakably positioned for taking notes. The contrast between the chaos of just moments ago and the cool, calm, measured professionalism of this…doctor…did much to take the edge of incipient hysteria from her. Her agile mind quickly sharpened into objective mode as she switched intellect for emotion.

“Ah…no. Actually, I have no idea what’s happened.”

The pencil made a notation as he continued. “I see. I’ve been told you’ve been struck in the back of the head by a heavy, falling object. You do have quite the lump back there. Other than that, however, I wasn’t able to discern any additional physical injuries,” he stated, with a slight emphasis on physical. “Are you in any pain?”

“Pain? Well, I do have a bit of a headache, yes.” Reaching back, she lightly touched the lump there, wincing as her hard hoof contacted it. “It’s still a bit tender,” she stated. “But, actual pain? No. It’s just a general, overall discomfort.”

Again a scribble. “Any specific location?”

“Well, more of a general malaise. Idiopathic.”

His eyes glinted behind the glasses, a brow rising at the latter words, but otherwise he remained unflappable. “Do you remember your name?”

She wanted to roll her eyes at that question—and the ones she knew would be following—but understood he was only doing his job, something she could respect. In fact, the truth was he was doing his job so well she was actually overlooking the fact she was speaking to a unicorn at the moment.

“Twilight Sparkle.”

Another scribble.

“Date of birth?”

There was no scribble this time at her answer. The pencil simply hovered in place, for the answer he received made no sense to him, a dating notation completely foreign.


He recorded her answer, as that was something recognizable. However, the pencil would have a good rest after that.

“Birthplace?” “Parents?” “Today’s date?” “Do you know the name of today?” “What school did you go to?” “Where do you live?”

Oddly enough, the fact that her answers were baffling the doctor was actually having the opposite effect on Twilight.

“What is the last thing you clearly remember?”

She felt a jolt at that, and before he could ask any further questions, she held up a hoof for silence. What was the last thing she could clearly remember? That was the key, she was sure of that. And it wasn’t the last thing she could clearly remember in this body that was going to hold any answers.

She remembered waking up this last time, but that was in this body, this winged pony one. (Twilight had not as yet realized she had a horn in addition to wings) She less clearly remembered waking up the time prior, but that one, too, had been in this body. She was not really sure if she had recovered consciousness any time prior to that one; she seemed to muzzily recall doing so at least once, but she wasn’t at all positive.

None of those occasions was what she was seeking, however, as all of these recollections were with her occupying a form that wasn’t her own. So…what was the last thing she could remember, back when she was herself? She was…she was…

Ah ha! Had she fingers she would have snapped them; a hoof was not only a poor substitute for that, but also an impossible one to boot. In a single, blinding moment, Twilight remembered exactly what she had been doing!

She had gone out to investigate the mysterious energy signals and emissions she had been detecting emanating from Canterlot High School. From that statue, to be precise. She’d taken her portable equipment on‑site, and had to wait until those girls—something in the back of her head abruptly tingled a moment at that, but she was too busy at the moment with other matters to track that down—had left before taking her instruments over to the statue. Finally they had left; she had carried her equipment over…had started recording the energy signals.

No. Wait.

Twilight nibbled a nail, so engrossed she completely missed the fact it was actually a hoof she was gnawing on.

The signals had abruptly stopped before she had taken her apparatus over. She remembered—now—how furious she had been at those two girls. Because she had had to wait for them to leave, the energy emissions had stopped before she had had her equipment in position. And then she had…

Sharply gasping, eyes rounding, her gaze abruptly snapped to the pencil and pad hovering midair and surrounded by a conspicuously glowing aura.

Her research: documenting the correlation between quantum effects—like quantum teleportation and tunneling—and that of “magic”.

Her eyes shifted to his horn, also glowing.

“Magic,” she softly whispered.

“Eh?” Doctor Horse’s eyes crossed a moment as he looked upwards towards his horn, unable to actually see it but able to perceive the auroral gleam. Then those puzzled orbs flashed downwards, fixing Twilight’s with supremely sharp discernment. “Yes. Magic,” he confirmed. “That surprises you?” His pencil suddenly snapped to attention, poised and ready over the notepad.

Everyone was startled—Twilight, included—by her sudden bark of laughter. “You could say that, yes. Since where I come from there is no magic. Well, nothing like that,” she gestured with a forehoof, “anyway.”

Feeling much more steady and secure, both mentally as well as physically, Twilight flipped back the sheets and carefully wriggled out of bed and onto her hooves. “Ah…‘Where I come from’?” His voice sounded diffident, but his eyes were quite the opposite.

Catching sight of a mirror, Twilight paused a moment, her eyes widening once again. I have a horn, too? She approached the mirror, tipping her head a bit left, then right, before shifting her body a bit left, then right, then finally opening her wings up a bit. Huh. Looks just like me. Well, looks like me if I were to ever have transmogrified into a horned, winged pony, that is. Same hair color, just transformed into a mane and tail. Even the same eye color. So it’s not a creation, it’s definitely a transformation.

“I think I know what happened,” Twilight informed the doctor as she turned around and faced him. “Well, mostly, anyway. If I’m corr—”

She stopped so abruptly it took Doctor Horse by surprise. “Ye‑ess?” he coaxed, several seconds having passed in silence.

As if discussing a clinical problem, her voice sounding detached, Twilight asked, “By any chance, do I resemble someone?”

“Well, as a matter of fact, yes,” he replied, “You do.” His gaze sharpened as his met hers, an odd sort of respect in that regard. “Forgive me for saying so, but I don’t think there was much ‘by any chance’ behind your having asked that.”

Her voice might sound detached, but her mind was anything but disengaged. “Let me guess: I resemble a pegasus, ah, unicorn, umm…just what is this form called, anyway?” she asked, sounding peeved for a moment.

“Alicorn,” he replied. “Please, go on,” he requested, waving a forehoof in a cajoling motion. “You were saying?”

She was so focused on Doctor Horse, she missed seeing all the others slowly creeping closer, straining to hear…and, for all of them, struggling to understand, as well.

“Ah; alicorn. Thank you.” His eyes glinted as he noticed the signs of somepony mentally filing away a fact. “So…as I was saying, I resemble an alicorn,” she never stumbled over the unfamiliar word, “named ‘Twilight Sparkle’.”

Her head turned at hearing several sharp inhales behind her, and for a moment her eyes dangerously flashed at their proximity. But they were far enough away—and she was immersed deeply enough into her hypothesizing—to ignore for now.

This time he simply nodded, giving her the professional courtesy of listening as she worked her thoughts out as she was so obviously doing.

Her eyes widened yet again as that ‘something’ that had tickled the back of her mind minutes ago abruptly snapped into sharp focus. A huge grin spread across her face as she stamped a hoof down in pleased excitement. That girl! Not that first one—which, now that she was thinking about it, also had a nagging familiarity—but the second one that had showed up. That hair. Those clothes…

She turned and looked at herself sideways in the mirror and nodded, both mentally and physically. Now that she brought that image, that memory, into her forebrain it all became crystal clear.

That other girl…had also been Twilight Sparkle. The one from this world. Whatever it was called.

She must have passed through some sort of gateway, Twilight mused. And traveling from one plane to another must result in physiological changes as well. Which is why I’m an alicorn here. Because she’s an alicorn here. Our corporeal forms seem to transform so as to match the destination plane.

She began slowly pacing as she thought, completely oblivious now to anyone in the room with her.

That statue, she conjectured. That’s why there’s so much weird energy associated with it! That’s the gateway! The energy ceased because they’d passed through and obviously closed it at this end. But I’d recorded enough information to have powered it up—accidentally, her mental voice amended—and open it from my end!

Grinning like a loon—or Pinkie Pie on a normal day—Twilight announced to the doctor, “The reason I resemble your Twilight Sparkle is because I’m Twilight Sparkle, too.” Several of the ponies in the room softly groaned in anxious concern, but Twilight paid them no heed. “We’ve swapped places; yours is in my world, and I’ve wound up here.” She stiffened in surprise as she was suddenly interrupted by a juvenile voice throbbing with excitement.

“So you’re the Twilight Sparkle from Sunset Shimmer’s world!”

She spun around so fast that her hooves skidded on the floor, confronting the source of that outburst: that small, bipedal lizard creature. Eyes round with shock she took several hasty steps back. It talked!?

Then what it had said registered, and she shook her head hard enough she saw stars as she violently whipped mane back and forth. Sunset Shimmer, her RA? Ever since the day Professor Harmony had authorized one of those special, elite apartments for Twilight, Sunset Shimmer had done her dead‑level best to sabotage her. What did that scheming, conniving, back‑stabbing, despicable bint have to do with anything?

Spike came to an abrupt halt, seeing how tightly Twilight’s ears had just pinned back. He hastily took several steps back, paws in the air in a placating gesture. “Sorry, Twilight,” he apologized. “I didn’t mean to spook you. Wow!” he breathed, eyes sparkling. “This must all seem pretty strange to you, huh.”

That, she thought, was a googolplex‑dollar statement if ever there was one. And then yet another revelation clubbed her over the head.

“S‑s‑s‑Spike?” her voice rose in pitch.

Beaming, the baby dragon puffed out his chest and thumb‑clawed his breastbone. “Yup! That’s me all right! Your…well, her,” he corrected, “Number One Assistant!”

This time when she shook her head in astonishment, her ears, because they were perked forward, audibly flapped against the side of her head.

“Pinkie Pie said—that’s our Pinkie Pie over there by the way, not their Pinkie Pie,” the little lizard creature indicated the bubblegum pink pony with the puffy coiffure, “Their Pinkie Pie said that she’d seen you before in the city. Well, you and your dog, too.”

This Pinkie Pie started hopping up and down on all four hooves. “Pleased t’meetcha!” she beamed. “Ooo! Ooo! We need to throw you a Welcome‑to‑Ponyville‑Party!”

Twilight closed her eyes, abruptly thrown out of her comfortable hypothesizing headspace by the apparition simply oozing bonhomie at her.

“Easy thar, Pinkie Pah,” she heard someone drawl. “Settle down a bit and give her a chance t’ breathe.”

“Oh, I simply do wish Sunset Shimmer was still here. Perhaps she could shed more light on matters,” said a refined voice.

“Oh my, yes,” replied a timid, breathy one. “But she simply had to go to Canterlot.”

“We should all have gone,” interjected another, this one sounding aggressive and pushy. “Who knows what’s happened to Princess Celestia? Besides, can we really trust Sunset Shimmer?”

There were several sharp gasps, and an even sharper “Rainbow Dash! Really!”

“I mean, think about it, Rarity,” retorted that bellicose voice—obviously Rainbow Dash. “The same day—the same hour!—that Sunset Shimmer comes back—after how long?—and Princess Celestia is somehow attacked and flattened like a bad soufflé? Does that sound like coincidence to you?”

There was silence for several seconds, and then the refined voice spoke up. “Rainbow Dash…what do you know about making soufflés?”

Before Rainbow Dash—whoever he, she, or it was—could reply, another voice spoke up. Well, “spoke up” was putting it pretty mildly to be honest. The moment this “Rainbow Dash” had made that thinly‑veiled accusation, Twilight had started hearing something like a forge bellows being pumped.

That forge just erupted.

“KNOCK IT OFF!” roared a highly enraged voice. Twilight’s eyes popped open, especially since the source of that furious detonation was standing almost at her side. It was that little lizard creature, that “Spike”, and he wasn’t looking all that tame and cute at the moment.

“I’ve just about had it today with idiots,” he growled, and Twilight’s eyes blinked as she saw literal tongues of green flames dancing in the lizard creature’s flared nostrils. “First it was those Royal Canterlot Guardsponies, and now it’s you?”

Since he was furiously glaring at the rainbow‑palette pegasus, Twilight figured it was a safe bet that that one was the aforementioned Rainbow Dash.

“Ah,” the pegasus started, head hanging down a bit, ears flagged. “Umm…sorry Spike. Guess I’m just, well…”

As quickly as he had angered, Spike deflated. “Yeah, I know,” he nodded. “I think we all are. Worried, that is. Scared, too.”

“Umm,” Twilight insinuated herself. “This Sunset Shimmer…does she look like…,” and proceeded to describe the first unicorn she had ever seen in her life.

Spike was nodding. “That’s her, yes. She was with you earlier, in fact. Ahh…not sure if you remember her or not. I mean, what with everything and all,” he finished, punctuating the “everything” with a wave of his taloned paw.

For the first time ever, Twilight looked up and directly gazed at one of the others that were in the room with her, locking eyes with the temporarily‑subdued Rainbow Dash, whose ears perked up noticing the scrutiny. They swiveled back as Twilight stated in a deadly, grim voice, “I have no idea what your Sunset Shimmer is like. However, if she’s anything like the Sunset Shimmer I know, I’d rather carry vipers in my blouse than have any dealings with her. At least when a viper bites you it’s an honest bite.” The sheer venom in her tone shocked them all.

Before Rainbow Dash’s suspicions could be reignited, Spike spoke up in a voice that brooked no dissension, “Well, our Sunset Shimmer isn’t like that at all.”

“Well, not anymore…maybe,” Rainbow Dash muttered under her breath. “OK, OK!” she blurted, wings fanning as she backed away from an irate lizard.

“I wish Twilight was here,” said the refined voice (Rarity; she matched voice with name, and now with unicorn). “With the six of us together we could go to Canterlot and be of assistance.”

“We don’t even know what’s wrong,” said the breathy, timid one; which was, she noted, the other pegasus. “Or even if we could be of any help.”

“Aww c’mon, Fluttershy,” and now she had a name to go with the “face”, Rainbow Dash having helpfully supplied it, “You know it’s only a matter of time before Princess Luna calls for us. I mean, who else keeps saving Equestria from all sorts of disasters?”

There was a soft cough from one of the two, purely‑plain ponies, and the only one of them, other than her physician, accoutered with anything—in this case, a cowboy hat, of all things. And as soon as said pony opened her mouth, Twilight certainly understood the choice of headgear. “Ah hate t’ burst yer bubble, Rainbow Dash,” she lazily drawled, “but Ah think th’ correct answer t’ that is Princess Twalaight Sparkle.”

She lazily grinned, taking the sting out of her chastening. “Granted, Ah’ll admit th’ five of us have had a hoof or two involved once or twice.”

She rolled her eyes as the bouncy pink one blurted, “Bubbles? We had bubbles and no one told me?”

“Not those kind o’ bubbles, Pinkie Pah.”

“Awwwwww.” Pinkie Pie visibly wilted; literally, even her mane seemed to deflate a bit.

Twilight’s nostrils flared, her eyes rolled at their juvenile posturings and posings. Tipping her head, she gazed down at the little lizard. “You resemble my Spike too closely to be anything other than his analogue,” she stated. “And I feel secure enough to comfortably state you’re not a dog. So…what are you?”

Spike puffed his chest out again. “I’m a ferocious…fire‑breathing…dragon!”

Applejack just smiled. Rainbow Dash smirked and chuckled, while Rarity indulgently smiled, “Oh Spikey‑Wikey,” which had the immediate effects of turning Spike’s face bright red and Twilight’s brows lifting up and joining her forelock.

It was obvious that between the six of them, they had not a lick of common sense or, for that matter, anything of intellect to discuss, and whatever budding curiosity she had started feeling about Spike—this world’s analogue to her beloved pet—had died aborning with that interchange between him and Rarity.

Perhaps if her specialty, or even interest, had been biology—well, xenobiology, she mentally snorted—she might have found them of continuing interest. As it was, they were of no more interest to her than any other person. And she did accept them as being people, not creatures; just different forms than the normal humanoid. She would grant them that much. And they were unusual enough forms that she knew no few of her peers—well, colleagues; she didn’t have any “peers”—would be cooing and mooncalfing over them. Especially the unicorns! Fah!

Wrinkling her muzzle in disgust, she turned back to face Doctor Horse.

With a touch of dismissive frost in her voice, she addressed the physician, “As I was saying,” her nose furrowed, “the evidence supports your Twilight Sparkle having been transported across to my world simultaneous with my transference here. I believe that the gateway here had been powered down after she and this Sunset Shimmer had arrived, but I—again, evidently—was able to re‑energize it from the other end, in my world.”

Twilight brushed the tip of her hoof up along the top of her muzzle in a reflexive move to push up nonexistent glasses. “From what I remember, it seems as if the portal initiated a spontaneous transfer; that is, it generated a “bubble”, if you will, of transference energy that transported whomever was within its radius of effect. That just happened, it seems, to have been myself and your Twilight Sparkle.”

“It will be interesting to see if I can recreate that effect,” she confided, “and, of course, other effects, with my equipment here. I’d like to start bringing it over now. I really can’t wait to get started!”

Her excitement was growing by leaps and bounds. This land was obviously the source of the strange energy—well, xenoenergy—she had been detecting and analyzing. Somehow, some of that energy was leaking over to her world. But here, at the direct source, she would have ready access to that whenever she wished. Being able to constantly detect and examine the energy here would enable her to far more efficiently document and catalog the rules by which it obeyed. In fact…

Her eyes wandered to Doctor Horse’s horn, which was still lightly glowing as he kept his pad and pencil at the ready. In fact, she had access to the actual generators of some of that energy. On‑demand generators at that; ones that could intelligently adjust their emissions to suit the task. And, if those were true, trained skills and not just instinctive, innate talents, that implied rules, and rules were what she was researching! And, once she had rules, the mathematics would be easy to deduce and calculate…

“What?” she curtly snapped, annoyed at the interruption. She had heard all five previous, prefatory throat‑clearings, but she had ignored them. Whatever that little lizard—well, dragon, she supposed—wanted was not important enough to disrupt her train of thought. But, he just would not give up, and now he had just lightly poked her in the flank with the tip of a claw!

“Ah…Twilight? There’s a…there’s a problem.”

Rolling her eyes, she huffily sighed. “What sort of problem?”

“Ah,” he looked extremely discomfited, scuffing the floor with a paw. “It’s about going back. You see, um…” He trailed off, peeping up at her in obvious distress. “The Mirror. It’s broken.”

Feeling very confused, Twilight repeated, “A mirror is broken?” What did a broken mirror have to do with anything?

“Not a mirror; the Mirror. The Crystal Mirror. The one we use to go back and forth. It’s broken.”

Twilight felt her expression congeal. She blinked, then shook her head to clear it…which not only wasn’t helpful but, because of the lump on the back of her head, wound up being detrimental.

“I don’t know what happened,” the distraught lizard explained. “Maybe Sunset Shimmer does; she was with you after all.”

“Then bring her back,” Twilight flatly demanded. “It’s vital I get that gateway functioning again. I have to know happened; what’s wrong with it.”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa!” objected the flamboyantly colored pegasus; the Rainbow Dash one. “Not so fast!”

She gritted her teeth seeing the other four nodding in agreement, even as her heart was starting to pound and her mouth dry out.

“I’m afraid I have to agree with Rainbow Dash,” the Rarity unicorn one concurred. “We need to find out what has happened to Princess Celestia first! And, just as importantly, why it’s happened. This could very well be the preparatory strike prior to an attack against Equestria!”

The flutter of fear at the back of Twilight’s throat was replaced by a sense of outrage and anger as she heard that name again. It was not the first time they had mentioned a “Celestia” but she had simply ignored those prior times, her mind focused elsewhere. But, right now, they had her complete and total attention!


Twilight was shocked at the fire that blazed inside her at that hated, loathed name. Principal Celestia: the individual who, because of her insistence that Twilight learn to socialize, had cost her over half a year! of advanced classes and credits. Whose refusal to sign off on the recommendation that Twilight had needed almost cost her the acceptance she’d received from Everfree University. She hadn’t just been handed that; Twilight had earned that honor, that privilege! She’d deserved it, by dint of all her hard work, her focused efforts, her determined studies, her natural genius and superior intellect.

Gasps echoed in the room as Twilight coldly stated, “I don’t care about Celestia,” forgetting, at the moment, that this Celestia was not her despised enemy.

Rainbow Dash aggressively bristled. “Well, we care about her!” she snapped. “And she’s definitely a lot more important than fixing some stupid mirror just so you can get home and grab your egghead junk!”

But that wasn’t the reason Twilight wanted the mirror fixed. Fear again clogged her throat as the real reason—the only reason at this moment—rocked her again, trembling at the sensation of a slowly melting icicle at the back of her neck, its frigid tears trickling down her spine and spreading a deathly chill throughout her.

“It’s not about my equipment,” she got through gritted teeth. There was something about the emotions driving Twilight that pricked at Rarity. She sensed anger, yes, but there was fear there. Real fear, and she didn’t understand why. Until…

“I have to get back to my dog.”

“Your dog?” Rainbow Dash barked in astonishment. “Your dog is more important than Princess Celestia?”

It was too late. Rarity suddenly grasped the root of Twilight’s fear, but Rainbow Dash’s outburst had triggered something inside the upset alicorn.

Yes, my dog, Twilight thought. My Spike. My companion. My best friend. The one person—and I don’t care if he is “just a dog”, he’s a person to me!—in the entire world that brings me comfort. That makes me feel safe and needed. That chases my bad dreams away; that makes me laugh and smile. That never judges me, never expects anything from me; that takes me just as I am.

And he’s home. Alone. With NO food, and only enough water for two days. If I can’t get home…

Her throat painfully tightened.

If I can’t get home, he’s going to die. Her mind tried skittering and shying from that, but it refused to stop throwing reality at her. No one will just “drop by” to visit. No one ever does. I don’t ha…have any friends. I don’t want them!

The back of her head started painfully throbbing.

No one was even going to notice she was not home, because no one ever noticed her. She kept to herself. She probably would not even be missed until it was time to submit another draft of her thesis.

The best she could hope for would be that Sunset Shimmer somehow heard Spike when he started whining from starvation. And that was a terrible hope, for Twilight was sure Sunset Shimmer would either turn Spike over to the Pound or, more horribly—and much more likely—turn him over to one of the animal labs as an experimental subject.

Spike, she silently cried, Oh God, Spike! You trusted me and now I’ve betrayed you!

“I think somepony is having a lee‑tle problem with priorities,” Rainbow Dash snarkily said.

“Rainbow Dash!” Rarity scolded, sounding shocked and appalled.

And that was when everything went very, very bad.

“Here. Drink this.”

Twilight gently shook her head, sweeping away the fugue remnants of her recollections. Hovering before her was a small glass tumbler halfway filled with a shimmering, pale violet liquid. “I don’t suppose it’s hemlock, is it?” she asked in a terribly numb tone.

Doctor Horse gave her a stern look. “I don’t know what “hemlock” is, but assuming it’s what I think you mean, that’s a very poor joke.”

She actually hung her head, her apology so soft it was barely audible.

“It’s a mild analgesic,” he informed her. “And an even milder sedative. And, once you’ve gotten that inside you for a bit, you’re going to have a small bowl of bran and oat mash.”

Lipping the straw that was in the glass, Twilight sipped and swallowed, braced for something vile and nasty, and being pleasantly surprised discovering quite the opposite.

“I have another medicine to recommend, but I wasn’t about to prescribe it without consulting with you first.”

Licking her lips after having drawn up the last of the brew, Twilight quizzically gazed at him. He returned her gaze with the seriousness she deserved. “There are potions we prescribe, usually for unicorns running high fevers, because hallucinations often result concurrent with those fevers.” Peering down his glasses, he continued. “They are of varying strengths, but what they do is help dampen the magicks—innate or trained—of unicorns. Wait,” he said, holding up a forehoof.

“This has nothing at all to do with what happened earlier,” he clarified. “I’m not wishing to prescribe it out of fear of you, or what you might do.”

You should, she thought. Oh, you really, really should!

“What I’m recommending is one of the mid‑grade ones, one strong enough to inhibit your abilities without prohibiting them. To give you some time to regain your balance and strengthen your control.”

Twilight sadly smiled. “Control, Doctor? After all this? You think I have control?” she choked back a sob.

“Control…discipline…does it matter what term I use? I find it rather hard to believe that a scientist of your caliber hasn’t learned discipline. Oh yes,” he softly smiled. “We have scientists here, too. And you did a lot of talking to yourself these last few hours; I’m afraid I couldn’t help overhearing you. More to the point, I needed to overhear you. You’ve accomplished quite a bit in your short life. So, yes, I’m quite sure you have the necessary discipline. You just need a “breather” to get that under control.”

Her lips quirked. “Does it taste as good as this one did?”

Chapter 10

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Chapter Ten

Once Spike had satisfied himself that the visitors were, indeed, just that—guests rather than intruders—he was ecstatic, frisking about with evident joy. Everyone came in for their fair share of sniffs and licks, and the poor puppy seemed almost overwhelmed by the cornucopia of choices.

Pinkie Pie had ordered several large pizzas, along with two‑liter bottles of assorted soda pop and some sort of gooey chocolate dessert confection. While they waited for the food to arrive, Wiz Kid and Velvet Sky continued delving deep into the material found in the main ‘bedroom’ laboratory. Applejack, Pinkie Pie, and Twilight felt a bit awkward, as there was literally no place to sit except for the chairs the kids were using, Wiz Kid having purloined the living room desk chair for his own use in the lab room.

“I feel like Ah’m in Grandma Rich’s parlour,” Applejack clucked, shaking her head as she looked around. “Y’all were afeered t’ brush up against anything and disturb it.”

She nodded in understanding. It really did feel like the mausoleum‑museum Pinkie Pie had—in her own unique and inimitable fashion—called it. Perhaps this environment might have, once, been a comfortable one for Twilight, but after the last few years, this felt…barren. Cheerless. Soulless. This wasn’t a home, someplace to live; this was lifeless, sterile, someplace to work.

Nothing was in disrepair, and it was not as if it was furnished in second‑hand make‑do. But the prioritization of furnishings was glaringly obvious: anything that dealt with comfort came a very clear second to that of functionality and research. Homeyness was not even in the running.

Actually, Twilight realized, she had never been this bad. That might have been because Spike would never have permitted her sinking this deeply into asceticism, or perhaps Princess Celestia had seen to it that Twilight had not ever descended that far. It was probably a combination of the two, she considered.

Yes, she had kept to herself. And, yes, she had turned down every offer to socialize that had come her way. And, yes, research and study were her world. But, even then, she had had a comfortable bed, even a cozy bedroom. She had had vases of fresh flowers (thanks, Spike!). Snacks and drinks. Nutritious and tasty meals. Yes, she had had books or study articles with her on those infrequent occasions she had gone out, but she had also enjoyed being outdoors and feeling the warmth of the sun against her coat while she read or studied. She had even gone on occasional day shopping or field trips to Canterlot. Granted, Princess Celestia had usually needed to drag her out of her studies, kicking and screaming—sometimes quite literally; Twilight blushed in memory—but, once she had actually bowed to the inevitable, she had actually enjoyed her times out and about.

Somehow, Twilight sadly thought as she slowly gazed around the room again, she didn’t think this Twilight was so fortunate. This Twilight was driving herself, and hard; utterly mono‑focused, with an intensity she found disturbing.

Suddenly she gasped, fingers flying up to her mouth. “Is something wrong, Twalaight?” Applejack asked, sounding concerned.

“No, no. I’m OK. Nothing’s wrong, I just thought of something.” At least she hoped she was being honest and that nothing was wrong. Her eyes wandered around the room again, and shivered as she wondered what a person this driven might do…

…when they had all the power of an alicorn at their beck and call.

The pizzas were almost gone when Velvet Sky and Wiz Kid trudged into the kitchenette. “Oh, good!” Wiz said. “I’m starving.”

Velvet nodded as she vainly looked about for plates. “Me, too.”

“Well, why in tarnation didn’t y’all grab some slices and take ‘em with you?” Applejack asked.

Wiz shrugged, tapping Velvet on the shoulder and handing her a cheap paper plate, as he replied, “Didn’t want to make a mess in her lab, or take a chance on spilling sauce or soda on her papers.”

“Where’s Pinkie Pie?” asked Velvet, as she slipped a slice of green pepper, onion, mushroom, and black olives onto her plate, being careful since it was rather flimsy.

“She took Spike out for a walk,” Twilight replied. “I’m not sure who actually was walking who: Pinkie Pie or Spike,” she grinned.

Wiz and Velvet sat their plates atop the kitchen counter, using it as their table, then they each found some foam cups, adding ice before filling them with their preferred soda. As eager as Twilight was for news, she kept quiet, wanting to give them time to eat in peace.

“I hate cold pizza,” Wiz grumbled.

“Really?” Velvet replied. “I love cold pizza. Especially for breakfast!”

Wiz made a gagging sound as he stuck out his tongue. “That’s really gross, Vel.”






Wiz clutched his chest with a fist. “That’s just mean!

Applejack gave Twilight a look, and then the two of them smothered grins.

The two techies tore through the remaining slices like Spike through gems. Towards the end, they looked apologetically at Twilight, but she just smiled and waved them on. Finally, though, they finished off the final piece, splitting it between them. Refilling their cups, they crumpled up the plates and tossed them in the trashcan underneath the sink before washing up. The wadded paper towels they dried with joined the plates, and at last, they were ready to report their findings.

Such as it is, they warned. And then they began.

“So that’s it, Twilight,” Wiz concluded. He and Velvet Sky exchanged glances before they both turned their focus back to Twilight. “I know we have reputations for being techno‑geeks,” he said. “But what we’ve managed to read so far, with just the papers and documents we found on her desk and workstations, is way above our heads.”

“I—well, the both of us, actually,” Velvet clarified, “understand the basics of what this Twilight was working on. But this is really advanced mathematics and theories.”

“It’s like knowing algebra really well, and then trying to make sense out of calculus, having never even seen calculus before or knowing that it even existed.”

“Gets even worse,” Velvet warned. “It very much looks as if she’s inventing an entirely brand‑new branch of theoretical physics.”

Taking a sip of soda, Wiz continued. “An even bigger problem is that all three of her laptops, as well as her desktop, are password protected. The desktop looks like it’s hardwired into the university network, too.”

“All the really important, very critical data, is probably stored in the school’s mainframes.”

“So unless we can crack her passwords, all that information might as well be on the moon.”

Velvet nibbled her lower lip, looking very unhappy; as did Wiz, for that matter. “We really hate to tell you this, Twilight,” she said, “but I don’t think there’s very much we can do at this end.”

Twilight felt a ball of lead forming in her stomach as Wiz Kid forlornly concluded. “If there’s any help coming, we’re afraid it’s going to have to come from their side.”

It was very quiet. Too quiet, to be honest. Twilight really wished Pinkie Pie had not described here as a mausomuseum because, right now, she had the uncanny, shivery feeling of being in a tomb.

After Wiz Kid and Velvet Sky had unhappily given their report, a somewhat funereal gloom settled on the group. When even Pinkie Pie dejectedly sighs, you know it’s bad!

Twilight just felt…lost. Absolutely, incredibly, one hundred percent lost. She always had a plan for anything and everything. Heck, she even had plans for making plans!

But, not this time.

She did not have her magic. She knew very little about this world. Other than her friends and classmates, she had no resources she could call upon. She was, quite literally, completely dependent on others, a state of affairs that was both uncomfortable and frightening to her.

She had no direction. The two times she had traveled here with a purpose, she had a very clear idea of what was needed. The first time had been to recover her stolen crown from Sunset Shimmer, and the second time had been to break the spell the Sirens had cast on her classmates, and then see to it that they could never do so again. But, this time, she had no goal.

Well, figuring out a way home was her goal, true. Except she had no idea how to do that, and possessed absolutely no skills to achieve that…even if she had any ideas how to do so!

Applejack had helped her drag the cot out from the closet and into the living room before she’d finally left for the evening. Which is where she was currently sitting, Spike happily curled up on her lap and enjoying the gentle stroking. Just the idea of sleeping in the restricted, closeted space where the bed—generous description that was—had been placed had been enough to give Twilight the willies, and she’d finally broken down and almost begged her friend to help her wrestle it out somewhere more open.

Silent tears slowly trickled down Twilight’s cheeks as she gently petted the wriggling dog. From the moment she had seen that fractured statue base, something inside of her had realized a terrible fact: she was stranded here, and very likely for good. Without being arrogant, Twilight knew she was her generation’s paramount magical researcher and practitioner. In fact, she was very likely the most powerful unicorn ever in both those respects, save only their Royal Highnesses Celestia and Luna.

Well, at least concerning pure research, anyway; her actual Mastery still had a lot of room for improvement (granted, Twilight would always see room for personal improvement no matter how well she achieved something) regarding experience and skill. She might have a greater potential than even Starswirl the Bearded, but she certainly had not achieved his expertise!

But all that raw potential, all her prowess, meant nothing in this world, the only Equestrian magic here being the residue of what she had left behind on her first visit, the power that manifested whenever she and her friends played music.

Always before, she had consistently known what she was going to do, always known what direction to go. She might not have been able to completely ensure success, but that had never stopped her attempts. From the moment when, as a foal, she had seen Princess Celestia raising the sun during the Summer Sun Celebration, Twilight had known what her calling had been:


She had bent all her focus toward that: Reading; Studying; Practicing. All of that, at first, had been on her own, for she had been considered far too young to attend any practical school of magic at the time.

That had not deterred her at all.

But she’d never realized just how much she’d managed achieving because of the support structure she’d always taken for granted, an epiphany that she’d only just now been gifted with, and one which was making her feel very small and ungrateful.

First, there were her parents. They had always been there for her—and still were, for that matter—a silent presence that Twilight had always presumed. Fresh tears welled up in her eyes as she realized just how important a part they had played in her life. And yet, had she truly ever told them that? Told them how just knowing they were there, ready to stand with her no matter what, whenever she needed them, had been so powerful? That that awareness had allowed Twilight to face anything on all four hooves?

Then there was her brother, Shining Armor. Her big brother, and her very best—actually, at the time, her only—friend. Her parents may have been the ones to give her four strong hooves to stand on, but her brother had been the one to give her wings with which to soar.

And then there was Princess Celestia, her—albeit, former—teacher. But she’d been more than a mere teacher—far, far more: she’d also been her mentor, and, yes, her friend. In more than a few ways, she had been more a second mother to Twilight than “just” a teacher; she’d learned far more ‘life lessons’ at the hooves of Princess Celestia than anywhere else.

And she could never—would never—forget Spike. Yes, he was her “Number One Assistant”. But he was far more than that: at times her conscience, at times her anchor, and at times her confidant. But no matter what, he’d always been her friend.

She had never truly taken any of them for granted. But she had always, subliminally, counted on their reassuring presence, knowing they were always there if, and when, needed.

Only now…they weren’t.

A lump formed in her throat. Twilight very badly wanted nothing more at this moment than the reassuring presence of her father; wanted nothing more than to feel his strong, vigilant body as she pressed against him, feeling his chin resting atop her head as he sheltered, protected, and comforted her.

Spike stopped wriggling. He softly whined as he squirmed about to look at her. Twilight paused in her stroking and Spike shifted about, lifting up a bit and resting paws against her chest as he gently licked the tears from her chin. Tremulously smiling, she gave the endearing dog a hug. No, he wasn’t her Spike, but he was comforting all the same.

She needed that comfort at the moment. Quite badly, in fact.

When they had made plans earlier this afternoon, Twilight had not really thought about the—not‑so‑little, as it was turning out—fact that she would be staying, and sleeping, all alone. She had not done that ever; Spike, at least, had always been nearby, usually within earshot.

It had been an uncomfortable atmosphere after Wiz Kid and Velvet Sky had rendered their disclosures. They had felt as if they had failed Twilight, and both of them had very good ideas what that failure was likely to mean for their friend’s future. Applejack and Pinkie Pie had fared no better and, in some ways, had coped even worse, for they had no real contributions to offer other than moral support…which was actually worth a great deal to her, to be honest.

Matters had then shifted to the more practical ones of mundane logistics. For instance, where was Twilight intending to stay?

The last two times she had visited here for longer than a day, she either had stayed in Canterlot High’s library or had overnighted at Pinkie Pie’s. But, this time, unless she was very, very lucky, she wasn’t going to be here for “just a day or two”.

Staying in Canterlot High School was, of course, out of the question, as it was closed for the summer, while staying with Pinkie Pie, Applejack, or any of her other friends’ homes for more than a day or two would be problematical at best. It was one thing to have a friend visit for one or two days—say, perhaps over the weekend—and quite another to explain away a lengthier visitation.

Besides, Twilight was not at all comfortable about leaving Spike alone except for brief visits to fill his bowls and go for walkies. From what she had observed during their explorations, the other Twilight doted on her dog; which meant Spike would pine, and possibly sicken, if left alone for long periods. Because of that, she had decided it would be best if she simply stayed here, even though that meant she would be far beyond simple walking distance of her friends.

Speaking of walking distance, there was the not‑so‑simple matter of how her friends would be returning home. Pinkie Pie had been the one to point out there had been two sets of keys on the ring, and, after a bit of exploration outside, had discovered the small, two‑door economy car that also belonged to this Twilight. Much like her furnishings, the vehicle was a spartan, bare‑to‑the‑bones car, yet kept scrupulously neat and meticulously maintained. After a bit of discussion, it was decided that Pinkie Pie would “borrow” said car for the duration. It did Twilight no good, after all, since she had no idea how to drive…even if she did have a license to do so.

So Pinkie Pie drove Velvet Sky and Wiz Kid back to their homes, with Applejack riding shotgun. They had promised to return as soon as they had dropped the two off, but, even with that promise, watching them drive off and leave her alone had been an extremely uncomfortable, unsettling sensation.

True to their word, they had not been gone very long. But when she’d opened the door to their knock, she realized they hadn’t simply gone straight back–and–forth.

“C’mon, Twalaight,” Applejack said as she passed through the door with several paper grocery bags in her arms. “Didja think we were gonna let you starve?” Pinkie Pie grinned as she skipped along behind, several plastic bags dangling from her hands.

They had brought milk, juice, cookies, bread, peanut butter, various jams and marmalades, microwavable oatmeal, herbal teas, and hot cocoa mixes. That came from Applejack’s bounty. Pinkie Pie’s, on the other hand…

Grinning ear to ear, Pinkie Pie started removing items from her bags: three small desk lamps, several battered paperback novels of potentially–dubious genres, an enormous quilt, two pair of pajamas, and a pair of alligator‑shaped slippers.

“Sorry we don’t have more,” Applejack apologized. “T’morrow, though, Pinkie Pah and Ah’ll stop by mah place and pick up a coupl’a chairs and stuff. Help make this a bit more homey‑like.”

Before they had left for the night, they had stocked her larder and helped shift some furniture about to give her more open space in the living room. Applejack showed her how to use the telephone, and also gave her a slip of paper with the names and phone numbers of her friends, reminding her that Rarity and Rainbow Dash were away on vacation or summer camp and could not be reached at those numbers until they returned. Pinkie Pie removed the car keys from the keyring, handing it back to Twilight since it held both the mobile lab van keys as well as her door key. They hadn’t, as yet, determined what the remaining keys were for. Pinkie Pie also handed back Twilight’s ID card, otherwise she would be locked out of the building when she left to take Spike on his walks.

Both seemed reluctant to leave. Twilight felt just as loathe, but finally gave them each a hug before sending them on their way, profusely thanking them once again for their thoughtfulness and generosity.

She had had a meal of peanut–butter–and–grape–jam with a big glass of milk, then had fed Spike before taking him out for a final walk. Thankfully, Pinkie Pie had also explained what “walking a dog” entailed, so she was prepared for the certain eventualities that had occurred.

But now it was late at night, and there wasn’t anything to distract her from the crushing sense of loneliness that was pressing down on her like a smothering concrete blanket.

A harsh, rasping buzz had her squeal and jump, her motion startling Spike, who slid off her lap and onto the floor. “Shhhh!” she hushed, holding a finger to her lips as she’d seen her friends do—mostly to Pinkie Pie—to quiet Spike, frightened as he gave a sharp bark. Twilight shivered, recalling the sinister gleam to this world’s Sunset Shimmer’s eyes as she had threatened to have “her” dog taken away if he was a disturbance again.

Standing up, she looked around, puzzled and confused. Just what had made that sound? It seemed to have come from over near the front door, so she slowly started heading that way, carefully examining things.

When it buzzed a second time, she just flinched, surprised again. This time, though, she made out the source of the coarse sound: a palm‑sized square of brushed stainless steel attached by four screws to the wall alongside the door, the left side perforated by a pattern of small holes while the right side had two vertically‑placed pushbuttons, one larger than the other.

She was bending over and scrutinizing the curious object when it buzzed again. This time she did squeal, jerking back and almost landing on her rump. “Just what is this thing, Spike?” she muttered, approaching the noisy fixture. Reaching out, she prodded the larger of the two buttons. It made a buzz, too, just a lighter, gentler version of what she had been hearing.

“Huh,” she muttered again. “That’s weird.” It had not seemed to do anything, and she simply could not deduce its purpose. “Let’s try this one,” she said to herself, suiting action to word as she then depressed the smaller of the two. Doing so simply had the plate make staticky sounds. “This world has some really str‑aange things, Spike,” Twilight muttered.

The only reason she did not jump and squeal when there came a tap at the door was that it was so soft and light she did not think, at first, it was her door being knocked upon. Straightening up from her useless investigation of that pointless device, she quizzically gazed at the door. It was only because Spike had trotted over there that Twilight realized that, yes indeed, it had been her door after all.

Opening the door a crack, nervous about just who might be wishing admittance, she was astonished to discover…


Fluttershy cutely squeaked in surprise, not having seen the door cracked open. “Ummm…Hi?” she timidly said. “I…I do hope I’m not interrupting anything? Or being a bother?”

Twilight opened the door wide and motioned for her to enter. Spike took one look at Fluttershy and started frisking about, tail wagging as he gave little leaps. “Oh my!” she enthused. “What a cute little doggy!”

Not wanting to draw any attention—unwanted or otherwise—from anyone, Twilight quickly ushered her friend inside then quickly closed the door. Fluttershy was already crouched down and giving Spike the tummy‑rub of his life. “Who’s a good little boy? You are! Yes you are! Yes you are!”

“Fluttershy, ah…what are you doing here? Not that I mind!” she hastily added, seeing her face fall. “I…I’m just surprised is all. I wasn’t expecting anyone.”

“I’m sorry I couldn’t be here earlier,” she apologized, her voice so soft Twilight was having a difficult time hearing her. “I didn’t find out about things until a couple of hours ago,” she explained. “And the bus only runs once an hour this time of night. Pinkie Pie said you were staying here, mostly to help keep Spike company so he didn’t get lonely,” and she gazed up at Twilight with eyes of guileless veneration. “So I thought you might like some company, too.”

Only now did Twilight notice the rolled‑up sleeping bag that Fluttershy had carried in with her. “If…if you don’t mind, that it,” she timidly whispered, ducking her head so that her hair fell across her face, as Twilight’s silence only increased her timorousness. “I…I can always go home if you do.”

She started shrinking in on herself, as Twilight remained silent. “I…I’m sorry. I guess I shou—”

Twilight simply dropped to her knees alongside her friend, reaching out and grasping Fluttershy in an embrace so tight it made her squeak. Burying her head against her startled friend’s shoulder, Twilight started quietly sobbing, holding on to her for dear life.

Chapter 11

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Chapter Eleven


Sunset Shimmer slowly roused, feeling extremely wretched as she did. She did not remember coming down with a virus, but the last time she had felt this drained and miserable, she had come down with a case of influenza.


She started stretching, but arms and legs went in unexpected directions.


She started panicking for a moment, but then long dormant instincts and feelings roused. It had been years since she’d woken up as a unicorn instead of a human, and limbs simply stretched differently in that form.

Sunset Shimmer sharply gasped, consciousness breaching all the way up in moments from the torpid depths she had just been deeply submerged. Rolling onto her barrel, legs tucked under her, she groggily blinked the dregs of lethargy from her eyes. This time it was difficult to remain calm as she felt that unaccustomed weakness roll over her in dizzying waves.

Wha…what’s happening? she woozily thought. Where am I?

Within a few moments, her vision stopped swimming. Looking about the room she was in, Sunset Shimmer felt completely lost, having no idea where she was, or even how she had gotten there.

The room itself was cozily dim without being drearily gloomy. Circular in shape and roughly thirty paces in diameter, the walls were smooth, interlocking stones of varying sizes, fitted so close together a needle could not have entered their joins. The overall color scheme was deep blue and indigo with occasional deeper shadings of purple and lighter ones of ultramarine.

She was lying atop a round bed about five paces in diameter and shoulder height in elevation, the frame of highly polished ebony, the mattress—extremely plush and comfortable—resting within that frame and covered in sheets of sheer satin of a black so dark, so intense, it appeared blue.

The only spot of contrasting color was across the room: a rectangular painting, four times as high as it was wide, the frame of lacquered yellowheart, while the painting itself…

…was of Princess Celestia, her pose captured at the exact moment during the Summer Sun Celebration when she was hovering midair, limbs and wings outstretched to their fullest, the sun blazing directly behind her, a look of beatific joy on her face.

She was still trying to make sense of everything when she heard a soft cough at her side, followed by a decidedly masculine voice murmuring, “Feeling better?” Her head whipped around, and she found herself staring right at…

Oh, my.

Sunset Shimmer’s breath caught in her chest; her eyes widened, rounding into saucers. Standing at the side of the bed and gazing alertly down at her was a most unusual pony.

Except, she realized, it was not truly a pony at all.

“You’re…you’re…” she stuttered. His face tightened as golden eyes turned opaque, expecting the typical reaction. “You’re cute.”

Her face abruptly burned, while he…well, his eyes widened in astonishment, furred ears swiveling backwards as his professional composure took quite the unexpected hit.

She had not meant to say that at all. She had meant to say ‘You’re a thestral’…

Because that was exactly what he was.

There was a sharp bark of laughter at her other side. Sunset Shimmer jerked her head around only to see a second one standing there and watching her. This one, a female, openly grinned. “Not exactly the reception we usually get, I’ll admit.”

She was garbed exactly as the other, both wearing an ornamental chest plate emblazoned with an oval escutcheon whose design was of a light blue eye with a vertical‑slit dark blue pupil. Draped over their backs were their duty uniforms: saddlecloths of violet linen bordered in light cornflower and trimmed with a thin edge of blue so light it appeared almost white.

They were not just garbed the same, they looked the same. Unlike all the ponies—earth, unicorn, pegasus, and even alicorn—she was familiar with, these two were virtually identical in coloration, and in mane and tail style.

“Forgive me if I choose not to complain,” the first one drolly replied. His expression immediately returned to consummate professional, his voice shifting back to pure respect as he addressed Sunset Shimmer. “Allow me to introduce ourselves. I’m Crescent, that one over there is Harvest.”

“His sister,” she helpfully piped up.

A look of long‑suffering momentarily flashed across his face before he continued. “We’re two of Princess Luna’s personal guards,” he lightly but unmistakably emphasized. “And these are Her private quarters. Our Lady has ordered us to watch over you.”

Sunset Shimmer gave a little bob of the head in response. She heard what he was saying, true, but she simply could not look away from him. His eyes—well, hers, too; not that she was focusing on her—were this incredible, almost luminescent, gold, whose pupils were indisputably slit, exactly like a feline’s during the day. His coat was a luxurious taupe that just begged to have one’s cheek rubbed against it, while his mane and tail matched each other in coloration—in his case, both being a light blue—with the mane being rather short and rugged‑looking in a decidedly appealing fashion.

She knew what thestrals were, of course. What student of magic didn’t? But, until Princess Luna’s return, they hadn’t been seen in, well, centuries; well, there’d been no confirmed sightings, that is. There had been whispers about the reasons why there had been no confirmations…rather gruesome explanations, actually.

Then again, for Sunset Shimmer’s entire Equestrian life, Princess Luna had also been a legend, along with Nightmare Moon. And as it turned out, neither of them had been at all legendary!

But, although she’d been abstractly aware of Nightmare Moon’s defeat and Princess Luna’s subsequent redemption—Princess Twilight having updated her on recent events—she had never really thought of those events or personages except as historical bits of information. Which was why meeting Princess Luna face‑to‑face had come as quite the shock. But, even having now met Princess Celestia’s younger sister—the Princess of the Night, the co‑ruler of Equestria—Sunset Shimmer hadn’t thought much about what else that might have entailed.

Little things, like, oh, I‑don’t‑know…the return of Princess Luna’s own Royal Guards?

Unlike her older sister, Princess Luna’s royal guards were exclusively thestrals. Or, as they were more informally—and offensively and derogatorily—called, bat‑ponies, for their wings, unlike those of pegasus ponies, indeed resembled those of a bat or dragon: leathery rather than feathered.

Sunset Shimmer had never envisaged, not even in her wildest dreams, seeing an actual thestral. Yet here she was doing just that, and, instead of being panic‑stricken…granted, her heart was thudding like a bass drum, but it certainly was not out of primordial terror!

Suddenly she gasped. “Princess Celestia!” she cried out, lunging upwards. Before she cleared the bed, though, her legs collapsed under her weight, pitching her forward. Helplessly, she watched the hard stone floor rising up to meet her head…

“Easy, now!” Crescent sharply cried, leaping forward and grabbing her before she landed chin‑first on the floor. Gripping her just under the forelegs, he grunted as her weight hit him, but other than that it was like hitting stone, he was that powerfully muscled. Her head wound up just under his chin and against his chest, and even through her terrible fear about Princess Celestia, the first thing that went through her head was My goodness! He even smells nice!

“Easy, now,” he repeated, his voice softer as he helped her back onto the bed. Harvest moved up on her other side and assisted settling her down.

“But Princess Celestia needs me!” she cried out. She started to struggle, to force her way up and out, but stilled as Crescent held up a hoof.

“You’ve been down for the count for an entire day,” he bluntly told her. “Princess Celestia is being taken care of,” he assured her. “You, also, need being taken care of.” There was an odd glow of respect in his lucent eyes. “Our Lady commanded us to watch over, guard, and protect you,” he informed, then his voice turned wheedling, “You don’t want Her disappointed in us, do you?”

Sunset Shimmer gave rapid, tiny shakes of her head. No. No, one of the very few things she would ever wish on anypony was for Nigh—Princess Luna to be upset with them! Still…

“What happened to me? I…I don’t remember.”

Crescent looked at Harvest, who gave a short nod in reply. “The hour is almost nigh, anyway,” she said. “I’ll just let them know she’s awake. Besides, they wanted to be informed of that, anyway.” With that, she gave Sunset Shimmer a deeper bow of the head before exiting the room.

Sunset Shimmer gave Crescent a curious look. “The ‘hour is almost nigh’?” she asked.

The Lunar Guard nodded as he replied. “Your physicians have been examining you once every hour since your collapse.” He gave her a grave look. “Our Lady has been almost as attentive. And, while it might not be my place to say so, it is my belief that if she were not torn between duty to Equestria and love of her Sister, Our Lady would have remained at your bedside.

“Now, as to what has happened to you…,” he trailed off, looking thoughtful. Sunset Shimmer marefully struggled to ignore the thudding heart that merely gazing at his profile was inducing. “My understanding is that you had been, at Our Lady’s request, examining her sister, Princess Celestia, and that in the course of your examination you were struck down in a similar manner as had the Princess of the Sun.”

Pausing for a moment before gazing back down at her, there was no mistaking the respect in those eyes. “Our Lady, once the summoned physicians determined you were no longer in immediate danger of perishing, commanded that you be brought to her personal quarters and cared for. That, I am afraid,” he apologized, “is all that I know.”

She slowly nodded, half‑focused on his words as she concentrated on dredging up memories of what had happened. Then something he had just said struck her. Head jerking up and around, and staring at him with wide, alarmed eyes, “Excuse me,” she said, surprised her voice sounded so calm. “But did you just say ‘immediate danger of perishing’?” Her voice cracked at the final word, but she was not in the least ashamed that it had.

He simply nodded, his expression both grave and deferential.

What in the name of Chaos happened? she anxiously puzzled. I remember everything seeming perfectly normal—well, normal except that Princess Celestia was stone cold unconscious and completely unresponsive, that is! There was no sign of anything physically wrong. There was no sign of any active, or passive, magic. In fact, there hadn’t been any trace of magic about her. I remember thinking how wrong that felt. And then I’d…

She abruptly surged upwards, startling Crescent. “I know what the problem is!” she cried out. “And I think I can fix it!” She struggled to get her hooves under her, but simply could not find the energy to do so. Her legs felt like limp noodles, and the rest of her was not feeling any stronger.

She burst into anxious, frustrated tears. She had to, simply had to, get to Princess Celestia! But her body was refusing to rise to the demands Sunset Shimmer needed from it!

Lifting her head, she gazed at Crescent, tears filling her eyes. “Please! Oh please!” she implored. “You have to help me get to Princess Celestia!”

Before the Lunar Guard had a chance to reply, another voice spoke up, this one from the doorway that had just opened. “I am pleased to see thee awake, Sunset Shimmer,” spoke Princess Luna. And, in fact, even as exhausted as she looked, it was clear she wasn’t simply speaking the empty, formal words as a courtier might. Stepping to one side, she cleared the way for the two extremely senior physicians who trailed in her wake.

“Discourteous as this mayhaps be, imposing upon thee in thy distress, natheless I must press thee, for thy words bring lightness to mine heart. Doth this mean thou knoweth what is wrong with mine sister?”

Sunset Shimmer blinked, the rich, rolling, archaic cadence even stronger than before. Then again, Princess Luna looked even more haggard, exhausted, and stressed than before. Perhaps that was it.

Shifting up so she was resting on her barrel, legs tucked up beneath, she somberly gazed at The Princess of The Night who stood there before her. At each side of Sunset Shimmer was one of the physicians, both wordlessly muttering under their breath as they examined her. “I…I think so, yes, Your Highness,” she haltingly began.

Starting from when she had first commenced examining Princess Celestia, Sunset Shimmer related what she had done, how she had done it, and what she had discovered. “I couldn’t find anything wrong at all, Your Highness,” she admitted. “But something kept nagging at me. I wish I could tell you I’d actually reasoned it out at the end,” she confessed, “but I think it was mostly pure dumb luck.”

The physicians had finished their examinations by now, and were listening every bit as intently as Princess Luna was, and all three of them seemed to highly regard—based upon their expressions, anyway—that honestly.

And—again, based upon their expressions—they seem disinclined to believe dumb luck had anything to do with matters.

“It’s not easy to do,” she continued, “but it’s not hard to do either: I reexamined Princess Celestia using both normal and mage sight.” One of the physicians made a swift sharp inhale, while the other just nodded to himself. “When I did, I noticed something very odd about her cutie mark. With normal sight, it was clearly visible; with mage sight it was, well…” she trailed off, nibbling lower lip as she struggled with describing the experience. “It was as if it wasn’t really there. It looked like a heat mirage: shimmering and indistinct; there and not there.”

She paused then, this last part not all that clearly recollected. “Once I’d noticed that, I remember thinking I really wanted to take a closer look at her cutie mark using my mage powers,” she slowly stated then, frustrated, “That’s all I clearly remember.”

She looked back up then, a look of fierce determination in her eyes. “I might not remember exactly what happened when I did that, but nevertheless I know what happened.” She paused a moment before continuing, that fierce look even harder, her voice grim and determined. “I know why I feel the way I do: my magic; it’s all gone.”

The physicians blinked, quite startled, then hastened over and started poking and prodding again. But Sunset Shimmer had no attention to spare for them, her eyes never leaving Princess Luna’s. “That has to be what’s wrong with Princess Celestia: her magic has been completely drained, too.” Luna’s eyes widened, alarmed and a touch fearful. “There’s something about her cutie mark that’s doing it,” she continued. “Her magic was emptied through that; it’s most likely still being drained through that. I don’t know how, and I don’t know why,” she admitted, “but I think I can help stop that. Or, at the very least, mitigate the effects.”

Then she burst into frustrated tears, punching the mattress with a hoof. “Except I can’t! Because I’ve no magic anymore, either!”

Chapter 12

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Chapter Twelve

Any time Spike had questions, he usually had no trouble finding answers for them. For almost anything he needed help with, he could always ask Twilight: the Number One source of answers for her Number One Assistant. Granted, it was always a bit of a gamble asking her a question. Her answers could quickly become quite involved and rather lengthy—in fact, more often than not, they turned into an impromptu lecture or lesson.

For questions of a more personal or social nature—for instance, what would be the best gift to get somepony as a present—Rarity was always an excellent choice.

(Obviously, when it came time to select a present for her, Spike was on his own)

Between those two, he could usually find an answer suitable for whatever question he might have.

But not this time.

This time he needed to speak to Applejack, because he needed a down-to-Equestria answer, and out of all his friends, she was the most levelheaded and commonsensical of them all.

But even Applejack was having a difficult time helping him out with this particular complication.

“Ah dunno, Spike,” she said, tipping her Stetson back a bit as she gazed down at the parchment she was holding. “Ah can see why they want “Princess Twalaight” there with them…but this ain’t Princess Twalaight.” Shaking the scroll message for emphasis, she continued, “An’ they know it ain’t her, too. Thing is, Ah kin understand every one o’ their reasons fer askin’ this, but Ah think that’s because they don’t have a clue ‘bout whut’s happened here…or whut’s likely t’ happen if we go ahead an’ try this.”

She lowered somber eyes back down to the scroll she was holding.

Chamberlain Spike, the message began. We send to you most grave news. My Sister, Princess Celestia, and now Sunset Shimmer, have been most foully stricken down.

Sunset Shimmer, before her incapacitation, had informed Us as to why Princess Twilight Sparkle was unable to answer Our prior summons. This is distressing on many levels, not the least of which is Our personal friendship and relationship with her.

Without her puissant skills regarding the Arts Magickal

There was a scribble and blotch mark, then the message restarted just below.

Spike, it resumed, I have not as yet started pulling my mane out, but I fear that’s not too far away.

First off, I want to assure you that Sunset Shimmer will survive.

Spike had gasped at that, his heart almost stopping the first time he had read it.

We have no idea what happened, but as she had been examining my sister when she was stricken, I cannot help but believe it is related with what has happened to Celestia.

Secondly, I am extremely worried about our friend, Princess Twilight. Sunset Shimmer had explained that the Crystal Mirror has somehow been broken, and I must tell you that that news made me feel as stricken as has what has happened to my sister. I promise you that I will spare NO effort from my end seeking a means of returning her back to Equestria.

It has been impossible to keep the knowledge that Celestia has been afflicted from becoming public knowledge, as that occurred quite publicly in the middle of Morning Court. Canterlot, so far, has remained calm, but unless they see Celestia back on her throne soon, it will not be long at all until the citizens become restless and worried.

If the knowledge that Equestria has also lost Princess Twilight Sparkle, our newest and well‑beloved princess, I fear what the result might be.

Therefore, for several reasons, I feel that it is imperative that this Twilight Sparkle come to Canterlot. For one, she may have knowledge concerning the Crystal Mirror and the reasons behind its destruction. But, just as important, and for all concerned, simply seeing her presence here in Canterlot will do much to dispel any growing sense of fear and panic that will undoubtedly result if Celestia does not recover by morn.

I realize this Twilight Sparkle is not a citizen of Equestria and, therefore, is not subject to any Royal Summons. Nevertheless, I must most urgently request her presence here at Canterlot Castle.


Princess Luna

Taking a deep breath, Spike reached out and took the scroll back. “First things first,” he said. “And that’s to check with her doctor and see what he says.”

“So how is she doing, Doctor Horse?”

The three of them were standing just outside what used to be the door to Princess Twilight’s bedroom. At the moment that was just a yawning opening, completely devoid of door, hinges, or jambs.

Settling his glasses a bit back on his nose, he thoughtfully pursed his lips. “Well, speaking purely physically, other than the bump on the back of her head and a few very minor muscle aches, she’s doing quite well. Mentally and emotionally, however…” he trailed off, looking off into the distance for a moment or two. “I’m tempted to say she’s suffering from severe shock.”

When he paused, Applejack prompted, “‘Tempted’?”

Nodding, he toyed with the stethoscope around his neck as he marshalled his thoughts. “She seems to have acclimated extremely quickly to what must be, to her, an awkward physiology.” He paused a moment when Spike nodded.

“It took Twilight a little time, and practice, to adjust when she first turned human,” he said. “But mostly I think that was because she had no idea what had happened, or why. She also didn’t have anypony to help explain things to her. I think if she’d had any warning, or had had somepony there to help her work things out, she would have adapted much faster.”

Doctor Horse nodded. “Exactly. But, even without those helpful experiences, Miss Sparkle has acclimated much faster than I would have at first believed was possible. Which isn’t something I’d expect seeing from anypony suffering from severe shock.”

Spike blinked. Applejack softly drawled, “‘Miss Sparkle’?” she carefully repeated.

Nodding again, he explained. “That’s part of what I’d meant when I’d said ‘tempted’ earlier: she’s very quietly, but very firmly,” he stressed, “insisted she be addressed as Miss Sparkle.”

This time he softly sighed. “Please keep in mind that, for all intents, I’m actually what is considered a “G.P.” That is, “General Practitioner”. I deal with bumps and bruises, as it were: minor to major physical trauma, wounds, fractures; those sorts of injuries. What I’m not is either a psychologist or psychiatrist. Having said that, however,” he paused a moment, assuring he had their attention, “I suspect that Miss Sparkle isn’t suffering from shock, but, instead, has retreated into a comfortable, familiar and, above all, safe, mindset.”

He paused a moment for emphasis. “A mindset with which she is intimately familiar, and one that she has, most likely, manufactured over the years.”

He gazed back and forth between the two. “If I were to make a metaphor, in my opinion Miss Sparkle is very much like a diamond: extremely hard and resistant yet, at the same time, quite fragile if struck in the proper direction.” All three reflexively glanced towards the bedroom…or what remained of that.

“Actually,” he softly murmured, his expression that of somepony chasing down a thought, “a much better and more accurate illustration would be that of “Princess Celestia’s Tears1.” Seeing their confusion, his lips softly curved at the corners. “They are created by dripping molten glass droplets into cold water. This forms a tadpole-shaped droplet with a long, thin tail. The bulbous end will withstand heavy blows of a hammer without shattering,” at which point he paused a moment as Spike and Applejack both softly whistled, “but the entire droplet will explosively shatter if the thin tail is even slightly damaged.”

He paused a second time as they both softly whistled again. Then, as one, both of them turned their heads, staring at the blasted doorway before shuddering in unison.

“There is something about her history, her past, which has helped create the Miss Sparkle we have with us today. Which is why I very much suspect her insistence on the formality of address is a form of protection: some sort of emotional shielding as it were. Given that I have no idea what her world is like, or what sort of interactions she’s experienced, I can’t begin to hazard a guess what those triggers might be. But I do feel confident enough to state that, whatever those are, they are deep-seated and well-rooted, and I’d want to tread very carefully around her until we learn what those trigger points are.”

“Ummm,” Applejack began. “Y’all are makin’ it sound as if this “Miss Sparkle” is a bit loco.”

Pursing his lips at the distasteful description, Doctor Horse frowned at Applejack. “‘Loco’?” he repeated. “No. No, I don’t believe she is that far gone. But I do believe that she is, very much, a delicate, fragile creature at heart, with many fears. She seems to have developed formidable armour about and within herself. The outer shields her from the slings and arrows that life hurls her way, while the inner protects and locks away those experiences and feelings that pain and hurt.”

“And that armour,” Spike slowly spoke, reasoning as he did. “That armour is like those “Princess Celestia’s Tears”, isn’t it? Extremely strong, yet incredibly brittle?”

There was a silence that lingered, as each of them pondered what a broken soul might achieve when they had all the power of an alicorn at their disposal.

“You want me to what?”

As quiet and neutral in tone as that sounded the three of them winced, sensing the flat hardness lurking just beneath the surface. Applejack had just finished reading the message scroll to Twilight—the three of them deciding that it would be best received from her—and she struggled very hard to appear calm and composed…something extremely difficult to do when all about her were the sterile, barren remains of a once beautifully-furnished chamber.

Twilight had spent the last few hours semi-sedated with, in addition to pain medications, the magick-dampening potion. And it had, indeed, been as tasty as the mild analgesics were. But, even with her innate energies (Magic, her traitorous mind whispered) inhibited, she could clearly—very clearly, in fact—feel their ebb and flow as they gently yet insistently surged within her. She’d almost decided asking for the strongest of the doses—those concocted to completely prohibit, rather than merely inhibit—but, for all that feeling that within her made her go all over queasy, it was also strangely compelling; almost seductive…and, against all logic and rationale, something inexplicably familiar.

So she’d done exactly as her doctor had suggested: instead of suppressing those enigmatic energies, she’d used the intervening time seeking ways to control them.

But, in order to control them, she needed to, first, regain control of herself. And her usual technique for that, she quickly learned—and which almost ignited another explosive outburst of destruction—was not at all possible in her current form.

After all, Kudan rank notwithstanding, Aikido kata was not designed for ponies!

Even so, Twilight smothered her atypical fury, strangling it at birth as she pondered the matter. She had worked hard to attain her rank, not out of any misguided desire for Neanderthalic athleticism, but instead using that primarily for the centering of mind and body.

For Discipline.

Well, it’s said that Rome wasn’t built in a day, she mentally muttered as she struggled to adapt bipedal routines into quadrupedal ones. Then again, she smugly thought, they didn’t have me organizing the construction!

Poor Nurse Redheart had no idea what was going on. She was not sure if her patient was having a seizure or had been possessed. What she was positive about, however, was that somehow, one way or another, those odd, convoluted and contorsionistic gyrations were having a positive effect on her patient. Yes, there were a lot of muttered, dire oaths and imprecations, along with flashes of true temper. But Nurse Redheart could not mistake seeing that—this time, anyway—those obstacles were a challenge to be met…met, conquered, and celebrated about.

Nurse Redheart hadn’t any real understanding of what had preceded her arrival to Friendship Rainbow Kingdom Castle—then again, simply giving a sideways glance at the scoured–to–bare–walls room was enough to have her feel immense gratitude for that omission—but she was up to speed with everything since then. She knew, for instance, that, regardless of the semblance, this was not Princess Twilight, but, instead, was her doppelgänger…of sorts. The “of sorts” was—as she was slowly beginning to understand, and accept—because this “Twilight” was her own, unique and discrete, entity: a person in her own right…just not one from Equestria.

The trouble, as she was unhappily aware, was that ponies were going to instinctively react to her as if she was their Princess of Friendship. Her gaze travelled about the room, feeling ice course through her veins as she reluctantly surveyed the destruction once again. That, she shuddered for a moment before drawing the mantle of her professionalism about her once more, had been the result of this “Miss Sparkle” being pushed too hard, too fast. She needed time to recover, to get her hooves beneath her, before any more shocks were delivered.

Hearing the soft ‘tocs’ of approaching hooves, Nurse Redheart turned, feeling her stomach plummet as she spotted the funereal expressions on the two ponies and one little dragon headed her way.

Before anypony could reply to Twilight’s question, Spike held up a silencing paw. “Would you excuse us, please?” he requested. There was a moment of silence, then Applejack and Doctor Horse silently nodded before turning about and exiting the room, Applejack giving him a meaningful look as she did. Once it was just the two of them remaining, Spike turned his gaze fully on the obviously uncomfortable alicorn before him.

“Why don’t you like me?”

In a different tone that could have sounded accusatory or challenging. And, indeed, Twilight started bristling in reflexive defense. But she quickly collected herself, recognizing an honest, curious question…one, however, she did not wish to probe for the answer, nor respond with what she had already accepted.

Turning about, facing away from the little lizard—dragon…whatever—Twilight screwed her eyes tightly closed, struggling to retain the control and composure she had only very recently managed achieving. Long seconds turned into a minute…then into minutes. Oh, please, she silently pleaded, Please…just go away. Just go away and leave me alone to mourn!

At least ten full minutes passed in total silence before being finally broken by a choked exhale. Lowering her head, eyes still tightly closed, Twilight murmured, “As a person, I don’t know you well enough to either like or dislike you. I’m sorry if you feel that I dislike you. To be honest,” she paused for a moment, “It’s not so much you, as it is me.”

One ear slanted back as her confession was met with silence; Twilight struggled to determine if the little lizard-thing (Dragon, her unhelpful mind supplied) was even still in the room. Swiveling both back, she was surprised at hearing the low, regular sounds of his breathing, these ears of hers being surprisingly sensitive.

After several more minutes passed, she gusted out a deeper sigh. “Every time I see you, it’s like a punch in the gut.” Thirty seconds later, “You remind me of my Spike,” and at that, her voice cracked.

Very quietly in reply, “Is that a bad thing?”

Although Spike’s voice was quiet and steady, his heart was hammering. There was no way, ever, he could forget the cataclysmic explosion of this Twilight’s fury when Rainbow Dash had—in her own, inimitable fashion—mocked her about mismatched priorities when placing concern over her dog above that of Princess Celestia. And although he did not understand why she had exploded in such a dreadful, terrifying fashion, there was no mistaking she’d done so because her pet was involved.

And now Spike was risking setting her off a second time.

However, he was not doing so out of morbid curiosity. He needed to know. To understand. He could not forget what Doctor Horse had said:

I can’t begin to hazard a guess what those triggers might be. But I do feel confident enough to state that, whatever those are, they are deep-seated and well-rooted, and I’d want to tread very carefully around her until we learn what those trigger points are.

Spike had an uncanny feeling that her pet was obviously one of those “trigger points”. And if he was right…they couldn’t just stick their heads in the sand and pretend nothing was wrong.

“My Spike, my best friend,” Twilight began, her voice so low, so thick and clogged, Spike was struggling to hear her words, “I love him with all my heart. He’s the only person in my entire world that loves me back. That makes me feel safe. Protected. Worthy.”

She turned then, finally facing him, tears streaming down face and muzzle. “He…he trusted me. And I…I’ve betrayed him. He…he’s going to die because of me.”

There was no mistaking his shocked gasp as being anything other than genuine, she numbly realized. But piercing through her heartbreak and loss was both his instant, blazing direct focus on her and his unmistakable command, “Tell me.”

Through her tears, through her broken sobs, Twilight found herself doing just that: explaining how she’d fed Spike that morning, filling his water bowl before leaving to pursue her investigation of the mysterious energies she’d been researching, her voice thick with loathing as she finally accepted her mono-focused pursuit of her thesis and Doctorate had cost her the life of her dearest friend and companion.

“No one is going to drop by to visit, or to check up on me,” she softly weeped. “No one ever does. And I’m fine with that; really I am.” Spike was shocked, stunned to his core, understanding she was utterly sincere about that. “Being trapped here,” she sniffled, throat clogged from tears, “is his death sentence.”

Finally lifting her head, she gazed at Spike with swollen, bloodshot eyes. “Every time I see you,” she worked out past a tight throat, “is a knife in my heart, reminding me of his death.”

Opening and closing his mouth several times, Spike struggled with multiple thoughts and feelings. First and foremost was throttling back a very real desire to publicly denounce and condemn Rainbow Dash for the intense pain she had inflicted on Twilight. Granted, that was 100% pure Dash, but, this time—and like other times in the past—her actions were both unacceptable and inexcusable. Secondly, he had to choke back any of the several platitudes that had immediately sprang to mind. He did not think Twilight would happily accept bromides like “Where there’s life, there’s hope.” Nor, he was just as unhappily certain, would a gentle hug and a murmured, “I feel your loss,” work, either.

Suddenly, however, hope did swell inside him, as if a balloon abruptly inflated.

“I don’t have an answer for you,” he candidly admitted. “But there’s somepony I think does.” Padding his way to the blasted void of a doorway, Spike looked at Applejack. Very quietly, he instructed her, “Go, please, and bring Fluttershy back with you.”

Chapter 13

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Chapter Thirteen

Eyes crossed as she stared at the abruptly slammed door inches in front of her muzzle, Applejack sneezed from the dust shaken loose by that violent impact. Dagnabbit! she grumbled to herself, This is jes’ ridic’lous! “Fluttershy,” she began, only to be cut off by a terror-stricken voice.

“Nopony’s home! Just…just go away!

Tipping her Stetson back a bit, Applejack scowled, deep in thought. Much as she liked Fluttershy, her timidity quite often tried Applejack’s patience. Now, it was not as if Applejack suffered from overweening braggadocio. Far from it! In fact, more often than not, she perfectly understood the reasons behind her friend’s timorousness. And, fact of the matter, she completely sympathized—emphasized, as well—with Fluttershy this time.

Not that even her closest friends were aware of them, but Applejack had fears of her own. However, the difference between Fluttershy and herself, as Applejack saw it, was that, while she refused to be ruled by her fears, Fluttershy allowed herself to be controlled and dictated by hers.


Applejack softly snorted. On those—admitted rare—instances when Fluttershy rose to the occasion…

Momentarily grinning in recollection, Applejack then heaved a heartfelt sigh. Spike had not sounded as if it would be nice should Fluttershy wish to “just drop by for a chat”. Nibbling her lip as she pondered matters, clear as clear could be was the understanding that, one way or another, by whatever means it took, Fluttershy would be returning with Applejack back to Friendship Rainbow Kingdom Castle.

Go, please, and bring Fluttershy back with you.

Yup. No dang way t’ have misunderstood thet!

About to knock once again, Applejack’s ears swiveled forwards. Huh, she thought, Ah ain’t never heard it this quiet afore! And, indeed, she hadn’t. Now, it was not that Fluttershy’s cottage was always loud and noisy—although, at times, it could be—but normally it was, well…lively. Cheeping and chirping. Grunts and growls. Clucks, hoots, quacks, and honks. Just as it had been only a minute ago.

But, not now.

“Fluttershy,” Applejack began, choosing a method she really was not at all good at: wheedling. “Ah know yer scared. Heck, Ah’m scared, too. Ah ain’t never gonna fergit whut happened. Ah still gots th’ willies,” she confessed. “And th’ last thing Ah ever want t’ do is go back there with thet other Twalaight there.”

“But Ah’m goin’ t’ go back.” Applejack waited a few heartbeats. “Cuz Spike needs me t’ come back. He needs mah help.” She waited a few more heartbeats.

“And he really needs yer help, Fluttershy.”

Shifting her weight from one rear hoof to the other, Applejack waited about ten seconds. “Ah guess whut it all comes down t’ is whether or not ye trust Spike.” Swiveled ears began hearing soft rustles, low peeps, and quiet chirps from inside. Waiting about a minute this time, Applejack cautiously nudged open the door then peered around the slitted opening. Her heart almost stopped when her eyes were immediately met by a pair of glowing eyes staring right back.

Eyes with a rather large bear attached.

Once she was sure her heart hadn’t stopped, Applejack noisily cleared her throat. “Ah,” she began, “It’s Harry, yep?”

A deep rumble was the only response. Swallowing, Applejack gamely forged ahead. “Harry, Ah need t’ speak t’ Fluttershy. It’s important. Really important. Honest,” she mildly but firmly emphasized that last word.

She was just beginning to figure out possible ways of bypassing Harry—and survive doing so; no mean feat there—when, with a grunt, he dropped down to all fours before moving back and away from the door. “Thankee kindly thar, Harry,” she courteously said, then took several steps inside before coming to a complete, dead stop.

At the far end of the cottage, trembling—if not outright cowering—was Fluttershy, absolutely surrounded with and huddled by every creature in her cottage save for Harry, who was, even now, returning to Fluttershy.

Well, almost every creature. For what had frozen Applejack dead in her tracks was the small white rabbit blocking the path between the front door and Fluttershy.

Angel Bunny.

Lowering her head, Applejack gravely looked at Angel before speaking, her voice serious and sober. “Ah hafta, Angel. Ah wish Ah didn’t, but Ah do. And she does, too. Y’all know Spike wouldn’t summon Fluttershy if it wasn’t absolut’ly necessary.” Pausing a moment, Applejack added, “And iffen it’s scary fer me and fer Fluttershy, jes’ imagine how scared Spike must be feelin’. Up thar all by his lonesome with thet Twalaight.”

There was a sharp, loud, and shocked gasp as Fluttershy’s head snapped up. “S-s-s-Spike…Spike went back? He’s with her, all by himself?”

It did not require the Element of Honesty for Applejack to clarify, “Doc Horse and Nurse Redheart are there w’ him,” she plainly stated.

Before she could continue, Fluttershy shakily rose to her hooves, coat twitching as she blurted, “But Twilight asked them to stay! And told all of us to run!” Applejack nodded in agreement as Fluttershy continued, “Spike included! S-s-s-So why did he go back?”

“Well Fluttershy, ye see, thar was this letter from Princess Luna…”

“Go get something to drink,” Twilight almost growled. “And don’t tell me you don’t need one.”

After almost an hour of nonstop speaking, there was no way Spike would, or could, disagree with that. How under Celestia’s Sun, Twilight—well, his Twilight, that is—managed to lecture or monologue for hours on end without a break completely eluded understanding. “Thank you,” he replied, utterly sincere.

Padding to the doorway, he softly murmured to somepony just out of sight before returning to Twilight, who was—as she had been this last hour—reclined on her barrel atop her cushions. “So…while we wait for your refreshment to arrive,” she announced, “Let me recap what you’ve—well, we, I suppose,” somehow smothering a derisive, disbelieving snort, “have covered so far.”

Spike just stood there, jaw partially dropped, as Twilight—well, Miss Sparkle—began repeating—verbatim, no less!—everything Spike had explained to her. When his astonishment shifted to grins, though, she abruptly halted; when her expression turned flat and humorless, Spike felt his belly start turning to lead. “Finding something amusing?”

“Amusing? No,” he replied, startling her with his steady tone. “Fascinating? Yes. After all,” he grinned, “you’re the only individual I’ve met—so far, at least—other than me, who has eidetic-echoic memory. At least, that’s what Twilight calls it.”

Twilight’s eyes narrowed, then, seconds later, she rattled off what had to be some type of mathematical formulae, one that lasted over a minute and, in addition, whose terminology was utterly foreign to him. Those narrowed eyes rounded as, the instant Twilight had finished, Spike —just as rapidly, and without a single pause or error—repeated it back.

Spike’s eyes then rounded as Twilight unstintingly commended, “That’s pretty amazing, especially since you didn’t understand that at all.”

“Thank you,” he replied, then sheepishly smiled, “And, you’re right. I didn’t understand.” His face fell for a moment, “I usually don’t understand most of what Twilight dictates, either,” he admitted. “I often wish I did,” he dolefully sighed. “It’s really hard to help her when I don’t have a clue about the things she treasures the most: knowledge, research, experimentation…you know?”

Since, in addition to the other history the little liz…dragon had lectured about, had been just how this Twilight had become friends with him…Really, she silently snorted, “Magically” hatched him from an egg? That “just happened” to be laying about? As some sort of final acceptance exam into an exclusive School for Gifted Unicorns?

Actually, the proper title was Princess Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns, and just the thought of Celestia feigning interest in sponsoring gifted students was enough to infuriate her all over again. Prin-cess Celestia…Prin-ciple Celestia…A snake by any other name would backstab and betray just the same.

The same viper for which, by their very words, they wanted Twilight’s assistance:

Therefore, for several reasons, I feel that it is imperative that this Twilight Sparkle come to Canterlot. For one, she may have knowledge concerning the Crystal Mirror and the reasons behind its destruction. But, just as important, and for all concerned, simply seeing her presence here in Canterlot will do much to dispel any growing sense of fear and panic that will undoubtedly result if Celestia does not recover by morn.

A very secretive smile played at the corners of her lips. So…they don’t even want me there for myself. Not for my skills, my knowledge, my intellect. Oh, no! All they want from me is “my presence”. They don’t want, or care, about me at all. They just care about what I look like; whom I resemble!

Well, that might look like a smile, but there was absolutely no humor at all driving it. I’ll go, oh yes; I’ll go, for no other reason than to see what, if anything, these pseudo-Luddites know about that mirror portal. But I’ll be damned if I’m going to pretend to be anyone—or anypony, she sneeringly snorted, startling Spike, who had no idea of what was roiling beneath the otherwise calm surface she was displaying, just to make their life easier!

Her machinations were cut short by the arrival of Doctor Horse, who was levitating a tray atop which were two large mugs. Both he and Spike were taken aback at her sharp, angry objection, “Why are you serving us?” Her eyes dangerously glittered as she continued, “You’re a doctor, not a menial. Just whose idea was this?” she demanded.

“Well, mine, actually,” he mildly replied, the mugs now gleaming the same as his horn and tray were. One went to Spike, the other to Twilight, and, before she could retort, he rather firmly chided, “And I’m afraid, youngster, I decide what I wish to do.” Twilight’s cheeks heated, but the twinkle in his eyes belied the sternness in his tone.

The closer they came to the Castle, the slower Fluttershy’s steps became, her anxiety fitfully growing by leaps and bounds. Her determination had begun wavering as they were passing the cow barn on the path towards the southernmost bridge into Ponyville proper, and now that she was in the Uptown District and heading straight toward their destination…

Applejack was giving her high marks nonetheless, for not once had she made a single peep about changing her mind. Yes, yes, she had paused several times along the way, eyes squinched shut as lips moved as she silently mumbled to herself. But, not once had she quaveringly suggested that, perhaps—just perhaps!—she wasn’t really needed? That she could go back home to her cottage, where her forest friends might need more seed? More water?

What Applejack was truly wishing is that she’d dared taking the long way to the Castle of Friendship: head straight due north from Fluttershy’s cottage all the way up past the uptown district, then hang a curved left and coming at the Castle from the back. There were several drawbacks to that, however, first and foremost being the necessity of fording both Sunny River and Rolling River. And they wouldn’t be able to do so unnoticed, since, as nice as the day was, there’d undoubtedly be ponies at the Picnic Gazebo enjoying their lunches and the weather.

Which would completely negate the reason for the circuitous route.

She had already noticed the uneasy undercurrent threading its way through Ponyville as she had headed to Fluttershy’s. She knew no official news had been released from the Castle, but that did not mean a thing. Royal Canterlot Guardsponies flying in, then out…medical personnel dashing there…Castle staff most likely fleeing in terror…

Ayup. Official news at this point would be, not coming late to the party, but arriving after the guests had already left. Seeing Applejack and the increasingly timorous Fluttershy heading back to Friendship Castle would undoubtedly add more fuel to that fire. However, while Applejack could not do a thing about the chickens that had already flown the henhouse, she could at least keep the coop door closed. Gusting a sigh, Applejack accepted that being seen unmistakably sneaking their way there would cause more inflammatory speculation and gossip than simply heading their direct would do.

If only Fluttershy was not looking as if headed to her execution!

Surreptitiously glancing Doctor Horse’s direction as she conversed with Spike, Twilight went back over the—supposedly brief—history lessons he had provided. Starting with the history of the three individual pony tribes—earth, pegasus, and unicorn—that, through their mutual distrust and hostility had destroyed, not just their original lands, but had come perilously close to repeating that with their new homeland, finally concluding with fairly recent events—most notably, just how Friendship Rainbow Kingdom Castle had come into existence.

It had been an extreme struggle simulating mild interest and relaxed composure when all she wanted to do was disdainfully roll eyes and condescendingly snort in derisive commentary. Seriously? Immortal alicorns? Tree of Harmony? Element Bearers? Evil villains focused on world conquest and domination?

I probably should be taking notes, she considered. I could undoubtedly create a highly successful, wildly popular kids’ show out of this claptrap!

Much to her growing dismay, though, was the dawning, stomach-churning realization that everything here seemingly was driven, one way or another, by magic. Well, she amended, anything at all of a mechanical nature. Items that required any sort of power to operate did so utilizing “magic”. Ovens, for instance: it seemed that, although they could use natural energy sources such as wood, oil, or coal, quite often instead used some sort of magical source. And no few of the ones that did use natural sources of energy made use of magic to govern, to regulate, those sources!

Adding scorn and disdain to that increasing consternation was the sinking sensation that, although “magic” was, indeed, also natural energy—after all, wasn’t her Doctorate thesis: Magic: A Natural, Measurable Force?—the natives here had absolutely no concept of the rules by which that operated! As helpful as Doctor Horse had been—and, for that matter, was continuing to be—his explanations of the innate…talents, he called them…she now possessed were pure abracadabra; absolute hokum and hocus-pocus.

Ground and center…visualize…reach out and seek the lines…taste their flavors…become one with the flow…


Not a single theorem, fact, law, proof, or rule. Not even a theory! Just listen to his explanation about earth ponies!

Earth ponies have a special connection to nature, animals, and plants. Though they lack the ability to consciously cast spells like unicorns, or to fly and walk on clouds like Pegasi, their connection to nature makes them just as necessary as, and perhaps more important than, the other pony tribes.

“Special connection” to nature, animals, and plants, huh? Twilight mentally snorted at Doctor Horse’s explanation. I wonder…does that involve dried herbs, a pipe, and matches?

Nothing—absolutely nothing—existed that could not be defined by rules. Even entropy and chaos were defined by rules, by mathematical formulae! Yet these backwater yokels seemed completely oblivious to that fact!

It was so easy-peasy! Couldn’t they see that?

How in the name of Plank and Schrödinger they had managed constructing a functional, operational dimensional portal was simply beyond understanding. Well, she condescendingly reasoned, it is hypothesized that a monkey hitting keys at random on a typewriter keyboard for an infinite amount of time will almost surely type any given text. I suppose that works for ponies as well as monkeys.

Just as disturbing to her was this obscene fascination with friendship! Twilight went to rub throbbing temples, wincing as hard hooves smacked them. The Elements of Harmony? The Magic of Friendship? The ruling monarch of these demesnes—her dimensional counterpart—Princess Twilight Sparkle…Princess of Friendship?

From the way S-s-Spike had been talking as he had given her the dime tour of history, apparently this “Equestria” simply oozed with an overabundance of, and disturbing fascination with, friendship. She might have put that off as the little liz…dragon having been corrupted his entire life being the—Pet? Ward? Dependent? Pupil?—of this “Princess of Friendship", but Doctor Horse was just as indoctrinated, however in a subtler fashion. Speaking of Doctor Horse…

“I’d like another dose of the analgesic, please? My head is killing me.”

“Hmmm,” he muttered. “It’s not quite time for another,” he began. Before Twilight could tell him exactly what she thought of it not being “time for another”, he continued, “But you’re in obvious pain, and have been for almost a half-day. That often burns off doses faster than clinical trials might suggest.” She could hear the sympathetic smile in his voice as he finished, “So, to cut a long trot short: another dose, coming right up.”

Motion out of the corner of an eye caught her attention. Wincing as she injudiciously turned her head, ears swiveled backwards as she spotted two ponies at the door.

Quite familiar ponies at that. Especially since she had not seen any other pony with a Stetson hat. Her eyes hardened, ears partially pinning back, as she recognized these two from earlier today.

The other pony with the first simply froze with a tiny, tremulous “Eeep.”

Pausing just down the corridor from their bedroom destination, Applejack tried comforting Fluttershy who, at the moment, was violently quaking. But, before she could do or say anything at all, she heard Fluttershy softly, so very softly, repeating over and over, “Spike needs me…Spike needs me…Spike needs me…”

Taking several deeps breaths, Fluttershy’s coat shuddered one final time before she opened her eyes and looked at Applejack. “We should go now,” she whispered, “Before I lose my courage and run off.”

“Sugarcube,” Applejack said, her tone one of awe, admiration, and respect, “Y’all never cease t’ amaze me.”

Softly flushing, Fluttershy shyly peeped up at Applejack before taking a final, deep inhale and gusty exhale. And, with that, she started—admittedly slowly, but also quite determinedly—heading down the corridor towards the devastated room just ahead…

…and towards the dangerous creature—one who resembled her close and dear friend to an uncanny degree—who resided inside.

They had no sooner stepped into the scoured doorway then that very dangerous, extremely terrifying creature locked eyes with hers.


“What are you doing here?” Twilight addressed the two. Her tone was mild; neutral and expressionless. She might instead have been asking, “Is that a butterfly?”. But, for all that toneless vocalization, everypony in the room froze.

Well, except for Fluttershy: she started quaking again, in addition to turning into an ice sculpture.

Twilight’s head snapped to the side, staring at Spike as he quite matter-of factly stated, “I asked Fluttershy to come.”

“Why?” For some inexplicable reason, although her voice sounded exactly as it had just seconds ago, everypony—well, everypony except for Fluttershy, that is—relaxed a bit.

“Hold a moment, please?” he replied, and, to everypony’s surprise, after a second or two, Twilight simply nodded.

“Doctor Horse? Applejack?” Spike addressed them in turn. “If you’ll excuse us?” he requested, motioning to the yawning doorway.

Twilight rolled her eyes, seeing Fluttershy’s composure start disintegrating before her very eyes even as she simultaneously categorized the two mares. Applejack: Element Bearer, and Representative of Honesty. Fluttershy: Element Bearer, and Representative of Kindness. Huh. Looks like they both—especially Fluttershy!—could use a healthy dose of bravery!

Then she made the mistake of glancing around the room…and at the wreckage inside.

The wrack and ruin she had created.

It actually took all four of them several seconds to realize Twilight wasn’t simply patiently waiting but, instead, had ceased all movement, her eyes unblinking as pupils contracted to pinpricks. Moments later, her lids tightly closed, her ears slanted back, and her coat started jerkily twitching as she turned white as a sheet.

It’s no wonder they’re afraid! Look at the monster I’ve become! She softly keened in growing distress, started rocking back and forth, as hatred and loathing boiled and bubbled within…as did the energies within her, pounding against the prison of the potions Twilight had imbibed.

What’s happened to me? she mentally wailed. What’s happening to me? I…I’d put this all behind me! Controlled—locked away—emotions! I’d beaten them! Years of training, years of strict discipline: probing and pursuing every little trick, every technique; mastering sensitivity, bridling resentment, suppressing and crushing humiliation…never to be hurt again…Mistress of my own Destiny, my own Fate…

Somehow, some way, this world…this corporal form she inhabited…those energies roiling inside…this magic…was destroying the very fabric of who she was. And, concurrent with that loss, was releasing a demon inside her that she’d thought she’d forever vanquished.

Twilight had been so very successful at her tight, rigid control that, by now, it was so instinctive she had believed it to be ironclad and adamantine. She had long since discarded the scaffolding once the foundations had been firmly set and the structure completed. But now that structure was cracking and splintering, and there was nothing remaining behind to keep it from fracturing complete.

The years started unwinding; Twilight felt herself helplessly begin regressing…

“Shhhh. Shhhh. Don’t be afraid. You’re not alone. It’s OK to cry. Tears are cleansing, so cry if you wish. Don’t be afraid, though. Nopony and nothing is going to hurt you. You’re safe. I promise.”

Slowly, those sounds percolated through to her consciousness. And the more Twilight focused on those mesmerizing murmurs the more she became aware of the here-and-now. There was a warm blanket over her. Someone was gently rocking her. Someone was soothingly crooning to her. Twilight parted tear-glued lids, peering out through gummy lashes…


And that wasn’t a blanket over her, it was Fluttershy’s wing.

Completely calm and composed, her softly gleaming cyan orbs gazed down at Twilight as Fluttershy gently rocked her. “Shhh!” Fluttershy gently soothed. “Just relax. You’ve had a very difficult time today. Medicine helps, but sleep and snuggles help, too. Don’t worry about anything right now. Just close your eyes…that’s it!” she praised, as Twilight surprised herself by closing her eyes without a thought. “Just close your eyes and relax. You’re safe. Nothing and nopony is going to bother you or hurt you. I promise.”

The last conscious thought Twilight had before drifting off to sleep was that she’d never before in her life heard anyone sound so absolutely positive about anything.

Chapter 14

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Chapter Fourteen

Sunset Shimmer’s ears flattened in pure annoyance as she stood at the threshold. Don’t look back, don’t look back, don’t look back.

“I’m sorry, Miss Shimmer. But if you’re going to insist on ignoring your physicians’ orders, then we’ll be going with you.”


Normally, and under most any other circumstances, Sunset Shimmer would have no trouble, no trouble at all, disabusing the notions of such officiousness. Granted, not, ahhh…in the creative, inimitable fashion she had been known for, mind you. Nevertheless, still doing so in a fashion absolutely fascinating to observe.

However, although Crescent’s simple, unvarnished words might be grating and irritating…his tone most certainly was not.

“Crescent,” Sunset Shimmer sighed, marefully ignoring—mostly—the heated flush his voice had ignited, “It’s broad daylight outside. And the Canterlot Library of Magic isn’t, exactly, a hop, trot, and wink away. Nor is it, ummmm…”

“Unoccupied?” Crescent unhelpfully suggested.

This time her ears flattened completely in pure anger as she pivoted about on hooves to face him. “It’s not a laughing matter!” she growled.

Crescent and Harvest exchanged a glance so rapid that Sunset Shimmer was not sure she had actually seen it, before Harvest conceded, “I suppose not. But we are Nocturne: Princess Luna’s personal Guards. Our pride in that makes everything else immaterial.”

Sunset Shimmer felt fatigue and weakness suddenly wash over her; her knees wobbled, then buckled. Before she could even begin collapsing, two strong and very muscled forms were supporting her, pressing against her sides. Now, while this had the salubrious effect of keeping her from muzzle-planting the floor, along with that contact—especially the one on her right side, which, just incidentally, mind you, was the side Crescent was—came an abrupt increase of blood pressure and temperature.

My face has to look like a beet! she fretted.

“You seem to be getting along quite well with my Guards.”

Cyan eyes flying wide open, Sunset Shimmer jerked her head towards the door…the now open door.

Alas, open did not mean unoccupied: standing there, flanked by two familiar-looking senior physicians, was Princess Luna, whose lips twitched just the slightest as their eyes met.

Based upon the thermal intensity of her cheeks, her face was quite likely blending in rather nicely with the crimson stripes of her mane!

“Honestly, Your Highness,” Sunset Shimmer reassured…again. “I’m fine.” Ignoring the low snort from the physicians, she gamely forged on. “Yes, I’m weak. And yes, my magic is still gone. But my mind is still sharp. I can still think, and reason, and research. I might not be the same caliber as Princess Twilight, true, but I’m no slouch, either. I can’t—I just can’t!—lounge around in a sickbed while Princess Celestia is still…is still…”

She could not go on; her throat was so tightened with grief she could not force out words.

Her head jerked up, Sunset Shimmer instantly gazing at The Princess of The Night at hearing her gusty sigh. “Your physicians—and yes, Sunset Shimmer, they are now your physicians, too; you might as well accept that now, and with good graces to boot, for on this matter I will brook no argument—would prefer you to remain on bedrest.” Luna’s right brow lifted a bit as Sunset Shimmer mulishly scowled. “While you profess to have ‘just a flesh wound’.”

Sunset Shimmer flushed again, ears flagging a moment. Gazing directly into Luna’s eyes she avowed, “Your Highness, as much as I might wish to do so, I can’t diminish the seriousness of my condition. I’m ailing, and I know it. But, again—and with all due respect—ailing is not the same as incapacitated. I have to try. I have to. There’s something niggling at the edge of my consciousness, something that feels like it may be the answer.”

Holding up a forehoof to forestall any replies, Sunset Shimmer emphasized, “Please don’t ask me to explain that, because I can’t. It’s just a feeling.”

“This is what We shall do, then,” and it wasn’t just Sunset Shimmer who instantly braced at Princess Luna’s tone. Sunset Shimmer swallowed, licking dry lips as she finally came muzzle-to-muzzle with the power of a Royal Command. “You will have two hours—no more,” and Sunset Shimmer was not about to challenge that! “You will be escorted by two Solari and two Nocturne. You will go direct to the Canterlot Library of Magic, and return directly here afterwards. And should Mine Nocturne discern a need for thy speedier return, thou whilst obey them. Understood?”

Sunset Shimmer’s head nodded so rapidly she resembled a bobble-head doll, never even considering arguing that restriction, and doubly so when Princess Luna’s voice had abruptly shifted, becoming quite archaic with her last injunction.

“We realize that this may be a burden and inconvenience to thee,” Luna continued—and was that a twinkle in those cyan depths?—“but, prithee, do try and tolerate Crescent and Harvest as thy escorts.”

It was the whispering that first started the slow ascent to consciousness. Different voices. Different tones. Some strident, some firm, some placating…and one so soft, so delicate, yet countenancing no argument.

“I know it’s important that Twilight goes to Canterlot,” that gentle voice murmured. “But she needs rest, too!”

Halfway roused, she lightly fidgeted, feeling very torpid yet very, very relaxed. And that was so unlike her. Sleep was her enemy: it robbed her of useful research time, and, worse—much worse—it left her helpless and defenseless. She did not like the necessity of sleep but she had to accept it nonetheless. But if she simply had to sleep, she had also trained herself to instantly wake up.

Which she was not doing this time.

Twilight felt very lethargic, but, oddly enough, also felt very good. Very nice. Wriggling a little, she tried burrowing closer under the blankets.

“Now look what you meanies have done!” that gentle voice scolded. “You’ve gone and woken her!”

Sheltered beneath a wing, Twilight’s eyes popped open as she abruptly surged fully awake in the dark of that concealment. Her head might still be gently throbbing from the lump at the back, but otherwise she felt amazingly refreshed.

“Did you have a nice nap?” It grew a bit brighter as Fluttershy peeped under her wing and smiled at her. “I’m sorry we woke you,” she apologized.

“Actually, Fluttershy,” Twilight frankly and ungrudgingly announced, “I don’t think I’ve slept that well in a very long time. Thank you.”

Carefully maneuvering, Fluttershy rose to her hooves before stretching then refolding her wings, settling them in place, a shy yet pleased expression on her face. “You’re very welcome.”

Rising to her own hooves, Twilight stretched her legs, one at a time, then—much as Fluttershy had done—fully outstretched her wings, giving a huge yawn as she refolded them to her side. She was never aware of doing so, her body simply doing what was, after all, completely natural.

And then froze as she caught sight of the room—and the utter destruction within—once again.


It was just a single word, but it instantly grabbed Twilight’s attention. Her head jerked to the side, as she then found herself gazing right into Fluttershy’s eyes.

“Don’t,” she repeated once again, then, “Come with me. Now,” she firmly repeated, as Twilight started balking. Well, started preparing to balk, that is; before she could begin shaking her head in refusal, Fluttershy’s gentle, timorous voice had altered; grown firmer. Neither strident nor demanding, it was still delicate and demure. Just also, now…firm.

“That’s it. Just like that. Come with me.”

Fluttershy began backing out of the room, her eyes never leaving Twilight’s. And, to her great surprise, Twilight felt herself, once step at a time, following her.

Spike, Applejack, Doctor Horse, and Nurse Redheart were taken aback, startled and stunned, having no idea what Fluttershy was intending, or, for that matter, was doing. They had simply been discussing the pros (the necessity of answering Princess Luna’s grave summons) and cons (the requirement of Twilight getting essential therapeutic and recuperative rest and medication) of waking Twilight, when their negotiations apparently had the decision taken out of their hooves. But nothing they had been discussing had involved Twilight leaving this room; a room which Twilight had incontrovertibly proclaimed she was not vacating. Nor, for that matter, would she be moving anywhere else.

Yet, now Fluttershy was leading Twilight towards the doorway, with the obvious intention of continuing out and into the hallway to who-knew-where?

Spike suddenly snapped his talons, leaping up to his paws before slowly padding to the door, a murmured, “Go left,” to Fluttershy in passing. Racing down the corridor, he stopped at the first servant he found. “Clear the hallways from Twilight’s bedroom to Guestroom C,” he ordered, then continued on his way.

“Follow me,” he demanded of the next two Castle staff, both of them following Spike as he trotted off. Once at the guest room, Spike took a quick visual appraisal. “Remove, for now, this, this, this…,” he instructed, indicating anything looking excessively fragile, delicate, or—as Rainbow Dash would call it—‘Chi-chi frou-frou’. He did not have the room stripped bare, but almost anything that was not purely necessary or functional was to be removed. He did leave some of the artwork and accessories; curtains and rugs as well. “Summon any help you need,” Spike finished as he turned to leave. “But this has to be finished in five minutes.”

Half-a-minute later, he slowed to a stop alongside Fluttershy, who was quietly murmuring to Twilight as they stood together in the hallway just outside the devastated bedroom. Catching Fluttershy’s attention, Spike silently gestured to her, indicating the two of them to follow along.

Why isn’t she terrified? Why isn’t she petrified with fear, with terror? Why isn’t she running away, shrieking in horror and revulsion, from me? From the monster I’ve become?

Twilight could not, simply could not, tear her gaze from Fluttershy’s. Part of that was indisputably magic, of that she was sure. But she was just as positive much, if not most, was simply Fluttershy herself. Her eyes were full of kindness, brimming with sympathy and understanding, compassion and empathy. But, no matter how deeply she delved, Twilight could not discern even the barest hint of pity.

Fluttershy shared with Twilight, not for her.

She was aware of Fluttershy tenderly murmuring to her. Aware, yes, but not truly comprehending any of the words. Gradually, Twilight started relaxing, her self-loathing, her innermost fears almost imperceptibly sublimating. First one step, then another, she began following Fluttershy, who was slowly pacing backwards down the hallway.

It was not until Fluttershy was standing in the doorway of another room that Twilight hesitated, coming to a complete stop. And, as she did, she slowly grew more alert, more aware of her surroundings. Shaking her head, Twilight took a step backwards, then froze once more as Fluttershy, her voice soft, gentle, and kind, coaxed, “It’s OK. Take as much time as you need.” Then she flat-out stunned Twilight by adding, “You don’t have to, you know. Come inside, that is.”

Then why did you bring me here all this way? a detached part of her mind grumbled and complained, as Twilight felt the soporific effects of her nap, and of Fluttershy’s voice, begin wearing off.

Fluttershy simply waited, neither pressuring nor caving. In fact, she finally understood, Fluttershy was waiting until Twilight finally did get her hooves—mental and emotional as well as physical—under her, before proceeding. “You don’t have to,” she repeated. “But you’ll feel better if you do.”

Soft gasps chorused behind her as Twilight’s ears flattened, as her tail angrily whisked. And you think you know what’s better for me, do you? You don’t even know me!

A brief flicker of fear flashed across Fluttershy’s face, a flicker so brief it was more perceived than seen. And then, to Twilight’s utter shock and amazement, Fluttershy took two steps, closing the distance between them until her nose was so close to Twilight’s their muzzle hairs tickled each other’s.

“You hate yourself every time you look around that room,” she so-softly stated. “Not hate what happened; not hate what you did. Yourself. You hate yourself. You can’t possibly start healing, begin regaining composure and control, when you’re living in a room that heart-stabs you so.”

“And what stops me from doing the same, here?” she bitterly responded.

“Honestly?” Fluttershy replied. “Nothing.” Before Twilight could even begin composing a reply, she continued, “But I think the better question to ask would be ‘Why would I want to do the same’? Don’t you?”

Shifting about until facing the room, barrel to barrel with Twilight, Fluttershy encouraged, “Now, why don’t we go get yourself settled in, before you have to leave for Canterlot?”

Sunset Shimmer wanted nothing more than rub an increasingly aching head between her hooves but she did not dare do so. For one thing, her Nocturne guards would be on her like thestrals on durian, thinking she was ailing. For another—and, actually, the most important—reason, she doubted that she could—especially in her weakened condition—disguise that action as anything but her disgust and repugnance with her Solari Guards.

The moment Sergeant Sunbolt and Corporal Lancer had arrived to complete her escort—the other two being Crescent and Harvest—they had spared no effort at conveying their opinions. Regarding Sunset Shimmer: their disdain at the Betrayer; the pony that had hurt, had wounded, their Princess of the Sun so deeply. While regarding Crescent and Harvest: puffed-up, pretentious bat-ponies, pretending to be as skilled, as noble of purpose, as dedicated as the Solari, who had over a thousand year of history and tradition? And who were, not to put too fine a point on it, bat-ponies. Evil creations of Nightmare Moon; the wicked mare of Darkness who, too, had deeply hurt, grievously wounded, their Sun Princess.

In reality, neither Sergeant Sunbolt nor Corporal Lancer had actually said or done anything that pointed. Then again, they did not have to. They must both be frustrated drama actors, Sunset Shimmer mentally groused. They certainly are flamboyant enough!

She was sincerely awed by the restraint Crescent and Harvest were showing. Admittedly, she had next to no experience with thestrals—having only met them this last day—but their composure and demeanor remained cool, calm, and collected, regardless of the insults—thinly veiled or otherwise—hurled their direction. Now, as to those thrown her way? More sensed than seen was a tightness about them during those moments. Oddly enough, Sunset Shimmer realized, was that she was easily dismissing their feeble attempts at provoking her.

Hel-lo, Sunset Shimmer smothered a grin. Nopony can insult, ridicule, or taunt like teenage girls can! And I’ve just spent years on that battlefield!

However, concerning the hostility and disdain being aimed at her Nocturne guards, her anger was smoldering quite nicely. And, adding fuel to that fire, were the attitudes of the ponies they passed on their way to the Canterlot Library of Magic.

Enough is enough, she angrily yet wearily resolved. Coming to a stop, she gustily exhaled.

“Miss Shimmer?” Harvest asked, concern in her voice. “Are you ok?”

“I’m fine, Harvest,” Sunset Shimmer replied, before gusting once again, “I think I just overestimated my strength and resources. Let’s go back, please?”

Sunset Shimmer never heard what was said, but it was patently obvious that Crescent and Harvest had! Rye and barley! Sunset Shimmer shuddered, seeing their expressions. I never—and I mean never!—want them pissed off at me!

“Stop. Now.” Sunset Shimmer growled, fury clear in her voice.

Crescent and Harvest immediately resumed their official, on-duty demeanor while Sunbolt and Lancer, after the first initial shock had worn off, simply gazed at her with a disdainful sneer. Before either of them could dig themselves any deeper…

I never—and I mean never!—want her pissed off at me! Crescent thought, his coat twitching as he and Harvest remained audience to what had to be one of the most painful, most excoriating, tongue-lashings either of them had ever been privileged to witness. Their amusement, however, instantly vanished when Sunset Shimmer revealed the true depths of her anger.

“If either of you, ever again, offer insult, either by word or action, to any thestral, and I wind up hearing about it, I will be meeting you at dawn on the Field of Honor. Am I understood?” she stressed, sealing her vow with a stamp of a forehoof.

She had a moment to realize something felt odd, before her eyes rolled back up into her head as she bonelessly collapsed to the ground.

“Try not t’ look at it,” came the lazy drawl.

Twilight looked up from her—purported—meal, softly frowning at Applejack as she did. Against her express wishes, they were bound and determined to feed her. If her stomach had not been audibly growling for some time she might have continued arguing. But it was virtually impossible to convince nosy busybodies that you weren’t hungry and didn’t have an appetite, when you had to speak overtop your own noisy gastrointestinal tract!

It was, she realized, just as impossible to convince herself that lunch was even edible, when the bulk of it looked like a big bowl of grass clippings!

It was just the five of them at the moment, Applejack, Fluttershy, Spike, and Doctor Horse joining her for a late lunch. Except for Spike—and understandably so—each of them had the same large bowl of compost along with tall, opaque mugs of some sort of beverage. Hers, however, was the only mug with a straw, and, after a few awkward attempts at trying to pick it up between her hooves as Applejack and Fluttershy were doing—Spike using his quite dexterous paws, and Doctor Horse levitating his—and after soaking herself with this last attempt, she testily accepted the inevitable and used the straw with her replacement mug.

Her head jerked back at the first sip, eyes rounding in surprise. Carefully lowering muzzle back down and taking the straw once more between her lips, she took a second, cautious sip, coat twitching as the ambrosial elixir filled her mouth. This time, she more slowly lifted her head, finally noticing the four of them grinning at her. Well, with her rather than at her.

“What…what is this?” she asked, awe in her tone. As one, Spike, Fluttershy, and Doctor Horse looked at the stocky, muscled farmpony with them…who looked both shy yet proud. “It’s apple cider…from mah fam’ly’s orchards.”

Well, that certainly explained the pride in her expression. “It’s really very good,” she commented, taking another deep swallow afterwards. She was not saying so to be polite. Twilight had absolutely no time to waste on such trivialities as tact or inane pleasantries. Beating about the bush was not her forte; she was direct and to the point, wasting no time or tact; instead, bluntly calling a spade a spade.

Applejack was, obviously, not aware of that proclivity, but she sensed the honesty and sincerity nonetheless. “Why, thankee thar, Twa…umm, err…Miss Sparkle. Appreciate thet.”

And, while Twilight was equally unfamiliar with Applejack, the soft blush to her cheeks was clear indication of her pleasure and appreciation of the compliment. Which is why, when Applejack had noticed her reticence to even taste her lunch…

Rather than scowling at Applejack’s “helpful suggestion” of Try not t’ look at it , instead, heaving a long-suffering sigh, Twilight closed her eyes then slowly lowered her muzzle. She had not quite reached the “salad” before the scent enveloped her: rich and complex, a wealth of aromas that had her mouth abruptly watering. And when she took a more deliberate, deeper inhale…

Not as fast as she had after the first sip of cider, Twilight raised her head a second time, eyes wide as she gazed down at the clippings in her bowl. And, make no mistake about it, those weren’t any salad greens she was familiar with! These were not leaf, romaine, or iceberg lettuce, nor arugula, spinach, or radicchio. Instead, mixed together were thin stalks ending in thick heads of grain, along with various, unidentifiable types of grass—well, except for clover; that she recognized!—interspersed with small, colorful flowers. It truly did look like straw mixed with grass clippings!

However, it certainly did not smell that way!

Closing her eyes once again, Twilight never noticed the other four pause their meals just to watch her.

Stopping once the thin hair of her muzzle brushed against the greenery, Twilight took several additional exploratory sniffs, each one richer and more complex in aroma than the one preceding. Swiping her lips with the barest tip of her tongue, Twilight finally lipped up the smallest of bites…

The moment she took that first bite, as her jaws ground down…

Texture: the crunch of a stalk, the delicacy of a flower, the graininess of the heads…

Taste: the earthiness of the grain heads, the vibrancy and lushness of the grasses, the sweet spiciness of the flowers…

It was unlike anything she had ever tasted before...could ever have imagined anything could taste like!

Slowly, very slowly and with great deliberation, Twilight chewed that mouthful, hearing as well as feeling—and tasting!—the heads of wheat, oat, and rye being ground between molars; tasting the wealth and complexity of flavors as the lush, fresh timothy, alfalfa, and clover blended with that of the grains.

Slow, gentle smiles spreading as they watched, the other four were enchanted by Twilight’s reactions to her first taste of good-ol’, down-to-Equestria, Ponyville food.

Light shivers rippled her coat; goosebumps danced up and down her hide. Swallowing that bite, Twilight took another mouthful, a bit larger one this time, and softly moaned in unfeigned delight at the subsequent explosion of combined aroma and flavor. There is no way this should taste this good! It’s just grass clipping and compost for goodness sakes! But, for one of the very few times in her life, Twilight chose not to pursue logic but to simply accept perceived reality.

After several bites, she finally parted lips just enough to locate the straw. Taking a sip, the cider blending with the mouthful already there…

Nopony missed the intense shudder that visibly rippled her coat at that.

However, everypony blinked when Twilight focused on them and asked, “Is this normal? Is it drugged? Am I drugged? Has this, or have I, been magicked?”

Before Spike, Applejack, or Doctor Horse could begin thinking of a response to that, Fluttershy burst into giggles. When Twilight grinned back, they suddenly realized that Twilight had been simply joking.

Well, perhaps mostly joking, as Twilight muttered under her breath, obviously not expecting to be overheard, “I can’t believe anything that looks like this can possibly smell or taste this good.”

The five ate in companionable silence, and not until lunch was finished did Spike finally speak up. “Fluttershy? If you’ll stay for a bit, please?” he requested, with the implied dismissal of the other two. Once Applejack and Doctor Horse had left, Spike shifted on his pillow (they had all been seated on cushions on the floor for lunch) and faced the two.

“I’ve already covered Equestrian History,” he began, “but there is other history and knowledge you should know about…”

Twilight patiently—for her, that is—sat through the little…well, little dragon’s…lesson, as he explained about the past relationship between Sunset Shimmer and Princess Celestia—neither of their personalities and histories surprising Twilight at all; as he explained about their Books and how they worked; as he described the Crystal Mirror, and how that worked…or used to work.

As he described how Sunset Shimmer had butted heads with Princess Celestia—how she had chosen self-exile rather than supinely surrender her obvious true place and Destiny in Equestria: deposing Princess Celestia and taking the throne as her own—Twilight felt neither surprise nor sympathy for either. Nor did she feel either emotion as Spike continued, telling her how Sunset Shimmer had returned, had stolen Princess Twilight’s Crown—the one holding the Element of Magic—and taken it back with her to her land of exile, to use for undoubtedly nefarious purposes.

It was obvious to her that Fluttershy was familiar with this fairy tale, and it was a struggle to keep from sighing as the little dragon continued. Twilight—this world’s Twilight, that is—had followed Sunset Shimmer through the Mirror, determined to retrieve her Crown and thus negate whatever fell plans Sunset Shimmer may have schemed.

The little dragon continued the tale with how she had met, and become friends with, Applejack, Fluttershy, Pinkie Pie, Rarity, and Rainbow Dash there. Beings that were perfect, identical-save-for-being-bipedal, analogues of their equivalents here.

Fluttershy, I hope you’ll forgive me one day!

“Fluttershy?” he addressed her. “There’s a very good reason that Twi— Miss Sparkle exploded the way she did earlier today.” Instantly, the temperature of the room changed, neither of them having any idea, nor any expectation, of the direction the conversation had just turned. “You see, in her world…”

Chapter 15

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Chapter Fifteen

“Even we need to sleep now and then.”

Sunset Shimmer felt her face ignite, a sensation with which she was rapidly—if uncomfortably—becoming familiar. It certainly was not helping at all seeing the twinkle in the eyes of her new Nocturne, Eclipse and Umbra, right after Sunset Shimmer had impulsively blurted out her question, asking where was Crescent upon first seeing the new Night Guard.

Like Crescent and Harvest, Eclipse and Umbra were brother and sister. And including Crescent and Harvest, the four were virtually identical: slit-pupiled, luminescent gold eyes; furry-tipped ears; luxurious taupe coat; rugged-looking mane and forelock; stiff tails resembling elongated whisk brooms. However, unlike Crescent and Harvest, Eclipse and Umbra’s manes and tails were two-toned blue—a lighter cerulean and a darker navy—while their wings were the same navy.

Oh, and fangs. Let’s not forget the fangs.

They seem to share the same sense of humor, too: dubious and sketchy.

Thankfully, she could pretend to be preoccupied as her physicians—again!—finished their examinations. Well, and be frustrated, annoyed and irritated, as well…except there was no “pretending” there! Sunset Shimmer was exasperated and angry at all the time and energy they were wasting on her, when they should be utterly focused on Princess Celestia.

A point that she had made more than a few times, and with increasing vehemence with each succession.

Not that any of that seemed to matter at all.

Then again…

Sunset Shimmer winced, trying not to recall this last visitation by Princess Luna. Without raising her voice at all, Her Most Royal Highness, The Princess of the Night, The Moon Princess, had reduced Sunset Shimmer to a foal as she scolded her with surgical precision. The fact that Sunset Shimmer didn’t have a leg to stand on hadn’t made that any easier to swallow, either.

Oddly enough, though, for some reason Sunset Shimmer hadn’t felt like an unruly, disobedient filly being called on the carpet, instead feeling more as if the focus of indulgent, albeit frustrated, exasperation.

Either way, it was an experience she had no desire at all to repeat!

“I really hate to point this out, Miss Shimmer, but—”

Wincing as she shakily began rising, Sunset Shimmer sharply bit, “It’s Sunset Shimmer, not Miss Shimmer. Miss Shimmer makes me feel like a schoolmarm.” Pausing a moment, assuring legs were not going to buckle beneath her, she sighed. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have snapped at you like that. Please, forgive me?”

As the room tipped and spun about her, she started silently weeping. Shakily wobbling as she struggled to control her descent back down, she felt two warm presences at either side, assisting her back into bed. The tears started falling faster, accompanied now by the sounds of tragic weeping.

Eclipse and Umbra glanced at each other for a moment, their expressions deeply concerned. “Mi—Sunset Shimmer, how may we help?” Eclipse asked

“What, if anything, can we do?” Umbra added.

Vision swimming, Sunset Shimmer stared at the blurry Nocturne. “Take me to Princess Celestia.”

Getting up off the bed without subsequently falling had been no trivial task. Getting out the door and into the hallway and then wobbling her way to Princess Celestia’s rooms had been an epic adventure. But all of that had been foals’ play compared to once she’d actually reached that door…and the two Solari standing guard there.

Polite and courteous as they appeared, there was no mistaking the condescension, disdain, and sneers lurking just beneath the professional veneer they were oh-so-carefully displaying. This was not interservice rivalry, either. This hostility was personal, directed not just toward the two Nocturne but at Sunset Shimmer as well.

“We appreciate your desire to visit with Our Lady of the Sun. However, her Physicians, as well as her sister,” the one Solari unctuously explained—Sunset Shimmer sensing the tightness her Nocturne felt at the patent slur to their Lady of the Night—“have left strict orders that Princess Celestia is not to be disturbed by just anypony.”

“Especially those wishing to do so simply out of morbid curiosity and fascination,” the other smugly added.

Sunset Shimmer’s vision reddened as fury boiled inside her. It was not even from their infantile attempts to insult her.

But they were keeping her from Princess Celestia’s bedside.

Her magicks started rising inside, synchronized with her rage. She had a moment of startled shock at that sensation…

Before dropping to the ground as if a limp sack of potatoes.

“Fluttershy? There’s a very good reason that Twi— Miss Sparkle exploded the way she did earlier today. You see, in her world…”

Give Fluttershy her just due, but confrontation was not her strong suit, and it did not matter whether such was directed at her or she was audience to strife between other ponies. Confrontations made her tense up, feel weak and trembly inside, twisting her guts up with anxiety.

The very last thing Fluttershy wanted to be reminded of was the horror of this morning, when she was trapped with cataclysm raging about her. Actually…no; that was not the very last thing.

The very last thing was being reminded of that when the source of that catastrophe was sitting mere hooflengths away from her!

“Wait. What? What did you just say, Spike?” Something the little dragon had just said had cut right through her inchoate fear and struck her heart.

“Miss Sparkle has a pet in her world: a small dog that is very precious to her,” Spike repeated, his focus entirely directed on Fluttershy. “His name is Spike,” pausing a moment for Fluttershy’s surprise at that name to ease, “and he is very, very special to her.”

At that, Fluttershy directed an expression of such deep respect, admiration, and love toward Twilight that it penetrated even her armor.

An expression that quickly changed as Spike continued.

“Miss Sparkle wasn’t planning to be gone very long. Just the morning, and possibly the afternoon. She’d fed Spike breakfast; made sure his water bowl was topped off.” Taking a—hopefully—surreptitious breath, Spike continued. “He’s alone, Fluttershy. All alone. And his friend, Miss Sparkle, is trapped here. Nopony is going to just drop by and check up on Miss Sparkle because…”

Twilight felt crushing despair and inarticulate loss filling her; threatening to consume her; turn her worthless self into ash and clinkers. That odd, inner energy she’d only started sensing since her arrival here began seething and churning. Why is Spike tearing my heart and soul open again?


Twilight rocked back, eyes flying wide open and staring with shock and surprise at Fluttershy’s vehement—and absolutely unfeigned or unrehearsed—outburst.

Fluttershy rose to her hooves in a startling burst of speed, her eyes instantly filling, swimming with tears. “Spike!” shrilling in distress, “We have to send Twilight back! Right now! Her Spike needs her!”

Spike then said one of the hardest things he had ever spoken: his voice soft yet direct, “Fluttershy…we can’t send her home. The Crystal Mirror, the Portal between Worlds? It’s broken.”

“Then we have to fix it. Right now!”

“Nopony knows how to fix it, Fluttershy,” he gently broke that bad news. “It might take weeks to figure that out. Assuming it’s even possible to fix at all.”

Her despair and loss grew increasingly bleak as Twilight felt the tight control of emotions fracturing. Eyes filling with tears, incipient weeping mere seconds away…

Twilight rocked back this time as Fluttershy keened a distress even deeper, more profound, than Twilight’s own. Collapsing to the ground, Fluttershy began sobbing, thick tears soaking her cheeks and muzzle as they steadily dripped.

Fury started bubbling once more inside her, enraged at Spike for reopening her wounds at the same time as upsetting Fluttershy. What was the point of this?

Sharply gasping, Fluttershy’s head suddenly jerked up. “Spike!” she blurted; then, the moment she had his full attention…

“Twilight. She…She’s back in the same place as before. Right?” Spike nodded, then Fluttershy continued, words almost tripping over each other in her haste, “So if she’s in that world, the same one as before, then we—well, the other we, that is,” she fluttered a forehoof in expressive frustration, “We’re there, too? With her?”

“They always have been before,” he confirmed and assured.

Twilight bleated in startled shock as Fluttershy hurled herself at her, enthusiastically tackling. “It’s OK! It’s OK! It’s OK! Everything’s going to be OK!” she caroled her excited relief, Twilight feeling as if being strangled in her embrace.

“What’s OK?” Twilight managed to gargle out past those vice grip forelegs.

Gazing deeply into Twilight’s eyes, hers still swimming with tears, but these now happy, joyous ones, Fluttershy solemnly assured, “I’m there, too. The other me, that is. There’s a Fluttershy there, and she is justlikeme,” she carefully stressed. “And we,” tapping the center of her chest for emphasis, “will move Sun and Moon to find your Spike. Cross my heart and hope to fly, stick a cupcake in my eye,” she somberly vowed.

Twilight had no idea why Fluttershy covered an eye with her forehoof, nor did she have any idea why anyone would make a serious promise with such childish verse. Neither mattered at the moment as she burst out into sobs, because, for the first time since she’d arrived here, Twilight felt the first glimmer of hope.

Not for herself; never for herself.

But for Spike.


“Ah! You’re awake, I see.”

“Being poked and prodded does that, yes,” Sunset Shimmer grumped, rubbing eyes with a forehoof.

Softly chuckling, the source of said poke-and-prod quietly asked, “And how are you feeling?”

“Grumpy. A tad hungry. Thirsty, too. And frustrated and angry as Tartarus,” she thoughtfully added. “And where am I?” she asked, suddenly realizing this wasn’t Princess Luna’s private bedchamber.

Lifting up her head, Sunset Shimmer focused on the voice at her side, and, in doing so, immediately recognized two things: one, based on his (apparent) age and (definite) professional demeanor, this pony was also a senior physician, and, two…

“Princess Celestia!” she blurted, then, horrified, clapped hooves over her mouth. For, yes indeed, just behind him was her beloved teacher and mentor, cozily settled atop a very comfortable bed, blankets snugly tucked around her and up under her chin.

Unfortunately, she was not sleeping.

“How is she, Doctor?” Sunset Shimmer softly murmured, not wishing to disturb Princess Celestia and finding it difficult to work words past her suddenly tight throat. “And—not that I’m complaining, mind you—but why am I here?”

“Well, since you seem so determined, come Tartarus or high water, to be at Her side, it was our unanimous decision to, well, head you off at the pass and simply move you here.” His eyes twinkled at Sunset Shimmer’s sudden bright blush, then, growing serious, he addressed her first question.

“Her condition has remained the same,” he explained. “Thanks to your earlier observation,” this time his eyes showed deep respect, “we’ve kept close watch on her internal energies and magick as well as the more typical physiological vitals. It seems as if those internal stores have been utterly depleted and drained, and are continuing to be.”

Rubbing the bridge of his muzzle, suddenly looking wearied beyond belief, he paused a moment before continuing. “Although usually only seen in overextended Mages, being completely drained of magicks has been seen in all three Tribes. Unfortunately,” he deeply sighed, lines of grief and sorrow creasing his face, “for Earth and Pegasus ponies, that is almost always either mortal or fatal; in fact, recovery for them has been more anecdotal than documented.”

An icy chill swept over Sunset Shimmer as his words rolled over her.

“For unicorns, however, due to our unique natures—as we internally generate as much as externally absorb magickal energies—complete draining, while dangerous and often fatal, usually is survivable, as immediately after such a depletion we instantly begin ‘recharging our batteries’, as it were.”

Intently gazing directly at her, “Princess Celestia, however, is not.” And, as Sunset Shimmer felt her throat closing up preparatory to keening, he added, “And neither are you, young lady. And neither are you.”

With him gazing so intently at her there was no way at all she could miss his flabbergasted expression when she softly murmured, “But…but I think mine is recharging. It…it just doesn’t stay.”

Temporarily relocated to the adjacent room and now surrounded by six physicians of various rank and specialty, Sunset Shimmer struggled for composure as all sorts of ‘devices arcane’—her private, personal description of all the test leads, equipment, and devices that were either attached to, or focused on, her. Once everything was verified, and up and running…

It was brutally difficult to do the one thing she absolutely needed to do: not think about magic. At all. Not about magic in general nor specifically about her own, personal store.

In some ways that was not at all difficult to do. She had spent years, after all, without any magic, to the point that having her internal stores recharged once she had followed Princess Twilight through the Mirror had felt strange and disquieting. In fact, unless she actually focused on it, Sunset Shimmer was not at all aware of the complete absence of magic, as that state of affairs was actually more comfortable, more familiar, to her. Speaking of which…

Sunset Shimmer had an instant to think, Oops! before dropping unconscious again, having injudiciously sensed a tiny pool of internal magic and reached for it.

“Are we there yet?” Twilight miserably asked…again.

Spike was not about to roll eyes at the twentieth time she had asked that, not when she was miserably hunched up in a tight ball at the very front of the chariot flying them both to Canterlot. She had taken one look at the conveyance, and a second at the distant—very distant, and very high—spires and turrets barely visible, and had turned white as milk.

“No,” she had flatly declared. “No no no no no!”

Understandably so, Twilight was not about to try flying there, wings notwithstanding. And, while taking the Friendship Express train would undoubtedly feel more familiar—and stable, and secure, and safer—it would also be much slower…and considerably more public. Spike quickly reassured Twilight that dropping the Friendship Express as a transport option had nothing at all to do with the happenings of earlier that morning, and everything to do with Princess Twilight Sparkle’s popularity and high visibility. Walking was obviously out, and for similar reasons. And so the options were slowly reduced to just two feasible ones: hot air balloon and chariot.

Twilight had immediately nixed the balloon option, so Spike had fired off a scroll to Princess Luna requesting chariot transportation for Twilight Sparkle and himself.

Unfortunately, Spike had not thought to clarify things, for it was not a ground chariot…

…it was an aerial one.

“There’s no back to this…this…this deathtrap!” she had hissed after circling the conveyance several times. “There’s no seats, or seat belts! There’s nothing to keep me from just rolling right back and off!”

Circling it once more, “And for the love of…it’s gold, Spike! Solid gold! Do you realize just how much gold masses? Why, its density is 19.3 grams per cubic centimeter! I’m surprised it’s not collapsing under its own mass! Gold is very soft, you know. Unless, of course, it’s been alloyed.”

She kept muttering as she circled, while, quite some time ago, the Solari Guardsponies—Pegasi, of course—had started looking rather quizzically at her. Not that she had noticed, as her full attention was on this disaster-in-the-making. However, speaking of which…

“And is that solid gold, too?” she gestured to the—yes, solid gold—barding of the two Solari Guardsponies standing there between the rails of the chariot. “Well, that makes perfect sense,” she snipped. “Let’s just double the weight of our organic engines, why don’t we? Won’t that be fun?”

Carefully ushering her to the side, Spike softly murmured, “Take a deep breath, Miss Sparkle. That’s it. Now another.” Giving her a minute to regain her composure, Spike gradually realized the true depth of her fears.

“I promise you it’s safe. Twilight and I have ridden this, and ones like this, quite a few times.”

Fluffing out her wings, Twilight snarked, “I’m sure falling was a terrible worry for her.”

A curl of smoke wisped from his nostrils as his vexation spiked. “Well, I don’t have wings. And for most of her life, neither did Twilight.”


“Yeah,” he replied, at the same time silently coaxing her to follow along. “Twilight wasn’t born an alicorn. She was born a unicorn.”

“A unicorn? Like Doctor Horse and Rarity?”

Spike almost stumbled at that, blinking in surprise. She’d never been introduced to Rarity, so how did she know her name, and the fact that she was a unicorn?

“Yes. Just like them,” he confirmed, leading her up and into the chariot. He was still explaining things as the chariot finally took off, and up into the clouds.

It was very quiet, and very dark. Wavering shadows were deep and thick, cast by the flickering illumination of two small, mostly shuttered table lanterns. The huge French doors to the balcony were closed; the windows were shuttered, heavy drapes drawn closed against the coming chill of evening.

It was so quiet that the sound of breathing coming from the bed sounded jarring, out of place for all that it was so soft and light.

So quiet that the caught, choked breath echoed like the angry stomp of a hoof against cobbles.

“Tia,” came the whisper from the deeper shadow standing alongside the bed. “It’s me: ‘Lil’ Sis’.”

There was silence for several seconds.

“Everything is going to be all right,” she whispered. “Just…just rest, OK?” Try as hard as she might, Luna simply could not keep her voice from catching and cracking.

“Don’t worry about anything,” she assured. Her horn softly glowed, as did the top edge of the sheet as she gently drew it further up Celestia’s still form. Using the tip of her horn, she tenderly tucked it more snugly about her. “I admit it’s been a while,” she weakly chuckled, straining to sound cheerful, “but I haven’t forgotten how to raise or lower your sun. Granted, it’s a lot more cumbersome than my poor little moon,” and again she brokenly chuckled, “but it is only one sun. It’s not like raising the moon and then decorating the entire heavenly vault.”

She closed her eyes tightly, as if that could dam the rising tide of tears behind the lids.

“I’ve canceled most of your appointments for the next few days,” she continued…once she was sure she could. “You really need to start taking some personal time off, Tia,” she weakly laughed. “I was quite shocked at just how much you tackle each day. I mean, really!” she gently scolded. “It’s not as if Equestria is going to fall apart if you take a day off now and then!”

It really would not, either, Luna knew. But she also acknowledged there being a big difference between Celestia taking a scheduled vacation day versus being struck down and completely incapacitated. Worse, she was also well aware of the consternation and alarm that had boiled up just during the last twelve hours. Equestria might not fall apart, she fretted, but being shaken to its core was quite another matter entirely.

Not that she would ever let any sign of that show in her voice or expression!

“The…The doctors…they say right now you just need rest. OK? So, please don’t worry,” she tried keeping her voice from sounding as if she were pleading, yet knew she’d failed before she even opened her mouth. Leaning down, she brushed her muzzle along her sister’s, trying not to wince at how chill she felt.

“I finally got to meet Sunset Shimmer,” she said, once she was certain she had her voice under control. It was hard; very hard. She simply was not used to seeing her big sister like this! Celestia had always been the strong one, the one that bore up under whatever trials, conflicts, and even battles had come their way.

Oh, not that Luna, herself, was weak, because she most certainly wasn’t. In fact, in an absolute sense, Luna was the stronger of the two. But while hers was tactical, sharply focused on the immediacy, Celestia’s was strategic in nature, looking at the long-term, overall picture. But never before had Luna seen her Tia like this. Never!

“I can see what you must have seen in her. I have to tell you, Tia, I’m impressed with her. She…she…” Luna stumbled to a halt. She fell apart into a sobbing heap at seeing you so stricken? She has also been stricken the same as you upon examining you? She’s furious at being kept from you, because of our fear for her? She feels responsible for what happened to our Princess of Friendship, Twilight Sparkle?

“She loves you, Tia,” Luna finally said. “She is in deep grief, seeing you afflicted.” There was a pause, then, her voice cracking, “As am I, my sister. As am I.” A moment later, her voice now sounding—even if a bit forced—brighter, “Oh Tia! You should have seen Our courtiers and nobles when I stood on your balcony and lowered your Sun! They looked all atwitter!”

For the next half-hour, Luna just nattered away, struggling to keep voice and tone cheerful and encouraging even as her insides were knotted up and twisted with heartache.

Celestia never moved or responded in any way at all. Except for Luna sensing the almost imperceptible rise-and-fall of her chest, it felt very much as if she were holding a wake rather than holding vigil at a sickbed.

“Yes? Who is it?” her voice rasped, in response to the gentle knock at the door.

“It’s Sunset Shimmer, Your Highness.”


Peeking her head around the door after parting it just enough to peer around. “I hate to disturb you, Your Highness…” There was a pause as Sunset Shimmer choked back tears again, “But Twilight Sparkle has just arrived.”

Chapter 16

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Chapter Sixteen

Spike’s head was already aching and throbbing, and by the expressions on everypony’s faces, so were theirs. In fact, quite likely the only pony in the room not suffering borderline migraines was Twilight.

Then again, as she was the source of most of those excruciating headaches…

The moment their chariot came to a stop and Twilight was positive solid ground was beneath the wheels, she had scrambled out of the back and, well…

Spike had heard of ponies kissing the ground after a flight, but he had never actually seen it.

Needless to say, Twilight’s behavior—then, and now—had drawn, and was continuing to draw, awkward stares and curious looks. It had started with their landing and subsequent debarkation, then immediately followed by Twilight’s aggressive, borderline hostile demands to be addressed as Miss Sparkle. Her rigid posture, stern expression, and flashing eyes were so unlike their Princess of Friendship that anypony glancing her way immediately knew Something…Was…Up. Canterlot being Canterlot—and particularly the Royal Palace being the Royal Palace—schemes and machinations were bread-and-butter to the residents…especially for the courtiers and nobility.

Within minutes, half the reason—and the more important objective, truth be told—behind requesting Twilight Sparkle’s presence in Canterlot was rendered moot. Although Spike could not see them, he knew beyond doubt that shadowy figures were busy slinking off, either reporting what they had observed to their betters or employers, or to begin plotting amongst themselves.

And when Spike had attempted to coach Twilight, wheedling her into at least trying to be a convincing Princess Twilight Sparkle, her face had grown tighter as eyes glittered harder. “The summons,” she’d sharply clipped through clenched jaws, “said, and I quote: ‘simply seeing her presence here in Canterlot will do much to dispel any growing sense of fear and panic’. Well, I’m here. I’ve fulfilled my assignment.”

Had things been different, had the situation not been so tense and hectic—had Twilight not been battling the residual near-terror from the chariot flight—she might have been more flexible.


As it was, between the adrenaline still coursing through her and her instinctive retreat behind formalities and professionalism, the very last thing Twilight could possibly be considered was ‘flexible’.

Worse, in their own way, were her ears and tail. Over her lifetime, Twilight had learned, out of sheer, desperate survival, how to school her expressions—both facial and body—into revealing only what she chose to reveal. Behind that façade of cold, clinical detachment, however, frequently lurked a host of seething emotions and weaknesses. However, no one ever knew that because Twilight never allowed that to be seen. Unfortunately for her—and for everypony else—pony ears and tails spoke a very distinct language all their own.

Ears in particular were quite expressive. Were they turned out to the side? One, or both, gently swiveling back and forth? Turned back but not pinned? Turned back and pinned? Rapidly swiveling?

How about the tail? Was that raised, or flagged? Clamped down? Rapidly swishing?

Utterly convinced her innermost thoughts—and fears—were safely hidden, locked away deep inside her, Twilight had no idea her ears and tail were clearly revealing her true feelings. Worse, not just revealing them, but loudly broadcasting them for the entire world to see.

“Your Highness: Princess Twilight Sparkle and her chamberlain, Spike the Dragon.”

Outrage boiled up inside her at that address, halted—but not calmed—from erupting free by the gentle touch of a taloned paw against her flank and by the sheer presence of the pony to whom she’d just been introduced.

Her mind busily hummed, instantly analyzing and cataloguing. Alicorn? Check. Title: Highness? Check. Obviously not Celestia. This, then, had to be Princess Luna; Twilight silently snorted before wobbling down into her best approximation of a curtsy, even more awkward having no idea or concept how a quadruped greeted Royalty.

She heard barely-audible murmurs, ending with an “Ah!” of understanding. “Please rise, Miss Sparkle, and warm welcome to you. Welcome to Equestria, and please accept Our thanks for your quick response to Our summons.”

Wobbling her way erect, Twilight met Princess Luna’s gaze. “Thank you, Your Highness, for the warm welcome and reception.”

Spike’s jaw just about hit the floor, for the first time ever hearing such cultured, suave speech from her.

“Would you, please, of Our courtesy, speak with Sunset Shimmer? It is Our hope that, between the two of you, perhaps will be found the solution to my sister’s grave illness,” and for a moment Luna’s controlled demeanor cracked, as did her voice, “as well as her own. Likewise, perchance uncover the explanation behind, and cause of, your and Princess Twilight’s mutual translocations and the destruction of the Crystal Mirror.”

How nice that Celestia comes first and Sunset Shimmer second, while I’m just a distant third! And I’d rather poke my eye with a stick than speak to Sunset Shimmer!

Deeply bowing her head—not wishing to look like a gangly dolt by attempting another curtsy—Twilight smoothly replied, “It would, indeed, be my pleasure.” Although how pleased you’ll be is anyone’s guess!

It was an interesting group traveling through the corridors in the Royal Wing. In the middle were Princess Luna, Twilight Sparkle, and Spike. Surrounding them like an outer core were six senior physicians, easily identifiable by their lab coats, stethoscopes and other paraphernalia specific to their particular specialties. And as the mantle were a bevy of Royal Guardsponies: half Solari, half Nocturne.

By now, everypony in that select group were aware that this was not Princess Twilight Sparkle, the Princess of Friendship, no matter how she appeared or whom she resembled. Now, who, exactly, she was

Nopony, absolutely nopony, could mistake how detached Twilight appeared. Her motions were mechanical, pared of any unnecessary motion or movement. Her expression was prim, almost prudish, looking as if she had just bitten into a sour persimmon.

Nopony had a clue what was actually percolating behind those distant violet eyes. In some ways that was a good thing, and in others…

Twilight kept reaching up to push nonexistent glasses up her nose; a motion which, by this point of her life, was frequently more instinctive than necessary. However, what was simplicity itself when one was an upright biped with flexible, manipulative digits was something else entirely when one was a quadruped possessing rigid hooves. Twilight kept stumbling, her steps faltering each time she went to push her glasses up with her fingers, as her foreleg would respond to that automatic reflex.

Bumbling like a drunk because of that was not helping her state of mind at all: instead of being a familiar, soothing gesture, it was now an aggravating, embarrassing one. And she couldn’t even retreat behind the familiarity of professional association with fellow scientists—not peers, mind you; Twilight didn’t have anyone equal to her in abilities, qualifications, or background—for simply listening to them as they ambled along had her rolling eyes in disdainful disgust.

Not one true scientist amongst themselves, she mentally condemned. Just listen to them prattle on! It’s like they know what will happen if they do X, Y, and Z, but have no idea about the how and why. “If you put an egg into boiling water for five minutes, it results in a hard-boiled egg!” Knowing that isn’t science: it’s an illiterate, inerudite recipe for goodness sakes! Now, understanding that the proteins in the albumen and yolk coagulate starting at a temperature of—

Abruptly snapping back into the here and now as the gaggle came to a stop outside a door, Twilight scrutinized the two Guards flanking this entrance and contrasting them to the duo at the adjacent door. The two here she catalogued as retainers—subordinate and servile—of Princess Luna, attaining that conclusion based upon virtually identical ones she’d seen attendant to her not minutes ago. Therefore, it stood to good reason—good scientific analysis and deduction—that the other two must be Princess Celestia’s personal Guards. One only needed to contrast their armor—well, barding, to be accurate—and uniforms to deduce that!

Nodding at her Guards warding the entrance, Princess Luna solemnly announced, “Sunset Shimmer is awake, and anxious to meet you, Twilight.” Although totally understandable that the Moon Princess—especially under the stress and fatigue she was laboring under—would, even after having been requested otherwise, reflexively call her “Twilight” instead of the ‘required’ “Miss Sparkle”…

Although Twilight was smugly positive she’d clamped down—as usual—on emotions as her wishes were, once again, ignored and trampled underfoot—underhoof?—unbeknownst to her, her true feelings were loudly shouted out as her ears tightly pinned back and her tail rapidly swished. Fortunately for her—very fortunately for her, as a matter of fact, considering the very short, almost nonexistent fuze of a highly-stressed temper—Luna’s attention was focused on the now-open doorway and so missed seeing Twilight’s anger blatantly directed at her.

Unfortunately for her, everypony else clearly saw the scornful fury directed at Princess Luna…including the Nocturne on duty.

“And no sooner did I overlap both normal sight with Mage sight and then focused on Princess Celestia’s cutie mark, something instantly drained all the magic within me and I passed out cold.”

Had no one told her that this was Sunset Shimmer, Twilight would still have instantly identified her, pony-form notwithstanding. It was the hair and eyes, she understood. Well, mane and eyes…and tail. Actually…the colors weren’t quite identical: Sunset Shimmer, her human nemesis, had a wealth of red and yellow, the same as this Sunset Shimmer had, except her pony analogue’s were more intense—a vivid crimson, a brilliant yellow—when compared to the subdued bright amaranth and light apple green with which she was more familiar.

It was just enough of a difference that Twilight could accept this Sunset Shimmer as an individual in her own right, and so Twilight became—albeit slowly—relaxed in her presence. It also helped that Sunset Shimmer, out of everypony else, understood true scientific methodology, having been educated in the same world as Twilight. Still…

“‘Cutie mark’?” Twilight inquired. “What’s a cutie mark?” What is wrong with these people…err…ponies? she mentally grumbled, for, except for Spike and Princess Luna, everyone else looked at her with stunned eyes, dropped jaws, shocked inhales, or a combination of those.

“See this? This mark on my flank?” Sunset Shimmer gently answered, lightly touching her sun-in-glory with the tip of her horn. “That’s a cutie mark. My cutie mark, to be precise. I wasn’t born with it,” she explained, “Nopony is. We get our cutie marks when we finally discover a unique characteristic that sets us apart from other ponies.”

Well, so much for that hope! Twilight mentally sighed, instantly relegating Sunset Shimmer to the ranks of the unwashed masses. Seriously? What claptrap!

Once again, Twilight felt safe behind the impeccable, impregnable armor of her control…and, once again, her ears and tail—the natural body language of ponies—shouted out her true feelings. Already confused as to how anypony, least of all Twilight Sparkle, could be ignorant about cutie marks, now they were offended at her clear, sneering disdain towards Sunset Shimmer. Before anypony could rebuke Twilight for her gross and offensive lapse of manners—and, quite likely, inadvertently trigger a second cataclysm—the annoyed and frustrated alicorn glanced back at her own flank…

What the—?

Twilight’s reaction was priceless, and the perfect antidote to a potentially dangerous situation, as her emotional control remained quite ragged and frayed. First, she froze in place upon spotting the five, small white sparkles surrounding the larger, pink, six-pointed sparkle decorating her flank. Seconds later, she blinked; then blinked again as her eyes slowly widened. Shifting her gaze to her other flank, then back again…before slowly turning in circles as she sought to “get closer”, resembling a puppy trying to sneak up on their unsuspecting tail.

It was so endearing, in fact, that their animosity simply drained away…save for the Nocturne, remembering Twilight’s slight to their Liege, their Lady of the Night.

I have one, too?

Twilight stared at the cutie mark adorning her flanks, something she had not been aware of possessing at all. She had noticed all the others had them—well, except for the Royal Guards she had seen, as croupiere covered their flanks—but had assumed—apparently mistakenly—they were simply some sort of body decoration. Butt tattoos, as it were.

What in the world?

Coming to a stop, she continued fiercely focusing on hers, dimly perceiving with senses she was utterly unfamiliar with—having acquired them just this morning when she’d been yanked from her world and thrust into this one—that there was more to that mark than met the simple eye.

Head jerking back a bit as eyes rapidly blinked several times, Twilight was startled at detecting…something. It’s like I can suddenly perceive infrared and ultraviolet. Except it’s not those electromagnetic particle waveforms. It’s something else.

Haltingly at first, Twilight—without knowing how, what, or why—began shifting her vision back and forth, alternating between the normalcy of the sense she’d been borne with and the disquieting yet intriguing new one she’d just discovered.

Using that same vision, Twilight slowly examined every other cutie mark she could see. Most of them were mild to moderate in ‘brightness’, save for two:

Princess Luna’s blazed; Twilight instinctively—although unnecessarily—squinting against that intensity…

…while Sunset Shimmer’s, well, shimmered. Twilight sensed the capacity for great power, but the actual specific energy of that capacity was somehow greatly diminished.

And then she looked at hers again…

It’s OK, Twilight. Just relax. It’s just the three of us. Just Spike and me. Just relax: slow, deep inhale; hold a moment; slow, steady exhale. That’s it. Just like that. Slow in-and-out as you ground and center. Let me help you do that.

The words muzzily percolated through the heavy miasma choking and encumbering her mind and thoughts. That fog, unfortunately, was something Twilight was dismally, despairingly familiar with. Although she had not suffered dissociation in just over a year now, it had still hovered in the background, just waiting for the opportunity to strike.

She felt a tremendous flare of panic for, concurrent with that was the swirling, roiling energy within her that she now understood was magic. The same energy she had been researching in her world and now filled her in this one…raw and untamed, and, far worse, uncontrolled.

Feeling the very same as it had just this morning, when she had turned into a raging monster…

…Raw and untamed…powerful…seductive…enticing. Fascinating and beguiling.

as you ground and center. Let me help you do that.

Those words somehow percolated through to her conscious. They were irritating, and, worse, patronizing and condescending. So that voice just assumed Twilight was too dim to know how to do that?

Twilight desperately grabbed onto those affronts like a drowning woman to a life ring, for they helped push back the murkiness of her mind and drag it back to the present. “I do know how to ground and center, you know,” she scornfully retorted, and, suiting action to words, surrendered to the very familiar and well-practiced breathing and mental exercises.

Sunset Shimmer just watched, as did Spike, everypony else having been shooed out by her; an action that took more bravery than she’d ever thought she’d possessed, as that had meant shooing Princess Luna as well. However, much to her surprise—and relief!—Her Highness simply nodded, softly smiling at Sunset Shimmer before taking the lead in said “shooing”. It had been a bad moment there when Twilight’s eyes had ceased blinking, as pupils fully dilated then pinpointed, and all the more so once she’d seen Spike’s reaction to that!

“I’m sorry. About today.”

Twilight slowly turned, facing Sunset Shimmer as she spoke.

“Wow,” the brilliantly colored unicorn softly gusted as she sat upright on her barrel, “You look so much like Twilight! It’s amazing!” Grinning, she added, “I’m still not used to seeing everyo—everypony like this. Especially me. It’s been years,” she melancholily sighed, her gaze looking distant for several heartbeats before crookedly smiling as she looked at Twilight again. “This must be difficult for you. I remember how I felt when I first came to your world.”

“Excuse me?” Twilight clipped, looking and sounding coolly—nay, coldly—reserved and aloof…the same way as she dealt with her RA, Sunset Shimmer.

Gingerly moving, Sunset Shimmer very slowly worked her way off the bed and onto her hooves. “I was born, and grew up, in Equestria. This is my natural form,” she explained. “But for the last several years I’ve been living in your world. I never even knew it existed, and I certainly had no idea what form I would become there. The plain fact is,” she admitted, trembling a little as she remained fully upright, muscles still weak, “all I really knew was that the Crystal Mirror was a Portal to somewhere, and that if I walked through it, I would exit into that ‘somewhere’.”

“You…You travelled through to an entirely different world, having absolutely no idea where that was, what it was like, and what you’d become there?” Twilight simply could not believe what she had just been told. Yes; yes, Twilight was a firm believer in scientific research and experimentalism. But that? That was more reckless daredevilism than research! Suddenly she focused on Sunset Shimmer’s expression as the unicorn abruptly flushed an intense, shamed crimson. Lifting a brow in silent inquiry, Twilight was shocked at the forthcoming explanation.

Hanging her head, Sunset Shimmer softly replied, “I was once Princess Celestia’s prized pupil. Her personal student and protégé.” Twilight’s ears flattened at that, then swiveled forwards in stunned shock as Sunset Shimmer continued. “I grew to hate her,” her voice quivered. “She kept me from attaining my true power; forced me to move slower; required me to socialize, make friends.”

Jaw dropping, Twilight stood there open-mouthed, stunned and frozen. Well, externally frozen, for her insides abruptly blazed in fury, churned with passionate ferocity, remembering how Principle Celestia had robbed her of half-a-year of studies, and, in addition, had almost completely ruined her chances of attending accelerated courses at Everfree University. Remembering, as well, Celestia’s asinine and infuriating thinly-veiled-as-suggestion, insistence that Twilight socialize and make friends.

“I’d finally had enough. I knew—not guessed, not hoped, not dreamed, but knew—I was destined for greater things.” Lifting her head, Sunset Shimmer gazed at Twilight, who was surprised at seeing thick tears pooling in those cyan orbs. “I was destined to rule Equestria as her Queen. And if that meant conquering Equestria, and deposing Princess Celestia in the process, then so be it.

“And so I passed through the Crystal Mirror, not caring where it led, so long as it separated me from the millstone around my neck; so long as I now had the total freedom to work towards claiming my Destiny.”

There was a long pause as Twilight struggled to parse all of that. “So…what happened?” she finally asked.

“I wound up in your world,” Sunset Shimmer replied. “No longer a unicorn. No longer even a pony. Instead, a weak, defenseless, bipedal creature. And, very much to my shock and dismay, discovering your world was absolutely devoid of any and all magicks.”

“But, it isn’t,” Twilight softly disagreed. “Devoid of magic, that is. I’ve been studying it. Measuring it.”

Cheeks blushing again, Sunset Shimmer softly coughed in embarrassment. “That would be because of me,” she shamefacedly admitted.

“Excuse me?” Twilight retorted.

“Well, you see…

Wincing as she bashed her muzzle with a forehoof, having just tried rubbing the bridge of her nose, Twilight struggled with conflicting emotions. First and foremost were sheer disbelief and sneering disdain. Magical crowns? Raging she-demon? Mystical Sirens bent on narcissistic world domination? Seriously? Oh, and let’s not overlook the integrally-interspersed emphasis on friendship. And should a person be ever-so-oblivious to discerning that, let’s clobber them over the head with The Magic of Friendship! Twilight shuddered in unfeigned disgust, hearing the curlicues and calligraphy in that phrase.

However, she could not simply dismiss all of that. For one, that certainly explained why, only recently, those particular and peculiar energy sources had become detectable. In fact, Professor Harmony had approached her; had suggested she investigate and research those recently-detected energies—that magic—as the topic of her Doctorate thesis. For another, unless Sunset Shimmer had invested a great deal of time creating this…story…out of whole cloth, it held together just too well. There were no jarring discontinuities, no conflicts or contradictions. There had been no pause in recitation.

And as icing on that cake, Twilight had kept a surreptitious sideway gaze on Spike, who had during that entire narration seemed neither surprised nor confused; in fact, several times nodding, as if he’d “been there; seen that”. Which, according to Sunset Shimmer’s monologue, Spike had been there.

“Again, I’m sorry. About this morning. And…and, well, everything.”

Jerked back to the present, Twilight sharply gazed at Sunset Shimmer. “Sorry about, what, exactly?”

“About using a sleep spell on you, for one.”

Although curious about what else there was—“for one” definitely indicating more to follow—Twilight was, quite understandably so, focused on the current one. “You…You used magic on me?” she blurted, both outraged and disturbed.

“I had to,” the flamboyantly colored unicorn tremulously admitted. “I didn’t know it was you at the time; I’d thought it was Princess Twilight. But, even had I’d known it was you, I still would have done it.”

Having no idea her ears were now swiveled backwards and pinned flat to her skull, Twilight flatly asked, “Why?” and was quite stunned at the answer. Well, more than simply stunned, as it turned out.

“Because you were acting very strange: confused, disoriented, and panicked. And you’d already winked once, and I was terrified you’d do so again. And that would have been the end of you!” she choked at the finish.


“Winked, yes. Teleported.”

Slowly blinking, Twilight responded, her voice sounding funny even to herself. “But I don’t ‘teleport’. Because I can’t.” Her heart slowly plummeted as both Sunset Shimmer and Spike slowly nodded in contradiction

Sunset Shimmer softly smiled in commiserative camaraderie. “You can, and have, teleported. And you can do a great deal more, as well.” And as Twilight stood there, frozen in growing horror, Sunset Shimmer added, her eyes warm and bright, “And, if you’d like, I’d be very honored to teach, instruct, and guide you, not just with teleporting, but with all the abilities your magic grants you.”

Chapter 17

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Chapter Seventeen

Blah, blah blah, natter natter grommish, grommish blah-blah.

The physicians—such as they were—were, once more, assembled in Sunset Shimmer’s sick room, as were two of Princess Luna’s Royal Guard. And, as before, they were blathering nonsense back and forth amongst them. Oh, they were saying actual words—even understandable ones—but as far as Twilight was concerned they might as well have been spouting gibberish.

Sunset Shimmer was back in bed—having ill gracefully submitted to that inevitable and was now looking annoyed—occasionally shooting Twilight a commiserative look. It was obvious to her that Twilight was less than enthralled by the “mumbo-jumbo” all about her. In many ways, Sunset Shimmer understood where Twilight’s frustration was rooted and flowering. If she had not self-exiled herself to a world with absolutely no magic, if she had not been forced to make accommodations due to that dearth, perhaps she would not have been quite so sympathetic. But, she had, and she had, and so understood Twilight’s condescension far more than Twilight would have believed possible. In fact, due to her own unique circumstances, Sunset Shimmer might very well be the only pony in existence—for now, at any rate—who was both classically trained in magic as well as formally educated in science.

I know these are very senior physicians, and quite likely the six most experienced and skilled in all of Equestria. Princess Luna would have spared no effort to find and then summon the very best for her sister. But I have to admit, trying to explain to them what an electrocardiogram is and how that works, or an electroencephalogram and how that works, using only pure human science and technological terminology…

Wincing as she glanced once more Twilight’s direction, I don’t think I could do that, and if I can’t, poor Twilight doesn’t have a chance.

Twilight stopped trying to follow along with the smoke-and-mirrors guesswork of the ‘experts’, and, instead, just plastered a neutral, pseudo-interested expression on her face. It’s utterly pointless; an absolute waste of time attempting to accomplish anything useful with this “magic”, no matter how plentiful and powerful it might be. Oh, I’m sure they can achieve some results with that, she graciously admitted.

Take Doctor Horse, for instance: Twilight respected him, both as a physician and as a person…pony? He knew what he was doing, and he did it well. He was a talented, skilled, and educated physician…but he definitely was not a scientist. He was fully capable of examining a patient and, based upon that assessment, render accurate diagnoses and prescribe useful treatments. For instance, like covering a weeping wound with honey or infusing a tea with willow bark for fever reduction and analgesic. He knew what worked, when to use it, and how to use it.

But he couldn’t explain why it worked or how it worked.

Granted, neither could Twilight, as her majors were focused primarily on physics, mathematics, and quantum mechanics, and not at all anything medically related. But the difference was Twilight knew that, regarding medical issues, there were explanations, and that finding out those details were simply a matter of research.

This…this energy inside me might be useful for parlour tricks, but not for anything serious. With a final, disdainful snort, she dismissed this “magic” malarkey once and for all, relegating it to the dustbin where it belonged, seeking refuge and security in what she knew best and had worked so terribly hard to achieve.

Regrettably, for all concerned, although Twilight had been completely silent with her hyper criticalness and scornful dismissiveness, her pacing about coupled with her expressions had clearly announced her opinions.

“So…Miss Sparkle,” Twilight instantly snapped to attention at that lazy, sneering drawl. Head jerking to the side, she saw the physicians standing together in a group, gazing at her with expressions ranging from annoyance to sheer disgust. “Since we seem to be boring you, suppose you tell us what would work.”

“My pleasure.”

That was not the reaction they had expected.

Pacing back and forth, Twilight’s eyes took on a distant yet very focused look as she tipped her head back a bit, looking upwards as she muttered and murmured to herself. “Depletion layer between N-type and P-type…apply a small forward bias…maximum at the point where the voltage bias is such that the energy level of the p and n conduction bands are the same…”

Within a minute, however, she was growing visibly frustrated, her pacing now more stalking, tail lashing back and forth like an angry feline. Spike suddenly perked, then quickly raced out the door, returning within a minute with a small slate and a length of white chalk. “Here!” he called out, tossing the chalk to Twilight…

Who unthinkingly “grabbed” it, her horn brightly glowing…

…as did the slate moments later, Twilight “taking” it from Spike. Instantly the chalk started stabbing the slate, the white stick rat-tat-tatting as it raced across the surface at blinding speed, leaving formulae after formulae in its powdery wake.

Neat, and very precise, lines of formulae.

It was dead quiet in the room, everypony shocked and stunned by the fierce concentration Twilight was displaying. They could have been holding a riot, however, and Twilight would never have noticed. Any lingering desire of theirs to mock or belittle—granted, with good reason; even Fluttershy’s patience had limits—had long since vanished.

Everypony jerked as the chalk struck the slate like a jackhammer, splintering into powdery fragments as Twilight marked the final punctuation. “There,” she declared. “The answer.”

Spike quickly yet surreptitiously took the slate from Twilight before she became conscious of just how she’d been taking her notes.

Since all Sunset Shimmer could make heads or tails out of that furious scribbling were the basic mathematical operators—add, subtract, multiply, divide, and equal—she had a shrewd suspicious that the physicians were even more in the dark than she was! A suspicion that was borne out when…

“Ah…‘The Answer’,” one of them repeated. “Miss Sparkle, the, ah…answer to what, exactly?”

Stabbing a hoof in Sunset Shimmer’s direction, Twilight curtly announced, “Curing her.”

Catching herself for the third time starting to pinch the bridge of her nose between nonexistent fingers and stopping just in time—and thus avoiding the necessity of restorative rhinoplasty—Twilight’s temper was starting to fray…again. No sooner had she announced she’d determined a cure for Sunset Shimmer—although, to be scrupulously accurate, it was more a ‘fix’ than a ‘cure’—then she’d sensed their disbelieve and disparagement.

“Fine,” she coolly replied, pausing a moment to reach for her notes.

How in the world—

Don’t ask, Twilight. Just. Don’t. Ask.

That was indisputably her handwriting. Unfortunately, she no longer had hands. Giving a massive shake of head and body, Twilight simply shelved that line of deductive curiosity. “Thank you, Spike,” she politely acknowledged as the little dragon picked up the slate for her. “If that will be all, then?” she just as coolly took her leave.

“We’re going to just leave?” Spike softly asked as he followed her towards the door.

“I was summoned for the following, and I quote: ‘For one, she may have knowledge concerning the Crystal Mirror and the reasons behind its destruction. But, just as important, and for all concerned, simply seeing her presence here in Canterlot will do much to dispel any growing sense of fear and panic that will undoubtedly result if Celestia does not recover by morn,’ unquote. Well, here I am. Check. Dispel that fear and panic? Check. And I do have input concerning that Mirror.” Her voice was cool and clipped, Twilight completely ignoring the sharp, swift inhales at that admission. “But as my work regarding Sunset Shimmer has already been ignored, why should I invest any more of my valuable time only to have that ignored as well?”

The physicians silently watched, well acquainted with the histrionics and theatrics of the aristocracy. Once Twilight realized, and understood, that they were up to her tricks, why, she would be back.

Yep. Any moment now…

“My head hurts,” she quietly said to Spike. “And I’m hungry. Can we, please, just go back to the castle?”

“You’re really going to just leave?”

Ears swiveling back, Twilight bit back a sharp retort. “What would you like me to do, Spike? I have the answer for Sunset Shimmer. But they won’t listen. It’s just ‘Go home and play with your dollies’ again. As usual,” she heaved a tired, defeated sigh, the first time Spike had ever heard her sound so dejected.

From behind came the rapid clip-clop of hooves on tile, growing louder as it grew closer. “Miss Sparkle?” came the panted call.

Coming to a stop then turning about, she faced the winded courtier. “Yes?” she coolly asked.

“Your…your pre…your presence is…is requested—”


The courtier rocked back, startled and no little frightened by the intense vitriol of that single word. Twilight simply turned around and continued on her way.

“It is Sunset Shimmer’s request.”

Twilight paused, closing her eyes and taking a very deep breath. Instinct shouted at her to ignore anything to do with Sunset Shimmer, but logic—usually her bosom buddy, but this time her betrayer—forced her to admit a reality she wished she could ignore: this Sunset Shimmer was not that Sunset Shimmer, something that had become readily apparent within minutes of meeting her.

“Very well.”

“Assuming I can locate the necessary supplies, technicians, and mechanics, this won’t take any time once it’s been constructed,” Twilight pedantically stated.

“What do you require?” the remaining physician asked, the other five having decamped earlier. And understandingly so, as they’d returned to continue treating Princess Celestia…and escape Sunset Shimmer, who had been growing increasingly furious over them dancing attendance on her when they should be treating Princess Celestia!

“Copper,” came the instant response. “Pure copper. Deoxidized copper would be best, but pure copper will work just as well.”

“Copper will be easy enough to procure,” the puzzled unicorn medico replied. “Ah…what kind of copper? Ingots? Coins?”

“Bring me a four by four.”

“Excuse me? Bring you a what?”

“A four by four,” Twilight exasperatedly replied. “You’re a doctor, and you don’t know what that is? Ow!” Twilight yelped, rapping her nose with a hoof once again.

With dignity and gravitas, he replied, “Yes, I am a doctor, and yes, I don’t know what you mean.”

Rubbing her nose very carefully, Twilight took several deep breaths as she fought for her ground and center. “A four by four,” she patiently explained, this time without any disparaging tone, “is a woven, sterile cotton, gauze pad, four inches square.”

“Ah!” his face brightened. “I’ve no idea what an ‘inch’ is, but I think I know exactly what you mean. And indeed he did, his assistant returning minutes later with a selection of gauze pads and sponges.

“Thank you,” Twilight said to the assistant, then smothered a growl as her ears flicked backwards, unable to actually pick any of them up. “OK…see how fine the thread is?” she asked.

“Yes. And?” he prompted.

“I need enough copper wire that size to create a ‘skin’ around a cage support large enough to enclose Sunset Shimmer within, and with a tight enough weave to be visually opaque.”

Holding up a forehoof, Sunset Shimmer waited until she caught Twilight’s attention. “Does that need to be woven ahead of time?” she asked, “Or can that be formed in place?”

“What do you mean by ‘formed in place’?”

“Don’t,” her current physician rapped out. “Don’t even think about it!” he sternly commanded, pointing a forehoof at her.

Twilight was very surprised when Sunset Shimmer sheepishly smiled then nodded. Her attention flicked back to him as he clarified, “What Sunset Shimmer is asking, is can the frame of this cage be assembled first, and with the copper mesh then created about that?”

“‘Created’?” Twilight carefully replied.

“Yes. ‘Created’. That’s not something I can do: that requires a Mage. So, while one is rustled up, suppose we ‘rustle up’ some food for you.”

About to demur again as she had earlier, a deep, low rumble betrayed her…just as it had done before. Sighing, Twilight nodded, surrendering to the unavoidable necessity.

“It’s called a ‘Faraday cage’,” Twilight mumbled past her mouthful of grass clippings. She had a sneaky suspicion Spike had a paw behind the menu, as she’d detected fleeting looks of surprise from both Sunset Shimmer and Dr. Nova, the physician who had remained behind. Twilight had surrendered to the inevitable, simply ‘grazing’ as she had for lunch while the other three used forks, manipulated either by paw or levitation.

One could suppose Twilight would feel embarrassed eating that way as compared to their way: one barbaric, the other cultured. For her, however, it was meaningless. Meals were simply a matter of refueling the body, and the more efficiently that could be done, the better. Since she was unable to levitate forks or to use her hooves—yet—grazing was a perfectly acceptable method.

“A Faraday cage or Faraday shield is an enclosure used to block electromagnetic fields,” she continued between bites. “A Faraday shield can be fabricated by using a continuous covering of conductive material. But that won’t work here.”

“Why not?” Sunset Shimmer asked. Since it was clear she was simply curious and not challenging, Twilight answered.

“You’re going to be inside for quite some time,” Twilight explained. “Because I need you to recharge using only your own internal, ummm, generator? I’m not precisely sure how that works.” It was obvious she hated admitting lack of knowledge, but just as clear was her refusal to deceive by claiming more than she possessed.

“Doctor Horse explained that unicorns ‘recharge’ from both external and internal sources. I need you to recharge your ‘battery’ from only your internal resources. Because that is likely to take some time, you’d asphyxiate inside a Faraday shield long before you’d sufficiently recharge, as you’d be sealed off from external atmosphere.”

Nopony missed seeing how animated, how enthusiastic—how joyful!—Twilight became as she surrendered to her love. Spike’s eyes teared up; he had seen the very same thing with his Twilight Sparkle—many, many times, in fact. The only difference between the two was that his Twilight’s love was for magic and research, while this Twilight’s was for science and research.

Then again, nopony misunderstood that Twilight was seeing probable asphyxiation simply as an obstacle preventing success rather than somepony actually dying. That was not exactly disturbing, per se, but it did indicate the extreme depths of Twilight’s mono-focused obsession.

“Well, yes. I can see that, now. And I’d rather not suffocate to death, I suppose,” Sunset Shimmer gently replied, her voice lightly teasing.

Twilight froze in mid-chew, having just taken another mouthful. Unlike her usual mealtime breaks, she was actually taking time to chew each mouthful, and enjoy the textures and flavors the same way she had during lunch earlier this day. Abruptly looking abashed, Twilight hung her head, still not chewing.

They could not possibly mistake her humiliation; Twilight deeply flushed with shame, her entire body radiating abject misery.

“Twilight,” Sunset Shimmer softly spoke, then waited until the wretched alicorn looked up and at her. “I was just joshing. Promise.” Sharply gasping, Sunset Shimmer suddenly clapped both forehooves over her mouth. “I’m sorry! I meant Miss Sparkle!”

Spike forced himself to remain stock-still, struggling to keep his face expressionless as he watched Twilight close her eyes and begin silently mouthing words. Her lips were so barely moving he doubted anypony could make out what she was saying. But he could! And as he started piecing together those silent words, knives started piercing his heart.

Twi-light, Twi-light!

She’s just stupid, not too bright!


Twi-light, Twi-light!

She’s so ugly, such a fright!


Twi-light, Twi-light!

Such a fraidy cat! Scared of the night!


Sunset Shimmer, Dr. Nova, and Twilight jerked as Spike loudly smacked his paw on the tabletop. Before anyone could question him, Spike briskly rubbed forepaws together. “OK, Miss Sparkle: now, where were we? Faraday shield is out. What's next?”

“Ha? Ah…um…” Her expression miserable and now befuddled, it was shocking to see what happened next, for there was no mistaking the moment Twilight erected, once again, the adamantine armor of her defenses. The instant Twilight once more focused on science, she instantaneously reverted to her earlier excitement and enthusiasm.

“Well, since a Faraday shield is out, we then need to construct, instead, a Faraday cage.”

“What’s the difference?” Dr. Nova asked. “Between the two, I mean.”

“Well, both are constructed using conductive materials, the most conductive being, of course, silver. But silver does tarnish and isn’t as durable as copper; although their comparative tensile and yield strengths are similar: silver being 23k and 8k, compared to copper’s 33k and 10k.”

Neither Sunset Shimmer nor Dr. Nova understood most of what Twilight was so casually rolling off her tongue. However, neither could they mistake Twilight’s sheer confidence of, and security in, her knowledge.

“As I’ve already mentioned, a Faraday shield is constructed using conductive material, in solid form; for instance, rolled foil or sheet. While a Faraday cage is fabricated using a mesh of conductive materials. Because it is a mesh, air can freely exchange between the inside of the cage and the outside atmosphere.

“Both Faraday cages and shields operate because an external electrical field causes the electric charges within the cage's conducting material to be distributed so that they cancel the field's effect in the cage's interior. This phenomenon is used to protect sensitive electronic equipment from external radio frequency interference, and is often during testing or alignment of those devices.

“They are also used to enclose devices that produce RFI—radio transmitters, for example—preventing their radio waves from interfering with nearby sensitive equipment. They are also used to protect people and equipment against actual electric currents such as lightning strikes and electrostatic discharges, since the enclosing cage conducts current around the outside of the enclosed space and none passes through the interior.”

Twilight continued on for another five minutes, and by then all three were gazing with glazed eyes at the enthusiast alicorn, having been lost some time ago. “Ah…Miss Sparkle?” Sunset Shimmer gently interrupted at the next pause. When Twilight simply lifted a brow at her, Sunset Shimmer mildly reminded, “Could you, please, explain things in a simpler fashion?” Before Twilight could possibly be offended by such a request, “Please remember that I’m likely the only pony here that understands concepts like “RFI”, “electromagnetic radiation”, and other, similar concepts.

“Actually,” Dr. Nova added, looking sheepish, “I have a question.” And when Twilight looked his way…

“Why are they called “Faraday”? What’s the significance of that?”

Standing outside of the fully constructed cage, Twilight gazed down at the recumbent Sunset Shimmer dozing inside. Everything was running in perfect accord and harmony with her plans, and so she was feeling completely calm, confident, and serene, and certainly not in the least nervous or concerned as to the viability of her conclusions.

Nope. Not at all.

She kept reminding herself of that every five minutes, like clockwork.

Were she still in her world, she would have been utterly and completely confident, having never seen any reason why perfectly natural phenomena—gravity, thermodynamics, and electromagnetism, to name a few—should, or even could, operate differently.

However, this wasn’t her world…as, just minutes ago, that fact had been bluntly driven home and incontrovertibly demonstrated to her…

If Twilight started tapping her hoof one more time…

Lips pressed tight, eyes narrowed, tail randomly swishing with enough force to start a gale, Twilight radiated a tense impatience so strong it was palpable, setting everypony inside the room on edge. She had absolutely no doubt at all about the outcome, but at this stage of the process she was now just a bystander, as the actual conclusion of the operation was now completely dependent upon others. Magie Lumière—the unicorn Mage who earlier had magically fabricated the copper mesh around and about the copper framework of the cage—and Sunset Shimmer herself, were now ‘running the show’.

That understanding, while completely logical, nevertheless grated on Twilight. Strict, absolute control was her bedrock, the keystone to her confidence, safety, and security. In addition to that unpalatable reality was the anxiety over something else she had neither control over nor knowledge about: the actual moment when the procedure could commence.

She could not properly calculate how much time remained before commencement because she could not accurately account for the two most critical variables: one being Sunset Shimmer’s recharge rate—everypony’s was slightly different, she’d been told—and the other being how much of a ‘charge’ Sunset Shimmer would need possessing in order to successfully teleport.

While Twilight was not-at-all-anxiously waiting for Sunset Shimmer to recharge—and hooftapping yet again!—Spike figured if something didn’t distract her soon, she was gonna pop like one of Pinkie Pie’s sprinkle-covered, sugar-frosted, chocolate-glazed, vanilla custard eclair bomb pastries.

“Hey,” he lightly tapped Twilight on her flank.

“Huh?” Startled, she lightly jerked, almost crow-hopping in surprise and agitation before frowning. “What? What is it Spike? I’m rather busy at the moment, you know.”

Fisted paws on his hips, Spike simply gave her ‘the Look’, the same one he bestowed to his Twilight when she was being stroppy. Pointing first at the still-somnolent Sunset Shimmer then next to a hipshot and dozing Magie Lumière, he returned to his patented fisted-paws-on-hips-Death-glare. “You’re driving everypony nuts,” he bluntly stated. “Including you. You’re about to explode like Twitchy Dust.”

“’Twitchy Dust’?” she repeated, befuddled at the abrupt non sequitur. “And just what, pray tell, is ‘Twitchy Dust’?” And, as Spike started explaining—as he also began slyly leading her towards the balcony door, Twilight’s jaw dropped.

“Twitchy Dust is a purple-colored crystal powder that explodes just by looking at it,” grinning at her pursed-lip governess expression before coming clean. “Well, Twitchy Dust isn’t exactly that bad. But the touch of a feather or a bare puff of wind will set it off with a very loud pop and a ginormous puff of purple smoke. And—”

“That’s nitrogen triiodide!” she excitedly interrupted. “I’ve prepared that myself back home. It’s not very useful, though,” she admitted, “because it’s too sensitive. What do you use it for, here?” she asked, clearly enthused and curious.

Looking sheepish, Spike confessed, “Mostly as something entertaining and astounding to show school colts and fillies, especially the ones in chemistry classes.”

Before Twilight could—and understandably so—get the bit between her teeth, Spike gestured to the evening sky, the Sun still quite a ways above the horizon. “I thought it might be relaxing for you to see tonight’s sunset and moonrise. You’re a little tense, after all.”

“You want me to see the sunset and moonrise?” Twilight blurted, voice rising towards the end. She was—finally!—having an interesting conversation, one that involved science! Why Spike thought seeing a sunset and moonrise would be more interesting to her than a conversation about chemistry, she had no idea. I mean, seriously! It’s not as if I’d never seen either before!

Well, as it would subsequently turn out, she hadn’t. Not Equestrian ones, at any rate!

Twilight stood there on the balcony with Spike, and while they waited she sternly frowned at him. “The Sun’s not even close to the horizon, Spike!” she grumbled. Carefully analyzing the angle between Sun and horizon, and mentally calculating…“It’s at least another forty minutes! Why are you wasting my precious time like this?” Holding up his forepaw for silence, Twilight only then noticed a familiar alicorn stepping out onto the adjacent balcony.

For the next minute, Twilight stood there and, for reasons she could never explain—then, or later—did so in complete silence, while the sensation of some sort of ponderous weight looming overhead grew stronger. Without warning, Princess Luna suddenly reared, balancing on rear hooves as her wings spread wide. Horn abruptly blazing with light—and power!; Twilight had clearly sensed them both!—and then…

Twilight’s world—not of the physical, tangible globe beneath her, but the stable, irrefutable realm of science, of mathematics and physics—was forever fractured.

Forcing herself to remained focused on Sunset Shimmer and the Faraday cage surrounding her, Twilight’s mind kept shying away from what she had seen just an hour ago. Running counter to everything she had ever learned, had ever been taught—had ever proven by experiment after experiment—she had seen the impossible: the evening sun setting below the horizon within seconds, followed by a harvest moon rising just as quickly.

Having jerked eyes away from that impossibility, she had refocused her gaze on Princess Luna, only to become as stunned as she had never before. There was a radiance surrounding Luna, an expression of such transcendence…

“Magnificent,” she had whispered. “Absolutely magnificent.” Silent tears had rolled down her cheeks as she had stared at the regal figure who had just settled to her hooves.

A regal figure who had then glanced her way for a moment before returning inside.

Mentally shaking clear the cobwebs from her woolgathering, Twilight remained as motionless as a statue as she intently observed, sensing that the time was rapidly approaching. Nopony could believe she was standing so still, but years of unremitting study had taught her how to do so, and so nopony was aware, this time, of the anxiety ratcheting up inside her, especially since her original plan had required some minor revisions.

Considering the near-riot that had arisen by the mere suggestion of Sunset Shimmer teleporting (a concept that, surprisingly, wasn’t difficult to believe in; at least, not as an abstract concept) out of the cage, Twilight was gradually accepting that perhaps—just perhaps, mind you!—there were, indeed, dangers with teleporting through objects. So, rather than Sunset Shimmer teleporting out of the cage by passing through it, she would, instead, teleport in place, winking in and out without translocating.

Meanwhile, Magie Lumière would immediately dissipate that mesh the very instant Sunset Shimmer winked out. Should their timing be off the slightest, the only thing lost would be time rather than Sunset Shimmer, for if she reappeared with the cage still intact, she would not have actually passed through anything.

As far as Twilight reasoned, that restriction was idiotic. Just consider the current plan: Sunset Shimmer would teleport out-and-in to the exact same spot, thereby circumventing any possibility of “passing through a solid object”, as neither the base of the cage she would be standing on, nor herself, would be moving. Except…

Except they won’t be moving relative to themselves, Twilight deliberated. But planets rotate; so do their systems, and so does the galaxy they belong. If I was an outside observer, watching as Sunset Shimmer “teleported in place” the entire space/time continuum would keep moving, which would mean she’d reappear where she had been, and not where everything else now was. Science proves that!

Then again, had not science repeatedly proved how planets rotated about their solar centers, with moons doing the same about their planetary centers? But that sure wasn’t what she’d observed an hour ago, was it?

“I think I’m ready.”

Shaking her head again, returning to the here-and-now, Twilight watched as Sunset Shimmer finished rising to her hooves.

“I feel like The Great and Powerful Trixie,” she chuckled, taking a few deep breaths as she assured herself of her balance.

Well, assured herself…and Twilight and Spike…and the fifteen senior physicians and Mages, who were all standing so close together in the room they resembled sardines in a can.

“Who?” Twilight quizzically asked.

“Trixie Lulamoon: she bills herself as “The Great and Powerful Trixie”. She’s a showpony,” she helpfully supplied.

“Ah,” Twilight finally replied, her head tipped to the side for several seconds while her mind busily whirred. “I missed my chance, then, it seems.”

Lightly stretching outer muscles while mentally exercising inner powers, Sunset Shimmer blinked at that. “Eh? Missed what chance?”

Sixteen ponies and one small dragon stood there in complete and utter disbelief as Twilight dryly replied, “To sell entrance tickets at the gate,” as she gestured to the door behind her.

Everypony held their breath as Magie Lumière silently counted down the seconds. Twilight was not sure how they had managed the feat, but somehow—and Spike swore it was possible—they had synchronized their “internal clocks” with each other and had “primed” their spells for instant activation. Which should be right…about…now.


Prepared for it as she had tried, Twilight could not help jerking back as Sunset Shimmer just…disappeared. And she had disappeared. She had not just vanished; had not just become invisible. Twilight had been concentrating on Sunset Shimmer so intently that, somehow, someway, those new senses of hers were aware of the unicorn on an entirely different level than she had ever before experienced, and she had sensed Sunset Shimmer just…cease to be.

A blinding flash of light announced the dissipation of the cage mesh…


Sunset Shimmer reappeared. Giving the audience a weak smile…

Eyes rolling up in her head, she limply collapsed in a boneless heap.

“How do you feel?”

Groggy and weak, Sunset Shimmer muzzily gazed up at the blurry form that had just spoken. “Twi…Twilight?” she managed getting out before immediately being swarmed by the three physicians who had been standing by and keeping her under observation.

“I feel fine,” Sunset Shimmer growled. “So stop with all the poking, or so help me…”

“Yep; she’s feeling better,” one of the medicos dryly commented.

“Seriously,” she replied as her face ignited, “I am fine. It’s Princess Celestia you should be worried about and taking care of!”

“Your dedication to my sister touches my heart, Sunset Shimmer.”

Every head immediately snapped towards the doorway as Princess Luna spoke. Before anypony had time to genuflect, Luna had waved a hoof in preventative dismissal. Stepping inside and pausing at Sunset Shimmer’s bedside, she first glanced at her and then at Twilight, “I don’t wish to sound ungrateful,” Luna began, “but I had thought that you had promised a cure? Sunset Shimmer still seems to be stricken.”

Resisting the urge to bristle, Twilight took a deep breath, settling the mantle of her professional demeanor and detachment about her once again. “Yes, Your Highness. I had. And I have.”

As Luna remained curious rather than challenging, Twilight continued. “While I don’t understand the means and methodology behind it,” she furiously blushed, hating to admit that but nevertheless it was true, “it became apparent to me that Sunset Shimmer’s internal energies—her “magic”, if you will—was not being randomly drained. She could—and was—replenishing those energies, albeit much slower than it should. And as long as she didn’t use those powers—”

“Or think about using them,” one of the physicians added. “Sorry,” he apologized, which mollified Twilight.

Twilight continued, explaining how she had reached the conclusion she had and the fix she had designed. “Something has obviously drained Celestia’s powers—her magic—and is continuing to do so. Sunset Shimmer had, somehow, “hooked” herself into that same connection, and as long as she remained so hooked, she activated that drain every time she touched—either by active use or passive thought—her magic. Without knowing the exact nature of that hook, I’d determined that, first by completely isolating her from external sources and, secondly, only permitting her to naturally replenish, if she teleported while still isolated within the Faraday cage, for that instant of time she would cease to exist in this space/time, and would therefore break that draining connection.”

There were quite a few low murmurs, and then one of the attending physicians asked, “Twili—sorry, Miss Sparkle…why all the fuss and feathers?” gesturing to the remaining framework of the cage, “Instead of just having her teleport to begin with?”

“Isolating her in this manner,” she explained, not at all flustered or bothered by the question since it was a sincere query posed by a professional in her field rather than a sneering challenge, “insulated her from that hook. As simply teleporting would have done, true. However, there was a very good chance that as soon as Sunset Shimmer would have exited the cage that that hook would simply have reengaged, as both the cage and Sunset Shimmer would have remained in the same continuum. And while teleportation, by itself, had a ninety-nine point nine-five percent chance of successfully breaking that hook…”

The entire room went silent as a tomb as Twilight concluded. “Statistically speaking, there was a one hundred percent chance that while she would have had the power to initiate, and successfully teleport out…she would have also, at that moment, been instantly drained, resulting in the inability to finish teleporting back.”

Gazing at the group, she finished. “Sunset Shimmer would have been lost forever.”

Chapter 18

View Online

Chapter Eighteen

Considering how many ponies were crammed inside the room it was amazingly quiet; surprisingly so, especially once Twilight had dropped her bombshell. Glancing at the patient–in–question, Spike could see Sunset Shimmer’s complexion was a bit on the green side. Not that he blamed her in the least. Fact was, he was feeling a bit queasy himself at that revelation.

Moments later the attending physicians, almost as one body, swarmed about Sunset Shimmer, taking vitals, assessing her condition, and rapid-firing questions, multiple horns glowing as they did. Princess Luna, after a second or two, more sedately followed, expressing concern along with relief to Sunset Shimmer regarding her condition and incipient recovery.

Leaving Twilight standing there, alone.

Spike’s jaw dropped at that, and, as the minutes passed with Twilight remaining ignored and sidelined, his jaws then clenched as literal flames flickered past gritted teeth, that bewilderment quickly shifting into true anger. Are you serious? A growl rumbled from within his chest. I know that everypony has been worried sick about Sunset Shimmer, and I know they’re all relieved at whatever–that–had–been being fixed and with her being cured. But, seriously??

Glancing back at Twilight, Spike felt heartbroken at her expression…then felt dismay and trepidation as her mien suddenly, like a flipped switch, changed. There was no longer any emotion reflected in her eyes; her appearance was not simply neutral but was now completely blank, devoid of any expression.

Seriously?? Nopony—nopony at all—could even thank her? Not even Princess Luna? Even after Sunset Shimmer had been cured she hadn’t thanked Twilight! Instead all she’d done was ask if it had really worked!

Opening his mouth to rip strips off them all, everypony jumped as the door abruptly burst open. “Princess Celestia!” the Solari blurted. “She’s awake!

Within seconds the room was emptied, everypony—including a radiantly joyous Sunset Shimmer—racing out to see their Princess of the Sun…and passing around Twilight as if they were a stream flowing around a rock.

Well, almost emptied: left behind were a small dragon and an utterly detached and emotionless alicorn…

…except, Spike sensed, on a level deeper than true awareness, it wasn’t just detachment: Twilight was withdrawing; retreating back behind the armor of her detachment.

Armor, Spike was alarmed to understand, that had been weakened…exposing Twilight’s vulnerability.

“I want to go back to the castle. I don’t wanna be here anymore. May we go now? Please? I want Doctor Horse and Nurse Redheart.”

Jerking his head to the side, Spike gazed wide-eyed at Twilight, at first interpreting her tone as petulance. Seconds later, however, rocking him to his core, was realizing she sounded more a heartsick and soul-weary foal.

Blast! he mentally kicked himself. I didn’t even think about how we’d get home after this. And I should have, especially after seeing how terrified she’d been on the ride up here! His mind racing eight furlongs a minute—or like Pinkie Pie after a tray of cupcakes—Spike scrambled through potential options. Chariot was definitely out. Friendship Express was a potential option, although that depended on its evening schedule. Walking was out; not that either Spike or Twilight were unable to walk, but it was a terribly long distance and, frankly, he didn’t think she had that in her tonight. Perhaps a hotel? Hostel? Maybe a—

Snapping his talons, Spike faced Twilight. “Miss Sparkle?” he softly began. “Can you trust me?”

“What is this?” Twilight’s voice was low and wearied as she followed Spike through the doorway. Dully looking around, she started perking up as she did, eyes gliding over the small canopy bed in the middle—looking less frilly than she would have expected for a bed of that type—and fixing on the bookshelf.

Well, bookshelves.

Quietly closing the door behind him, she continued perusing the small room. At the base of the canopy bed was a small hooflocker, and to one side was a small dog bed—a well-used yet well–taken–care of dog bed. While over there—

Widening eyes flicked back to the dog bed as her mind starting spinning up to speed. “This is—”

“—Our old room, yes,” Spike quietly finished for her, a small lump forming in his throat as memories—rich, thick, complex recollections—waxed; blossoming until as if they had only been yesterday’s and not years ago. “And that was—well, still is, I suppose—my old bed.”

Flashing back to earlier that afternoon, somehow Spike’s fairy tales of “being hatched from an egg” and “being taken care of by Twilight” took on an entirely new perspective. Light tocs gently echoed as Twilight explored: examining the bookcases, glancing at the titles along the spines of the many tomes and volumes stored there; scrutinizing the small yet well-equipped study desk, with quills and capped ink bottle at the ready; noticing the room’s—and, by extension, the room occupant’s—emphasis on functionality while also gracefully permitting some creature comforts.

She sensed peace and serenity; wonder and joy; hope and anticipation. When the world was all bright and shiny like a newly minted penny, and that whole, entire world was full of mystery and marvel, just waiting to be explored and understood!

Feeling incipient tears welling behind closed lids, Twilight firmly crushed them under her hooves.

“S-Spike? Would…would you mind walking with me?” she hesitantly fumbled. “I-I need to walk,” she softly admitted, “I always walk my Spike just before bedtime. Not that I’d be walking you,” she quickly clarified. “It’s just—”

“There’s a garden not that far away,” Spike said, lightly patting her flank as he stepped to the door, cracking it open before peeking out into the dim hallway. “It’s always pretty peaceful, but it’s really so this time of night.” Verifying they truly were alone, with nopony in sight or sound, Spike gestured for Twilight to follow.

It was cool and crisp this time of the evening, the altitude of Canterlot contributing to the milder temperature and clime. Because of that, the garden was redolent with lilac and honeysuckle, evening primrose and wisteria, each scent fading as one meandered along the graveled paths, only to be replaced by another fragrance, lighted lanterns casting illumed circles where those hoofpaths intersected.

Gradually, Spike began hearing odd, barely audible sounds almost lost beneath the rhythmic crunch of crushed stones beneath hooves. Glancing curiously about, he finally realized it was Twilight, her lips moving but scarcely making any sound at all. His stomach dropped again as he started stringing together the occasionally understood words into semi-coherency, and even more so recalling an earlier conversation with Doctor Horse.

There is something about her history, her past, that has helped create the Miss Sparkle we have with us today. Which is why I very much suspect her insistence on the formality of address is a form of protection: some sort of emotional shielding as it were…But I do believe that she is, very much, a delicate, fragile creature at heart, with many fears. She seems to have developed a formidable armour about and within herself. The outer shields her from the slings and arrows that life hurls her way, while the inner protects and locks away those experiences and feelings that pain and hurt.

Although his ears were nowhere near as flexible as a pony’s, still, as a dragon, Spike could narrow down the focus of his hearing, and as he did his heart grew sicker as his anger stoked back up, as those whispered mouthings grew clearer.

Needing others is a weakness…free myself from distractions…maintain singular focus…turn off useless emotional baggage so as to fully focus…clarity and energy…rest of the world is falling away, leaving only my goals and aspirations behind…take all the time needed to stay focused; nothing else is more important…super organized…keep my thoughts on my goals…my concentrated efforts are paying off!…I’m already feeling more disciplined…Focus is commitment and I’m worth it.

Anxiety was burgeoning within Twilight as she slowly ambled, long familiar and well-practiced mantras no longer working as effectively as before. Too much. Too many changes. Can’t get composed. Can’t meditate…not in this body! At least, no way to do so in lotus. Can’t relax; can’t properly ground and center with aikido…again, not with this body. Can’t ignore these pulsing energies—she softly hissed—this magic!—churning inside.


The little dragon stopped as Twilight halted. “Yes, Miss Sparkle?”

“I’m really tired. And my head’s hurting as intensely as before. Can you find me some of the analgesic Doctor Horse had prescribed for me, and, if so, bring me a dose? Along with a glass of water? Please?”

Spike nodded, and started to answer, but paused as Twilight continued, her eyes tightening with misery and intensity.

“And some of that magic-dampening potion, too. Please? The full-strength one this time.”

“My fault. Failed. Never—” a garbled sound, “approval.”

Spike stood there at her bedside, silently watching as Twilight fitfully tossed and turned, her coat damp, almost lathered. He had coaxed one of the Palace medical staff into helping, and that was a very good thing, indeed, because one thing was certain sure: he was not about to ask any of the senior specialists from before for their help! The kind nurse had provided not just the analgesic and mild sedative doses but the full‑strength magic-dampening one as well.

The moment Spike had returned with the medication, Twilight had latched onto them like a Breezie with sweets, downing them in seconds. Her full attention was focused on that potion and those elixirs; so fixated that she never blinked when Spike picked up the tumbler and carafe sitting at one end of the desk…

…both dusty from disuse, having sat there untouched for years, both dry as a bone, neither having been handled since they had first entered the room…

… and filled the tumbler with icy water from the carafe

The next few minutes had been both confusing and puzzling for the two of them. It took Spike almost a minute to figure out the halting, jerky motions of the somnolent alicorn, and if he had not spent time in her world with his Twilight, he would never have deduced it.

She was trying to get undressed and ready for bed.

“Here,” he softly but firmly took charge. “It’s been a long day, and you’re exhausted. I’ll just turn down the coverlet and sheets,” he soothingly murmured as he did so; then, patting the bottom sheet, “There you go. Just climb in and get comfy. I’ll tuck you in soon as you’re settled.”

He wanted to burst into tears when Twilight—after having finally managed getting into bed—reached up to her muzzle with both forehooves…

All she wants is to take off her glasses. Spike smothered a sniffle, both at the thought and her expression. It’s the little things that are tripping her up, that are causing the most pain. She can walk and trot, climb and descend stairs, graze and drink—teleport, too, Spike winced at that, feeling a shivery jolt of dread. She’s adapted to the body change but not what that change means to familiar, everyday things. Things like writing, like taking her glasses on and off.

Crossing forehooves atop the pillow, Twilight settled her cheek on them. Closing her eyes and giving a final, sleepy yawn, Spike watched as she dropped instantly asleep.

Spike had barely gotten himself comfortable and had just started dozing, when a low whimper pulled him instantly awake. And so, over the last half-hour he’d held a silent vigil, quietly watching Twilight as mild fidgets grew more active, as tossing-and-turning grew stronger. Oh! How he wished he knew what was tormenting her so!

The bitter wind stopped cutting through her nightgown, puzzling her. Before torpid mind could figure out why that was so, that distant awareness was replaced by the sensation of being lifted. Lifted, then carried. Carried, then lowered. Perched atop a comfortable, cloth-covered seat that vibrated beneath her. Felt the surrounding warmth begin creeping its way inside, as snow melted from hair and brows, trickling downwards in icy threads.

Time passed; how long, she had no idea. Her thoughts—such as they were; as frozen as the rest of her—glacially flicked as her mind struggled to just lock onto just one. Any one. A desperate search for meaning and stability.

Then…Murmured voices. Knives of ice stabbing as she was lifted up and out into blustery, icy wind. Sat back down again, this time atop a leather-covered seat, surrounded once again by warmth.

Warmth that never touched her core.

A bounce and jostle. A low, deep, masculine voice. “Are you feeling OK? Are you getting enough heat?”

A headshake, then a nod.

“Do you know where you are?”

“Outside the house.”

Off in the distance could be heard the low wail of sirens. “What’s your name?”

“They call me Twilight Sparkle.”

“How old are you, Twilight?”

“I’m four years, six months and twelve—no, thirteen days, old.”

Low, deep, and soft, “Do you know what happened?”

A very long pause. “I failed. I failed Mommy…and him.”

“Failed? Failed, how?”

She finally looked up, seeing the uniform, the badge, the laden belt. Her small hand reaching up to her cheek, tiny fingers brushing the still-visible broad handprint there. “I didn’t get them to leave.” A dead tone, leeched of all emotion. “I knew it was carbon monoxide. I knew it. But I failed to get them to listen. Failed to get them to leave. And now they’re gone—” and I’ll never earn Mommy’s approval. Never ever ever.

Chapter 19

View Online

Chapter Nineteen

The rhythmic crunch of salad being consumed was not very loud. Nevertheless, that regular low grinding was dominating his attention. His normally warm and gleaming—when not outright mischievously twinkling—eyes were subdued, his expression concerned as he watched Twilight work her way through breakfast, and all the more so because, unlike the last two meals, where she had been animated and visibly enjoying and savoring her salads…

The moment Twilight roused, Spike had jolted instantly awake; something that tends to occur when a little dragon—or pony—barely drowses while holding bedside vigil. At some point, Twilight had drifted off into deep slumber, but Spike had been taking no chances, and so had quietly carried the desk chair over to the side of the bed. Digging out some of his old comic books, he sat there, reading while keeping an eye on her. At some point he, too, had drifted off; not as deeply as Twilight, because he would not let himself sink that deep. No matter the cost, he was keeping her safe and sound.

No, she was not his Twilight Sparkle. She was not Princess Twilight Sparkle, the Princess of Friendship. His heart ached so very badly, terribly missing his Twilight, and the understanding he might very well never see her again came perilously close to breaking him. However, if he felt that badly, he could not begin imagining what Miss Sparkle was enduring. Alone. Friendless. No idea where she was, what she was, or what that meant. And no idea if she would ever return home.

Home…and reunited with her beloved Spike.

He’d planned on instantly waking should Twilight stir, or even make a peep, but before he could even stifle a yawn…

Twilight had no sooner shown the first indication of rousing before immediately rolling out of bed and onto her hooves, in a single, smooth motion as if she’d done so for years and years. Dead, flat, and emotionless eyes found, then focused on, the little dragon. Spike swallowed, seeing an ice princess regally gazing at him.

“Did…did you sleep well?” he hesitantly asked.

“It adequately fulfilled its function,” she clipped, “as will food. Bring me—well, breakfast, I suppose,” sighing as she rolled eyes in vexation at that necessity. “Please. The sooner as that chore is finished, the sooner I can return. The moment we arrive at the castle, take me to the Crystal Mirror. The sooner I examine it the sooner I will fix it.”

“I’ll be right back with breakfast,” he assured, then opening the door a crack and peering outside. Confirming the coast was clear, Spike slipped out into the corridor, keeping to the shadows as he coasted along.

So now, he was quietly standing there, watching as Twilight mechanically ate. Not only was the bowl on the floor while she grazed standing up, but she might have been an automaton for all the life and interest she displayed.

Lip up a mouthful. Chew thirty times. Swallow. Lip up another…

Methodically, one mouthful at a time, Twilight worked her way through breakfast. The instant the last bite was swallowed, she raised her head and announced, “Let’s go.”

She had actually taken a step towards the door before pausing, turning to look at Spike. “Thank you.” Gazing about the room, she again looked at the little dragon. “Do you—we—need to do anything before we go?” Starting to perk up at that, the moment Spike glanced back at Twilight he drooped once again, for there was no light in her eyes, no life in her expression. Silently sighing, he gently shook his head. “It’ll be taken care of,” he replied. “But, thank you for asking.”

His heart leapt a moment, seeing a fleeting trace of an enigmatic…something…flicker across her face. Yes; yes, it was there and gone, true. But, it had been there, no matter how short-lived.

“You’re welcome,” she curtly replied, in a voice utterly devoid of life and tone. “Now,” she prefaced, turning to face Spike. “What method of transportation is arranged for our return?” Her eyes frighteningly narrowed as she fully focused on the little dragon. “I would most strongly suggest that ‘chariot’ not be a presented option.”

“There really aren’t a lot of choices,” he bluntly admitted, sensing—accurately, as it turned out—that vacillation on this matter would not go over well. “If they’re in a hurry, Earth ponies travel by chariot and hot air balloon. After that, there’s the Friendship Express. Then there’s coach or carriage, and finally, well, just walking,” he rattled off, ticking off each one on the tips of his talons.

Eyes swiveled and locked onto him like a Solari ballistae battery. “‘Earth pony’,” she repeated. “But I’m not an Earth pony. I’m an alicorn, am I not?”

Spike nodded in agreement, then added a few seconds later when Twilight’s eyes narrowed at the continuing silence, “Yep, you are. And alicorns have the additional options of flying and of teleporting.”

A tinge of green flashed across her face before the mantle of detachment settled again. “I think we’ll take a pass on those,” she declared. “If I recall correctly, where we landed and disembarked…there is a switchback path leading down to the main street, yes?”

“Uhhh…yeah,” he faltered, taken quite by surprise. “How did you—oh! Yeah!” he grinned, recalling she possessed eidetic-echoic memory, the same as he did.

That grin instantly vanished, replaced with a bark of surprise and alarm as Twilight simply opened the door and stepped out into the corridor. “Miss Sparkle!” he yelped. “Wait! Hold on a minute!”

Never pausing, and never looking back, taking very precise and measured steps, Twilight coolly replied, “Why? I know where I’m going, and I’ve no intention of wasting another second here.”

“Because—” he started, but it was already far too late.

“There she is!” “There’s Princess Twilight!” “Where have you been? Everypony’s been looking for you!”

Sweet Celestia! Spike vowed. I’ll never read a comic book during a state speech again, if you just see that we get safely out of here!

A small yet vociferous crowd was gathering, with everypony there seemingly competing to see who could be the loudest or most obstructive.

“You’re wanted back with Sunset Shimmer and Princess Celestia,” one particular stuffed-shirt huffed as he looked down his long muzzle at her.

Spike could sense Twilight’s detachment fraying, and his horror rose recalling the last time she’d snapped. But there was nothing he could do: Twilight continued her deliberate pacing while courtiers and servants continued their bleating.

“Why, thank you, Miss Sparkle,” Twilight so-sweetly exclaimed to the thin air before her. “Excellent work curing Sunset Shimmer. And so quickly, too!”

The coldly furious alicorn continued speaking aloud in the same manner for the next minute, finally coming to a stop and ceasing to speak once they’d reached the outer edge of the landing area. Turning about and facing the small horde following her, she spit, “You’re welcome. So glad I could help, and be of service.”

Turning about once more, she continued on her way, pushing through and past everypony thronging about her before walking around the landing field’s edge and towards the small gate marking the top step of the switchback down. Her eyes dangerously flickered, narrowing for an instant before resuming that cold, clinical gaze upon spying the four Solari backwinging to a landing…

Directly in front of the gate and blatantly blocking her path.

Coming to a stop three feet away from them, ears pinned back and plastered against her skull, Twilight mildly demanded—again, completely oblivious to what ears and tail were displaying, “Move. Please. You’re blocking my way.”

“You are needed in Princess Celestia’s quarters,” the lieutenant of the Guard intoned. “Your input is desired regarding the ailment that has struck down Our Lady.”

Spike just watched in horror as the scene unfolded, unable to intervene in any useful fashion, as…

Everypony there loudly gasped, rocking back on their hooves and staring at Twilight in unfeigned revulsion and horror as she curtly declared, “I have no intention of returning with you. And whatever is afflicting Princess Celestia?” Curling her lip, she announced, “Well, that’s your problem, not mine. As is whether she lives or dies. I don’t care either way, nor does it matter to me in the least. Now, for the last time, get out of my way.”

A moment—no longer—passed with the Solari shocked into sheer, stunned immobility. But it was only a moment, and as soon as that instant had passed their demeanor altered, shifting into grim anger and simmering fury. And not just them.

Twilight quickly became aware of a dull, ugly murmur and quickly growing in volume coming from the crowd—now a quickly growing mob—starting to surround her.

Spike was frantically trying to calm everypony, desperately telling them to please excuse Miss Sparkle, because no matter whom she resembled she wasn’t actually Princess Twilight Sparkle at all. That, instead, she was a visitor from another world; that she didn’t know customs or traditions. However, that backfired, and in a big way. Within moments, added to the already vocal throng came the cries of “Imposter!” and “Fake!”, with the occasional “Changeling!” thrown in for good measure.

Try as she might, Twilight could not extricate herself from the angry horde no matter what she did. Pushed, pulled, and shoved, Twilight felt fear constrict her throat as she found herself with the low retaining wall of the landing area behind her…and the gate leading to her escape across the field and totally blocked. Glancing over her shoulder and looking down down down, Twilight could see the glittering spires of Friendship Castle.

Why won’t they just leave me alone? Why won’t they let me leave in peace? I don’t want to be here. I just want to be there. Be there with Doctor Horse and Nurse Redheart. I’m hurting and miserable and...and...I just want to go!

She remembered the well-manicured lawn at the East side of the castle, the peaceful area where the chariot had landed before taking her on that terrifying ride. She’d forced herself to ride that…that horror! And why? Because ‘her presence had been requested’. That’s why! And now, all she desperately wanted was escaping this mob, and just go


“No!” Spike screamed. And as the seconds, then minutes, passed without her reappearing, Spike collapsed to his knees, sobbing his little heart out.

With a squeak, Twilight Sparkle, Princess of Friendship, bolted upright, instantly waking at the touch of a cold and wet something that had just glided over her cheek. “Wha—!?”

“What is it, Twilight?” came the drowsy question from Fluttershy. Moments later, the room was softly illuminated by the small portable lantern Fluttershy had left next to her sleeping bag. Gazing towards Twilight, Fluttershy started giggling, seeing Spike up on her bed…up on her chest…tail blurry as it wagged a mile a minute…and licking her face almost as fast.

“Spike! What is it? Oh. Wait. Yeah. Good boy! Yes you are yes you are! Fluttershy? Little help?”

Giggling again as she wriggled out of her sleeping bag, “He wants his breakfast, I think,” she explained. “And his walkies, too.”

“Ack!” Twilight announced, as Spike enthusiastically responded to the ‘walkies’, squirming and licking even faster while Twilight’s small hands futilely fended him. “OK! OK!” she giggled, relieved to find out nothing was actually wrong with Spike. “What do I do first, Fluttershy?” Twilight asked as she squirmed her way out from beneath Spike and up onto her feet. “Feed or walk?”

Fingercombing hair as she lightly yawned, Fluttershy, after looking closely at Spike for a moment, replied, “Breakfast first. Then a good walkies after.”

“Hungry?” Twilight asked Spike, who gave her a final lick before bounding off the cot and racing over to his dishes. “Ummm…Fluttershy?” Twilight slowly asked, stunned as she looked into the cabinets again. Although she’d seen the insides just yesterday, it was one thing to see can after can of different dog food, and quite another figuring out what to do with them! “Should I be using any particular kind? Are there different cans for breakfast, for lunch, and for dinner?”

Being confronted with a myriad of options to consider, ponder, and weigh pros-and-cons about was normally something over which she excitedly squealed, but, for some reason, she was finding her thought processes to be uncommonly sluggish. Before Fluttershy could respond to her question, both jumped and squeaked as the apartment abruptly blazed with light.

What in the—?

Squinting at the brightness, Twilight realized that the illumination was coming from recessed lights in the ceiling. Lights, she noticed, that were cunningly concealed, and didn’t seem controlled by any switch they’d so far discovered. She jumped again as, from also-concealed speakers, came a very familiar voice:

Good morning, Miss Sparkle! Rise and shine! That thesis isn’t going to write itself, you know. Take all the time you need to stay focused. Nothing else is more important. Keep your thoughts on your goals. Your concentrated efforts are paying off! You don’t need anyone else to succeed. Never forget! Needing others is a weakness. Free yourself from distractions. Maintain that singular focus; turn off useless emotion and fully focus. Focus is commitment and you’re worth it!

It took Twilight almost a minute to track down the wakeup alarm switch, during which that—affirmation?—kept repeating. “Five AM?” she blurted, seeing the time display.

“I guess she doesn’t want to waste any daytime?” Fluttershy meekly commented as she opened up a can, spooned it into Spike’s bowl, and then set it back down before the excited dog, who immediately dived right in.

“I…I guess so,” Twilight replied, sadness in her voice. This…this was almost me, she thought once again, heart aching in tragic sympathy for this world’s Twilight. She almost jumped as Fluttershy silently stepped up from behind and rested her hand atop Twilight’s shoulder.

“Are you OK?” she quietly asked.

“This…this is my fault,” Twilight gusted, gesturing to the room in general.

“Why, Twilight!” Fluttershy exclaimed, sounding shocked. “Why would you say that?”

Turning to face her friend, Twilight heavily exhaled. “I should have asked you girls to check up on her,” she confessed. “I mean, think about it, Fluttershy. I knew what I would have become without your…erm…ah…”

Softly giggling at Twilight’s blushing fumbles, “I know what you mean, Twilight: Your world’s me, not me me.”

Lopsidedly smiling, Twilight nodded. “I knew what I would have become without my world’s you you,” including Fluttershy along with absent friends with another gesture, “But I should have figured out that, since all of you were at CHS and none of you actually knew this Twilight Sparkle, that she was friendless and in need of help.”

She was stunned when Fluttershy just softly chided, wagging a forefinger under her nose. “Now that’s just plain silly, Twilight! And you certainly aren’t to blame, either!”

Staring cross-eyed at the wagging finger, Twilight objected, “Now, how do you figure that?”

“Two reasons, actually. Why do you think we were the only five she could ever become friends with? Is making friends here impossible if she wanted friends? Besides,” Fluttershy grew quiet, sorrow in her eyes. “We do know her. Well, knew her,” she amended. Gazing deep into Twilight’s eyes, Fluttershy softly continued and, as she did, Twilight’s jaw dropped as she related the vicious, venomous diatribe this Twilight Sparkle had unleashed on Principle Celestia…back when she, too, had attended Canterlot High.

Fluttershy giggled as Twilight Sparkle closed the front door behind her, having just returned from Spike’s walkies, seeing her scrunched-up nose and left arm stiffly extended in front…holding a black, opaque plastic bag between the barest tips of thumb and forefinger. “Foul! Foul!

Giggling even harder, Fluttershy paused toweling off her hair, smothering mirth behind her hands, then burst out laughing when Twilight muttered, “How can something that small…”

“Just wait until you change a baby!” Fluttershy grinned, eyes merrily sparkling as she continued drying her hair.

Dropping the reeking–of–thrice–dead–cockatrice bag into the bin, Twilight crouched to remove the harness from Spike. “If I could just bottle that essence, I’d never have to worry about another ‘Let’s–Conquer–Equestria’ villain ever again.”

Grinning, Fluttershy finished drying off before getting ready for her volunteer shift at the shelter.

“What’s up?” Twilight asked, sensing something.

“Oh! Well. It’s nothing,” Fluttershy replied…as she started withdrawing behind her hair. “Really.”

“Mmm Hmmm.” Twilight shifted about until her eyes met hers. “Mmm Hmmm,” she repeated.

Sighing in surrender, Fluttershy whispered, “It’s not that I didn’t appreciate the offer,” she peeped at Twilight before forging on. “But, umm, well, that is—”

“The bathroom is a bit on the spartan side?” Twilight helpfully suggested. “And not of the fainting, deprived-Rarity austerity kind?”

“Well, yes,” Fluttershy drew hair forward again.

“Applejack and Pinkie Pie pointed that out to me yesterday,” Twilight smiled. “It’s funny in a way—odd funny, not haha funny,” she clarified, “but this Twilight takes far better care of feeding and grooming her pet than she does herself. Not,” she held up a forestalling hand, “that taking care of her pet isn’t important, because it is. But she needs to take care of herself, too.”

Once Fluttershy had dressed for work, while they waited for Applejack and Pinkie Pie to arrive she patiently explained the particulars for taking care of Spike. No, it didn’t matter which can you selected; they were just different flavors and types, to give Spike variety in his meals. The same with the kibble; just a variety of flavors and textures. Next were the treats; don’t go overboard with them, she warned, as that wouldn’t be healthy for him…brightly blushing as she gave an ecstatic Spike one herself. Don’t worry about the medicines; she’d instruct about those if and when that ever became necessary.

And then came the grooming supplies.

Giggling like loons as Twilight imitated Rarity at her worst, “Dahling, this simply won’t do! I mean, rahlly! How do you possibly expect me to survahve with these simply pitifully inadequate things?” as they examined the cornucopia of available grooming aids.

Fluttershy explained what each tool was used for and how to use them, following each verbal instruction with a practical demonstration. By the time Fluttershy finished, Spike was in canine heaven.

When the phone rang, they both jumped. “Why are you staring at me?” Twilight whispered to Fluttershy.

“Well…it’s your phone, after all.”

“Oh. Well. Yes. Ummm…now what?”

“Ahhh…answer it, I guess? Well…you don’t have to, I suppose. Except if you want to. But you don’t have to?”

Standing back up, Twilight walked over to the phone, licking suddenly dry lips before picking it up as Applejack had shown. “Ah…Hello?”

“The Eagle has landed. I say again, the Eagle has landed. Is the nest empty?”

Whut in tarnation? Pinkie Pah, Ah swear…jes’ give me thet!



“Is that you Applejack?”

“Ayup. Me and Pinkie Pah.” Hi Twi! It’s us! “As if you couldn’t tell,” Applejack sighed.

“What in Equestria is ‘The Eagle has landed’ and ‘Is the nest empty’?”

Ooo! Ooo! Lemme tell! Lemme tell!

“Ow! Pinkie Pah, thet’s mah ribs! Oof!”

“Hey, Twilight! It’s me again!” came Pinkie Pie’s chirpy brightness. “The ‘Eagle has landed’ means ‘We just parked and are here’, and ‘Is the nest empty?’ means ‘Is that meanie poopyhead Sunset Shimmer’—not our Sunset Shimmer, of course! The other one—‘around, and is it safe to come in?’”

Fluttershy never had to ask Twilight who the caller was: the crossed eyes and glazed expression were clear and unmistakable evidence! “What does Pinkie Pie want?”

“She wants to know if it’s safe for her and Applejack to come in.”

Gracefully rising to her feet, Fluttershy padded over to the door, peeking through the peephole before opening the door. Glancing down the hallway and seeing no one about, she turned and looked at Twilight, nodding her head as she softly confirmed, “It looks OK, yes.”

“The ‘nest is empty’, yes,” Twilight relayed, grinning as Pinkie Pie whooped in glee, ecstatic at Twilight playing along.

Hanging up the phone and then walking over to Fluttershy, Twilight firmly hugged her. “Thank you again, so very much, for staying with me last night.”

“It was nothing,” came the self-effacing whisper. “Eep!”

Gently shaking Fluttershy by the shoulders, Twilight stood at arm’s length of her friend. Gazing warmly and deeply, she corrected. “It was everything, Fluttershy. Everything. I mean it.”

Softly blushing, Fluttershy ducked her head for a moment before peeping back at Twilight. Looking crestfallen, she softly said, “I can’t promise to be here every night. Angel Bunny needs me, too, as do my other friends. But I’ll do my very best to keep you company at night.”

Firmly hugging her again, Twilight murmured, “Thank you, Fluttershy. And I know you have other obligations. Which is why I’m so touched with you having stayed with me on such short notice. And for doing so all on your own!”

Fluttershy giggled, hearing an audible rumble from Twilight. “Sounds like somebody else wants her breakfast!” she teased. She giggled even harder when Twilight jerked, startled at the same buzzing sound she’d heard last night.

“What is that?” Twilight grumbled, torn between annoyance and curiosity.

Even after all they had been through together, only then did it truly register just how, well, innocent Twilight was.

“That’s what you hear when someone wants to come into the building,” she explained. Walking over to the front door, Fluttershy pointed to that mysterious plate on the wall there. “This is a door intercom buzzer,” she continued. “When someone wants to come in, they push a button outside and it buzzes here—”

They both jumped, and then giggled, as at that exact moment it buzzed a second time. “When you push this button,” Fluttershy touched, but did not press, the larger pushbutton, “it unlocks the main door. And when you press this button here…” Suiting actions to words, she pressed and held the smaller. “Yes? Who is it?”

No sooner had she spoken, “It’s the Eagle,” a familiar voice “whispered” in a volume easily heard in a crowded nightclub, “Open the Nest. Open the Nest.”

Eyes twinkling as they grinned at each other, Fluttershy then explained, “That’s the intercom button; as long as you hold it down, you can talk to whoever is there, and they can talk to you. And if you want to let them in,” the panel softly buzzed as Fluttershy depressed the first button.

As they waited for Applejack and Pinkie Pie to arrive, Fluttershy took a very deep breath, bracing herself. “Twilight?”


Twilight turned, facing Fluttershy as the silence grew, feeling a flash of consternation at her uncharacteristically serious demeanor. “What is it?”

“Twilight, you’re the smartest, bravest person I know,” she replied and, although her voice was scarcely above a whisper, her words were steel-strong. “And I know you’re also a Princess, and that being a Princess in Equestria means a whole lot more than it does being a Princess here. And I also know that you’re a very fast learner, and hardly ever make the same mistake twice.” Gently nodding as she listened, Twilight wondered just where Fluttershy was headed.

She didn’t have to wait very long.

“But this isn’t Equestria. And, unlike all the other times,” and how Fluttershy hated saying this, no matter how vital it was, “you’re going to be alone a lot. Well, alone except for Spike, that is,” she smiled down at the adorable pooch for a moment. “There’s a lot we take for granted,” she solemnly continued. “Like door intercoms. Blenders. Microwaves. Toasters. Thermostats. Bus routes. Paying bills.” A deep chill flowed through her as Fluttershy kept ticking off items.

Because she was right. Always before, each and every time she’d hit a snag encountering something outside her experience, one of the girls had been right there to help. But, now?

“So, please don’t feel awkward or shy—like I always am—to ask about things when we’re with you. Besides,” her face broadened into a smile, “it’s like Sunset Shimmer always says: ‘No knowledge is ever wasted’.”

*knk* *knk* *knk-knk-knk* *knk**knk*

“That has to—” “—be Pinkie Pie.”

Grinning at each other as they spoke at the same time, Twilight nodded as she walked over to the door. Reaching for the doorknob…

Fluttershy stretched over and rather firmly—for her, anyway—held Twilight’s hand before she could open the door. “Look through the peephole first. That way you can see who is knocking.”

Tipping her head to one side and placing her eye right to the peephole, Twilight jerked back, eeping at seeing an enormous cerulean eye peeking right back. Shaking her head and grinning, Twilight glanced over her shoulder and smiled at Fluttershy. “It’s Pinkie Pie all right!”

“I feel useless,” Twilight muttered, watching as Applejack and Pinkie Pie swarmed about the apartment, either stowing away or setting up their largesse.

“Now, now, Sugarcube” Applejack chided as she plugged in the toaster, “Let’s hear none o’ thet.”

Hotly blushing, as she had not intended being overheard, Twilight scuffed the floor with the toe of her shoe. “It’s true though, you know. I both feel useless, and I am useless. And you know that’s true,” gently emphasizing the honesty aspect.

Looking up from double-checking that the toaster was properly functioning, Applejack started reflexively denying any such thing, but paused at seeing Twilight’s expression. Walking over to Twilight, she stopped just in front of her friend. Lightly tipping the Stetson back a tad, Applejack softly asked, her tone more serious than her wont, “Ah’ve never known ye t’ be this hard on yerself. Whut’s up?”

Looking up from plugging in a lava lamp, Pinkie Pie dusted off her hands as she came over. “This isn’t a private party, is it?”

Silently shaking her head in response, Twilight just sighed, a sound that stabbed both of them in their hearts. “C’mon, Sugarcube,” Applejack said, gently taking Twilight’s hand in hers. “Let’s brew up some joe and have us a chat.”

“So that’s it,” Twilight finished, blindly staring into the depths of her mug. “It never really hit me before,” she admitted, “but Fluttershy is right: I only thought I was an old hoof—errr, hand—at things. But I’m not. Because,” confessing with a deep sigh, “I not only relied on you girls to help me over the speed bumps…”

Twilight started softly crying. “I miss Spike!”

“And this setting here’s for makin’ stuff like smoothies,” Applejack explained, demonstrating the blender to her friend while, at the same time, non-stop kicking her own butt for having dropped the ball with Twilight all this time. It wasn’t until Twilight had broken down and explained things that the reality had truly hit Applejack. Without meaning to do so, and with only the best of intentions, all of them had done Twilight a huge disservice. For, almost every time she’d encountered something unknown and puzzling, one or more of them had stepped in and taken over.

Take the microwave, for example. Twilight had, by now, seen that used often enough to understand that one opened the door, placed inside what you wanted heated up, closed the door, and then pressed the start button. And the first time she’d tried using it for herself and grew frustrated at it not working, Applejack herself had, with a kindly chuckle, stepped over and fixed it for her.

Yes, she had explained about “setting the time” and “selecting the power” before pushing start. However, that was not teaching her how to use it, that had been simply showing her how to pop microwave popcorn.

Glancing at the door intercom buzzer, Applejack internally cringed. She would never have thought to teach Twilight about that; they were just that familiar and common.

The range was even worse in its way. Applejack would have thought to demonstrate the cooktop to Twilight, but only because it was an induction range. It was neither the more familiar gas nor less familiar electric, both of which showed obvious signs of heating, and both of which would easily burn you if you were not careful. In fact, Twilight had been fascinated at the concept, induction-heating seeming more magic than science to her. The problem was, although Twilight could quickly figure out how it scientifically heated, that esoteric knowledge was not at all the same as understanding how to use it.

And she’d never had to learn about things like that, because she and the rest had been so quick to be helpful. Welp, no use crying over spilt milk. ‘Stead of dwellin’ on th’ past, let’s start focusing on th’ future.

When the intercom buzzed, they looked at each other with a smile. “Gotta be Pinkie Pie with th’ rest of th’ cavalry.”

Wiz Kid and Velvet Sky continued their exploration, Wiz dictating as Velvet neatly scribed. After a while, Applejack felt herself getting a bit irked at that arrangement, feeling to her as if Velvet had been unilaterally delegated as ‘secretary’. Fact is, she’d just about worked herself up to take a hand in matters when the two of them paused and, in a motion so fluid it appeared rehearsed, turned and faced each other.

“One. Two. Three.” As Wiz counted, both of them smacked a closed fist against open palm before gesturing with their now-opened hand.

“Ha!” Velvet Sky crowed. “Rock breaks scissors!”

Theatrically groaning, putting Shylock to shame, Wiz took pen and pad from Velvet before they returned to their investigation.

Shore glad Ah kept mah trap shut!

As meals went, it probably was not the healthiest of choices: a family-sized, Thai red curry frozen dinner along with a family-sized bag of tater tots, with bottles of soda to wash them down. But no one was complaining as they took their servings and found a place to sit or perch.

Applejack was keeping a close eye on Twilight as she sat down to eat. She’d never considered it before but, again, being helpful had bit them. Applejack and Pinkie Pie had ‘sat back’ and watched as Twilight ‘cooked’ dinner, ready to intervene in an emergency, and equally available should Twilight become truly stumped or simply had questions.

They’d done the same as Twilight had fed Spike.

Or started feeding him, that is.

They had watched as Twilight topped off the water dish, as she added some fresh kibble to one bowl, and then selected a can for his main meal. Selected it; peeled the lid back and off…

The moment the rich, thick aroma of meat surrounded her, the moment she truly looked at the moist, glistening pâté inside…her gorge heaved, dropping the can, her face turning green as she struggled not to heave.

Yes, Twilight had eaten hamburgers before. Vegetarian ones, the same as Fluttershy. And, yes, she’d helped feed Spike before. Helped feed him; for Applejack, and then Fluttershy, had been the ones opening the cans and filling Spike’s dish.

Applejack and Pinkie Pie had been so careful selecting only vegetarian meals and foods. However, no one had ever thought to equate Spike’s food with something Twilight would find repulsive.

Dragging her thoughts back to the present, Applejack listened as Wiz and Velvet continued relating their findings.

“We’re still going to keep trying to crack Twilight’s laptops’ passwords,” Velvet assured.

“Hack, not crack.”

Rolling her eyes, Velvet continued. “We’d really rather not do so with her desktop, since it’s obviously connected to the school’s mainframe and or servers. One little slipup there, and—”

“The jig is up, I believe it’s called.”

Tragically sighing, Velvet rolled her eyes again before gesturing to her compatriot.

“Vel and I examined the equipment we brought back,” Wiz began, instantly serious and focused. “All of it is damaged to some degree,” Velvet nodding as he explained. “A couple might simply be a matter of just some blown fuses or shorted connections. Some are more seriously damaged. And one is, well,” the two exchanged a look between each other, “One is just melted. We can’t even figure out what it was supposed to be or supposed to do.”

As Wiz leaned forward to make a point, his pen rolled off the pad in his lap. Before it hit the floor…

Surrounded by a barely-perceptible magenta aura, the pen halted in mid-descent…

…halted…then smoothly lifted up before gently settling atop Wiz’s pad.

Chapter 20

View Online

Chapter Twenty

The rhythmic crunch of Tater Tots seemed loud in her ears as Princess Twilight slowly munched. Although never having had them before she’d nevertheless taken a large serving for dinner, heaping a bowl with Tots and leaving the Thai curry alone. Her stomach hadn’t as yet settled, and she’d no desire to struggle with such a new food as curry while her insides still churned.

While the Tots were bland and tasteless—again, with the current state of her insides, that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing—they were quite crunchy, a texture she found quite appetizing, and with a little bit of sea salt added…

I really have to stop thinking about that can of Spike’s food. Especially since I’m responsible for feeding Spike, and my friends won’t always be on hoo—hand to help me. And doubly so with everything else to worry about.

The broken portal. Adjusting to living independent in a world that I thought I knew and had adapted to. Schoolwork: it’s obvious this Twilight is still a student. A very advanced student, yes. Nevertheless, still a student. Which means classes. Tests. Homework.


Rising to her mind’s forefront was the sudden mental image of being in Magic Kindergarten, a vision that froze her mid-chew as she then deeply shuddered. If Wiz Kid and Velvet Sky are flummoxed by this Twilight’s research, I certainly don’t stand a chance convincing my teachers—heck, even my classmates, for that matter!—that I know what the hay is going on!

For that matter, I don’t know anything about this school: what buildings are where; what goes on in each one; what are the rules and regulations and expectations. I mean, just look at yesterday! If Sunset Shimmer had really pushed about the rules, I’d’ve been—

Hearing nothing but silence, Twilight stopped ruminating and brought herself back to the present, a process catalyzed upon seeing her friends’ expressions.

What the hay is going on, and why are they all staring at me like that?

“Hrmf?” Interrogatively raising a brow, she quickly chewed and swallowed the last mouthful of Tots before asking—much more understandably now—“What?”

“Well, Sugarcube, you see—” Applejack started.

“Here!” Pinkie Pie piped, snatching Wiz Kid’s pen then flinging it at Twilight. “Catch!”

“Pinkie Pie!” Twilight exclaimed, ducking the hurled missile as if a javelin flung her way. Except…

She hadn’t just ducked it…her eyes grew very round, her jaw dropped a bit, as the pen simply hovered in place just before her.

Hovered in place…surrounded by a very familiar-colored aura.

Her own.

It was late at night and Twilight was sitting in a chair, Spike curled up in her lap as she gently stroked and petted the drowsy pooch. It was just the two of them tonight; Fluttershy had wanted to stay as she had the night before, and she’d looked both unhappy yet relieved at Twilight’s plans for tonight.

Fluttershy had looked even unhappier, this time with that sorrowful expression directed at Twilight, when her friend had hugged her close before explaining that Fluttershy shouldn’t worry about her being alone tonight with just Spike as company. And why? Because she was going to spend the rest of the evening, as well as the entire night straight through into morning, wide awake.

Wide awake…intently studying and researching.

All of them had observed Twilight’s single-minded focus when creating a counterspell for the Sirens’ song of enthrallment. So when Twilight had explained her decision to remain awake all night wasn’t due to ‘insomnia’ but was, instead, necessary for achieving and maintaining the desired and required focus—compared to anything negative: fear, nerves, phobia, etc.—Fluttershy had relaxed. Several tight hugs later, she’d departed, leaving behind her sleeping bag “for other times and nights”.

So now, she was reasonably cozy, curled up in a comfortable chair (Thank you, Applejack, for bringing chairs!) with a large mug of recently-brewed tea (Thank you, Pinkie Pie, for the tea bag assortment!) at her side. It had felt distinctly odd, almost heartbreaking, making her own tea, remembering all the times that Spike had done so for her, and often without Twilight even aware that he had. Her eyes filled a moment with that sorrow, fervently wishing that, one day, she might have the opportunity to both say, and show, how very deeply appreciative she’d always been.

Although she couldn’t fully focus right this moment to the degree necessary for her intentions this evening—as she was cuddling Spike, and although that was a minor distraction, nevertheless it was still a distraction—she could begin the preliminary steps.

Which is exactly what she was, indeed, doing.

Both slowing and controlling her respiration, Twilight relaxed into the initial stages of grounding and centering, allowing her mind to directed-drift back back back, all the way back to the earliest memories she had. Back to when she’d been a foal and had just started sensing elusive, strange-yet-intriguing feelings.

Feelings she’d quickly learned were magic. Her magic.

How that had felt. Tasted. Smelled. Sounded.

Distantly aware of Spike having dozed off into true sleep, Twilight now submerged deeper into an apparent trance. But looks could be—and, in this instance, were—deceiving. Yes; yes, she was in an extremely deep meditative trance, but her thoughts and the directions they took remained under conscious control. For the most part, Twilight allowed her mind to freely drift, with only the most occasional of course-correctional nudges as guidance.

Hours passed in silence, Twilight so deeply focused not even Spike’s wriggling off her lap broke that concentration. For that matter, forget break…or dent, ding, scar, impinge…she hadn’t even perceived that. The years slowly passed: pre-school studies and practice—not preschool, but pre-school, before she’d been old enough to even be considered for preschool enrollment; preadmission studies, practice, and tests; invited to be tested for application to Princess Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns…

Gradually, Twilight allowed herself to rouse from that intense, introspective investigation. Although should she have wished, or needed to do so, she could have just as easily been instantly awake and focused in the space of two heartbeats. Spike was still fast asleep, but her inner clock warned her that 5AM wasn’t far away.

Her inner Mage clock.

That should have come as a startling revelation, she supposed. However, several subconscious observations were quickly coalescing in her consciousness, rendering that realization more expected than surprising, even with the understanding she shouldn’t have a Mage clock in this world.

Then again, she shouldn’t have the ability to levitate, either…which had rather been the point of tonight’s research, after all.

One thing she was now absolutely positive about: levitation, and now Mage clock, had nothing to do with the magic she and her friends possessed and exhibited when they ‘ponied up’. Although the ‘taste’ and ‘feel’ were similar, the differences were unmistakable; not to mention ‘ponying up’ required some sort of melodic stimulus, and Twilight had not been playing or singing…or humming or toe-tapping, for that matter. However, although the power she felt inside once ponied up was ‘close-but-not-quite’…

Reaching out, Twilight gently clasped her teacup, taking it from thin air where she’d just now ‘lifted’ it. Now that? That is identical to Equestrian magic. Just with an unusual ‘aftertaste’. Hmmm…no. Not unusual. Just not mine. Well, not entirely mine. In fact, it’s actually quite familiar. I could swear I…

Lurching upright onto her feet, Twilight clutched her chest and sharply gasped, her mind supplying countless images concurrent with and superimposed upon each and every familiar recollection…starting with the magic that had tenderly swaddled her before bringing her down from the uncontrolled burst of magic that had erupted from Twilight during her final admission test.

Princess Celestia!

“Thermal muzzle mask?”




“Down jacket?”


The two weather pegasi, Sunshower and Open Skies, continued with their pre-flight checklist.

“Leg warmers?”


“I hate high-altitude work,” Sunshower groused. “Especially herding feral cirrus.”

“Well, at least we’re not herding noctilucent!”

Shuddering in unison at that image they both mock-shivered, “Brrrrrr!” Although, truth be told, there was a core of authenticity to that shivering; noctilucent cloud work was perilous, both frostbite and hypoxia being very real risks.

“Rather mean of Rainbow Dash to assign us this, don’t you think?”

Open Skies snickered. “Did you see the look on her face when she guzzled her cider?”

“And found out somepony—”

“Or someponies,” Open Skies amended, both starting to grin.

“Or someponies, yes. When she found out that someponies—a veritable despicable duo I tell you!—had substituted apple juice for her apple cider.”

Bursting out in laughter at that memory, Sunshower and Open Skies roared, pounding the ground with their forehooves as tears streamed down their cheeks.

“Hooo!” Open Skies finally gusted, regaining his composure as did Sunshower moments later.



The moment they returned to their preflight checklist all levity immediately ceased, becoming once again the consummate professional weather ponies they were. Especially since, humor notwithstanding, those checklists existed for a very good reason. Two reasons, actually, the first being, of course, to assure successful cloud patrols and duties. While the second…

The second reason being keeping you and your fellow weather ponies alive.

“Wind goggles?”


Checklist completed, Open Skies and Sunshower next checked each other, assuring all equipment was properly fitted and adjusted. “You just know these blasted clouds aren’t going to stay over Everfree,” Sunshower grumbled.

“Ours is not to reason why,” Open Skies intoned.

“Ours is just to do and fly,” Sunshower completed.

They were weather pegasi, after all.

Muscles stretched and now properly warmed up, Open Skies and Sunshower were about to take off when a familiar voice called out, “Is this a private dance or can anypony cut in?”

Ambling towards them was Blossomforth, a pinkish gray pegasus. “I have to tell you two,” she continued, “Rainbow Dash looked be-cider-self this morning.”

“Ha. Ha,” Open Skies “chuckled”. “Ver-rrry funny.” Although his expression appeared stern and unamused, twinkling eyes gave him away.

Hoofbumping both as she came to a stop, Blossomforth grinned. “Well, it was. Funny, that is. We all stand in awe of you two.” Before either could say anything, she added, “Just not enough awe to join you in your “fun” this morning. However…”

Curious now, Open Skies and Sunshower waited as Blossomforth opened both saddlebag pouches. They weren’t surprised at her demurral since she wasn’t a certified member of the Weather Team. She was, however, qualified as an auxiliary weather pony, able to assist with tornado generation, Winter Wrap Up cloud arrangements and relocation, and similar assistance. “However?” Open Skies prompted.

“ ‘However’,” Blossomforth repeated, “while I can’t join you, I can do this.” Sunshower and Open Skies’ swift inhales were immediately followed by reverential exhales as she displayed the insulated thermoses inside.

“Is…is that coffee?” Sunshower almost wept.

“Mmm Hmm!” Blossomforth nodded. “One for each of you. I’ll just circle at second cloud height below you. Come down when you need warming up.”

“Thank you!” they enthused in unity. “Seriously,” Sunshower added, “that means a—”

All three immediately froze in place, ears rapidly swiveling at hearing the scream of utter, absolute terror. As one, a heartbeat later their heads jerked skywards, seeking the source of that cry. “Look!” Blossomforth exclaimed, motioning to the lavender blot barely a furlong overhead.

A lavender blot that instantly resolved in their acute pegasus vision as an alicorn…and a very familiar, well-known alicorn at that.

Princess Twilight!” the trio screamed in unison, watching in horror as Twilight spastically flapped her wings as she began falling—not a controlled descent, not a static glide, but a wild plummet—before, moments later, all organized motioned ceased, becoming an inert body tumbling in a deadly plunge to the hard, unforgiving ground below.

By the time they’d shaken off their frozen immobility two seconds had passed, with Twilight’s descent speed rapidly accelerating as heartbeats passed.

By the time they’d taken off, rocketed upwards, and intercepted her, another two seconds had passed…

By the time the unforgiving ground interrupted their descent they’d just started decelerating with their unconscious burden supported by their own bodies.

Chapter 21

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Chapter Twenty-one

“I don’t care if she’s still asleep, I don’t care if she’s injured and hurt, and I don’t care if she’s ‘traumatized’. Because of her, three of my ponies are badly injured and in the hospital. This hospital, in fact! Now wake her up so I can tear strips off her hide!”

“Rainbow Dash, I know you’re upset and furious. But I am not going to ‘wake up’ my patient simply so you may excoriate her.”

How long she’d been aware of the low-toned conflict embroiling just outside her room she’d no idea. But she was awake now—well, mostly awake; Twilight Sparkle sensed the remnant fugue of narcotics still lingering—and the last few exchanges had registered.

“I’m awake, Rainbow Dash. So what do you want?” she asked, voice thick with exhaustion and fatigue.

Before she could draw another breath, the door banged open as the flamboyantly colored pegasus burst inside, her entire posture aggressive, hostile, and confrontational. “You…you…” she furiously spit, “Do you know what you’ve done?”

Charging in behind her, eyes blazing, was an extremely irate Doctor Horse. “Rainbow Dash! How dare you!”

“How dare I what, exactly?” Rainbow Dash spit back. “You said you wouldn’t wake her. Well, she’s awake, and not because of you or me!”

While they bickered—well, while Rainbow Dash did; Doctor Horse was merely putting his professional hoof down—Twilight mentally floundered, completely lost. Obviously she was in a hospital; that much was unarguable. As adrenaline peaked, the remaining cobweb of painkillers were blown into oblivion. Slowly, she became aware of now-perceived soreness and aches…and actual throbbing, acute pain. Right hind leg splinted. Right wing strapped to her barrel. Jaw and teeth sore.

What happened? I remember waking up. Eating. Leaving the room with the little dragon. Peop—ponies blocking my way. Twilight started trembling gently as those memories became clearer, grew stronger.

“Huh?” Twilight looked up as Rainbow Dash yelled something to her. “What did you say?”

“That’s what I want to know,” she growled. “What do you have to say for yourself?”

“About what?” she replied, feeling dazed and confused.

Doctor Horse wedged himself between the ranting pegasus and his patient. “Rainbow Dash! That’s enough! Do I need to have you escorted out of this hospital?”

“About almost killing three of my ponies with your aerial idiocy this morning!”

Huh? I almost did what? How in the world could…

…panicked…surrounded…nowhere to go…no safety…just leave me alone!…want to be back at the castle with Doctor Horse and Nurse Redheart…safe there…no fear…just want to be there… just want to be there… just want to be there…

…wave of vertigo…


…open eyes…look down… look down…down…down…


“I’m tired of yer brat’s cryin’. How ‘bout I give her summat t’ cry about?”

“Whatever you think best, hunnybunny.”

Wailing, Twilight held little arms out to Mommy…who just looked away, took a drag from her cigarette, then tossed back the last of her drink.

“C’mere, you!”

Twilight howled even louder as her tiny ankle was grabbed…as he hauled her over to the window…as he held her upside down, outside the third story window…


Her mouth desert-dry as she stood in line for the Lightning, a decades-old, wooden roller coaster. Eyes rounded, pupils enormous, Twilight shivered in the heat of the summer sun. “C-c-Cinnamon?” her voice quivered. “C-c-c-Could we, maybe, ride something else?”

Theatrically sighing and rolling her eyes, “But I really want to ride this! I thought we were friends now.”

Tightly closing her eyes, Twilight swallowed. She’d never had a friend before; Cinnamon Twirl was the first girl ever to ask to be friends. It had only been a week, and she was terrified of messing up and losing her very first ever friend. “O-o-OK,” she stammered. “If it really means that much to you.”

The line had looked quite long, but it seemed as if only a few minutes had passed before they were next in line. “Let’s ride up front!” her friend excitedly decided. “You sit down first.”

Twilight took a very deep breath and several swallows before squirming across the seat at the very front, tightly closing her eyes as her fingers death-gripped the safety bar. “This…this is safe, yes? Promise?” she anxiously asked. “C-c-Cinnamon? Cinnamon!!” she screamed as the coaster lurched into motion—

—As she saw Cinnamon, along with the other girls of the orphanage, standing together on the platform, pointing and laughing at her as the cars began their slow, inexorable climb up the very high lift hill…


Lights blazed, alarms howled, as Twilight Sparkle’s eyes rolled up, as pulse, respiration, and blood pressure crashed.

Crashed just like Rainbow Dash’s fury—a rage borne solely from impotence and fear for her weather ponies—as she spied the look of utter terror and absolute, soul-killing despair graven on Twilight’s face in that instant.

The campus grounds were, unsurprisingly, devoid of both people and noise this time of night…well, time of morning, she self-corrected, assisted by an enormous yawn as she took Spike for his morning walkies. Unlike her friend Fluttershy, by no means had Princess Twilight ever considered herself a ‘perky morning pony’. Alas, it seemed she was doomed—doomed, I tell you!—to become—if not a perky one—at least a morning pony. Taking care of Spike guaranteed that!

Considering she hadn’t slept a wink, she was—surprisingly to anypony or anyone that didn’t know her well—wide awake; fully alert and sharply focused. And sweet skies above did she have a lot to think about during this walk!

This world undeniably has no native magicks, of that much I’m absolutely positive. To start, Star Swirl the Bearded would never have exiled the Sirens here if he’d detected, or even suspected, for that matter, the tiniest amount of magick. Secondly, Sunset Shimmer would have sensed any Equestrian magic, or—and again, for that matter—any non-Equestrian magicks. And finally, all modesty notwithstanding, I should have, too!

But it wasn’t until my crown was worn, and the magicks within released, that Equestrian magicks existed here. Oh, wait a minute…

The Sirens, most assuredly, would have jumped at any trace of Equestrian magic! But, again, it hadn’t been until my crown was worn here that their powers had started returning.

Her contemplative musing paused as Twilight thought about the Sirens: Adagio Dazzle, Aria Blaze and Sonata Dusk. I wonder how they are doing? I know without their gem pendants they lost their ability to sing, and thus lost as well their power of Enthrallment. But did that result in other losses? Granted, by any standard—Equestrian or Human— they were evil, but so were others I’ve encountered. Just look at Nightmare Moon and Discord, for Celestia’s sake! But the moment the Dazzlings were defeated, utterly beaten, we forgot all about them. I forgot all about them! Dismissed them beneath our notice, as if no consequence at all. And that was just wrong. I’m the Princess of Friendship, for Harmony’s Sake! And did I bother extending an olive branch to them like I did with Sunset Shimmer?

No. No, I didn’t.

Those musings were temporarily suspended while she picked up after Spike, as others mordantly replaced them. Ugh. I know this is necessary, but still! Cats can be litter trained; you’d think dogs could, too. And this would be a lot easier if I could just—

Already crouching, Twilight rocked backwards, landing on her posterior as the bag—and its odiferous contents—vanished in a bright, silent purple pop.

Sipping tea while waiting for her oatmeal to ‘nuke’, Twilight relaxed as she focused her mind again. She was quite pleased with herself for having weathered feeding Spike, this time without becoming nauseous in the process. Part of that was due to the ratiocination of said feeding: in Equestria, although the vast majority of ponies didn’t touch meat, there were a rare few that did. When in Griffonia… There were also ponies that enjoyed seafood. I do love broiled scallops in butter, she admitted. And then…

And then there was Fluttershy. Who, while she was most definitely 200% herbivorous…

There’s no way Fluttershy cares for injured or ill raptors without meat of some sort, Twilight considered. And I know for a fact that she does care for them. So if Fluttershy manages doing so…

Even with all that it hadn’t been ‘easy-peasy puddin’n’pie’, but as long as she held her breath and didn’t inhale

Hearing the microwave chime, Twilight grinned as she stood up. Breakfast!

Seriously? Twilight grumbled. They call this paste oatmeal? Ugh!

This wasn’t the first time she’d had oatmeal, having previously been served both stovetop and the pithily-named “Nuke-and-Puke” versions. But there was no accounting for taste: compared to oatmeal or bran mash back home, the “oatmeal” here was better suited as paste for Miss Cheerilee’s Arts and Crafts class!

It actually wasn’t that bad—especially after adding dark brown sugar, raisins, and heavy whipping cream—but she was finding every little flaw to focus on rather than face her insecurities and fears.

And, in this peculiar instance, those insecurities and fears weren’t personal ones.

Well…yes…and no. For on sober reflection, Twilight admitted some were personal. But irrevocably intertwined were also quite a few abstract ones. Abstract, yes, but not at all inconsequential. Closing her eyes and relaxing just the slightest, Twilight felt Equestrian magic slowly yet surely filling her, as if she were a thirsty sponge absorbing water.

But it wasn’t simply Equestrian magic. Or, rather, not just Equestrian magic. For there was no way, ever, Twilight could, or would, mistake the ‘taste’ of this. Not when the source was Princess Celestia: her teacher, her mentor, her second mother in all but blood…her friend.

“Hey, it’s Twilight. I apologize for calling so early, but I have a huge favor to ask. Can you drop by sometime today?”…“Because I could really use your help.”…“Not your help, but your help.”…“Actually, yes. There’s no one else that can help me better with this than you.”…“Thank you! Do you need the address?”…“Ok then. Just buzz room 112 and I’ll let you in.”…“See you soon!”

Hanging up the phone, Twilight heaved a gusty sigh. She had a very strong theory about everything she’d so far observed and detected, starting from the fracturing and subsequent destruction of the portal, followed by the discovery of both Books together in this world, all the way through the realization her magicks were being restored and replenished. But before she could begin formulating possible options, she needed to assure the accuracy of her conclusions. And for that, she needed secondary confirmation. In the meantime, however…

Unable to smother it, a grin spread across Twilight’s face as she began creating several lists.

The room was silent now, save for the slow and steady breathing of his patient and the rhythmic low beeps of the monitoring equipment. Deeply exhaling, Doctor Horse rubbed the lenses with a cleaning cloth before perching his glasses atop the bridge of his nose. At least she was stable now…well, physically stable, that is. Psychologically?

Exhaling again, he felt an intense flush of shame and betrayal at the recent decision he’d made, for the IV currently keeping her hydrated and nourished also included the strongest magic-dampening medication known to Ponykind. The only things stronger were dispersion rings, and his heart sank as he wondered if, one day, that would become necessary.

Quietly stepping outside and closing the door behind him, Doctor Horse paused a moment to regain his professional demeanor before heading off to speak with the resident on duty, the doctor truly in charge of Miss Sparkle’s treatments the moment she was admitted to the hospital.

“How…How is she, Doc?”

Spinning in place, ears back and plastered tight to his skull as fury erupted within, Doctor Horse glared at Rainbow Dash. “I told you to get out. Why are you still here? Haven’t you done enough damage for one day? Aren’t you satisfied yet?”

Rainbow Dash just stood there, her ears now back…but flagged. Very quietly, she repeated, “How is she?”

Many responses fought to be the first verbalized, but there was something…

“Why should that matter to you?” he calmly asked. And absolute shock stunned him as Rainbow Dash finally looked up and met his eyes.

“Because I saw her face, Doc. I saw it. And I’m the one that caused that.”

The family lounge was deserted save for the two of them as they sat at one of the round tables, two steaming mugs and a carafe of coffee between them in the center. Very few—very, very few—ponies ever saw Rainbow Dash truly miserable. But several times now, she’d excused herself to “just go blow her nose”, while Doctor Horse turned to “admire the scenery” just outside the glass while she did so.

“I’d no idea,” she admitted, once Doctor Horse had brought her fully up to speed; admitted, without excusing, he was pleased to see. “I mean, it’s one thing to know she’s not actually our Twilight. That’s she’s actually the Human Twilight. And, yeah,” flushing as she rubbed behind her ear while ducking her head, “I don’t react well when scared.”

Heroically resisting the rolling of eyes, fully expecting to hear ‘Not that Rainbow Dash is ever scared!’ Doctor Horse was shocked as the softly-speaking pegasus simply continued. “But—and I’ve no idea if the others are like this—I’ve just been reacting and responding like she’s just, well,” this time the ear rub was thoughtful rather than shameful, “Well, like she’s just our Twilight from another world.”

Before Doctor Horse could expand on that, once again he was stunned. “But…she isn’t. Isn’t exactly like our Twilight. She’s an entirely different pony. With a different past. Different history.” Rainbow Dash shuddered at that, for Doctor Horse—with the most judicious of care, balancing patient privacy against a very real need to know—had revealed some of what he’d gleaned of Miss Sparkle’s past to her.

Taking a sip of coffee, Rainbow Dash gazed out the same window. “How badly have I messed up? Messed her up?”

Gently resting a hoof on her shoulder, Doctor Horse gently replied, “Only time will tell, Rainbow Dash. Only time will tell.”

Although she’d been expecting it, when the intercom buzzed, Twilight cutely squeaked as she jumped. Quickly setting pads and pencil down then hopping up, she dashed over the door. Pressing the button, she asked, “Yes? Whom is it?”

It is I! The Great and Powerful Trrrrrixie!

Simultaneously rolling her eyes and giggling, Twilight pressed the admittance button before standing in front of the door, eye glued to the peephole there. Less than a minute later, and concurrent with three sharp knocks, a purple eye peered back at her.

Unlocking the door and opening it, Twilight quickly scanned the hallway before sharply whispering, “Quick! Inside!” as she grabbed Trixie by the wrist and tugged.

“Wha-aaaa!” Trixie yelped as she was hauled inside. “Really, Twilight!” Huffing, she turned and glared at her. “That is no way to welcome the Great an—” Her eyes crossed as Twilight held a forefinger to her lips. Batting in vexation at the offending digit, Trixie was just about to give Twilight a piece of her mind…

“Twilight?” Something about her expression had Trixie grow serious. “What is it? You wanted my help, you said?”

Nodding, Twilight motioned to the small table and two chairs Applejack had donated. “I did, and I do. But there’s some things I need to explain first. OK?” Opening up the refrigerator, Twilight held up, one at a time, several pops and drinks until Trixie nodded. Selecting a Southern Style Sweet Tea for herself, Twilight sat down then passed Trixie’s selection to her.

“Before I begin though—and please; please! don’t take offense—it’s really, really important I speak with you, Trixie, and not your famous persona. Please?”

Regardless of the entreaty, Trixie found herself starting to bristle…until she took a very close look at Twilight’s expression. “Trixie would like to know why,” she reasonably asked, and started to continue…

Unscrewing the cap, Twilight took a small swallow of the—probably unhealthy-for-you but too-good-to-pass-up—sweet tea, brows lifting a bit at noticing Trixie trailing off while getting a quite thoughtful look on her face. “Trixie?” she prompted once a minute had passed. “What is it?”

“Trixie…Trixie feels something,” she slowly replied. “Something…something very odd, yet…familiar?” her voice trailing off in puzzlement.

Horsefeathers and tarnation!

“How much do you know about me?” Twilight asked.

Shaking her head and blinking, startled back into the here-and-now by the apparent non sequitur, Trixie faltered at first. “Ummm, ah, well, to start, you’re not from around here.” Twilight unsuccessfully smothered a giggle as Trixie facepalmed, then laughed as she deadpanned sotto voce, “Scene One, Take Two.”

“Your home is Equestria, which is populated mostly by intelligent ponies, all but four of them either Earth, Unicorn or Pegasus. You are one of those other four: an alicorn, just like Princess Celestia, Princess Luna, and Princess Cadence. And, just like them, you’re a Princess, too…”

By the time Trixie finished, Twilight was feeling quite stunned, totally forgiving the somewhat smug and satisfied look on her face, and nodding when asked, “Did Trixie pass the test?”

“Well, it wasn’t meant as a test,” she clarified. “More of a prefatory introduction.”

“Trixie would still like to know what sort of help you need from her.”

“If there are two Twilights, two Applejacks and Rainbow Dashes, two Pinkie Pies, Rarities, and Fluttershies…one here in your world and another in mine…” taking a deep breath she continued, “Would it surprise you to learn there’s a Trixie Lulamoon in my world, too?”

A giant fist gripped Twilight’s heart and squeezed as tears filled her eyes as Trixie, in a very soft voice thick with unquenchable longing, revealed, “No. It wouldn’t.” Gazing at Twilight through the blurriness of her own tears, “Trixie might not have many people to talk with, but she does hear what others say around her. Which is why Trixie knows there is a Trixie Lulamoon in your world, too. A showpony who, like me, is known as “The Great and Powerful Trixie”. Closing her eyes, a single tear tracked down each cheek.

Barely audible, Trixie whispered, “But she…she is a true magician. Who does real magic. Because she’s a unicorn…and I’m just Trixie.”

Chapter 22

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Chapter Twenty‑two

There’s just too many ponies inside. I’ll just…hang out here. In the hallway. So the doctors can take care of her, Sunset Shimmer reasoned. Yeah. That’s it.

And, in truth, a veritable herd of very senior physicians of every stripe and caliber was filling the room and surrounding the luxuriously appointed bed located central to the equally sumptuously furnished bedroom. Assuming, of course, that in order to notice the latter, anypony standing just outside the doorway could actually see past the medico mob.

Or spy the extremely enervated, exhausted and drained Sun Princess firmly blanket‑and‑comforter ensconced atop said luxuriously appointed bed.

But Sunset Shimmer didn’t need the chamber emptied to see, or recognize, the furnishings, decorations, or appurtenances to know where they were or how they appeared.

It…it’s like I never left, her throat tightened as memories surged to the forefront. The flowers in the vases may have changed, true. But nothing else has. Except for…

Throat now closed with grief and pain, Sunset Shimmer closed her eyes tightly, feeling thick tears welling up. Except for Princess Celestia. She…She’s so very sick! We…We can’t lose her. I can’t lose her!

So lost in heartache and sorrow, at first Sunset Shimmer didn’t notice the room grow quiet. Not until…

“Sunset Shimmer.”

Head jerking up and back, ears rapidly flickering back and forth, Sunset Shimmer blinked the tears from her spangled vision. “Y‑yes, Your Highness?”

Princess Luna merely smiled; a gentle, tender expression so warm and kind. “My Sister wishes to speak with you,” she quietly informed, and only then did Sunset Shimmer notice the serried ranks within forming an aisle between them…and Princess Celestia’s bed.

A passage now completely clear, as Princess Luna stepped to the side, gesturing with a wing for Sunset Shimmer to approach her sister.

Still weak and wobbly from her recent “cure”, Sunset Shimmer’s legs now felt as if quivering rubber upon finally facing her “moment of truth”. For the first time since her arrival, about to be presented before her former mentor; face-to-face with a now‑conscious Princess Celestia who had, just this very moment, requested her presence.

Taking a deep breath and swiping dry lips with a curled tongue, Sunset Shimmer braced herself, and started…

…walking through the doorway…

…into Princess Celestia’s personal, private bedchambers…

…exactly the same way as she had…


Standing at the end of the hallway, Sunset Shimmer smothered a giggle as she observed the two stern and solemn Solari standing watch just outside Princess Celestia’s bedchamber. Light cyan eyes merrily danced and sparkled with the realization she didn’t have to stifle her amusement, for her Silence Sphere completely muted any and all sound from within.

Nevertheless, she hooftipped around the corner then crept out into the corridor, now in clear view of the Royal Guards…

Who saw nothing at all…and now Sunset Shimmer did giggle, feeling quite secure within the integrated Globe of Invisibility. Step by cautious step, until she stood between the two and right outside the door. Now came the tricky part: the young filly, barely past foalhood, squinched her eyes as tonguetip peeked out past lips. Since she wasn’t allowed to use proper mind spells―a pretty yet fierce pout appeared for a moment, altering her appearance into resembling an older filly…assuming, of course, that anypony could have seen her―this next part was trickier.

Several minutes passed before giving a tiny nod, heavily breathing as if having just galloped. Now, if she’d cast those illusions correctly, she should be able to…

Moments later, and she―very carefully!―nudged the door closed behind her. Now her face erupted into foalish glee, spotting her target dead ahead, and fast asleep! One cautious step at a time, Sunset Shimmer crept closer…and closer…and closer yet, stopping once within booping range. Lifting up a little forehoof, Sunset Shimmer was just about to reach out to her target when…


With a startled shriek, Sunset Shimmer landed on her posterior, both Globe and Sphere instantly dissipating as her concentration was broken by Princess Celestia’s sneaky, underhoofed ambush.



One tremblyanxious1 step at a time, staring at the thick, plush rug beneath her hooves, Sunset Shimmer slowly approached Princess Celestia, stopping a single pace before the bed. Heart already hammering like a kettledrum, that rapid beat faltered as ice coursed through her veins as her mind went suddenly blank, as all her carefully rehearsed words evaporated like mist in the sun.

And then, suddenly, none of that mattered.

“My little Sunshine. Welcome home.”

Silently mouthing, “Shoo! Shoo!” Princess Luna suited actions with words as she firmly nudged recalcitrant hangers‑on out into the hallway with her wings. Pausing a moment on the threshold, she looked back at the tableau behind her: Sunset Shimmer weeping, body shuddering and shaking with the release of long held, pent‑up emotions being released at last, tucked against her sister’s side and sheltered beneath her wing, while ‘Tia gazed down with such a tender, loving, forgiving expression, as tears silently traced their way down her cheeks.

That wasn’t an unfamiliar expression for Luna, having been the recipient of that herself after Nightmare Moon had been vanquished, Princess Celestia rejoicing with the redemption and return of her beloved Sister.

“Hush,” she instructed the evicted physicians. “Give them time together. Alone,” she lightly stressed…a gentle emphasis with the same implacability of a massive glacier grinding its way down. “This is healing of another sort, and one which is not only needed but is long overdue as well.”

That didn’t go half bad! she delightedly admitted, as the crowd―and rather quickly, too―settled down. Now that ‘Tia is awake, and Sunset Shimmer cured, things are starting to look up a bit!

Her expression turned thunderous, however, as a commotion started at the far end of the corridor, a countenance growing fiercer as that hubbub grew closer, then closer yet.

Growling, ears swiveled back, Luna demanded in a low, deep voice, “What is the meaning behind this racket?

Her relaxation and confidence of mere moments ago swiftly plummeted as a clearly distraught and tragically wounded Spike approached her. “Princess Luna,” he choked out. “It…Twilight…she…”

A fist gripped her heart as Spike faltered. And as he continued, that fist squeezed like a giant clamping down in fury, as her vision swam with darkness.

“Twilight…she…she teleported out…and never reappeared.”

Although technically not his patient while she remained hospitalized, nevertheless Doctor Horse couldn’t leave Miss Sparkle alone. Which explained his presence inside the heavily‑sedated alicorn’s private room. Now, as for Nurse Redheart, who was also there as well?

Covering his lips and hiding his gentle smile, he merely needed to observe his partner as she kept silent sentinel over Miss Sparkle to understand her reason. Well, one of her reasons, that is.

“Can I get you coffee? A snack? Or, more to the point, a breakfast?” Nurse Redheart “asked”…as it would never do, of course, to call that nagged.

Each for their own reasons―which, as it happened in this instance (and often as not in others, as well) were the same―were unwilling to leave Miss Sparkle alone. To a laypony, it might seem a waste of time holding vigil over a completely‑unconscious and deeply‑drugged patient, but both Doctor Horse and Nurse Redheart knew that, even when this deeply unconscious, some ponies were still aware―even if subliminally so―of their surroundings and of what was spoken around them.

And, while it was true that, while Miss Sparkle was physically a pony, her psyche was anything but. And therefore, as he had no benchmark with which to compare Miss Sparkle, Doctor Horse was unwilling to risk anything with her, no matter how unlikely.

And he most certainly was not going to have Miss Sparkle wake up, be‑drugged and befuddled, all alone in a strange room in a strange world.

“A coffee would be nice,” he finally admitted. “And so would a snack of some sort.” Before he could clarify his choice of snack, the door burst open behind him. Both Doctor Horse and Nurse Redheart spun about and faced the now‑open entrance, a look of blazing fury in their eyes.

Oh, Sweet Sun above! Princess Twilight Sparkle fretted. I should never have asked Trixie to help. This is going to hurt her so badly! I…I can’t go through with this. I…I just can’t.

Trixie was just sitting there, gazing down at hands she was tragically washing atop her lap as a single tear trickled its way down her cheek.

“Trix…Trixie,” Twilight finally choked out. “I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry.”

“Sorry? For what?” Trixie asked, looking back up again and meeting Twilight’s gaze.

“For hurting you like this.”

She was gobsmacked when Trixie lopsidedly smiled, and all the more so realizing that was sincere and not contrived. “Thank you, Twilight. Honestly, thank you.” Taking a deep, cleansing breath, Trixie sat up straighter. “It…it’s not like Trixie feels―sorry, I forgot,” she sheepishly smiled. “It’s not like I dislike being Trixie…” she trailed off a moment, Twilight’s eyes contemplatively narrowing a bit as she did. “But I listen. A lot,” as now Twilight felt a knife stab her heart, understanding by that simple sentence that Trixie was lonely and friendless, “And I…I, well…”

“Daydream?” Twilight, so very quietly, offered.

A soft flush tinted Trixie’s cheeks as she nodded. “Yes.” Another deep, cleansing breath. “I’m happy―mostly―with who I am. Yes, I would like my ‘magic’ to work better. I like to perform, and I both want to and like to, well…‘wow’ my audience.” Gazing down at her hands again, which had once more returned to washing in her lap, she softly added, “Trixie also likes―and wants, too, she is afraid and ashamed to admit―approval and admiration. Validation.”

Looking back up, she continued, completely shocking Twilight, “But I don’t daydream of having your type of magic here. That would be like cheating. No. No, that would be cheating. I mean, being honest? Yes; yes, I guess I sometimes do picture doing your kind of magic here,” ducking her head a moment and adding so very softly under her breath that Twilight felt pretty sure and certain Trixie never intended to be overheard, “Especially with my Magician’s Exit.”

All of this, so far, had been intensely poignant; heart‑wrenchingly so, and Twilight couldn’t think it could possibly get worse.

She was wrong.

Eyes focused on the twisting hands in her lap, Trixie bared to Twilight her most secret of desires. “I daydream of being in your world. In Equestria. Of being a unicorn there. Not me me: a unicorn. Daydream of trotting; of cantering and galloping. Of feeling the wind as I do blowing through my mane as my tail streams out behind me. Of teleporting. Of levitating. Of feeling magic inside me. Real magic―not prestidigitation; not illusion or manipulation―but real magic. Of laughing with others as I do the most simplest of magicks. Like lighting a candle.”

Twilight’s heart was aching so very badly, tears filling her eyes and blurring her vision. Which explained why it took the both of them several long, hushed seconds to realize the lavender‑and‑vanilla scented, three‑wick centerpiece candle was now merrily flickering.

Chapter 23

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Chapter Twenty-three

Cue the crickets

With nary a flicker, and sheltered within their hollowed globe, three small flames steadily burned, completely composed and serene, oblivious to the intense gaze focused on them as fragrant scents of vanilla and lavender perfumed the still, calm air.

Wearing identical expressions, Princess Twilight Sparkle and Trixie Lulamoon stared at the three-wick candle sitting between them atop the table, both goggle-eyed and unblinking, jaws dropped, frozen mid-motion and mid-breath. In fact, a cockatrice could not have done a better job of immobility…although they did lack the appealing and practical granitization renown of cockatrices.

“Did I―?” ”Did you―?”

“Not me!” ”No, I didn’t.”

“How did you―?” ”What did you―?”

The flustered series of simultaneously blurted questions abruptly broke the lengthy silence. In concert, both girls ground to a halt, taking that moment to regain composures, though their eyes remained locked on the still-oblivious multi-wicked candle.

“What happened?” Trixie quietly asked, now looking up at Twilight. “Did I do that?”

“Well, I can’t be sure,” Twilight slowly replied, even though she was absolutely positive of the answer. After all, that conclusion was still conjecture, wasn’t it? She hadn’t actually tested that, had she? “But, based upon empirical observation, I’d have to say yes. Yes, you did.”

“Oh,” came the soft, tiny response.

Surprised at the quiet answer, and unable to discern how Trixie was dealing with that revelation, let alone how she was feeling, Twilight quickly asked, “Trixie? You OK?”

Nibbling her lip, Trixie lifted shoulders. “Trixie is…not sure. ‘OK’ is such a broad term.”

“Well,” Twilight revised, “Are you bad?” then blushed as Trixie gave her ‘the Look’.

“Trixie is more at sixes and sevens than she is stricken. Or did you mean ‘bad’ as in ‘rotten, spoiled egg’ bad?” smirking as Twilight flushed a deep, dark rose. “It’s alright, Twilight,” smiling now, “Trixie was just teasing you. She knew what you meant.”

Twilight was not about to repeat her request that Trixie put her persona aside, not after all the sudden revelations that had unexpectedly appeared. And now, in addition to all her other worries, fears, and concerns, was incorporating those surprises into that mix. Gazing down at her Sweet Tea, Twilight made a sudden decision.

“Do you like coffee?”

“Where’re the filters?” “Whaddya mean, ‘there’s no filters’?” “What, pray tell, is a percolator?” “Seriously?”

Those had been some of the “grumbles” Trixie had muttered while the two of them had brewed a pot of coffee, that grousing and complaining very much the distinct “Trixie” quirk. This time, however, Twilight had sensed something different as they’d worked together. Instead of that sounding as it always had before―petulant, impatient, hypercritical―this time, Twilight perceived something very different: a trenchant and pithy running commentary…and one that was automatic and oblivious as well, very much as if a non-stop mental monologue was going on inside her head, with, at times, that stream of consciousness unwittingly becoming vocalized. In fact, if you ignored the source―so as to remain impartial and unprejudiced―Trixie’s running commentary was actually quite amusing!

Sitting back down, steaming mugs between hands, both sat in companionable silence for a while as they contemplated matters between sips of coffee. After several minutes, Twilight finally continued. “Before I go any further,” she began, “I want―no, need―to apologize for any pain or hurt I’ve already caused you, and may likely additionally cause you. That was never my intention. At all. But, as I’ve already told you, you were, and are, my absolute best choice for help regarding this.”

“Trixie is quite flattered. Honored, even,” she added between a sip. “But, well,” focusing her gaze on Twilight, “she would very much like, and appreciate, knowing what ‘this’ is.”

“‘This’,” Twilight so very softly demonstrated, “is this.” Trixie’s eyes rounded as the candle flames just vanished, the melted pool of wax left behind the only visible sign of their having ever existed.

Quivering fingers touching trembling lips, Trixie stared at the now-extinguished candles. Compared to the magicks she’d already seen―foremost in sheer power and intensity being those witnessed and experienced during the Fall Formal and The Battle of the Bands—seeing three small flames magically snuffed should have been small beer.

But, it wasn’t.

Because, this time…

Is…is it really that easy? she wondered, sensing for the first time ever the ebb and flow of…something. The same ‘something’ she’d originally sensed upon entering Twilight’s studio apartment dorm. Picturing that ‘ebb and flow’…now picturing that as ‘flow and ebb’…a sense of…effort…purpose…

A smile of wondrous joy, of astonishing, childlike delight, slowly spread across Trixie’s face as all three wicks’ flames popped back in existence, as if having never vanished at all.

Twilight had no idea what Trixie was thinking or feeling, having just seen Twilight unmistakably using real Equestrian magic before her very eyes, for she had the oddest expression on her face: neither fear nor confusion, instead, almost as if…

Twilight had a moment to sense the flow of power within the aether about, and about Trixie within, and knew what was about to happen the instant before the candles re-ignited.

Sitting back down after topping off their mugs―Twilight having added several healthy dollops of raw honey to hers along with a glug of heavy whipping cream―she quietly and surreptitiously watched Trixie across the table. She’s remarkably composed, she observed, Considering all the levin bolts she’s taken already. I just hope she can continue doing so!

Before Twilight could pick back up the thread of the conversation, Trixie startled her once again when she softly said, “Trixie shouldn’t be able to do this, should she,” in a tone much more a statement than any mere question. “Is this why you needed Trixie’s help?”

“Yes. And no, Trixie,” Twilight replied, holding up a hand in a peacekeeping gesture as Trixie started huffing. “I’m not trying to be confusing,” softly blushing yet grinning overhearing Trixie’s barely-audible-but-decidedly-cranky grumble.

“You’re failing quite well at that.”

Quickly turning sober, understanding Trixie had meant far more than just the candles, and rather proud of her for putting together so many disparate things into a cohesive whole, Twilight explained, “I asked for your help because, in―” my world, she’d started to say, revising that in mid-sentence, “Equestria, there’s only a few powerful unicorns with whom I’m personally familiar. One is Sunset Shimmer, but she’s trapped on the other side. Another is Trixie Lulamoon. And while she, too, is on the other side…you’re not.

“Your analogue is a very powerful unicorn Mage, who specializes in Illusion Magicks as well as general sleight-of-hoof and prestidigitation. Which means, based upon all the evidence—empirical and theoretic—I possess, you were the ideal person to ask.”

“Trixie hates to burst your bubble,” Trixie mordantly replied, “But although this Trixie,” she tapped the center of her chest with a fingertip, “is ‘Great and Powerful’, she is not a unicorn. And although your Sunset Shimmer is trapped ‘on the other side’ and so forces you to look here for help, Trixie wonders why you haven’t sought out the two most obvious candidates to ask on this side.”

Rolling her eyes at Twilight’s blank expression, Trixie thoroughly stunned her when she added, “You know: Principal Celestia and Vice-Principal Luna? Who are better known in Equestria as Princess Celestia and Princess Luna? Who are extremely powerful and talented alicorns?”

“I’m so sorry.”

Sunset Shimmer felt so empty inside as the tears finally ceased. However, unlike the terrifying emptiness the draining of her magic had left behind in its wake, this void was peaceful, the preceding tears cathartic.

The pain might have gone, yes, but the sorrow remained, bittersweet and poignant rather than crushing.

“So am I, my little Sunshine. So am I,” came the fatigued, weak response. Exhausted, yes, but there was no mistaking the love there as well.

“But!” Sunset Shimmer blurted, “But it was all my fault! Everything! I—”

“Shhh,” Princess Celestia soothed, interrupting Sunset Shimmer by gently resting a hooftip against her lips. Inordinate sadness flickered in the depths of her eyes as she gazed at her former pupil, a grief tearing Sunset Shimmer’s wounds open again. “Yes,” she admitted, “the decisions you made were, indeed, your choices.”

That was a knife in her heart; Sunset Shimmer rocked back, tears welling again…then froze as her beloved teacher continued.

“But it was my responsibility to inculcate in you the lessons, morals, ethics, and knowledge to provide you the foundation for making good decisions.” Closing her eyes a moment and swallowing to clear a lump, Princess Celestia gazed at her former student once again. “I may have been a good teacher to you…but I was a terrible excuse for a mother.”

Her heart felt stabbed again, this time for an entirely different reason. “No,” Sunset Shimmer gently corrected. “No, you weren’t.” Tears gently trickled as Sunset Shimmer truly considered all she had lost, all she had thrown away. Gently smiling, she warmly gazed at Princess Celestia. “I can’t—we can’t—regain the years lost because of my selfishness. I’ll never know what I’ve missed because of that: the experiences, the joy and laughter…the love.” A gentle sniffle, then, “But you did teach me—regardless of doing my best to ignore and dismiss it—that actions beget consequences. And the consequences of my decisions are those losses.”

Something deep inside Princess Celestia thawed at the warmth, the love—the release of self-loathing—gleaming in Sunset Shimmer’s eyes as she steadily gazed at her. “I don’t want to forget them as if they had never happened,” she resolutely declared. “But neither will I permit them to define me. Refine, yes; define, no. And, although the past is beyond reclamation…” her voice grew very soft and unsure, “I…I hope we may have a future?”

As Sunset Shimmer burrowed beneath the proffered, opened wing, feeling once again the happy little filly…as Princess Celestia gently sheltered her former student beneath…

…the dregs of their estrangement ceased existing, as their healing became complete.

“Trixie would like to know why you haven’t asked Rarity: a much closer friend than Trixie is.”

Twilight hoped Trixie had not seen her wince, because, truth be told, they weren’t really even friends, let alone close friends. Heck, even acquaintances would be stretching it!

Empathy and compassion rose within her like a quickly rising tide. Trixie didn't really have friends, Twilight realized, and while her abrasive personality and self-aggrandizing braggadocio certainly explained that, they neither excused nor absolved.

She winced again, remembering her initial reaction upon determining the boastful self-proclaimed “Magician” was the logical choice for assistance: she had literally recoiled in dislike and distaste. Yet…

Surreptitiously peeking at her, Twilight could not believe this was the same Trixie Lulamoon she knew. Did she really have an actual doppelgänger? Because this Trixie was funny and clever, whose humor ranged from cutting, biting banter all the way through self-deprecating wit.

And it wasn’t just the comedic aspect, either. There was a core of steel within her that Twilight actually envied. Just watching as Trixie had dealt with, and was still dealing with, the revelations bombarding her was humbling. And as bombastic as she undeniably was, beneath that seemingly empty pretentiousness lurked what Twilight was gradually realizing was a brilliant mind. Just look at the last question she had asked!

So…why the difference? And the moment she pondered that an uneasy, disquieting answer surfaced.

Looking at it totally detached, in complete objectivity, Twilight compared past versus present. Always before, she mused, Trixie was the outsider, looking in. Seeking…yearning…hoping. Never noticed. Never seen. Never belonging. Never welcomed, nor wanted. So…if they won’t notice me, I’ll make myself into someone noticeable. Likeable. Wantable. See? Look! Look! It is I! The Great and Powerful Trixie!

But…this time?

This time…this time, Trixie had been asked. Had been wanted. Had been needed. And needed for herself.

Whatever the reasons, Twilight was thoroughly enjoying interacting with Trixie, both as Trixie Lulamoon and as her third-person persona as “The Great and Powerful Trixie!”.

Why hadn’t she thought to ask Principal Celestia and Vice-Principal Luna for help? For Trixie had been absolutely correct in her analysis: there could be no more powerful analogues here than those two. However, with Trixie’s help, between the two of them, Twilight could reason out why they most likely had not immediately come to mind.

For one thing, they were “adult authority” while her classmates were both her age, and more peers and friends than grown-up superiors. For another, having now—due to Trixie’s prompting—considered them as possibilities, Twilight felt uncomfortable involving either of them with this. For, while both Principal Celestia and Vice-Principal Luna had been amazingly accommodating and understanding regarding “magickal shenanigans” in the past, it had also become increasingly clear they would much rather have things “back to normal”. It was one thing with them becoming, albeit reluctantly, involved with magicks when that involved their school and their pupils, and quite likely another asking them to do so during their recuperative summer break! Besides, as Trixie had finally noted, how easy would it be to contact them? Neither one had their personal contact information, and while that should be easily web searched and found, suppose one, or both, were away on vacation? There was no doubt in either girl’s mind that, should Twilight land this bombshell on them, Principal Celestia and Vice-Principal Luna would immediately drop everything and return.

I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of them, had been her immediate answer. And now, after they had deliberated matters, “I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of them,” she repeated. “But, after everything we’ve just discussed, even if I had their contact information, and even if I was absolutely positive either, or both, would be perfectly OK with helping, I’d still rather have asked you.”

At that, Trixie had deeply blushed, looking discomfited, yet shyly pleased as well. Whereupon she had then asked her second, insightful question regarding Rarity.

Trixie looked stunned, as if someone had smacked her in the back of the head with a 2x4, as Twilight sincerely replied, “While Rarity is, indeed, a very close and dear friend, and while she is also extremely skilled within the sphere of her talents, nevertheless you, Trixie Lulamoon, are still my paramount choice to help me with this.”

A fiery, intense blush spread across Trixie’s face at that. However—in both pleasure and surprise—Twilight noted that Trixie neither ducked her head nor lowered her eyes, both emotions blooming more intensely as Trixie softly replied, “Tell me what you need.”

“Trixie hasn’t played ‘Blind Man’s Bluff’ since she was a little girl,” she grumbled as Twilight secured the blindfold in place, snorting in mock-outrage at Twilight’s reply.

"Two weeks ago, huh?"


“OK,” Twilight turned serious, as did Trixie in her turn. “It’s obvious you can sense ‘something’,” she stated. “What I’d like you to do is ‘home in’ on that ‘something’. Try and localize the focus.”

“So...basically you wish The Great and Powerful Trrrrixie to locate and find Princess Celestia’s Book where you've hidden it. Is that it?”

“Hab hab habbitta...” Twilight wordlessly babbled, amusing Trixie to no end.

Nudging the blindfold off just high enough to permit gazing at Twilight with a lifted brow—an expression that further sealed Twilight’s stuttering shock, “That is what you want Trixie to ascertain, isn’t it? That Equestrian magic is now flooding our world because her Book is here along with Sunset Shimmer’s Book?”

Shaking her head to regain her composure, Twilight gazed directly at Trixie without any trace of guile or duplicity. “Yes, it is,” she bluntly admitted. “I wasn’t trying to play games with you. Honest. But had I explained any of this beforehand—”

“You risked tainting the results,” Trixie softly interrupted, once more stunning Twilight with her perspicuity and insight. Removing the blindfold, Trixie took several seconds to orientate herself, slowly turning completely around twice, once with her eyes opened, the second with them closed. Slowly breathing, almost meditatively, Trixie deliberately turned around a third time...paused...grew very thoughtful...

Opening her eyes at last, and moving without any hesitation at all, Trixie stopped in front of the cabinet holding Spike’s grooming supplies. Again, without pause, she opened the drawer, reached to the back...

“Ta da!” Trixie declared as she held up Princess Celestia’s Book....without any of her usual self-aggrandizing.

“So...what do we do now?” Trixie finally asked, having been quietly observing Twilight holding the massive tome on her lap as silent tears trickled down her cheeks.

“I...I don’t know,” she whispered, then jerking upright, startled and shocked at Trixie’s immediate—and decisively firm and scolding—response.

“Yes, you ‘do know’,” Trixie chastised. “You just don’t want to admit it...and you definitely don’t want to implement it.”

“Oh?” Twilight fumed. “And just what does “The Great and Powerful Trixie” think should be done?”

There was a flash of sorrow, a flicker of pain when Twilight rebuked her, a reaction that instantly crushed Twilight. And when Trixie answered?

Drawing the mantle of armor about her, Trixie responded with a dignity and gravitas that humbled Twilight, “If Princess Celestia’s Book cannot be returned to her, then it must be destroyed. Obliterated in such a manner that whatever connection currently existing between Princess Celestia and Equestria, and her Book and this world, is irrevocable severed. For only then will the influx of Magicks here cease; a ‘here’ neither equipped to simply and safely incorporate that, nor able to prevent the corruption doing so will ignite.

“And, in addition to all of that,” Trixie very quietly finished, “doing so will stop the drain that Princess Celestia must already be experiencing as her Magicks are drawn from her and transferred here.”

Twilight sat there, stunned and frozen, mouth open in shock. Before she could even start assimilating all of that, deep shame flooded her as Trixie visibly distanced herself, fully embracing her persona as she rose in dignified haughtier. “Now that The Great and Powerful Trrrixie has answered all your questions and provided you with direction, she will be going now, having no further desire to be mocked and humiliated.”

“Stop!” Twilight’s voice was strangled, tripping over her feet as she struggled to stand. “Please. Don’t go.”

Dark grey-violet orbs transfixed Twilight, their intensity cool and dismissive yet fiery and disdainful. And, although they were of similar height and age, somehow Twilight felt as if Trixie was much older and much taller, gazing down her nose as she towered over her.

“Why? Why should Trixie stay?” she asked over her shoulder on her way to the door.

Intercepting her at the door, Twilight replied, “Because I was rude and hurtful, and I can’t properly apologize to you if you leave before I try.”

A series of sharp knocks followed by a double ring of the bell startled both of them into silence and immobility. Placing an eye to the peephole, Twilight abruptly stiffened before pressing her back against the door, a look of horror and despair on her face. Staring at Trixie with an expression of utter hopelessness and complete desperation, Twilight whispered, “It’s Sunset Shimmer!”

Chapter 24

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Chapter Twenty-four

“Just who do you—” think you are? Doctor Horse slithered to a stop, his fury instantly vanishing as a little dragon went sprinting past.

Twilight!” Spike screamed in mingled joy and terror, racing towards the bed before skidding to an abrupt stop alongside her recumbent form.

However, Spike was not the reason for Doctor Horse’s freezing in place…nor for Nurse Redheart’s equally-frozen immobility. No…that was left for the imposing figure standing in the doorway.

“P-p-p-Princess Luna!” Doctor Horse sputtered, exchanging a startled glance with his partner before both genuflected, paying respect and obeisance to the Princess of the Night. “Please, forgive—”

Gravely—and silently—ghosting inside, having first held up a forehoof for silence and then gesturing for them to rise, Princess Luna took a moment to glance at the bandage-wrapped and blanket-ensconced alicorn in the bed before returning her attention to the two healers. “How is she?” the Moon Princess inquired, her tone distant and neutral…though, in the depths of chill cyan orbs, the flicker of smoldering embers clearly lurked.

As Doctor Horse stuttered his way through the prognosis regarding Miss Sparkle, he slithered to a halt at a regal, silencing hoof. “Will she survive, or not?” Princess Luna clipped.

“Ah…yes. Yes, she will,” and again was silenced by a raised hoof.

Eyes now flat and opaque, Princess Luna focused on the sedated alicorn. “Good,” she curtly replied, voice leeched of all emotion. “We understand that others have been injured as well?” her tone a statement rather than a question.

An icy chill threaded its way through both healers, both at hearing the Royal “We” as well as from her frosty tone and even colder demeanor, unable to fathom what had prompted such a strong, and decidedly antagonistic, reaction. “Y-yes, Your Highness,” Doctor Horse finally replied. “There are three other ponies—pegasi all—who were injured. They—”

“Of your courtesy, good nurse,” Princess Luna politely requested of Nurse Redheart, “We would like to see them.” She had already turned and was heading out the door as she curtly bade Doctor Horse farewell, leaving him standing there, shocked and stunned at her abrupt, brusque exit.

All along the way as Spike had sought out Princess Luna, all that time, he had kept reminding himself it had not been his Twilight; it had not been Princess Twilight Sparkle whom had fatally teleported. However, that had made him feel, as impossible as it might sound, both better yet even worse; as if he were dismissing Miss Sparkle’s life as inconsequential.

He was still anguished knowing that Miss Sparkle was now gone, a victim of instinctive, unplanned and unfocused teleportation driven out of fear. It had been his fault. He should have been able to do something. Push back the crowds. Take control. Something. Anything. Instead, all he had done was just stand there, frozen with indecision; too many choices, too many unknowns.

Just stand there and helplessly watch as Miss Sparkle winked out…and never winked back.

Oh, but how he’d scanned the skies! How he had scoured the landing pad and adjacent Castle grounds, burgeoning terror adding impetus to that drive. Seconds had become minutes, and anger had started churning along with despair as the slowly dispersing mob had continued with their vitriolic denunciation about the “Imposter”, “Fake”, and “Phony”, wanting nothing more than to rage in return. Didn’t they understand? Somepony had just lost their life!

Pushing his way through the throng and ignoring the outbursts and complaints from those shoved past, Spike had headed off to find Princess Luna, needing to report the tragedy to somepony and unable to think of anypony more appropriate.. He could not, however, shake loose the ghouls who tagged along, like sharks scenting blood in the water, and so, by the time he had returned to the Royal Wing hoping to find Her Highness still there, he was followed by a sizable and unwanted entourage.

Her pleased and poised expression had vanished within moments upon meeting his eyes, and by the time he stopped before her, Princess Luna was braced for just about anything.

“Princess Luna,” he croaked. “It…Twilight…she…” He choked for a moment before forcing out, “Twilight…she…she teleported out…and never reappeared.”

Luna just stood there, stunned and frozen, as the physicians’ low hubbub also came to a complete halt, their expressions aghast as Spike’s announcement truly registered. The shock of that statement was so powerful, for an instant she actually forgot that this was not her beloved soul-sib, Princess Twilight Sparkle but, instead, the transplanted analogue Twilight Sparkle, of which Spike was speaking.

How do I handle something like this? she felt akin to panic. Where do I even start? How do I comfort? Is that even possible? She felt tremendously guilty—and immediately mortified, her face igniting with ignoble shame—that the focus of her distress was not the loss of a life but was, instead, the very selfish fear of losing the one pony that might have had the answer to her sister’s illness and of repairing the way for Princess Twilight Sparkle’s return.

“Spike,” Luna sharply spoke, cutting right through the growing conspirational susurration. Fully focused on the little dragon, ears swiveled forwards as if desperately seeking, “There…there is no mistake?”

Before the little dragon could attempt a response, a second clamor came rolling down the corridor. Miserably recalling her pleased excitement of mere minutes ago, I’ll never, ever again tempt the Fates by feeling good about something I’ve done! Now what?

Why is Thunderlane here? Even through his grief and misery, Spike was puzzled at seeing the familiar dark grey pegasus. Now what? he thought, unknowingly echoing Princess Luna.

Neither had to wonder for long.

“There’s—” he panted, breathless from exertion, “There’s been a…terrible accident. Princess Twilight…Blossomforth…Open Skies and Sunshower…have been injured and…are in the hospital!”

Sacrificing dignity for expediency, Princess Luna trotted down the corridors with Spike atop her back. Quite obviously, he was an old hand at this, Twilight having clearly “spoiled” him, as his balance was impeccable, aiding, rather than interfering. Reaching her balcony and about to launch into the air for the long glide to Ponyville, she paused just long enough for a suave, smarmy courtier’s whisper to reach her ear and attention.

Her subsequent launch was quite energetic, Spike squealing at the unexpected power.

Acclimating after a millennium absence had not been easy for Luna. First off had been the lengthy time required to fully recover and recharge, something that—to both Celestia and Luna’s surprise—had actually taken several months. As it turned out, however, that had been the least difficult thing to do.

Luna had always had a reputation for being prickly and arrogant, stern and forbidding, and, in many ways, a simple side-to-side comparison between her and her sister spoke volumes.

Celestia was taller, with a mass proportional with that additional height, and while Luna was taller than most other ponies, she seemed in the shadow―figurative as well as literal―of her elder sib. Celestia was a gray so light her coat resembled alabaster, while Luna’s coat was a deep blue, and, yes, like it or not, the subliminal effect on a pony between light and dark—hello fiction and fantasy writers!—being nature rather than nurture…

(Although, as Luna had unhappily come to learn, nurture quite often played a sordid role in that perception)

She was the tactician, her sister the diplomat and strategist. Neither completed the other: they complemented each other. Both of them had played quiet, behind-the-scenes roles as Equestria gradually took form, maturing from the humble beginnings of bickering tribes Tartarus-bent on grinding the others underhoof, to the first true cooperative intertribal union. Well…mostly cooperative, that is.

Still working behind the scenes, Celestia and Luna saw their hard work collapse before their very eyes as the precarious peace between the three tribes topple due to a “mysterious blizzard”. Before the sisters could even attempt reconciliation, all three tribes had decamped, leaving the other two to their own devices.

Of course, everypony knew that history! And, in fact, celebrated that every year as Hearth’s Warming Eve, the accepted date of Equestria’s true Founding.

Just as everypony knew of the Ancient History of Equestria: the founding of the Crystal Empire, the building of the Castle of the Two Sisters, the construction of Canterlot…

All neat and sweet and wrapped up with pretty little ribbons.

Luna snorted in memory.

Their little ponies were so very careful to maintain close watch for enemies without…never really knowing of the true dangers lurking from within. Princess Celestia and Princess Luna, however…

It had been extraordinarily difficult gradually relaxing the reins of power, permitting their little ponies to begin learning the art of self-governance whilst still being governed by their Diarchs. It was not difficult because of ineptitude on their ponies’ end, for most were quite skilled, eager to learn, and enthusiastic about their duties. Nor had it been due to any obsessiveness “cultism” regarding their Diarchs.

No, the actual difficulty had rested square on the shoulders of a very small but very powerful group of ponies: the aristocracy.

They had resented—at times very strongly, and vociferously—the loss of their power, prestige, and position—when Princess Celestia and Princess Luna had finally assumed the mantle and crown of the Thrones. Resented that and—as was gradually becoming apparent to her—were not above influencing matters to achieve their end: the toppling of the thrones and the establishment of a plutocratic oligarchy.

Princess Celestia had always been the diplomat, the peacemaker; unwilling to contest against the insubordinate nobles and aristocracy who sought to sabotage that precious peace and harmony. And doubly so without the iron strength and fortitude of Princess Luna at her side.

Ancient history—well, ‘ancient’ to this generation; for Princess Luna it was still ‘current events’―somehow glossed over that defiance, and as annoying and irksome as she’d found that stubborn foolishness ‘back then’, she had little to no tolerance for what now passed as “modern aristocracy”.

They were like spiders, lurking in the shadows. And, like spiders, they had their webs everywhere; silken trigger traps known as courtiers, who were eager for the least tantalizing tidbit to retrieve for their secretive Marechiavellianism Masters and Mistresses.

For the most part, that was—mostly—harmless, the lesser aristocracy simply playing the ‘Great Game’ amongst and betwixt each other.

For the most part.

Her sister was more tolerant, more forgiving, of their “antics”, as she called them, than she would ever be. It was one thing to offer lèse-majesté; Luna was a big mare, she could roll with their feeble attempts at provocation. Conspiracy to commit high treason, and even regicide, on the other hoof…

She had never had a chance to co-rule: certainly neither then, nor now. In the beginning, she was still very much the “War Mare” history would later paint her. Because of that, their little ponies found her stern and imposing, nowhere near as approachable as her elder sib had been. That, too, she was uncomfortably aware, had played its part in the Nightmare consuming her. And, currently—and for many the same reasons—their little ponies continued with that reluctance. Due to those circumstances, however, Princess Luna was ill-equipped and poorly-armed and armored for the more genteel skills of Diplomacy.

Celestia might be past Mistress of playing that balancing act with them, but Luna, on the other hoof, was suffering with two major hooficaps: one, she still was learning whom the major players were, and, two, she couldn’t deal with them in the same, direct manner that had been her wont a millennia ago.

So she was left to other devices, those more suitable for her diplomatic sibling:

It has been impossible to keep the knowledge that Celestia has been afflicted from becoming public knowledge, as that occurred quite publicly in the middle of Morning Court. Canterlot, so far, has remained calm, but unless they see Celestia back on her throne soon, it will not be long at all until the citizens become restless and worried.

If the knowledge that Equestria has also lost Princess Twilight Sparkle, our newest, and well‑beloved, princess, I fear what the result might be.

Therefore, for several reasons, I feel that it is imperative that this Twilight Sparkle come to Canterlot. For one, she may have knowledge concerning the Crystal Mirror and the reasons behind its destruction. But, just as important, and for all concerned, simply seeing her presence here in Canterlot will do much to dispel any growing sense of fear and panic that will undoubtedly result if Celestia does not recover by morn.

Anger once again bubbled inside, in memory of how this “Miss Sparkle” had deliberately ignored those requests; had intentionally provided grist for the aristocracy’s mill. Nevertheless, even then, Princess Luna would have adapted. After all, no plan survives first contact with the enemy.

But there would be no understanding, no forgiveness, between Princess Luna and this “Miss Sparkle”. Not now. Not ever. Not after a courtier—undoubtedly seeking to curry favor—had whispered to her what Miss Sparkle had said.

And had not just said, but had loudly declared:

I have no intention of returning with you. And whatever is afflicting Princess Celestia? Well, that’s your problem, not mine. As is whether or not she lives or dies. I don’t care either way, nor does it matter to me in the least.

The unpalatable truth was that, for now, Princess Luna had no choice but to tolerate her continued existence and survival. She had already proven herself useful with curing Sunset Shimmer, so there was hope she might provide a similar cure for her beloved Celestia. There was also the matter of rescuing Princess Twilight Sparkle from whence she was trapped; she might very well prove useful there, as well. So…

Tolerate Miss Sparkle she would.

For now.