An accident with the Mirror Portal ends up with Twilight stuck as a small pony in the Equestra Girls' world. Her friends can't get over how cute she is.
Twilight had planned to visit Sunset Shimmer and her friends over in the other world for a nice, quiet weekend, away from all the worries and problems associated with being a Princess of Equestria. Unfortunately, things rarely go as planned.
After an accident cuts her off from Equestria, Twilight finds herself stuck in the human world until the gateway between the two worlds can be fixed. Which wouldn't normally be a problem...
“Now, are you sure you’ll be all right here by yourself, Spike?”
Spike crossed his arms across his chest in response. “Twilight, this isn’t the first time I’ve been home alone, I’ll be fine!”
“I know, but I still worry sometimes. You are still a baby dragon after all.” Leaning down, Twilight lightly kissed him on his forehead, causing the young drake to stick his tongue out in disgust.
The alicorn giggled at Spike’s response, before turning her attention to the machine at the back of the room, the Crystal Mirror placed dead center within the machinery. Lighting her horn, she picked up a book marked with the image of a shimmering sun in her magic, gently maneuvering it onto a platform right next to the mirror. With another light of her horn, the entire thing sparked to life, the previously reflective surface of the mirror shifting to a kaleidoscope of colours.
“So, remind me again why you’re going off through the mirror?” Spike asked, “With Applejack and Rarity off following The Map, I would have thought you’d be buried in work, especially considering how busy this week’s been.”
“I would have, but Sunset Shimmer and the girls invited me to spend some time with them. From what they've told me, there’s some holiday coming up in their world that warrants a long weekend, and it just sounded too tempting to pass up! So I may have pushed a few things ahead to make sure my schedule was clear.”
Spike raised an eyebrow at that. “A ‘few’ things?”
“Okay, maybe more than a few! But regardless, it’s been too long since I’ve visited Sunset and the others. This seemed like as good a time as any.”
As she stood before the mirror portal, she looked over her shoulder back at her number-one assistant. “You’re sure you don’t want to come, Spike?”
“Yep. After the week we’ve had, I think I deserve a little bit of rest myself, and I’d much rather not spend it as a dog. This dragon’s got a pile of comic books with my name on it!”
Twilight couldn’t help but smile at his enthusiasm. If only he had that same enthusiasm when cleaning his room. “Ok, I should only be gone for a few days. Just make sure to go to bed on time. And try not to overdo it on the ice-cream while I’m gone. Remember the last time?”
Twilight just rolled her eyes at Spike’s comment, before looking back towards the Crystal Mirror. She had made this trip enough times before that the fact that she was traveling to another world entirely no longer fazed her. With a quick “See you when I get back!”, Twilight stepped through the magical portal.
“Bye! Have fun!” Spike replied back. Once she had disappeared from sight, Spike turned away from the mirror and towards the door, rubbing his claws together in excitement. “Alright! Power Ponies #23, here I—”
The crackling of electricity caused Spike to pause mid-step, turning around to face the still active portal. At first, nothing seemed amiss, until another bolt of energy arced across a portion on the left side of the machine.
“Oh, that’s not go—”
With a loud pop, a piece of the machine suddenly fractured, causing a bright flash of light to fill the room. Spike barely had enough time to cover his eyes before the smell of smoke reached his nostrils. Having lived with Twilight his entire life, Spike had learned long ago that smoking machinery was never a good sign.
Uncovering his eyes, Spike looked on in horror at the spot of ash on one section of the machine, the fragments of a no doubt important piece of machinery littering the floor below it. The Crystal Mirror sputtered as the apparatus keeping it open shut down, briefly flashing between shifting colors and its regular mirrored surface before finally shutting down completely.
“Oh no! Twilight!” Running over to the portal, Spike tried everything he could to get it to turn on again, pressing a few random buttons and pulling various levers while praying that he could get it to start up. When it ultimately didn’t, Spike began to pace back and forth in a panic as a slew of questions passed through his mind.
What had happened? Could he fix this? If not, how long until the mirror opened on its own? Among these questions was a far more pressing concern though: Had Twilight made it through okay?
Running back over to the ruined portion, Spike leapt up and grabbed the book off its platform. Despite what had happened, the book still appeared to be in perfect condition, which was a good sign despite the state of the portal. Grabbing a quill off a nearby table, Spike hurriedly scribbled a message onto the most recent page. Once he had finished, he glanced back at the inert mirror.
Oh Twilight, please be okay!
“Ugh…” Twilight groaned as she slowly opened her eyes, wincing as the sun caused the pain in her head to only worsen. No matter how many times she had gone through the portal, it had never gotten any less unpleasant. She had even begun entertaining the idea that the portal itself enjoyed causing her misery in some way, as sufficiently magical objects had been known to develop a limited form of sentience after existing for long enough.
Once the sun had stopped assaulting her eyes, she could finally take in her surroundings. The sight of Canterlot High made it clear that her trip had been a successful one, if a bit rough. She had tried to time her arrival so that classes had already ended for the day and most of the students had already gone home, hoping to avoid the chance of anyone seeing her arriving, and the empty campus seemed to support that idea.
After a few moments, her headache had finally subsided enough that Twilight was able to push herself up and onto her feet, only for her to wobble for a few seconds before falling forward onto her hooves. That was weird, Twilight thought.She was sure she had mastered walking on her back legs and-
Glancing downward, Twilight was greeted to the sight of her front hooves. Ordinarily, this wouldn’t be a cause for concern. She was a pony after all, so she should have been more shocked if she didn’t have hooves, like the first time she had come to this world.
The fact that she wasn’t in Equestria and yet still had hooves was however a reason to worry.
Spinning around, Twilight turned to face the portal she had come from, only to find a towering monolith instead, forcing her to have to crane her neck back just to catch a glimpse of the horse statue built into the top of the monument. She distinctly remembered the portal being nowhere near this tall the last time she had been here.
Looking back down at the mirror portal, the reflection that stared back at her was not the one she had come to expect while in this world, but rather one she would see if she looked in her bathroom mirror back home. Fluffing her wings for a second, her reflection mimicked her actions perfectly, proving to that what she was seeing was real.
“This… this shouldn’t be possible.” Twilight muttered to herself. Every time an Equestrian had traveled through the portal into the human world, they had appeared transformed into something else on the other side. Had something gone wrong when she’d crossed over?
Twilight could feel a hint of panic begin to bubble up within her, but a quick use of the breathing technique Cadance had taught her made short work of that. Now wasn’t the time for panicking, now was the time for thinking clearly.
Alright, so…she was still a pony. A pony in an entirely different world, one where a purple coloured pony with wings and a horn would garner more than a bit of attention, most of it not the good kind either. Images of her being found, hauled off to some secret lab in the middle of nowhere and then having unspeakable experiments performed on her suddenly filled her mind.
Oh, how she so desperately wished she hadn’t let Rainbow Dash talk her into watching that hilariously bad science fiction movie at their last movie night!
There was that panic again. Breathe Twilight… breathe. Okay, so she was still a pony, but she would have a better time figuring out the “why” back home with all her proper researching equipment. Walking up to the mirror, she put her hoof against the reflective glass, expecting to sink into it like it was made of water and allowing her to return to Equestria and try again another day.
Yet all she felt was the cool surface beneath her hoof. She stood there a few more seconds, silently hoping that the portal would randomly open and let her step through back into her world, but to no avail.
“Oh no, oh no, oh no!” The panic Twilight had been working to keep buried resurfaced once more. This was bad, very bad! Why wasn’t the portal working? Without it, she might not be able to return home! She could be stuck here for the next twenty moons! Or maybe even more, she hadn’t been keeping track! Oh, she really should have been keeping track in case something like this happened!
Who would look after Spike then? He might have no idea she was even trapped here! How long would it take for him to realize that she wasn’t coming back? If only she had some way to send him a message…
Message… That’s it! The journal!
If she could get her hands…er, hooves on Sunset Shimmer’s journal, then she could send a message back through the portal. The whole reason she had even come to this world was to visit her friends on the other side, and she had distinctly told them when she had planned to come over. Once she didn’t arrive on time like she said, at least one of them would no doubt come looking for her. All she had to do was wait till then and—
“Eeeek!” Leaping behind the monument, Twilight pressed her back against it as her heart hammered away in her chest. Taking a peek out from behind her hiding spot, she just managed to catch the sight of a car speeding down the road. As she breathed a sigh of relief, Twilight wrapped her wings around her like a makeshift blanket as she looked towards the seemingly vacant school building.
I really hope someone comes soon…
“And… that’s the last of it!” Despite the protesting hinges, the doors to the gym’s equipment room slammed shut thanks to a forceful push from the school’s head coach, Bulk Biceps. Dusting off his hands, he turned to the fiery haired girl next to him, who was currently wiping her hands on the knees of her jeans.
“Finally…” Sunset swore she heard her arm crack as she began stretching out her sore limbs. A lot of that equipment had not been what she would have called “light”.
“I really appreciate the help. I know with the long weekend, you’d much rather be doing anything than helping me put all this away.”
“Oh no, it’s all right! I was happy to help!” Truthfully, Bulk Biceps was half right. She had been on her way to meet up with the others before Twilight arrived, but had run into the coach in the process of putting away all the gym equipment. In the past she might have just let him be and went on with her plans, but now she couldn’t exactly leave him to do all this by himself, now could she?
Despite her protesting joints and muscles though, she had been happy to help. Plus, even after the Battle of the Bands had improved her already shaking reputation with a surprising number of the students and teachers, anything to help show everyone that she really had changed was a welcome endeavour.
Coach Biceps gave a hearty laugh before slapping Sunset on the shoulder, very nearly bowling her over. “That’s the spirit! Now, I don’t know about you, but I think it’s about time both of us headed home. My wife promised to make something special for dinner and I can already taste it from here! YEAH!”
Sunset only slightly flinched at the Coach’s distinctive outburst. “I should probably get going too.” Saying a quick goodbye to the coach as he skipped (yes, skipped) out of the gym, Sunset walked over to the bleachers to retrieve her backpack.
As she reached the bleachers however, she could just make out a light humming noise coming from her bag. Reaching into one of the pockets, she pulled out her phone, but frowned when she saw she hadn’t gotten any new messages since she had sent Pinkie Pie a text telling her she might be a bit late, besides Pinkie’s rather cheerful sounding reply back. So if it wasn’t her phone, then that could only mean one other thing.
Unzipping the main section of her backpack, she pulled out a decently sized tome, emblazoned with her old Cutie Mark on the cover. Every few seconds the book would vibrate slightly, emitting a purple aura as it did so.
Sunset nearly slapped herself. She had forgotten she was supposed to pick up Twilight! Figuring that Twilight must be wondering where she was, she opened up the book and flipped to the newest page.
However, the message that she found waiting for her was not what she had been expecting at all. Frequent correspondences with Twilight had proven that the Princess of Friendship was very meticulous with her writing, and had very neat horn writing. What was scrawled on the page was neither of those things, and could be better defined as rough chicken-scratch that Sunset actually had to squint at for a moment or two to make legible.
Sunset Shimmer, this is Spike. A piece of the portal broke after Twilight went through it, and now I can’t get it to turn back on! I don’t even know if Twilight made it there safely or not! I need you to-
Sunset didn’t bother reading any further, slamming the book shut and tucking it under her arm before hastily grabbing her backpack and racing from the gym and through the school. She should have been worried about possibly running into a teacher and getting a lecture, but right now she had bigger things to worry about.
It may have been forever since the pony-turned-human had studied any kind of magical theory, but years of studying under Princess Celestia had drilled into her the dangers of a spell failing mid-casting. And Sunset was hard pressed to think of a spell more complex than one designed to travel between parallel words, so there was no telling what could have happened to Twilight.
Minutes later, Sunset Shimmer kicked open the front doors to the school and all but leapt down the front steps as she took off towards the school’s renowned monument. Skidding to a stop, Sunset would have taken a second to catch her breath, if the lack of a certain lavender-skinned girl wasn’t making her more concerned by the second.
“Twilight! Twilight! Can you hear me?” When no response came, she tried calling out again, ignoring how ridiculous she looked if anyone was around to see her right now. “Twilight! Are you there? Please answer me!” Again, she was met with silence in return.
Just as she was about to call out a third time, a voice barely above a whisper reached her ears. “S…Sunset Shimmer?”
“Twilight?” Oh, thank Celestia! Looking around, Sunset tried to find the source of the voice.“Where are you?”
“I’m over here, behind the statue.”
Relieved, but also slightly confused, Sunset began walking around the monument. “You’re not hurt, are you?”
“No, I’m alright. It’s just that there’s a… slight problem.”
“What kind of prob-” As Sunset Shimmer stepped behind to where Twilight was hiding, she stopped in place, her jaw hanging open at the sight of the miniature purple pony looking up at her with big eyes, rather than the human she was expecting to see.
“…Twilight? Is that you?” A bit apprehensively, the pony nodded their head in response. Taking a tentative step towards her, Sunset crouched down until she was almost eye level with Twilight now.
The only time Sunset had ever seen Twilight’s Equestrian form had been back when she had stolen her crown, and that had been more brief glimpses as she had been more concerned with not getting caught stealing from a princess. Yet Sunset Shimmer could still see the noticeable resemblance between the Human Twilight and the Pony Twilight, in particular the two toned stripes running through her hair. Plus, Sunset had always wondered in the back of her mind what an Equestrian would look like untransformed in this world, and now it looked like she was getting her answer.
Physically, Twilight looked no different than any other pony she could remember seeing back in Equestria. Obviously she had both a unicorn horn and wings unlike most ponies, but considering Twilight was an alicorn that wasn’t that big a surprise to her. What was a surprise however was just how small Twilight was.
Yeah, Princess Celestia had always liked to refer to her subjects as her “little ponies”, but Sunset Shimmer had always assumed that that was just her way of politely addressing her subjects, especially when she was easily twice the height of even the tallest pony. Looking at Twilight now though, she began to rethink that, as the alicorn mare looked to be no bigger than a large house cat or a small dog.
“What happened?” Sunset asked. “Why… why are you still a pony?”
“I’m not sure. I remember stepping through the mirror like I usually do, but for some reason I didn’t transform before I arrived.” Taking a deep breath for her own sake, Twilight continued, “And the portal’s closed for some reason, so I can only imagine something must have happened while I was traveling between the two worlds.”
“Ah!” Remembering that she still had the journal tucked under her arm, Sunset pulled it out and flipped to the most recent page. “Spike sent me a frantic message saying something had happened, so I rushed over here.” Sunset Shimmer took a second to read the rest of the message before turning it over for Twilight to see. “From what I can gather, the portal back in Equestria blew a fuse or something.”
Twilight’s eyes quickly scanned the hastily written message, which only partially succeeded in alleviating some of her previous worries. “Well, that explains a few things at least. The portal must have cut out right before it could transform me into a human.”
“All things considered,” Sunset interjected, “I’m pretty sure you not turning into a human was the best case scenario here.“
Twilight had to admit that she was right. I guess there’s a silver lining after all. “But now that you’re here, I can get a message back to Spike! Then the sooner I can figure out what went wrong, the sooner—“
The sound of several cars blaring their horns in the distance once more caught Twilight by surprise, causing her to jump in fright…
… Right into Sunset Shimmer’s arms.
“Whoa!” Sunset just barely managed to not topple backwards as the startled princess clung to her chest, shaking in fright. “Easy, Twilight! It’s just a car horn!”
Opening her eyes, it took Twilight a second to realize what she was doing, which prompted a blush to spread across her face once she did. “S-sorry. I don’t know what came over me…”
Sunset sighed. “It’s fine, just give me a little warning next time you’re going to do that.” Looking around, Sunset checked to make sure someone wasn’t watching them. “We should really get you out of the open first though. ”
“Y-yeah. That might be a good idea.”
As Sunset looked down at the pony in her arms, she racked her brain for a way to get Twilight out of here without being noticed. She could probably wrap her up in her jacket and carry her, but that had the potential to be just as conspicuous as carrying around a winged unicorn. If only she had something she could carry her in without being seen… aha!
Making sure to gently put Twilight back down, Sunset slung her backpack off her shoulder, turning it over and dumping everything out onto the grass. Luckily for her she hadn’t had time to make a trip to her locker after class had ended, so most of her textbooks were still back in the school.
Twilight raised an eyebrow at Sunset as she watched her empty her backpack of its contents. “What are you doing?”
Giving the bag one final shake to make sure there wasn’t anything stuck, she lowered the bag directly in front of Twilight, motioning with her hand towards the opening.
Twilight’s eyes widened as she picked up on Sunset’s meaning. “You can’t be serious.”
“It’s the best option I can think of right now. Unless you’ve got a better idea in mind?”
Twilight opened her mouth to respond, but then closed it when she couldn’t readily come up with an alternative solution. Reluctantly, she walked up to the open bag and climbed inside. After a few moments of moving around to find a more preferable position, Twilight felt the backpack being picked up off the ground.
“You okay in there?” Sunset Shimmer asked, peeking in through the bag’s opening at the unhappy looking pony inside.
“More or less…” Twilight grumbled.
Zipping the bag half-closed, making sure to leave a big enough opening for Twilight to look through, Sunset carefully placed the bag onto her back, gathered up what she had knocked out of the bag and set off towards the school’s parking lot.
The whole time, all Twilight could think about was now she knew how Spike had felt when they had first traveled to this world. Once this is all over, I’m getting him the biggest gems I can find.
Several minutes later, the two of them arrived at their destination, where Sunset’s motorbike was still locked up and waiting. A few of her friends, Rainbow Dash in-particular, had been surprised when they had learned she already had her license, especially considering even Rarity had yet to receive her full license. After years of memorizing complex magical circles, glyphs and runes, figuring out a few street signs had been relative child’s play.
Taking a second to unlock her bike, Sunset cracked open the under-seat compartment and retrieved her helmet, putting everything else in its place save for the journal and a pen. Hanging her helmet off her bike’s handlebars, she quickly went about replying to Spike’s previous message. After how much time had passed since he had sent it, the poor guy was probably beside himself with worry.
“Spike, I’ve found Twilight. She made it over here just fine, but the portal’s closed on this side as well. Me and the girls will look after her while she’s here, so don’t worry.”
Tapping her pen against her chin, she thought about what else to put down. “Hey, Twilight?”
“I’ve already let Spike know that you’re okay, but what else should I tell him? Should I let him know about your current… er, ‘condition’?”
Sunset’s backpack started to squirm slightly, which Sunset took as the pony shaking her head. “No, that might only make him worry more. Better to let him think nothing’s changed, though ask him if he could try and figure out what went wrong on his side, if he hasn’t already. All my notes on it should be with the others; just tell him to look for the ones marked ‘Crystal Mirror’. If he can’t figure it out on his own, then he might have to send a letter to the Princess asking for help.”
After making sure to jot down everything Twilight mentioned, Sunset closed the book before tossing it in with everything else, shutting the compartment and slipping on her helmet as she took her seat on the bike. Fishing her keys out of her pocket, she revved the engines, smiling as the bike purred to life.
As she backed out, she took a moment to glance over her shoulder towards her unwitting passenger. “You might want to hold onto something in there, Twi.” With a mischievous look on her face, she slid the face-shield on her helmet down, revving the engine once more for effect.
“Hold onto wh-iiieeeeeeeee!” Twilight’s screams were quickly drowned out as Sunset took off down the road.
In another life, Sunset Shimmer must have been a pegasus. That was the only way she could properly explain the exhilaration she got while cruising down the road on her motorbike, watching the world speed by while feeling the wind whip past her. What was strange was she couldn’t recall ever experiencing this feeling back in Equestria, though that could have just been because the few times she had traveled by chariot she might have been more concerned with getting her hooves back on solid ground.
As her initial exhilaration began to fade, she noticed the stoplight ahead of her flash to yellow. Slowing her bike down to a stop just as the light switched to red, Sunset took a moment to peek over her shoulder at the bag currently carrying the pony Twilight. At least she had stopped screaming after the first mile or so.
“How you holding up back there?” Sunset asked, to which she promptly received a swift kick to her back, cushioned slightly by the backpack. “Ow!”
“You could have given me a better warning!” Twilight whined from inside the confines of her canvas prison.
Sunset just laughed. “What, and miss having you flip out when I drove off?”
Twilight glared at Sunset through the backpack. ”I swear, sometimes you’re almost as bad as Rainbow Dash!”
“I’d be more inclined to blame Pinkie’s influence on that one, actually. Oh, and the light’s green by the way.” This time Twilight had enough warning to brace herself as Sunset revved the engine and drove off once more.
Now that she wasn’t terrified for her life, Twilight could better focus on their destination, though peeking out through the open zipper proved unhelpful, as houses and street signs she only vaguely recognized zipped by her.
“Where are we headed anyway?” She had to yell to be heard over the combined roar of the wind and the motorcycle’s engine.
“Rarity’s place. It’s closer than my apartment, plus we all agreed to meet there, remember?”
Twilight did remember, but after everything that had happened so far it had slipped her mind. Even in the cramped space of Sunset’s backpack, her wings briefly fluttered in trepidation. If that weren’t enough, the panic from earlier hadn’t completely vanished; merely shifted to the pit of her stomach at the prospect of having to ultimately explain all this to her friends.
To Sunset, Twilight’s silence was telling enough. “Worried about how the others will react?”
Twilight sighed in response. “A little bit, I guess…”
“Yeah, I wouldn’t exactly be looking forward to it either if I was in your place.” As they came to another red light, an idea in regards to Twilight’s predicament suddenly occurred to Sunset. “You know, I could just keep going and take you to my apartment instead. I’d probably have to make up something to tell the others, but I’m sure they’d understand given the circumstances, right?”
Twilight had to admit that part of her was tempted to take Sunset up on her offer. But, as appealing as that sounded, she knew that doing so had the potential to only complicate matters for the both of them. ”No, as much as I want to, hiding this wouldn’t be fair to any of them. I have no idea how long it’ll be before I can fix the portal between our two worlds, and eventually they’ll figure out something’s wrong. Better to just get this over with sooner than later.”
“Alright, if you’re sure…” Sunset noted that this particular light seemed to take an obscene amount of time to finally change colors, and the rest of the journey continued on in silence after that.
Thankfully, it wasn’t long before the two of them arrived at Rarity’s. Pulling into the driveway, Sunset cut the engine before removing her helmet and setting it in her lap. Reaching behind her to pull her phone out, she quickly wrote out a text that read, Hey Rarity, I’m waiting out front. Can you open the garage for me? Thanks.
As the text went out, Sunset sighed as she rested her arms on top of her helmet. “Well, no turning back now. All we can do now is wait and—”
Sunset jumped, startled by the abrupt sound. “Gesundheit.”
The sounds of sniffling could be heard as Twilight shifted positions. “It’s really dusty in here. You should really think about cleaning this out more often.”
Snickering, Sunset replied with, “I’ll keep that mind, though none of my books have complained so far.” Catching movement out of the corner of her eye, Sunset looked up at the front windows of the house to see one of the curtains pulled back to reveal Rarity looking out at her. She waved to Sunset Shimmer, who politely waved back before Rarity disappeared back into the house. Moments later, the garage doors slowly creaked open.
As she walked her bike into the garage, Sunset thought about how the two of them were going to go about revealing Twilight’s current state to the others. She couldn’t exactly have Twilight jump out and go “Hey, guess what? I’m a pony now!”
Once her bike was safely inside, Sunset reached down and opened up the under-seat compartment once more, hoping that Spike would have already figured out what had gone wrong with the mirror back in Equestria and replied back with a solution already under way.
No such luck though, as her journal was just as inert as you’d expect a book to be. Sunset groaned as she ran her hand down her face. “Great… just great…”
“No response yet from Spike?”
“Nope. Looks like we’re on our own for now.” Picking up the journal, she made sure to hit the panel to shut the garage door on her way as she stepped into Rarity’s house.
Rarity was already there to greet her. “Sunset Shimmer, darling! So nice to see you, we were all wondering what was keeping you.”
“Sorry, Rarity. I stopped to help the Coach with something and lost track of time.”
“My, how nice of you! Although…” Rarity looked behind Sunset, as if expecting someone else to be trailing behind her. “I don’t see Twilight with you. I thought the two of you were coming together?”
Sunset felt the mare in question shift against her back at the mention of her name. “A-actually, Twilight sent me a note saying that something’s come up and that she may be a bit late. She says it’s alright if we start without her.”
“Oh, that’s a shame, but it can’t be helped I guess. I can only imagine how busy she must be, being a princess and all.” Rarity sighed, placing her hands on her cheeks as a dreamy look filled her eyes. “Princess Twilight Sparkle… oh, it sounds so much like something out of a fairy tale. Must be lovely…”
Sunset raised an eyebrow as the girl seemed to drift off into her own little world. “Uh… Rarity?”
“Oh!” Realizing she had dozed off, Rarity snapped to attention, a slight blush tinting her cheeks as if she had been caught doing something less than proper. “Well, I…” Coughing into her hand, she took a second more to compose herself. “Regardless, I’m happy that you were able to make it. The others are already waiting in the living room.”
Turning around, the indigo-haired girl strolled off in the direction of her living room. Making sure to remove her shoes and place them on the rack near the front door (she could still remember the earful Rarity had given Applejack and Rainbow for not taking their shoes off at the door and tracking mud in from outside), Sunset followed not far behind her.
The first thing she saw upon stepping into the room was Rainbow Dash sprawled out over most of the couch, her arm propped up against the armrest and supporting her head as she lazily flipped through channels without even registering what was on. The rest of the couch was subsequently occupied by Pinkie Pie, who rested upside down so her pink hair hung off the edge, kicking her feet up in the air and humming a little tune to herself to pass the time. Sitting off to the side in the reclining chair was Applejack, her bag resting against the base of the chair and two notebooks open on her lap, while she chewed away at the end of her pen as she tried to make heads or tails of the homework one of her teachers had been devilish enough to issue right before the long weekend.
“Sunny!” Pinkie Pie sprung up as she noticed Sunset Shimmer, flipping end over end until she was sitting the right way up on the couch. “You’re finally here!”
“About time, too.” Shutting off the TV, Rainbow tossed the remote onto the coffee table as she pulled herself up into a proper sitting position, stretching her arms above her head as she did so. “Any longer and I would have fallen asleep.”
Applejack snorted as she glanced up from the books in front of her. “I didn’t think ya ever needed a reason to take a nap. If’n I were to guess, I’d say ya get more beauty sleep than Rarity!”
“Hey! I do not! No one sleeps more than Rarity!”
“Excuse me?” Rainbow flinched at Rarity’s voice, having forgotten whose house she was currently in. The girl in question was standing in the opposite entryway, leaning with her back against the wall and her arms crossed over her chest as she looked at Rainbow with a baleful expression on her face.
“Er… I mean… no offense?” Rainbow quickly stammered out.
Rarity just sighed, rubbing her temples in resignation. “I suppose that’s the closest to an apology I’m going to get out of you.”
Rainbow didn’t say anything further, desperately trying to disappear into the couch. As the others all laughed at Rainbow yet again sticking her foot in her mouth, Sunset noticed that one member of their little group was missing. “Where’s Fluttershy?”
“In the kitchen,” Rarity answered as she stepped into the living room with them. “She offered to make some snacks for us, and asked if she could use my kitchen. I couldn’t exactly refuse a request like that, now could I?”
“Oh, yeah!” Rainbow Dash exclaimed, quickly forgetting her embarrassment from before. “I could go for something to eat right about now!”
“Reckon I could use some grub too, now that ya mention it.” Slamming her school books closed, she threw them back into her bag before tossing the whole thing over her shoulder and behind the chair with a loud thud. “Granny did say to never study on an empty stomach.”
Rarity giggled at her friends. “Well then, I’m sure Fluttershy will be happy to hear that. I’ll go see if she needs some extra help.”
“A-actually, Rarity…” Sunset suddenly spoke up, causing Rarity to pause mid-step as she turned to leave. “Could you wait for a minute? There’s something important you should know.” As she leaned down to put the journal on the table, she looking around the room at the other three before adding, “There’s something I have to tell all of you actually, and it has to do with why I was so late getting here.”
All of them were now looking at her with worry on their faces. ”Darling, is everything alright?” A look of concern passed across Rarity’s face, as her hand shot up to cover her mouth in shock. “You’re… you’re not in trouble with something, are you?”
Sunset could see where this was going and quickly put up her hands in defense. “No, no, this has nothing to do with me! Honest!”
Rarity’s posture noticeable relaxed. “Oh, that’s a relief…”
“Then what is it then?” Rainbow exclaimed. “If it’s so important, tell us already!”
“Alright. You see—“
Sunset Shimmer froze as anything she was prepared to say vanished off the tip of her tongue, no doubt causing her to resemble a deer in headlights as the four girls all stared at her with varying degrees of confusion on their faces. No one said anything for a few agonizingly long seconds, as an awkward silence filled the room.
Rainbow Dash was the one to finally break the silence, pointing in Sunset’s direction. “Did… did your backpack just sneeze?”
“Uh…” Sunset Shimmer was having difficulties coming up with a suitable answer to that. Oh, horseapples.
“Everyone else heard that, right? I’m not going crazy, am I?”
“No, I definitely heard somethin’ or other,” Applejack replied back. “Sunset Shimmer, what exactly was it ya’ll needed to tell us?
Again, Sunset was at a loss for how to properly respond. Come on, say something! Anything!
“Ooh!” Pinkie abruptly jumped up, a wishful look in her eyes. “Did a puppy follow you home? Can I name it? Oh, pretty please!” Pinkie clapped her hands together as she looked at Sunset with a pouting expression on her face.
Surprisingly, that was enough to finally shake Sunset out her momentary stupor, though her first course of action was to groan as she put her hand over her eyes. “No Pinkie, it’s not a puppy, and it didn’t exactly follow me home.” So much for breaking it to them gently. Slipping her backpack off, she held it against her chest as she fully unzipped it and peered inside. “You can come out now.”
Rarity and the others all looked on in anticipation as Sunset’s backpack began to shake and squirm, indicating that whatever was inside was indeed alive. None of them were expecting what did finally pop its head out, staring at them with almost cartoonishly large purple eyes.
“What in tarnation…?” was all Applejack could think to say at the sight of the purple-furred creature.
“Aww!” Pinkie squeed. “It’s so cute!” Bounding closer, she began to scratch Twilight behind the ears like she would a dog. Surprisingly, Sunset noted, Twilight seemed to be enjoying the attention, even lazily flicking her other ear every so often.
“What the heck is it?” Rainbow said, no doubt asking the question they were all thinking.
“As I was trying to say, this is—”
“Looks like one of the horses back on the farm,” Applejack interrupted.
“Except I don’t remember any of your horses being that small. Or purple.” Looking closer, Rainbow added, “Or having a horn sticking out of their forehead.”
Stepping back (much to Twilight’s disappointment), Pinkie seemed to take a second to examine the small pony. “You know, it kind of looks familiar…”
Rarity hummed in thought as she took a good look at the mare. “Now that you mention it, Pinkie, it does look familiar, but I can’t for the life of me place why.”
“Oh! I know!” Pinkie exclaimed, once more cutting Sunset off in the middle of her explanation. “It looks just like Twilight!”
That caused Rainbow to burst out laughing. “Oh, that’s rich! Won’t the egghead be surprised when she sees a mini-horse-thing that looks just like her!”
“Pony, actually,” Sunset finally managed to say without being interrupted, causing Rainbow Dash to stop laughing and look at her funny.
“She’s a pony, not a horse,” Sunset repeated rather adamantly. Glancing down, she saw that the pony in question was currently glowering at Rainbow Dash, no doubt for the ‘egghead’ comment. “Well, are you going to tell them or should I?”
Turning away from Rainbow Dash, Twilight sighed before raising her right foreleg and waving at her friends. “Hi girls.”
Pinkie Pie stepped back in surprise, eyes wide and her mouth hanging open in a surprising moment of shock, an expression shared by the other three girls behind her. All of them continued to stare in disbelief at Twilight, who was beginning to feel rather self-conscious under their gaze.
Eventually, Pinkie Pie managed to squeak out a “T…Twilight?”
Nodding her head, Twilight replied, “Yeah, it’s me.”
After seemingly grasping for something to say, Rarity finally managed to stutter out, “I… uh… I must say that’s an… interesting look for you, dear.”
Applejack didn’t say anything at first, rubbing at her eyes for a second to make sure she wasn’t just seeing things. After that didn’t work, she just tilted her Stetson back and muttered, “Now ain’t that something ya don’ normally see.”
“I can explain, really I can!” Twilight tried to reassure everyone. “There’s a perfectly good explanation for all this! I was on my way over here when—”
“Um… girls?” All eyes suddenly turned as a demure girl appeared in the doorway, hiding behind her long pink hair. “I just finished in the kitchen, so if any of you are hungry, we can—”
Time seemed to stop as Fluttershy caught sight of Twilight sticking out of Sunset’s backpack. Neither one seemed to even breathe as they locked eyes, a myriad of emotions running across Fluttershy’s face one after the other. A feeling of increasing dread descended over the group as they all watched Fluttershy’s eyes widen in surprise.
The sound of a pin hitting the floor echoed through the room like a gunshot.
“EEEEEEEEEEEE!” Bolting across the room so fast that Twilight swore she teleported, Fluttershy hoisted the alicorn up and out of the backpack and held her at arm’s length as she pirouetted in place, a look of pure bliss on her face. “Oh, you are just the cutest thing I’ve ever seen!”
Twilight struggled helplessly in Fluttershy’s grip as she was drawn into a hug, held against the girl’s chest with a strength that Twilight didn’t even know Fluttershy had. Sunset and the others could only look on in slack-jawed shock as Fluttershy nuzzled her cheek against Twilight’s while running her hands through the mare’s hair.
“You’re so cute, oh yes you are!” Spinning around once more, Fluttershy hugged the pony tighter as she squeaked in joy.
“Hm?” Finally snapping out of her cuteness induced euphoria; it took Fluttershy a second to realize where the familiar voice was coming from. Looking down, she was met with the face of a very perturbed Twilight looking up at her.
“Can you please put me down?”
Fluttershy blinked once, then twice. “Oh. Oh my…”
Rainbow Dash had to restrain herself from falling off the couch from laughing so hard.
After Applejack and Sunset managed to pry Twilight loose from Fluttershy’s iron grip (and Rainbow Dash had stopped laughing), Rarity briefly retreated into the kitchen. When she returned, she was carrying with her the food Fluttershy had prepared for them, which included an assorted veggie platter with a bowl of homemade dip in the center, a plate of assorted bite-sized sandwiches, a bowl of nachos and a batch of chocolate-chip cookies fresh from the oven, as well as a stack of enough paper plates for all of them. However, despite their previous sentiments, no one was paying any particular attention to the food as Rarity went back and forth to get it all, instead focusing once more on the pony now sitting in the center of the couch.
Twilight tried to ignore their stares as best she could as she focused on preening her wings, realigning a few feathers that had become loose after being in an uncomfortably confined space for so long and from Fluttershy’s enthusiastic display of affection. She didn’t have to look up to know that the girl in question was still staring at her from across the room, one of Rarity’s throw pillows tightly clutched in her arms.
Pinkie Pie and Rainbow Dash sat on either side of her, the occasional snicker still emanating from the rainbow-haired girl. Applejack had returned to her seat after helping Sunset free Twilight and hadn’t said a word since, while Sunset stood off to the side, trying to determine if she should step in and say something.
Returning from the kitchen once more, Rarity carried with her an equal mix of cola and bottled waters in both arms, setting them down on the table next to the food. “I believe that’s everything. Help yourselves… I guess.” Taking a seat on the floor next to Fluttershy, Rarity tried to look anywhere except towards the literal pony in the room.
Glancing around the room at the dreary expression on everyone’s face, Applejack finally chose that time to speak her mind. “Well, shoot, if none of y’all’re gonna say anythin', then I guess I might as well. You two want to fill us in on what in the Sam Hill’s going on?”
Putting her last feather back into place and pulling her wings against her sides, Twilight took a deep breath to calm her nerves as she began. “As I was trying to say, I was all set to come over here and spend the weekend with all of you. I had to push ahead and rearrange a few things in my schedule to do so, which in hindsight might not have been the best idea considering how much work it caused for Spike and me to have to deal with and that’s not even getting into—”
“Oh… sorry.” Twilight had the good sense to look embarrassed before continuing. “Anyway, I got the portal all set up like I usually do and stepped through without any issue. It was during the trip over that the mirror back in Equestria must have short-circuited or something, and instead of arriving as a human... I showed up looking like this.”
“If that wasn’t bad enough,” Sunset picked up where Twilight had left off, “the bridge between the two worlds has closed until the portal can be fixed.”
Or until the two portals can connect naturally, Sunset left unsaid.
Twilight watched Applejack closely as what they’d said slowly sunk in. Applejack’s face did nothing to betray her inner thoughts, remaining as stone-faced as ever. It felt like an eternity before she finally spoke. “Well then… I guess that goes ‘bout answerin' a few questions, don’ it?”
“Huh?” Twilight wasn’t sure what she was expecting, but Applejack’s response wasn’t it. “You’re… you’re not even the least bit weirded out by all this?”
“Seriously, Twi?” Rainbow Dash said with no absence of disbelief in her voice. “After everything that’s happened since we all met you, I’m not sure what I would call ‘weird’anymore.”
“I reckon Dash’s right. When we first learned ya’ll were a pony, I wasn’t sure what to think at first, so seein' ya like this just caught all of us off guard is all.” Applejack seemed to take a second to look Twilight over once more. “Though what went and surprised me the most is I didn’ think you’d be so small.”
“I’m not! Well, not usually.” Twilight groaned before slumping back into the couch. “I don’t know why I’m this size. It’s really jarring seeing everything so much bigger than me now.” I feel like a filly again…
“Aww, its not so bad, Twilight.” Scootching closer, Pinkie Pie reached over and began scratching the alicorn mare behind the ears like before. “You’re much more huggable now!”
Twilight’s ears twitched slightly and she flicked her tail before giving a content “Mrrr.” in response. Fluttershy hugged the throw pillow tighter as she looked on with just the slightest bit of envy.
Applejack did her best not to giggle at the display, instead looking over towards Sunset Shimmer. “Ya said that doorway’s gone and shut her out. Any ideas on how yer going to go ‘bout gettin’ her back?”
“We’re working on that,” Sunset replied. “Spike’s currently going over the portal to see if he can figure out what happened. Right now all we can do it wait for him to reply back.”
Vrrr! Vrrr! Vrrr!
Sunset glanced down at her journal, which was now vibrating on top of the table while radiating a familiar violet aura. “Speak of the devil…” Picking it up, she flipped through it while everyone else looked on in hushed anticipation. As she read Spike’s message, a smile gradually curved across her lips.
“You’re in luck, Twilight. Seems Spike was able to figure out the problem already.”
“Yep. He says that thanks to your notes, he was able to confirm that only one part of the machine was actually broken. Everything else should be working just fine.”
Twilight grinned in excitement as she clapped her hooves together. “That’s perfect! If it’s just one faulty piece, then all Spike needs to do is replace it and I can go back!” It took all her willpower not to outright squeal at the news. “Does he say which part it was?”
“Hold on…” Glancing back down, she read over the rest of the message. “He says it was something called a ‘mana resonation coil’. He’s even drawn a picture of it.” She flipped the book around so everyone else could see the image on the bottom of the page, which depicted a cylindrical device with two smaller cylinders protruding from both ends. Undecipherable symbols covered the entire thing.
Twilight blinked in mild confusion. “The mana resonation coil? But that’s supposed to regulate the flow of ambient arcane-electrical energy produced. If the mirror generated enough residual energy for it to break, then much more of the machine should have ended up damaged.” Ignoring the blank stares directed her way, Twilight tapped her hoof against her chin in thought. “The only reason I can think of for why it would break is that it must not have been properly calibrated long before I installed it. With each use of the portal, the coil would have decayed further and further under the strain of the portal until it just couldn’t take it anymore.”
“So… what you’re basically saying is this time was the last straw that went and broke the camel’s back, right?” Applejack pointed out.
“Um…I guess?” I’ll worry about the linguistics of that metaphor later. “But all Spike needs to do is replace the coil and the portal should work good as new! Luckily, I keep a few in the basement just in ca—”
In the blink of an eye, all mirth disappeared from Twilight’s face. Her eyes widened while her pupils shrunk to the size of pinheads, her mouth hanging open in shock while her right eye twitched slightly as she stared off into space. After several seconds of sitting as still as a statue, a pink hand reached over and lightly poked the stock-still mare’s horn.
“Uh… Twilight? You okay?” When prodding her several more times didn’t invoke a response, Pinkie Pie tried waving a hand in front of her face. “Heeelllooo? Earth to Twilight!”
Twilight finally blinked as she registered Pinkie speaking to her, causing her to let out an anguished wail before burying her face in her hooves. “No, no, no!”
“What’s wrong?” Fluttershy delicately asked.
“I just remembered I already used the last one to fix another piece of equipment I was using for an experiment! I’ve been meaning to order a batch of new ones, but with how busy everything has been lately I just kept pushing it back more and more!” If that wasn’t bad enough, a part of her was more than happy to remind Twilight that the busy week had been her fault in the first place.
“Can’t you just take out that one and use it instead?” Rainbow randomly suggested. “Like switching out the batteries on a remote?”
“NO!” Twilight yelled, leaping onto Rainbow’s chest while looking up at her with a frantic look in her eyes. “The mana resonation coil is a delicate piece of equipment that synchronizes to whatever it’s installed in! If I just ripped one out and installed it into another machine, the resulting disharmony between the two machines could cause the entire thing to explode! Or worse!”
“Okay, okay! I get it, bad idea.” Carefully pushing Twilight off, she backed up just a bit further away from the panicking Twilight. “Then just have Spike go out and buy a new one. I still don’t see what the problem is.”
“Nopony sells them in Ponyville, that’s the problem!”
“…‘Nopony’?” Rainbow Dash muttered, but was subsequently ignored by the increasingly hysterical alicorn.
“They’re such a particular item that I’ve always had to special order them from a supplier clear across the country. Even if Spike uses my title as a princess to get them to try to rush an order, it could still take days for them to arrive! Maybe even weeks!”
Hyperventilating, Twilight began to unconsciously flap her wings, causing her to start hovering off the couch. She could make out the voice of someone calling out to her, but she was too consumed with worry to register what they were saying.
Every time she had come to this world, she’d always had the option open to her to go back home should the need arise, but now she was well and truly trapped here.
What would Spike tell Rarity and Applejack when they came back? What about the rest of her friends? What if something important came up and she wasn’t there to help? Would everypony think she’d abandoned them? What if Parasprites attacked the town again? Or changelings tried to invade? What if a pack of Windigos appeared? What if Tirek broke out of Tartarus again and went after her friends out of revenge? What if—
Twilight was stopped from formulating any more possible scenarios when she was abruptly scooped out of the air and tightly embraced once more. She initially tried to struggle like before, but even panic-stricken she began to notice that this felt much different than before. Whereas before she had been almost smothered, this felt much more tender and inviting, as the sound of a familiar voice singing a soothing melody reached her ears.
“F…Fluttershy?” she managed to croak out as she felt a hand slowly run through her mane and down her back in a comforting manner.
“Shh… it’s alright. Everything’s going to be alright…” Fluttershy’s voice was like velvet to Twilight’s ears as she continued to sing to her.
As Fluttershy continued to hold onto her, Twilight could feel the comforting melody wrap around her, each note flowing through her body and mind. She could feel the panic that had been present ever since she had arrived gradually dissipate, taking with it bit by bit the fear and worry that had threatened to consume her. Her wings relaxed, folding up against her body as the world around her slowly faded out of focus. She just barely registered the sensation of Fluttershy carrying her somewhere, as she felt her eyelids grow heavy as she curled up against Fluttershy’s body, the calming voice keeping the mare on the very edge of consciousness.
Time lost all meaning to Twilight as she focused only on the pleasant voice, though eventually the soothing melody came to an gradual end. Opening her eyes, she looked up to see a pair of soft blue eyes looking down at her, a pleasant smile on Fluttershy’s face.
Twilight nodded her head. “Thanks, Fluttershy. I needed that.”
If it was even possible, Fluttershy’s smile grew even more beaming at hearing that. “I’m just glad I was able to calm you down.” Leaning over, she gently placed Twilight down onto the throw pillow she had been previously hugging, having set it down when she had gotten up to help the distressed mare.
No longer racked with panic, Twilight glanced around the room to find Sunset and the others all staring at her and Fluttershy. Rarity and Pinkie Pie practically swooned with glee at the display, while Applejack sat back with her Stetson held over her face, though not enough to completely hide her grin. Still holding her journal open, Sunset Shimmer appeared rather amused by the entire thing, while Rainbow Dash just sat with her mouth hanging open.
Rainbow quickly picked her jaw up off the floor. “Whoa, Shy. That was amazing… How’d you know that would work?”
“It helps calm down some of my animals when they’re scared or worked up,” Fluttershy replied without looking away from Twilight, brushing a lock of hair out of her face. “I know I shouldn’t be treating you like any other animal, but you just looked so frightened that I couldn’t just sit back and do nothing.”
“No, it’s alright, Fluttershy. I know you meant well, and panicking like that does nothing to help anyone.” Thanks to Fluttershy, Twilight was thinking clearly again, which made the ultimate solution to her current problem all the more obvious. “With no easy way to replace the coil, I guess I’m going to be here for a while. And here I was planning on just spending the long weekend relaxing…”
“Well, shoot, I don’t see why that has to change, sugarcube! You’re gonna be here for the long haul, nothin’ stoppin’ ya from enjoyin’ yourself!”
“Applejack’s right,” Rarity said. “Sure, we might have to get creative to help make your stay more comfortable, but I don’t see why we can’t still have fun.”
“But… but where will I stay?”
“You could stay with me,” Sunset offered. “Luckily my landlord is a bit more lenient than some in regards to ‘pets’.”
“Plus, I’m sure any one of us would be willing to take you in while you’re here, right girls?” Fluttershy suggested, turning to the others in turn.
“Ooh!” Pinkie raised her hand. “Count me in!”
“Reckon I’d be a poor excuse for an Apple if’n I didn’t offer ya some hospitality,” Applejack said.
“Hells yeah! I’d have to be some kind of idiot to leave you all high and dry!” Rainbow Dash exclaimed.
“You’re always welcome here, Twilight. All you need to do is ask and I’d be more than happy to have you until you’re able to head home,” Rarity said.
Twilight felt a warmth well up inside her, a smile spreading across her face at her friends’ generosity. Seems no matter what world I’m in, Twilight thought, I couldn’t have asked for a better group of friends.“Thanks, girls. Though before any of that, I still need to send a reply back to Spike to let him know what he needs to do while I’m gone.”
“Ooh, I’ll go get a pen. Wait just one moment!” Rarity said.
As Rarity stood up and ran into the hall, Twilight realized that her previous panic attack had left her parched. Turning her attention to one of the water bottles on the table, Twilight casually willed her magic to draw the object towards her.
The water bottle didn’t so much as twitch. Glancing up at her horn, she tapped her hoof against it, only managing to produce a single spark from the contact between the two. Focusing on the water bottle again, she once more urged it to float over to her as she had done countless times before with nary a passing thought.
And again, nothing happened. Thanks to her still calm demeanour, her only reaction was to sigh and rub her head with her hoof. “I was afraid of this…”
“Need some help?” Looking up, Twilight watched Sunset Shimmer tuck her now closed journal under her arm before walking over and picking up the water bottle she had been staring at, twisting the cap off and offering it to her.
Carefully gripping it in her front hooves, Twilight offered a quick “Thanks,” in return, before tilting her head back as she brought the water to her lips and took a long drink from it.
“No magic, huh?” Sunset asked as she watched Twilight guzzle nearly half the bottle in one go.
Wiping her lips as she finished, Twilight shook her head. “No, I guess not. I was hoping since I still had my horn that I might have been able to at least levitate things, but I guess even that was just wishful thinking.”
“Yeah, I figured as much.” Grabbing one of the cans of cola, Sunset quickly popped the tab before taking her own sip of her drink. “I may not be able to sense magic like I could back in Equestria, but as far as I can tell this world is a veritable magical dead zone.”
Twilight simply nodded her head in understanding. While ordinarily the loss of her magic would have been a serious concern to her, she had already gone through that the first time she had come to this world and had long ago accepted that so long as she was here she would be effectively deprived of her magic. It seemed even as a pony that remained unchanged.
“Magic? Ya mean that there fancy glowin' stuff that give us all pony ears and what not?”
“Er…” Scratching the back of her head, Sunset Shimmer considered whether she should even try to explain to Applejack the concept of magic. Thankfully, she was saved by Rarity choosing that moment to return, pen in hand.
“Here you are.” Offering the pen to Twilight, the alicorn looked to the pen in Rarity’s hand, then up at her horn, before turning to Sunset with an unsure look on her face.
“Uh, Sunset Shimmer? Would you mind…?”
“Sure, no problem.” Taking the pen from Rarity, Sunset cracked open the journal and rested it against her arm, pen held against the fresh page. “Fire away, Twilight.”
Clearing her throat, Twilight began to dictate what she wanted to say to Spike. “Spike, this is Twilight. Unfortunately, you may not be able to find any more mana resonation coils in the castle, so I need you to go down to the Post Office and request an order form for a new batch. There’s a good chance they might already have a few forms on hoof, and, if you can, request their most express shipping.
“I know you may be tempted to cut the wait time anyway you can, but right now it’s more important that you get a quality coil to replace the damaged one with. If getting one quicker could potentially damage it, then I’m afraid you’re going to have to wait. I’ll be fine, I promise. Everyone’s offered to look after me while I’m here, so you don’t have to worry.
“If anyone comes to the castle, tell them I’ve been called away on important business and won’t be back for a few days. If they still persist, let them know that they can leave a memo and I’ll take care of it when, and only when, I get back. If any of our friends ask, then just tell them the truth: that I’ve gone to the other world for a few days and will be back as soon as I can.
“In the event that something major occurs, or even that the coil could take up to a week or longer to arrive, then you may have no other option but to contact the princesses, if you haven’t already.”
Pausing for a moment, Twilight tapped her hoof against her chin as a thought came to her. “After you’ve done all that, I have one more thing I need you to do: enjoy yourself.”
Sunset Shimmer raised an eyebrow at that part, but nonetheless kept writing as Twilight went on. “You’ve worked just as hard as I did this past week, if not more. You were just as excited to use this time to relax, and I would feel terrible if you were kept from that because of me. You did say this wasn’t the first time you’ve been home alone, so just do what you usually do when you’re home by yourself, whether that be reading your comics, watching hoofball or even making that chocolate emerald cake I know you love so much. I want to hear all about it when I get back.
“Until then, make sure to look after the place and stay safe.”
With one final stroke of her pen, Sunset finished writing down everything Twilight had to say before closing the book and setting it aside. “If I didn’t know any better,” Sunset said as she turned to look at Twilight, “I would think you were Spike’s mom or something.”
“Spike said something similar before I left. Although… he’s not entirely wrong. I have been looking after him since I was a filly, and I guess I do fret over him like a mother would. Though he looks after me just as much as I look after him, so I think he’s more like my little brother in that regard.”
“Must be nice, having someone like him around.”
“Yeah, Spike means the world to me.” I’ll have to remember to make it up to him once this is all over.
“Well then!” Rarity spoke up, clapping her hands together to get everyone’s attention. “Now that that business has been taken care of, I think it’s about time we partake in all this food Fluttershy has so kindly provided us, don’t you?”
“Sweet! Thanks for reminding me of how hungry I was!” Without warning, Rainbow Dash grabbed a fistful of nachos and swiftly shoveled them into her mouth, dripping salsa and cheese everywhere and nearly causing Rarity to have an aneurism.
Honestly, she loved Rainbow Dash as much as any one of her friends…but some days she couldn’t for the life of her remember why.
“Whoa there! Save some for the rest of us, why don’cha!” Applejack said.
“I call dibs on the cookies!” shouted Pinkie Pie.
“Like hell you do!” Rainbow Dash somehow managed to say through a mouthful of nachos.
As the three of them pounced on the food, Fluttershy grabbed two paper plates from the stack. “Would you like me to make a plate for you, Twilight?”
“That would be nice. Thank you, Fluttershy.”
Conversation died down for a spell as everyone began enjoying the food. As Twilight munched on one of the mini-sandwiches, she couldn’t help but get the feeling like she was still being watched. Peering out of the corner of her eye, she could just make out Rarity sitting nearby, absently picking at her own plate of food while keeping her eyes locked on Twilight.
“Uh… Rarity? Is something wrong?”
“Oh!” Rarity jumped up, swiftly averting her eyes and absentmindedly playing with her hair. “Well… no… it’s just…” Realizing she had been caught in the act, Rarity bowed her head, no doubt trying to mask the look of shame on her face. “I’m terribly sorry, Twilight. I know it’s rude of me to stare, it’s just that I can’t help but be rather…” She idly twirled her fingers in small circles, as if hoping to pluck the right word out of the air. “Intrigued, I guess would be the right word. Yes, I’m intrigued by certain aspects of your appearance.”
“Well, I do remember that when we all got our first good look of you like this, Pinkie remarked on how similar you were to how we’ve come to know you. Now that the initial awkwardness has passed, I find myself noticing how few differences there actually are. Well… besides the blatantly obvious that is.” Reaching out her hand as if to touch Twilight, she suddenly drew back, thinking better of herself. “May I?”
“Oh! Uh… sure.”
Smiling, she reached out again and slowly ran her fingers down one of Twilight’s ears, causing the alicorn to flick her ear at the touch. “Your ears look the same as the ones we all get when we transform, same with your wings.” Moving downward, she traced her fingers along the side of Twilight’s face. “Your fur is the same color as your skin, and, despite the muzzle, I can’t help but see the resemblance between your face now and your face as a human. Your hair is virtually identical and your eyes are much bigger than any pony I’ve ever seen, almost human-like even.”
Moving her hand to Twilight’s forehead, she lightly tapped the tips of her fingers against the side of Twilight’s horn. “This, however, is something new to me. Even when all of us take on those half-pony forms, I can’t ever recall seeing you with a horn.”
“I’ve wondered that myself. The only possible reason I can come up with why it doesn’t appear as a human is I guess it would look silly if you and me suddenly had horns coming out of our foreheads.”
Rarity raised an eyebrow at the implication. “Me? Why would I have a horn as well?”
“Uh…” Twilight had to think hard about how much she should tell the others about Equestria. She had told her pony friends all about the human world after her first trip here, so it was only fair she did the same with her human friends. Plus, she knew she could trust them to keep all this a secret. “I have mentioned my other friends back in Equestria before, right?”
“I remember ya sayin’ once how we looked like people… er, ponies that ya knew,” Applejack answered as she chewed on a carrot slice coated in dip. “Frankly, I’m not sure which is more frightenin’: that there’s ‘nother me walkin’ around, or that there’s ‘nother Pinkie Pie walkin’ around.”
“That would be so cool! Just think about what I could do if there were two of me!” Pinkie smiled as she bit into a chocolate-chip cookie, seemingly deep in thought at the prospect of being able to be in two places at one.
“I’d much rather not, if’n I can help it, Pinkie.”
Oh, two Pinkies are nowhere near as bad as two dozen Pinkies. Twilight resisted the urge to cringe at the memory of a swarm of pink ponies invading Ponyville with endless chants of “Fun! Fun! Fun!” It was a wonder the whole town hadn’t all had nightmares that night.
“Well, there’s also a Rarity where I come from and she’s a unicorn, so she has a horn just like mine.”
“Interesting…” Rarity drew her hand back and tapped her fingers against her chin, seemingly trying to picture in her head what Twilight was describing.
“Hey, that reminds me!” Rainbow yelled from across the room. “When we transform, Shy and me get wings like yours! Does that mean that over in your world, we’ve got horns too?”
Twilight shook her head. “I’m sorry, but no. The Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy from my world are both pegasi, so no horns.”
“Aww!” Rainbow crushed her empty cola can between the palms of her hands and tossed the remains over her shoulder, wasting no time in snagging another from the table. “That’s lame.”
“Hardly. Not only can a pegasus fly, but they can also walk on clouds and most of them are in charge of controlling the weather all over Equestria.”
Luckily for Rarity’s carpet, Rainbow hadn’t been drinking when Twilight had revealed that piece of information. “Whoa, controlling the weather?! That’s sick! I could make it clear skies all week, every week! No more dreary rain cutting into practice!”
The look on Applejack’s face made it abundantly clear that she didn’t share in Rainbow’s enthusiasm. “Yeah, Rainbow, I’m sure all the farmers will be overjoyed when their crops all up and die from lack of rain. Now that I’m thinkin’ bout it, what does that make Pinkie and me then? I figure neither of our doubles have horns or ya would have said so, and we sure as sugar don’t have no wings.”
“You’re right,” Twilight said. “The Applejack and Pinkie Pie back home are both earth ponies.”
“Earth ponies? Sounds to me like a group of work horses who ended up gettin’ the short end of the stick.”
Twilight appeared horrified by such an accusation. “Oh, no, no, that’s not it at all! Everypony has their own kind of magic; an earth pony’s magic just tends to be more internalized and based on their connection to the land, often contributing to their greater physical strength, iron constitution, greatly extended life-spans and... whatever Pinkie does.”
Applejack raised an eyebrow at that last part. “Would’a thought ya’ll have tried to figure her out one of these days.”
“I tried that once. It ended with me cleaning pond scum and soot out of my mane. Best to leave it at that for everyone’s sake.”
Applejack glanced over at Pinkie Pie, who appeared to be acting out the role of a mad scientist as she drowned her nachos in vegetable dip and cookie crumbs.“Guessin' I’ll take your word for it. Though, if the ponies in your world either have a horn, wings or neither, then how come ya’ll got both, Twilight?”
“Me? Oh, I’m an alicorn. I guess you could say I’m kind of a mix between all three kinds of ponies. I mean, I used to be a unicorn, but then there was this whole incident with a spell written by possibly the greatest theoretical mind of the last millennia—long story—and next thing I know, I’ve got these…” Twilight briefly fluttered her wings to indicate her point. “…and I’m being made a princess.”
“Wait, wait, wait.” Rainbow Dash raised her hand, as if attempting to stall while she tried to process what she was hearing. “Back up a sec. So not only did you just suddenly sprout wings, but they made you royalty too, just like that?”
“It’s mostly the principle of the matter.” Sunset spoke up, taking a sip from her drink before continuing. “The first alicorns appeared during the Era of Discord, long after the Hearth’s Warming Treaty united the previously conflicting races. As the three tribes were in danger of either being wiped out or driven mad, they were saved by the arrival of a pair of alicorns.
“Since an alicorn embodies the best traits of each race: the strength of the earth ponies, the wings of a pegasus and the power to channel and control magic on par or above even the best unicorn spell casters, they’re historically regarded as the best suited to mediate between the earth ponies, unicorns and pegasi.”
As she finished, she noticed that everyone was staring wide-eyed at her, especially Twilight. “…What?”
“No-nothing!” Twilight stammered. “It’s just… I’m surprised you remembered all that.”
“Cut me some slack, Twilight. You make it sound like I never went to see the Hearth’s Warming pageant as a filly!”
“I guess that’s true. Sometimes I forget that you’re originally from Equestria as well.”
A sudden gasp was the only warning Sunset got before Pinkie Pie inexplicably vaulted across the room before grinding to halt with her face mere inches from Sunset’s own, causing a stray nacho to become lodged in Sunset’s throat at the sudden invasion of her personal space.
“That’s right, you’re just like Twilight!” Pinkie Pie gasped again. “Ooh, what kind of pony were you? What kind?”
Draining the rest of her cola, Sunset politely pushed Pinkie Pie away from her once she had stopped choking. “I was a unicorn. Or… I guess I still am in a way? I don’t know… I haven’t thought about it in a while.”
Twilight might have imagined it, but she could have sworn she heard a hint of something in Sunset’s voice when she had said that. It sounded almost like… regret? Disappointment maybe? “Sunset—”
“Hey, I’ve got a question that’s been bugging me,” Rainbow interjected, pointing at Twilight. “What’s with the butt tattoos?”
“W-what?” Twilight frantically craned her to neck to see where Dash was pointing. “Oh, that’s just my cutie mark.”
Rainbow snickered. “Cutie mark? Seriously?”
“Yes, very much so. A cutie mark is a special mark that appears when a pony discovers their special talent, something that makes them uniquely them. It is a physical representation of their greatest skills, their aspirations or even what they treasure most in life. You can tell a lot about a pony from just seeing their cutie mark and no two marks are the same.” Though Twilight could recall seeing a few which seemed almost eerily similar. “The day a pony discovers their cutie mark is a defining moment in their life that most remember with fondness.”
“Still sounds silly to me.”
“I think it sounds lovely,” Rarity countered. “Just imagine being able to instantly know something essential to a person’s identity just at a glance; I could just see something so significant having a huge cultural impact!”
As Twilight went into full on lecture mode regarding cutie marks, Pinkie Pie returned to her spot on the couch and was glancing around the room to see if anyone else had noticed that there was only one cookie left. When she was sure no one else was watching, she sneakily reached over to claim it for herself. Come to mama!
Just as she was about to grab it though, a hand reached over and snatched it out from under her. Pinkie Pie whipped her head around in time to see Sunset Shimmer take a big bite out of the cookie that should have been hers.
“Hey! Sunset, that was mine!”
Sunset’s answer to that was to stick her tongue out at Pinkie. As she savored her prize, she noticed Applejack smirking at her from across the room.
“What? Did you want it instead?”
“Oh, no. I’m just tryin' to picture y’all as some cute and fuzzy pony, is all. I must say, it’s quite the picture.”
As Sunset opened her mouth to retort, she felt a sudden chill run down her spine. Glancing over her shoulder, she saw Fluttershy looking at her, a wistful look in her eyes.
“No, don’t even think about it!”
“Awwww…” Fluttershy whined, causing everyone to start laughing. After a moment, even Sunset Shimmer joined them in their laughter.
The night progressed in much the same way. It was like any other time Twilight had spent just hanging out and laughing together with her friends, regardless if she was a pony or not. They cleaned out all the food Fluttershy had made, swapped stories about everything that had happened since Twilight had last visited and even played a few rounds of party games (with some assistance for Twilight’s sake).
Occasionally, someone would ask a question or two about ponies, or Equestria in general, and Twilight and Sunset did their best to answer them (though both were extra careful to make sure they never mentioned either of the princesses by name). All in all, everyone was having a good time.
And then Pinkie had somehow managed to dig up a particular game from the dark recesses of Rarity’s closet.
With a grunt of exertion, Applejack finally managed to slam her hand down onto the bright red dot to her right. “Ha! Top that!”
The seven of them had convened to what Rarity called her “Inspiration Room”, which had originally been intended as a guest room before Rarity had managed to convince her parents to let her use it, her main argument being that she could never recall ever having guests over to warrant a guest room.
Now the room played host to several shelves of fabric and various sewing supplies, a desk with a sewing machine on top, a rather expensive looking red velvet couch and a few mannequins draped in some of Rarity’s designs, while potential plans and sketches littered the walls. Even with all that though, there was still more than enough room to lay out the small plastic mat, covered in four rows of colored dots, that was currently twisting its latest victims into knots.
Rainbow Dash had been the easiest to convince and naturally Applejack had jumped at the chance to once more prove she was more athletic than Rainbow. Somehow, the three of them had managed to drag Sunset Shimmer into their nonsense, which was how she found herself in her current predicament; pressed far too close for comfort against the others.
Wishing to participate, but unable to given her current state, Twilight had elected to run the spinner that determined which color each player would reach for with what limb. Sitting in Fluttershy’s lap while she did this, the pink haired girl ran a brush through Twilight’s hair (with Twilight’s permission of course), every so often wincing as she watched her friends become more and more twisted together.
Rarity had wisely chosen to sit out from the whole affair, calling it “juvenile” and “obscene.” Sitting back on the fancy-looking couch, she had her sketchbook propped up as she sketched away, occasionally looking up at the game currently in progress and rolling her eyes at the display.
Rainbow Dash scoffed at Applejack’s declaration. “Ha, why don’t you actually give me a challenge for once? Come on Twilight, hit me with a good one!”
“Hold on, it’s Pinkie’s turn.” Putting her hoof against the spinner, Twilight sent the arrow spinning with a light flick of her hoof. Seconds later, it came to rest on a chosen color. “Pinkie, left foot on green.”
“Okie Dokie!” With a shocking level of dexterity, Pinkie Pie managed to snake her left leg over Applejack and down onto one of the green dots. With how her limbs were splayed in every direction, Pinkie Pie could very well be mistaken for some kind of strange four-legged octopus.
“Alright, now it’s your turn, Rainbow.” With another spin, the arrow quickly decided on Rainbow’s fate. “Right hand, yellow.”
Sweat began to drip from Rainbow’s brow as she looked at her options. Given how she was placed, she would need to reach clear across the board in order to even come close to touching a yellow spot. Her eyes flittered across the tangled mess of limbs, trying to spot an opening she could use.
Aha! Stretching her arm as far as she could, she slowly edged her upper body across the board, ultimately crawling underneath Sunset Shimmer as Rainbow’s fingers just barely brushed against the nearest yellow circle, taunting her with just how close she was.
Come on! Just… a… little… more!
With one final lunge, Rainbow Dash managed to slap her hand down onto the yellow dot, letting out an almost herculean cry of victory. As she savored her accomplishment, she noticed something out of the corner of her eye thanks to her new position, something that prompted her to grin devilishly from ear to ear.
“Well, well… I always wondered whether you wore a bra or not.”
“Hey!” With her face quickly turning a bright shade of red, Sunset shifted her head to look down at Rainbow, giving her the single most seething glare she could muster. “Eyes up here, Rainbow!”
“Rainbow Dash!” Rarity cried out from across the room. “I don’t believe you! To even think about speaking about something so personal in such a flagrant manner!”
“Oh, lighten up, Rarity! You can’t tell me you haven’t wondered too!”
“That is not the point!” Rarity shot back, while desperately trying to hide her blushing face behind her sketchbook. “One does not talk about a lady’s garments so brazenly!”
“Can the two of you just drop it?!” Sunset all but snarled at them.
“Aww, is Sunny embarrassed by the size of her b—” Before Pinkie Pie could finish that sentence, Sunset kicked one of Pinkie’s arms out from under her, causing her to topple forward. Unfortunately, this also had the unintended side-effect of causing her to fall into the others, causing all of them to knock against one another and fall into one big, uncoordinated heap.
“Ah! Get your elbow out of my face!”
“Whose foot is that?!”
“I can’t feel my hand!”
“That’s because that’s my hand!”
While the four of them struggled to disentangle themselves from the chaotic mess of jumbled limbs, Twilight meanwhile had an inquisitive look on her face. Peeking up at Fluttershy, she innocently asked, “What’s a bra?”
Fluttershy’s reaction was to emit an almost inaudible squeak in reply, as she tried desperately to hide her bright red face in Twilight’s mane.
The sounds of running water slowly dwindled as Sunset Shimmer shut off the taps to the shower. Wrapping a towel around herself, she stepped out into the bathroom proper and over to the sink, taking a moment to wipe away the fog that had clouded up the mirror.
She considered herself lucky that she had managed to claim the bathroom before anyone else; especially since Rarity, Applejack and Fluttershy had all been absent when she had woken up. Since Dash wasn’t impatiently pounding on the door, that was a good sign that she and Pinkie were likely still out cold on the floor of Rarity’s room.
Grabbing a second towel to dry her hair with, her thoughts drifted to Twilight, still peacefully curled up on top of one of the extra sleeping bags, an extra blanket thrown over her to keep her warm. After everything that had happened yesterday, it was no surprise that she had been the first to fall asleep last night, and Sunset had been extra careful to not disturb her when she had snuck off to the bathroom.
Speaking of last night, things had gone far smoother than Sunset had originally expected. The girls had quickly accepted the now pony Twilight, though part of her wondered why she should have been surprised.
They accepted me, after all.
All things considered, last night had been an enjoyable one overall for all involved, despite a less than ideal introduction and a few… awkward moments thanks to one person in particular. I swear I’m going to kill Rainbow for looking up my shirt.
Once her hair was dry enough, she discarded the towel behind her and grabbed the bottle of mouthwash next to the sink. Taking a good swig from it, Sunset tilted her head back as she loudly gargled the minty liquid before spitting it out into the sink in a way that would no doubt have made Rarity cringe. Chuckling to herself at the mental image of a disgusted Rarity, she glanced up at her reflection in the mirror…
…Only to see an orange unicorn with a mane of red and yellow hair staring back at her.
“Wah!” Sunset leapt back in surprise, which caused her to slip on the previously discarded towel, falling back onto the bathroom floor and bashing her shoulder against the tub behind her. Wincing, she rubbed her bruised shoulder as she shakily got back to her feet, her eyes drawn back to the mirror.
The face of a human girl with orange skin and red and yellow hair looked back, just as it had every morning for the last four years. Sunset cautiously took a step forward, bracing her hands against the sink for support as she stared into the mirror, expecting it to change again.
Snapping her eyes away, Sunset leaned down and twisted both taps on full blast, running her hands under the flow of water for a few seconds before splashing it against her face. She did this several more times before she was satisfied, though one hand still remained tightly gripping the edge of the sink while the other switched off the faucet.
As a final act of reassurance, Sunset reached out her hand, her reflection mimicking her movement. Only when she felt the cool glass against her fingertips did she let out a breath she hadn’t even been aware she’d been holding. As water dripped down her face into the drain below, Sunset forced herself to laugh.
“I must still be half-asleep…” she muttered, yet that did nothing to get the image of the pony out of her head, a pony whose face she hadn’t seen in years. As her mind remained focused on that, something she had said last night came rushing back to her.
I was a unicorn. Or… I guess I still am in a way? I don’t know… I haven’t thought about it in a while.
She hadn’t been lying. Even after Twilight had started coming over, she had thought less and less about her life as a pony. Back then it had been the driving force behind her abuse of her fellow students, an attempt to reclaim the power she had so rightly deserved. Now… now it was a string of regrets she was trying to put further and further behind her. So why was she—
A harsh pounding against the bathroom door broke Sunset out of her thoughts. “Hey, you alive in there?” Rainbow Dash yelled through the door. “I thought I heard a scream.”
Gazing at her reflection for a few seconds longer, Sunset sighed. “I’m fine,” she called back. “I just slipped is all. I’ll live.” There was no answer for a moment, which Sunset took to mean Dash was glad she was all right. Dash would have never have admitted it, obviously.
“Well, can you hurry it up then? Some of us would also like to use the bathroom today!”
Sunset rolled her eyes, even knowing Rainbow couldn’t see her. Another series of knocks made her throw up her hands and shout back, “Alright, alright! Hold your horses, I’ll be done in a minute!”
It took a second for her brain to fully register what she had just said, but when it did Sunset groaned and put her hand over her eyes. Oh sweet Celestia, did I really just say that?
Wasting no time in getting dressed, Sunset Shimmer had barely stepped out of the bathroom before Rainbow Dash impatiently ran past her, very nearly knocking her over. Shaking her head back at Dash, Sunset made her way downstairs; the unmistakable aroma of freshly brewed coffee filling her sinuses before she could even reach the bottom step. Making a beeline for the kitchen, she found Rarity sitting at the table on the other side of the room with her own mug of coffee next to her, still working away at her sketchbook.
“You’re up early,” Sunset said as she retrieved a mug from Rarity’s cupboard.
Looking up from her sketches, Rarity greeted Sunset with a warm smile. “Yes, contrary to what Rainbow seems to believe, I am more than capable of getting myself up at what many would call a ‘reasonable hour’. Plus, I wouldn’t be a very good host if I slept in later than my guests, now would I?”
Sunset just shrugged as she poured herself a generous helping of coffee, taking a moment to breathe in the aroma before taking a sip. Looking around the room, she noticed that it was only her and Rarity. “Where are the others?“
“Applejack left a few hours ago,” Rarity answered while still focused on her sketchbook. “She said she had to take care of some quick things back at the farm, so she gave her brother a call to come pick her up. Fluttershy had her own errands to run, so she went with them. I’m sure they’ll be back before long.”
Satisfied with the answer, Sunset enjoyed her cup of coffee as the two of them settled into a comfortable silence, with the only other sound being the scratching of Rarity’s pencil against paper. After some time, Rarity seemed satisfied enough with her work to close her sketchbook, resting her hands on top. Judging by the conflicted look on her face, Sunset knew she desperately wanted to say something, and she had a pretty good idea what that was.
“So… “ Rarity began, “about what happened last night with Rainbow-“
Sunset was quick to cut her off. “Look, can we just… not talk about it? I’m pretty sure I don’t have to tell you how awkward a topic this is.”
“Oh, I understand completely. I feel, however, that I must apologize for Rainbow’s abhorrent behaviour last night. I doubt she meant anything malicious by it, she just thought it would be funny.”
“Eh, it’s Dash. When has she been known for her discretion?”
Rarity had a hard time arguing with that. “Fair enough, I suppose. Though, even still I find myself appalled that she would even make light of something so personal. I like to think I have enough respect for someone else’s privacy not to pry.”
Sunset levelled her eyes in Rarity’s direction. “But…”
“You still want to ask, don’t you?”
“Ask about what?” Both of them turned to see Twilight come flying into the kitchen, her wings flapping feverishly just to keep herself aloft.
“Twilight, darling!” Rarity welcomed the distraction, hoping that Twilight and Sunset hadn’t noticed the faintest hint of a blush forming on her face. “I trust you slept well?”
Twilight braced herself as she came in for a landing, gently lowering herself onto the kitchen table. Once all four hooves were safely on a solid surface, she nodded at Rarity. “Like a foal.” Briefly arching her back as she stretched out her legs, Twilight settled back onto her haunches. “I really appreciate all of you offering to have me over while I’m here.”
“Oh, think nothing of it; that’s what friends are for. Plus, we’re more than happy to have you, whether as a human or a pony.” Rarity idly reached over and scratched Twilight behind the ears as she spoke. “Especially when you’re just so cute as a pony!”
“Well, I wouldn’t get too used it.” Twilight’s tail flicked behind her as she batted Rarity’s hand away. She was having a hard time deciding if she found all the extra attention from her friends endearing or annoying. “Once Spike gets the portal back up and running, this will probably be the only time you see me as a pony.”
“All the more reason for us to enjoy this opportunity while it lasts, no?” Rarity smirked as she brought her mug to her lips.
Twilight looked from Rarity to Sunset and then back to Rarity, the same curious look on her face as last night. “What were you two talking about just now?”
Rarity sputtered mid-drink, a line of coffee running down her chin. “No-nothing!” She quickly stammered out. “Nothing you need concern yourself with, I assure you!”
“Really? Because it didn’t sound like nothing. It sounded like—”
“So you can still fly, huh?” Sunset interjected as she set her now empty mug aside.
Sunset’s interruption gave ample opportunity for a flustered Rarity to grab her sketchbook and get up in search of something to wipe her face with.
Twilight thought about asking again regarding what they had been discussing, but decided against it given Rarity’s reaction. “It would seem so. I still might not be able to channel any magic through my horn like I usually can, but it appears that my internal magic remains unchanged. Granted, I’m still not that great of a flyer, probably no better than a filly fresh out of flight camp.”
“Still, small victories I suppose?” Sunset offered, to which she received an amused look from Twilight in return. “You know what I mean!”
Giggling, Twilight replied, “Yeah, it certainly helps me get around, given my size right now. Still trying to figure out the why on that, though that does make me wonder if—“
A loud bang echoed through the house as the front door swung open, causing Rarity, Sunset and Twilight to all jump in fright before, with the kind of volume that could rival a megaphone, Applejack hollered from the doorway, “Up an’ at ‘em! Time to rise and shine!”
Over the sound of the door slamming shut behind her, Fluttershy could just barely be heard saying, “Um… we’re back.” Both carried something with them as they walked into the kitchen, Applejack with two sacks thrown over her shoulder while also carrying a covered basket in her other hand, while Fluttershy carried a shopping bag in each hand.
Rarity glowered at Applejack as she entered. “Congratulations, Applejack. I do believe you’ve succeeded in rousing the entire block from a sound slumber. Would you care to try for the whole neighbourhood next time?”
“Oh, don’t be like that, Rares. If’n it makes ya feel better, I brought gifts.” Dropping both sacks to the floor with a loud thud, she placed the basket on the counter. “Fresh from Sweet Apple Acres.”
Curious, Twilight hopped from the table to the countertop and poked her head inside the basket. “Eggs?
“Yep. By my count, these should be more than enough to make scrambled eggs for the seven of us.” Kicking one of the sacks at her feet, she added, “Also brought a bag of potatoes with me case any of ya are up for some good old-fashioned home-fries.”
“And I picked up some batter mix, if anyone would like pancakes instead.“ Fluttershy added as she began transferring items from her shopping bags to the counter.
Looking around at the supplies, Rarity’s eyes softened as she smiled at Applejack. “While that still doesn’t excuse you completely, I nonetheless do appreciate the gesture. Just let me put my sketchbook away and we can get started.”
As Rarity walked off to do just that, she passed Rainbow Dash on her way into the kitchen, who had clearly put no effort into drying her hair given that it appeared to still be soaking wet. “Morning, Rainbow.” She greeted on her way out.
Rainbow Dash gave a half-hearted “Hey…” in response, twirling her finger in her ear as she entered. “Geeze AJ, could you tone it down a touch? My ears are still ringing from that one!”
“No can do, Rainbow. The Apple family have spent generations developin’ the perfect method to get lazy bums like ya’ll out of bed at the crack of dawn, and I don’t plan on givin’ up such a tradition any time soon.”
Popping her finger from her ear, Rainbow shook her head once to get rid of any further ringing. “Laugh it up, but I swear one of these days you’re going to wake the dead just so they can tell you to put a lid on it.”
Applejack snickered. “I’ve woken ya’ll up before, haven’t I? I reckon I’ve already accomplished that task then.”
“Hey!” Rainbow shouted, a counter argument already on the tip of her tongue.
“Uh… girls?” A hint of uncertainty in Twilight’s voice prompted the two of them to look over at the mare. Both of Twilight’s ears were perked up and her muzzle was scrunched up into a look of confusion. “Did anyone else hear that?”
“Hear what?” Rainbow asked.
Rainbow froze, a chill running down her spine as a ghastly noise came from somewhere behind her. Slowly turning her head to look over her shoulder, her eyes widened in absolute terror as a hand reached out from the hallway, nails as sharp as knives digging into the wall as a figure crept into view. A curtain of hair, allowing only a single eye that glowed a deep crimson to peer forward, largely obscured the face that peered around the corner.
“Uuuhhhh…” The figure groaned as they took a step forward.
“Z-zombie!” Every muscle in Dash’s body screamed, “Run!” at once, a command that Dash was more than happy to follow. The only thing that stopped her from bolting face first into a wall in her blind panic was Applejack, who had enough foresight to grab Rainbow by the shoulder, holding her back as her legs futilely ran in place.
“Settle down there, partner.” Despite her grip, Applejack looked to be exerting no effort in holding back the frantic girl. “She ain’t no walkin’ dead.”
Everyone else watched as Pinkie Pie slowly shambled into the kitchen, still dressed in a pair of bright pink pyjamas covered in images of balloons, with her back hunched over and her arms hanging lifelessly in front of her. Low moaning emanated from her with every other step.
As Pinkie made a slow trek across the kitchen, Rarity returned and casually slipped around the half-asleep girl without a word of comment, grabbing the basket of eggs on her way over to the stove. Setting them down, she took a moment to start up the closest burner as she rummaged around in the cupboard for an appropriately sized pan.
Finally, Pinkie came to a stop once she was standing directly in front of the coffee maker. With automated movements, Pinkie retrieved a mug from the cupboard with one hand while picking up the coffee pot from the machine with the other, staring aimlessly as she poured herself a fresh cup. The second the mug was full, Pinkie brought it to her lips, tilting her head back as she hungrily guzzled the steaming liquid, loudly gulping the entire time.
During all this, Twilight counted down in her head. 10… 9… 8…
After draining the last few drops, Pinkie gently set her mug down on the counter and returned the pot to the machine, her arms falling back to her sides. She stood motionless in place, resembling a puppet with its strings cut.
3… 2… 1…
Pinkie’s entire body suddenly jerked, her hair popping back into its poofy state while her arms snapped away from her sides. She yawned loudly as she raised both arms above her head, spinning on the balls of her feet like a ballerina a few times before finally stopping to face the others, grinning from ear to ear. “Morning everybody! What’s for breakfast?”
“Nice of ya to join us, Pinkie.” Applejack finally released Dash, causing the girl to flail her arms wildly to prevent from falling flat on her face. “We were ‘bout to get started on breakfast and sure could use yer help if’n you’re up for it.”
Pinkie’s eyes practically glinted with excitement. “Ooh! I’d love to!” Her smile slipped from her face as she glanced down at the pyjamas she was wearing. “… Right after I get dressed. Back in a sec!”
Twilight watched with an amused smirk as Pinkie ran from the room, followed by her loud footsteps on the stairs as she raced upstairs. “I swear I’ll never get used to that.”
“Used to what, dear?” Rarity asked over her shoulder as she cracked an egg against the pan, letting the yolk drip onto the sizzling surface. “That someone as hyper-active as our dear Pinkie would ever drink coffee?”
“You would think so, but I’ve seen the Pinkie back in Equestria drink coffee on a regular basis, though according to her she prefers decaf. Apparently the regular stuff makes her lethargic.” At the incredulous looks from her friends, she quickly added, “I know, I was surprised too! What’s even more surprising though is that the pony Pinkie is much more of a morning person. I’ve seen her go from sound asleep to wide-awake and alert like—” Remembering at the last second that she didn’t have fingers to snap, Twilight instead clapped both her front hooves together. “That.”
Rainbow Dash crossed her arms over her chest, mulling over the idea in her head. “Nope, can’t do it. I just can’t picture Pinkie being any kind of a morning person without a mountain of caffeine and sugar involved.”
Rarity cracked another egg against the pan. “Despite how absurd the thought may be, I think it would be best if we focus on getting breakfast ready, especially since I for one could do with a hearty meal right about now. Unless everyone would prefer brunch instead?”
It wasn’t long before the crackle of scrambled eggs and the milky scent of fresh pancakes filled the air.
After Pinkie had finished getting dressed, she had offered to make the pancakes while Fluttershy prepared the batter, flipping pancakes one after the other onto a plate faster than Fluttershy could keep up with. Already a sizeable stack was beginning to form between them.
True to Applejack’s word, Rarity had more than enough fresh eggs to work with as she prepared scrambled eggs for all of them and then some. Applejack and Sunset, meanwhile, were dicing up the potatoes, tossing them into a pan while they waited for the oven to finish pre-heating.
Rainbow Dash had kindly decided to assist by staying out of everyone’s way, retreating to the living room to practice on her guitar. That left Twilight with nothing to do except sit back and watch. Every so often someone would need to reach something she could just fly up to and grab for them, but besides that she busied herself by engaging in conversation while the others worked.
“’Scuse me, Rares.” Pushing past Rarity, Applejack reached down and pulled the oven door open, sliding the pan onto the center rack and slamming the door closed. “Yep, just let those puppies sit for a few, and they’ll be just right.”
Twilight looked around, glad to see that everything was coming along nicely. As she did so, her eyes fell on the second bag Applejack had bought with her, still sitting where she had left it.
Thinking about it, Twilight realized that Applejack had ignored the second bag completely ever since she had brought it in. Glancing over at Sunset, she noticed the bag of potatoes at her feet, still half full. Twilight could only assume that Applejack must have known that one bag would have been enough, so it couldn’t be a second bag of them. If it’s not that, then what?
“Hmm?” Applejack turned her head from the oven at the sound of her name. “Something up, Twi?”
Twilight pointed to the bag on the floor. “What’s in this other bag you brought?”
“Er…” Applejack rubbed the back of her head, chuckling nervously. “Funny ya should ask that, Twi. Don’ know why I even brought that bag with me, just that I saw it and decided to throw ‘er in the back of the truck as we were leavin’. Ya see… it’s actually a bag of oat feed for the animals back on the farm. Guessin’ I just thought, since y’all are kinda a horse and all—”
“Pony,” Twilight and Sunset said in unison.
“… Right, pony. Like I was saying, I guess I got the idea in my head that ya might enjoy them.” She sighed, smacking her hand against her forehead. “Only occurred to me after Mac had already taken off down the road what a fool I was being, actin’ like y’all are just another one of the animals back on the farm. Shoot, I don’t know if y’all even eat oats back in that other world of yours.”
Twilight didn’t say anything for a moment, tilting her head as she took in Applejack’s mortified expression. Though the others appeared focused on preparing breakfast, they too were waiting for Twilight to respond.
None of them expected Twilight to start giggling, which quickly turned into a full-blown laughing fit that left the mare lying on her back, kicking her hooves in the air as she continued laughing. It was several seconds before Twilight’s laughter gradually came to a stop, allowing her a chance to catch her breath. As she picked herself back up, she couldn’t wipe the smile from her face at the look of utter bewilderment on Applejack’s face. “You know, if you wanted to know, you could have just asked.“
“So… y’all ain’t mad?”
“Should I be? Ponies back in Equestria eat oats all the time. It’s pretty much a staple part of an average diet. I’ll admit they’re not my go-to meal of choice, but I have eaten them before.” Twilight glanced down back at the bag for a moment. “Actually… since you went to the trouble of bringing them over, I guess it couldn’t hurt for me to at least try some.“
“Ya sure?” Applejack asked, genuinely surprised. “I mean, you can if’n ya want to, but ya don’t have to if—”
“I don’t have to, sure. Doesn’t mean I can’t still want to.”
Applejack wanted to argue with Twilight further, but realized that it would likely be a fruitless venture. “A’right, if’n ya sure and all.” Walking over, she grabbed the mouth of the bag and ripped it open. Reaching her hand in and grabbing a fistful of the feed, she held it out to Twilight, who sniffed it first before taking a mouthful from Applejack’s hand.
“How do they taste?” Sunset asked, admittedly a bit curious herself.
Chewing some more, Twilight muttered, “Eh, not bad, a little bland though.” Swallowing, she added, “Could use some milk honestly.”
Walking over to the bag of feed, Sunset reached in and grabbed a small handful from inside for herself. Like Twilight, she brought the oats up to nose and took a sniff of them, noting that they didn’t smell any different than she remembered. If they smelled the same, then maybe…
“Er, I wouldn’t do that if’n I were you.” Sunset looked up to see Applejack and Twilight both staring at her. “I mean, I’m glad and all that Twilight seemed to like them, but that stuff’s nothin’ like the kind y’all can get at any old store. It might have a different taste to it than y’all are used to.”
Sunset was undeterred, rolling her eyes. “I’ve had oats before, AJ. I’m sure they can’t be that bad.” Before AJ could convince her otherwise, Sunset popped the oats into her mouth.
Applejack caught the briefest glimpse of utter disgust on Sunset’s face right before she spat the feed out and bolted for the sink, running her mouth under the faucet to try and wash the taste out. To Applejack’s credit, she didn’t laugh at Sunset’s expense, managing to remain stone-faced as she watched the girl gargle tap water. “Don’t go saying I didn’t warn ya.”
“And… saved!” Shutting off the water, Sunset whipped around to find Pinkie Pie standing behind her, her phone in her hands and recording the entire display. “This one’s going online for sure!”
Sunset glared at Pinkie. “Pinkie, you better delete that right now.”
“Gotta catch me first!” With a sly grin, Pinkie ran off like a cartoon roadrunner, waving her phone above her head as she disappeared into the living room.
“Pinkie! Get back here!” Sunset shouted as she raced after Pinkie, hot on her heels.
Fluttershy quickly shut off the burner Pinkie had been using, transferring the last pancake to the stack. “Oh my. Should we go after them?”
Applejack just waved off Fluttershy’s concerns. “Ah, I say let ’em be. Pinkie’s just foolin’ with her is all and Sunset Shimmer knows it. They’ll be fin—“
A loud crash echoed from the direction of the living room, causing everyone to stop what they were doing and turn towards the sound. With one eyebrow raised, Rarity looked back to Applejack. “You were saying?” Her tone was eerily calm, which terrified Applejack more than if she had yelled at her.
“Uh… I’ll go make sure they don’t hurt themselves.” Gripping her hat against her head, Applejack took off down the hall.
“I’ll come with!” Taking flight, Twilight flew behind Applejack as the two of them headed for the living room.
Rounding the corner, Applejack came to a halt in the doorway, forcing Twilight to pull up to avoid crashing into her. Hovering just behind her, she looked past her into the living room at the scene before them.
Sunset had Pinkie pinned down on the floor, her arms wrapped around Pinkie’s neck in a fierce headlock. Pinkie Pie futilely struggled to free herself from Sunset’s hold, while somehow still managing to hold her phone just out of Sunset’s reach. As this was going on, Rainbow Dash was just lying back on the couch, her guitar propped up as she watched, amused, while the spectacle unfolded.
Pinkie slapped the palm of her free hand against the floor several times, shouting, “Dashie, tag out! Tag out!”
Rainbow Dash shook her head as she strummed a few chords on her guitar. “No way, Pinkie. I’m sitting this one out; you’re on your own.”
Despite Pinkie’s struggles, Sunset refused to let up. “Just drop the phone, Pinkie, and I’ll let you go.”
“Oh, for Pete’s sake…” Sighing, Applejack walked over and easily snatched the phone from Pinkie’s grasp.
“Hey!” Pinkie cried out.
Applejack ignored her as she scrolled through the phone’s contents, quickly finding the video and deleting it from the phone’s memory. “And that’s the end of that.” Flipping the phone around to prove that the embarrassing video was no more, she glanced over at Sunset. “Ya’ll can let her go now, Sugarcube.”
“Gladly,” Sunset said. Releasing Pinkie, she got back to her feet and took a second to readjust her jacket as she dusted herself off.
“Oh, you two are no fun!” Pinkie grumbled while sitting cross-legged on the floor. “I wasn’t really going to upload it, honestly!”
“I know ya weren’t gonna, Pinkie, but I don’ think Rarity much cares for ya two wrestlin’ in her home. Now, if ya’ll are done, I’m headin’ back to keep an eye on things.” Peeking over her shoulder at the still hovering Twilight, she asked, “Ya coming, Twi?”
“Hm? Oh no, you go on ahead.” Flapping over to the couch, Twilight dropped down onto the cushion. It wasn’t the most graceful of landings, if it even qualified as a proper landing, but she doubted the Rainbow Dash sitting next to her would care. “Everything’s pretty much ready by this point, so I’ll just wait in here with Rainbow.”
“Suit ya’self.” Tossing Pinkie her phone back, Applejack turned and walked back into the hallway.
As she did, Pinkie Pie sprang back to her feet and followed after her. “Wait for me!”
As they disappeared around the corner, Rainbow whistled from her spot on the couch. “Wow, that was impressive. Where the hell did you learn to pull off a flying tackle like that?”
“Um…” Sunset tapped her fingers together awkwardly. “I may have – May have – started watching Saturday Night Wrestling.”
Rainbow Dash was flabbergasted. “No way! Who’s your favourite wrestler then?”
“Silly question. Typhoon Smash, obviously.”
“Oh yeah!” It was seemingly impossible for Rainbow’s grin to get any wider. “Now that’s what I like to hear! Up high!” Rainbow threw her hand up in the air, palm facing outward. Wasting no time, Sunset returned the high five, producing a resounding smack that left both of them wincing and shaking feeling back into their hands for a few seconds.
A smile spread across Twilight’s face as she watched Sunset eagerly recount some of her favourite matches with as much enthusiasm as Rainbow. Her thoughts drifting back to how Sunset had acted during their first encounter: arrogant, cruel and showcasing a deep loathing towards Twilight for the sole reason of being a princess. Following the Fall Formal, her harsh attitude had retreated within her, leaving her shy, apprehensive and afraid sometimes to even say two words to the girls whose lives she had once made miserable.
Looking at her now though, the differences were like night and day. Twilight felt a surge of pride well up inside her, proud of how far Sunset had come in such a short time, going from a person who had scorned and despised friendship at every turn, to one who gladly welcomed it into her heart.
This must be how the princess felt.
Relaxing back against the couch, Twilight closed her eyes as she filtered between the sounds of Sunset and Rainbow’s conversation and Rainbow Dash casual strumming away at her guitar. Even though Rainbow was only playing random notes while she talked, it was still a pleasing sound to the ears. If Twilight hadn’t been so well rested from the night before, she could have even imagined falling asleep to—
A sharp electric twang sliced through the soothing melodies as Rainbow vaulted into a full-blown rock solo, startling Twilight out of her reprieve. Opening her eyes, she turned to say something to Rainbow, when she noticed something unusual that gave her pause.
It was faint, bordering on invisible even, but with each strum of a chord, tiny wisps of energy could be seen floating off of Rainbow’s body, drifting through the air before disappearing shortly thereafter.
Metal banging against metal sounded from the kitchen, giving everyone within earshot a split second warning before Applejack hollered from the kitchen, “Come and get it!”
“About time!” Setting her guitar down, Rainbow made to head for the kitchen, but stopped when she didn’t hear the sound of flapping wings behind her. Peeking over her shoulder, she noticed that Twilight hadn’t moved from her spot on the couch, an unfocused look on her face. “Hey, Twilight! Didn’t you hear? It’s time for some grub!”
Twilight’s ears didn’t so much as twitch, the only indication she had even heard Rainbow Dash was when she absentmindedly replied, “Hmm? Oh, I’ll be there in a minute. Go ahead and start without me.“
“Oh no you don’t!” Whatever train of thought Twilight had going was abruptly derailed as Rainbow ran back to the couch, hooking her arm around Twilight’s barrel and yanking her up against her side, pinning her in place. “You’re coming with me!”
“Hey!” Despite knowing how pointless it was, Twilight still briefly struggled against Rainbow’s grip. “Rainbow Dash, put me down!”
“Nuh-uh, Twi, I know that face. You were about to go off into your own little egghead world, weren’t you?” Rainbow playfully bopped the mare on the nose, receiving an indignant scowl in return. “Oh, don’t give me that look. If I know Rarity, she won’t let us eat until everyone’s at the table, which includes you too. Whatever you were thinking about can wait until after breakfast.”
Twilight sighed, reluctantly resigning herself to being carried around like a football. Still, there was no mistaking what she had just seen, and while it should have been obvious to her in hindsight, everything she thought she had known about the inherent laws of this world had caused her to foolishly overlook it until she had seen it with her own eyes:
In that moment, Rainbow Dash had been radiating pure magic.
“Hey, who’s got the butter?” Rainbow Dash asked as she reached for the ketchup for her eggs.
“One second!” Pinkie Pie replied while slathering far too much butter on her toast.
“Geeze, Pinkie, save some for the rest of us!”
Knives and forks clattered loudly against plates as the group dug into the veritable buffet of food. In between bites and requests for something to be passed their way, they still found the time to make light conversation. Overall, everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves. Everyone, that is, except for Twilight.
Seated atop a stack of books so she could see over the table, Twilight was largely silent as she ate. Her plate had been piled high with more than a generous serving of scrambled eggs and home fries, along with a single slice of toast hanging for dear life on the edge of her plate. Next to it was a separate plate dominated by a stack of pancakes, as well as a bowl of the oats Applejack had brought beside it, this time with the addition of milk both with the oats and in a short glass alongside with a striped straw sticking out of the top.
Twilight was glad that she had yet to need to drink out of a bowl directly, though she had still eyed the bowl of oats with a touch of uncertainty.
But none of that mattered to her at the moment, her mind still too focused on what she had just seen while waiting back in the living room. While it had been brief, there was still no mistaking it:
Magic. Actual magic.
During her initial visit to this world, she had tried to read up on as much as she could about this world, with one such topic being the subject of this world’s magic. Or lack thereof, as she had quickly learned. Coming from a world where magic was a fundamental, and at times essential, part of life, she had been shocked to discover magic was seen as a flight of fantasy, written about only in myths and legends and reduced to nothing more than sleight of hand performed by stage magicians.
She and the girls were living proof that magic was real, but even their magical abilities created more questions than answers. While she had never had the chance to run any form of tests, Twilight had worked up theories in regards to what had happened during the Fall Formal, when she and the others had been infused with magic, developing pony characteristics in even her human friends.
Originally, she had come upon the idea that the bond they shared, a bond no stronger than the initial bond between her friends back in Equestria when they had confronted Nightmare Moon, had still managed to temporarily reignite the Element of Magic, allowing it to draw forth a huge well of magic straight from Equestria to this world through the portal, channeling it into the six of them and leaving the others perpetually charged with the transfused magic.
In both her and Sunset’s case, they had never completely lost their internal stores of magic due to the fact that they were native to Equestria, though their human bodies lacked any sufficient method of harnessing the magic into a tangible form, thus leaving it to lay dormant until properly drawn out. When they played their instruments, their emotions would resonate with the magic within them and trigger the transformation once more.
And yet, Twilight couldn’t shake the feeling that there was more to it than that. The magic she had seen radiating off of Rainbow Dash had seemed… off, yet she couldn’t put her hoof on exactly why.
It was magic, that much I’m sure of. Twilight thought between bites. But then why haven’t I been able to sense it until now—
Twilight stopped mid-bite into her stack of pancakes, her mouth hanging open as she stumbled upon a crazy idea: What if the reason she hadn’t been able to sense it until now wasbecause it wasn’t pure Equestrian magic? Sunset had described this world as a magical dead-zone, but what if… what if this world had its own magic after all?
As crazy of an idea as it was, the more Twilight thought about it, the more she couldn’t shake the idea. It was possible that their magic had started as Equestrian in nature, since the Sirens had been drawn to it like moths to a flame. But, if this world did have magic all its own, then there was a chance that the magic from Equestria could interact with it in such a way as to become something entirely new.
That would certainly explain why the magic I saw coming off of Rainbow looked different. It’s possible that the magic of this world resonates at a different frequency than the magic in Equestria.But if that’s true…could I tap into that frequency?
Leaning back in her chair, Twilight breathed in through her nose, closing her eyes as she breathed out. Alright, let’s see if I’m right. Focusing, she tapped into her internal magic, sending out a small pulse through her body. Just like yesterday when she had tried to magically pull on the bottle of water, nothing happened. Trying again, she shifted the flow of magic slightly, but again received no response.
It wasn’t until the fourth pulse that she noticed something: a low humming sound, almost like the sound of a fly buzzing past her ear. Trying again, the sound became more pronounced and distinct with each minor change to her magic.
Almost… there! With one final pulse of magic, she felt something push back. In her mind’s eye, thin lines of energy flickered into focus, flowing around her like water around a rock in a stream. Each line glowed with a distinct color; though the faint hint of her own magic had formed around them, allowing her to see them through the reaction between the two.
So, this world does have magic after all! It took all Twilight’s willpower not to start jumping up and down with excitement. Now that she had proved there was magic, she had an even bigger question to answer:
Could she use it?
Opening her eyes to look around her plates of food, her eyes fell on the cutlery on either side. Even though she couldn’t really grip them enough in her hooves for them to be of any use, Rarity had still had the courtesy to supply her with a fork, spoon and butter knife. Focusing on the magic around her, Twilight reached out towards her spoon.
At first, nothing happened. Then, a purple aura slowly flicked to life around the spoon, causing it to shake and wobble in place. Just a little mo—
Twilight was yanked from her thoughts by Rainbow’s outcry, whatever grasp she had on the spoon slipping with it. Looking up from her food, she noticed that everyone had stopped eating and were staring at either Rainbow Dash or Rarity, the former of whom was rubbing a red spot on the back of her hand.
“The hell was that for?!” Rainbow shouted as she rubbed her now sore hand, glaring across the table at Rarity.
Rarity huffed, glaring right back. “Honestly, Rainbow Dash, I would hope that you would have just the slightest amount of decency to show some manners while you’re here.”
“All I did was reach for the pepper!”
“Yes, and the correct way to do so is not to reach halfway across the table and over other people’s plates while they’re eating. There is a much more proper way to do such things, after all.”
Rainbow growled, a retort fresh on her tongue even as she realized that, given that she was still a guest in someone else’s house, Rarity still had the higher ground, if only just. “Fine! Can you just pass me the pepper already?”
Rarity made no move to do so, still looking at Rainbow like she was waiting for something.
Rolling her eyes and mumbling unkind things under her breath, Rainbow put on the most insincere smile she could muster. “Please?” she hissed through her teeth.
“Certainly. Now, was that so hard?”
Rarity ignored her as she reached for the pepper shaker. Before the tips of her fingers could even brush against it however, the pepper shaker shook and wobbled in place, causing her to pull her hand back in surprise. “What… the…?”
Everyone watched in disbelief and wonder as the pepper shaker continued to shake, rocking back and forth as if possessed while beginning to emit a faint purple glow. After several seconds, the shaker began to lift up from the table, steadily rising more than a foot into the air.
“What in tarnation?!”
“Meep!” Fluttershy squeaked as she tried to hide behind her plate, her eyes just peeking above her food.
“That’s…!” Sunset Shimmer’s eyes widened in shock, though for an entirely different reason than her friends.
“It’s ALIVE! IT’S ALIVE!” Pinkie exclaimed.
As quickly as it had appeared, the purple glow blinked out, sending the pepper shaker hurtling back down.
“Whoa!” Twilight cried out, the purple glow popping back in place just in the nick of time to catch the pepper shaker before it could smash against the kitchen table.
Everyone turned to look at Twilight, who was staring intently at the pepper shaker, the tip of her tongue sticking out of the side of her mouth while her face scrunched up in total concentration. The same purple glow surrounding the pepper could be seen projecting from the tip of her horn.
“Easy… easy…” Twilight muttered to herself as her eyes followed the shaker’s slow ascent. When it was high enough, she shifted her gaze to look at Rainbow, the pepper following her movements and floating across the table, coming to a stop right in front of a very confused Rainbow Dash. “Here you go, Rainbow.”
“Uh…” Hesitantly, Rainbow Dash plucked the shaker out of the air, holding it between her fingers like she expected it to burst into flames at any second. “Thanks, Twi?”
“No problem.” Smiling, Twilight looked down at her cutlery again, her horn still lit up with magic. Focusing, her spoon shook in place before slowly lifting up and hovering in front of her. Carefully maneuvering it to scoop up a spoonful of oats, she levitated it up to her mouth to take a bite. I was right, they did need milk, she thought as she chewed.
Swallowing, Twilight went to get another spoonful when she became aware of the sudden silence. Looking up, she saw that everyone was now staring at her. “What?” Looking back and forth from her friends and her still floating spoon, it quickly dawned on her. “Oh… you’re all probably wondering how I’m doing this, aren’t you?”
“I’m sure the thought had crossed our minds, darling,” Rarity answered. “For a second, I thought I was going to need to start looking for an exorcist.”
Twilight sheepishly grinned, poking at her eggs with her spoon. “Sorry, I may have been a bit excited. There’s a simple answer for this, though.”
“And that would be…?” Rainbow asked.
Rainbow scoffed. “Seriously, Twi?”
“She’s telling the truth. Levitation is the first and simplest spell for a unicorn to learn,” Sunset replied, taking a bite out of her toast before looking across the table at Twilight. “Though that still doesn’t answer the how, least not entirely. You couldn’t do that yesterday, so what changed?”
Twilight swallowed a spoonful of eggs before answering. “Actually, I have Rainbow Dash to thank for that.”
“Huh?” Rainbow paused from burying her own eggs in pepper. “Me? What did I do?”
“While you were playing your guitar back in the other room,” Twilight explained, “I noticed you were generating tiny wisps of magic. I theorized that what I was seeing was the reaction between your internal magic and the residual magic in the air. From there I was able to replicate the reaction.”
“Residual magic…?” Sunset’s eye’s widened as she came to the same conclusion. “Are… are telling me that this world has its own magical field?”
“I was as surprised as you. From what I can tell, this magic resonates on a different frequency than that in Equestria, so it’s no wonder neither of us were able to sense it. The density seems to be thinner, though that could also be explained through lack of use.”
“Hmm… a different frequency, huh? It’s still magic, so it stands to reason there would be a magical signature. I wonder if it would be possible to create a device to track it.” Rough blueprints formed in Sunset’s mind as she asked, “How’s the reaction speed?”
“There is a delay anywhere from a second to two and a half seconds, but it’s nothing I can’t account for.”
“What about thaumic bleed?”
During all this, the others were looking back and forth between the two like they were watching a tennis match, eyes glazing over as most of the terminology flew right over their heads. After several moments of this, Pinkie groaned, her eyes going crossed as she tried to keep up. “Ugh… head hurts…”
“Okay, time out!” Rainbow Dash suddenly shouted, holding up her hands in the shape of a T. “One of you two eggheads want to explain this to the rest of us? In English?”
Startled out their discussion, it took a moment for Sunset to compose herself enough to provide an answer. “Short version: This world isn’t a magical dead zone like I thought and Twilight can use magic now, only she has a bit more control since she’s still a pony.”
“That’s so cool!” Pinkie Pie suddenly popped up, her headache from before forgotten. “Do some magic for us, Twilight! Ooh! Turn Dashie into a bunny! Pretty please?”
“Hey!” Rainbow reached over and twisted Pinkie Pie’s ear. “Don’t just go volunteering me for something like that!”
“Oh, but Dash,” Fluttershy pleaded, stars in her eyes at the mental image. “You would look so cute as a bunny!”
“Don’t care, no one’s turning me into anything!”
“As hilarious as that would be,” Sunset interjected, doing her best to hold in her laughter with only a snicker slipping though, “I doubt a full-body transmutation would even be possible, especially given the radical mass-to-scale shift between forms, coupled with the necessary magic flow to maintain the field—”
“English!” Rainbow shouted before she could go cross-eyed.
Realizing that she had slipped into describing magical theory again, Sunset quickly summarized, “Basically, it would take far too much energy to do something like that for more than a moment, especially with an unfamiliar type of magic.”
“She’s right,” Twilight explained through mouthfuls of oats. “This world’s magic is so different from what I’m used to back in Equestria that I doubt I’ll be able to perform anything more complex than simple cantrips, even with practice.” Pausing with her spoon raised to her mouth, she seemed to consider this for a second more. “If I absolutely had to, I might be able to manage one big spell in an emergency, but there’s no telling what could happen afterwards. At best, it would leave me exhausted, if not knock me out completely.”
“Aww… so no Dashie bunny?” Pinkie pouted, her hair drooping slightly.
Twilight shook her head. “I’m afraid not. Sorry.”
Twilight saw looks of disappointment on Pinkie Pie and Fluttershy’s faces and hastily added, “B-but that doesn’t mean I can’t show you some magic! Just give me a second…” Frantically glancing around the table for possible ideas, her eyes eventually settled onto the carton of orange juice in the middle of the table. “Aha! Could someone pour a glass of orange juice for me, please?”
“Oh, allow me.” Standing up, Rarity briefly stepped into the kitchen to retrieve a fresh glass. When she returned, she picked up the carton of juice and filled the glass before holding it out to Twilight. “Here you are, dear.”
“Perfect. Just set it down there.”
Setting the glass down like Twilight asked before sitting back down, Rarity joined the others in watching with bated anticipation as Twilight focused on the glass, their food largely forgotten.
“Here goes.” Concentrating, Twilight began channelling magic into the juice. Tiny bubbles slowly formed on the surface of the liquid, increasing in size until one had reached the width of the glass, ballooning over the top before rising up from the rim with a ‘pop’ sound. Tilting her head, Twilight sent the bubble drifting across the table until it hovered in front of Pinkie Pie.
Pinkie poked the orange bubble, clapping her hands with glee at the ensuing popping sound as it burst. “Ooh! Do it again! Make another one, Twilight!”
“I can do better than that, Pinkie.” Focusing her magic, another orange bubble rose up from the glass. A second one was quick to follow it, with more and more bubbles rising to join the first. Before long, nearly a dozen bubbles floated around the table and above their heads.
“My, ain’t that a neat little trick,” Applejack remarked as she reached up and popped one of the bubbles over her head.
“Indeed.” Rarity giggled as one of the bubbles drifted onto the palm of her hand, popping on contact.
Having quickly popped all the bubbles around her, Pinkie Pie stood up on her chair to reach one dangling above her head. “Almost… got… it… whoa, whoa, WHOA!” Losing what little balance she had, Pinkie Pie toppled off her chair, causing everyone in the room to collectively wince when she crashed onto the dining room floor.
Concerned, Fluttershy peered over the edge of the table. “Are you alright, Pinkie Pie?”
A hand shot up in reply, giving a thumbs up. “I’m good!”
After everyone had eaten more than their fill of breakfast and the dishes had been cleaned up, the seven of them had retreated to the living room. Rarity had wasted no time in running upstairs and retrieving her sketchbook, lying back on the couch as she once more became engrossed in whatever had sparked her imagination.
On the other side of the room, Fluttershy was helping Twilight practice getting accustomed to the magic of this world, passing her some of Opal’s cat toys to levitate. Opal watched the toys intently as they flew above her head, a stern warning from Fluttershy the only thing keeping her from pouncing on this strange new cat that had invaded her territory and stolen her toys.
Everyone else was crowded around the TV, all of them immersed in a colourful kart racing game Pinkie Pie had brought with her. An excited audience cheered them on as they raced through dirt tracks, dodging fireballs and other hazards along the way.
“Yes! Final lap!” Rainbow grinned as her kart zoomed over the checkered marker, her first place position still holding after more than half the race. “This one’s all mine!”
“Don’t go counting yer chickens just yet!” Applejack replied, her own kart fresh on Rainbow’s heels and gaining fast. “Ya’ll ain’t crossing that finish line before me!”
“Yeah!” Pinkie cried out as she rammed into yet another racer with her kart that suspiciously resembled a bumper car, sending her opponent careening off course and netting her fifth place. “Besides, you’re supposed to count sheep, not chickens!”
Sunset kept her eyes trained on the screen, her kart trailing far behind the others back in eighth place. “Laugh it up Dash, you’re not winning this if I can help it.”
“Oh, yeah right! Like you can talk smack after spending the whole game lagging in the back.” Rainbow’s smile grew as the distance between her and the finish line diminished more and more. “It’ll take a miracle for you to beat me now!”
“Don’t be so sure, Dash. You never know when— finally!” Grinning, Sunset hovered her finger over a certain button on her controller, glancing over at Applejack sitting next to her. “Applejack, you may want to pull back for a second.”
“Huh? What’s that suppo-” A harsh sound from the television cut Dash off, her eyes widening in terror as a blue dot honed in on her from the bottom of the screen. “What!? No no no no!” Rainbow frantically hammered away at her controller, desperate to avoid the oncoming projectile.
Her efforts proved fruitless, as something struck her kart from behind, the resulting explosion from the attack flipping her vehicle end over end and sending it spinning out of control before crashing into the side of the track.
“I’ll be takin’ that, thank ya!” Applejack hollered as she drove by the flailing wreck of Dash’s kart, taking first place with her.
“Come on, come on, come on!” Rainbow pleaded as she mashed the buttons on her controller in a mad attempt to get her kart back on its wheels and into the race, even more so when a second and third kart passed her by after several seconds. She eventually managed to get her kart righted and wasted no time in taking off after Applejack. “Watch out, AJ. I’m coming for—”
“Coming through!” In a blur of red, Pinkie came shooting out from around the corner, smashing into Dash and sending her spinning out of control again.
“Oh, come on!”
“Sorry, Dashie, but top four has my name on it!”
“Afraid not, Pinkie!” Pinkie’s only other warning was a fast-paced jingle as a kart bathed in the colors of the rainbow ploughed into her, brushing her aside as Sunset made a mad dash for the finish.
“Whoa-yeah!” The sheer volume of Applejack’s yell nearly made the windows rattle in their frames as she cleared the finish line. “Told ya none of ya’ll were gonna cross the finish line before me.” she gloated, extending her fist out to Sunset. “Mighty thanks for the heads up there, Sunset. “
Sunset returned the fist bump once her own kart had crossed the finish, Pinkie’s kart following behind her seconds later. “Don’t mention it.”
As the results flashed on screen, Rainbow Dash could only stare in disbelief as Applejack was listed as first, with Sunset and Pinkie managing to come from behind and claim fourth and fifth respectively. Her grip on her controller slipped, the device clattering to the ground as her character came up as having finished in ninth place.
“But… but I was winning! How—Wait…” Rainbow’s eyes widened as realization struck her like a bolt out of the blue. ”You did that on purpose! That’s why you spent all that time trailing behind!” She exclaimed, pointing accusingly at Sunset Shimmer.
Sunset just smiled, confirming Rainbow’s claim with a matter-of-fact, “Yep.”
“But… but why?”
“Payback for last night.”
Applejack laughed as she watched Rainbow sputter for a comeback. “Gotta say, ya’ll had that coming. ‘Sides, ‘bout time someone knocked ya off yer high ho—”
“AAHHGG!” Rainbow screamed in frustration, flopping back onto the living room floor. Fluttershy and Twilight looked over at Dash in confusion, while Rarity just shook her head.
“Oh, don’t be so overly dramatic, Rainbow. It’s just a game, no need to be such a sore loser.”
Rainbow glared at Rarity from her spot on the floor, before bringing her knees up to her chest and leaping up from her back onto her feet. “Not that I usually care…” She said as she turned to face Rarity, “but just what the hell are you drawing? You’ve been glued to that thing since last night.”
Pausing, Rarity slipped her pencil into the coil binding of her sketchbook before flipping it closed. “Oh, it’s just a design for a new dress I’ve been working on. I was hit with a burst of inspiration last night and simply had to get it down on paper.”
“Yeah, I don’t buy that for even a minute,” Applejack interjected. “I’ve seen ya’ll belt out a new design or two durin’ lunch, so lest ya’ll are drawin’ up an entire fashion show, you’d be long done by now.”
“I assure you, Applejack,” Rarity replied, trying her best to not sound defensive, “that all I am doing is making sure every last detail is perfect. I’m almost done anyway.”
“Well then, I reckon if’n that’s the case, ya wouldn’t mind givin’ us all a peek then?
“I most certainly do mind!” Rarity exclaimed, clutching her sketchbook protectively to her chest. “I’ll have you know it is plain rude to gaze upon an artist’s work before she’s completed it. Besides, I doubt any of you would be interested in—”
“BOO!” Suddenly, Pinkie Pie popped up from behind the couch, startling Rarity enough that she loosened her grip on her sketchbook; enough that Pinkie easily plucked it from Rarity’s clutches. “Yoink!” Vaulting over the couch, she opened the sketchbook to a random page. “Now, let’s see…”
“Pinkie Pie!” Rarity shouted, leaping to her feet with her hands balled into fists at her side. “I demand you return my sketchbook this instant!”
“One second!” She said as she stepped back to avoid Rarity’s attempt to grab at her, quickly flipping through the pages. “Dress, dress, really fancy dress—hey! You drew Twilight!”
“Hmm?” Twilight’s ears perked up, her concentration slipping long enough for her magic to fizzle out, dropping the cat toys she had been practicing with back to the ground, which Opal was quick to pounce upon and reclaim as her own. “What?”
Nimbly avoiding Rarity making another lunge at her, Pinkie skipped over to Twilight and held the sketchbook down so she could see. “See? Looky, looky!”
True to Pinkie’s words, Twilight found herself staring at a detailed sketch of herself. Every detail from her cutie mark down to the feathers in her wings had been lovingly recreated. Rarity had even taken the time to include her old crown as well. “Wow. Rarity, this is really good.”
“Well… I hope you don’t mind, darling. I said that your appearance as a pony intrigued me, and I just couldn’t help myself.” She watched as her friends all crowded around to take a look. After a moment, she took a careful step forward. “Now that you’ve all seen it, I’ll just take that back then.”
Yet again, Pinkie Pie yanked the sketchbook out of her reach. “Nuh-uh! I wanna see what else you drew.”
“Nothing!” Rarity shouted, a clear hint of desperation in her voice. “I didn’t draw anything else, so just give me my sketchbook back already!” Lunging at Pinkie in a mad attempt to retrieve her sketchbook, she was unprepared when Pinkie easily sidestepped out of the way, causing her to comically faceplant onto the living room floor.
“Pinkie, no!” Rarity cried out as she scrambled back to feet, but she was too late to stop Pinkie from flipping over to the next page, dreading what Pinkie Pie would say.
It was when Pinkie didn’t say anything for several seconds that they all started to worry. Pinkie Pie seemed oblivious to her friends’ stares, staring at the page with her mouth flopping open and closed like a fish as she grasped for something to say.
“Uuuhh… Rarity?“ Hesitantly, and with confusion painted clear across her face, she turned the sketchbook back around and asked, “Is there something you want to tell us?”
Rarity said nothing in her own defence, preferring instead to hide her blushing face behind her hands, praying she could just disappear as everyone else got a good look at another drawing of a pony, though clearly different than the first.
This time the pony was a unicorn, but that wasn’t what caught the others’ interest. No, it was the very familiar looking mane style and the image of three diamonds depicted on her flank. She had even been drawn as if she were striding down a runway before a crowd of onlookers.
Rainbow looked up at Rarity, who was still hiding her blushing face behind her hands. “… Seriously?”
“Alright! Fine!” Rarity shouted, throwing up her arms in defeat. “I drew myself as a pony too! Are you all happy?!” She loudly sighed, rubbing her fingers against her forehead in frustration. “After Twilight talked about the other me from her world, I just couldn’t get the image out of my head. I wouldn’t have been able to sleep if I hadn’t gotten it down on paper.”
“Still, you look kinda weird like that.”
“Oh, do I now?” In a heartbeat, Rarity switched from dying of embarrassment to looking at Rainbow Dash, a deceptive glint in her eyes. With a grin peeking at the corner of her lips, she turned to look at Pinkie Pie. “Pinkie dear, would you be so kind and turn over to the next page?”
“Sure. Ooh!” She giggled at she looked at the new image before her. “This one’s of pony Dashie!”
“Wait, what!?” Bolting across the room, Rainbow ripped the sketchbook out of Pinkie Pie’s hands, staring wide-eyed at the pegasus pony staring back at her, her distinctive lightning bolt symbol emblazoned on its flank. It had her exact hairstyle, along with a cocky grin on its face, one foreleg raised and her wings spread open like she was seconds away from taking flight. “Is… is that what the pony me looks like?”
Twilight flew up behind Rainbow, hovering behind her as she peered over her shoulder at the drawing. “Yep, that’s Rainbow Dash all right.”
“I… I… look… kind of awesome, actually.” Rainbow reluctantly admitted. “Figures I’d still be wicked even with hooves.”
Rarity smiled, filled with a smug sense of satisfaction. “I thought you might change your tune, Rainbow.”
“So you’ve got one of you, Twilight and me. Who else you got in here?” Turning over to the next page answered her question. “Yo, Shy, she’s got one of you too!”
“Really?” Walking up, Fluttershy peered over at the sketchbook. Her eyes nearly shot to the size of dinner plates at the sight of the pony looking back at her, seemingly trying to hide behind its pink mane, the image of butterflies on her flank coinciding with her demeanour. Just the hint of a blush could be seen on the pony’s face, perfectly matching the blush quickly forming on Fluttershy’s cheeks. “Oh… my. I’m… so… so…”
“Aww!” Squealing, Pinkie hugged the flabbergasted Fluttershy. “Fluttershy, you’re so cute as a pony!”
“I… suppose?” Fluttershy finally managed to squeak out once the initial shock started wearing off.
“Now then, don’t be goin’ sellin’ ya’self short, Shy,” Applejack reassured her as she walked over and plucked the sketchbook from Rainbow’s hands. “Now, I’m guessin’ I would find one of Pinkie and me in here too?”
“Why don’t you see for yourself?” Rarity suggested, delighted at seeing her friend’s reactions to her drawings.
“Righty, then.” Turning over to the next page, she knew right away from the three apples cutie mark that she was looking at her pony self. If that wasn’t enough of a dead giveaway, the mare had been drawn whipping around a lasso above her head like she was seconds away from corralling a herd of cattle. “So this is what ya’ll meant by “Earth pony”, Twi. Well, I’ll be darned, Rarity! Ya’ll even went and gave her my hat!”
“To not would have been a crime otherwise, Applejack,” Rarity said adamantly.
Releasing Fluttershy, Pinkie Pie hopped over and took the sketchbook again, chanting with glee, “My turn! My turn!”
The pony on the next page matched Pinkie Pie to a tee, not just because her mane was a massive poof of pink hair resembling cotton candy or because the cutie mark was an image of three balloons. No, what made it undeniably Pinkie was the fact that she had been drawn with none of her hooves touching the ground, beaming mid hop.
“I look so bubbly!” Jumping up and down, she waltzed over and held out the book for Twilight to see. “Twilight, look!”
Grasping the sketchbook in her magic and dropping down to land on the couch, Twilight flipped back and forth between the sketches of her friends. “Rarity, these are amazing.”
“Oh, you flatter me, darling.”
“No, I’m serious. If I didn’t know any better, I might have thought you had asked each of them to model personally. You even got their cutie marks right!”
“Yes, well, I do admit to having cheated a little. Pinkie, can I borrow your phone for a second?”
“Sure, Rarity.” Fishing her phone out of her pocket, Pinkie tossed it to Rarity, who caught it with both hands before scrolling through its contents.
“Now, where is… ah, here we are.” Flipping the phone around so everyone could see, the image on the screen was a copy of a photo taken during the height of the Fall Formal celebration, showing the six of them still transformed and crowding together for a group photo.
“Looking back at some of the photos of us, I started noticing more and more little details, such as the fact that your tail now similarly matches the one that appears when you transform, although perhaps a bit more cleaned up. I merely went with the assumption that the same rule applied to the rest of us.”
Grinning like a fox let loose in a henhouse, Applejack couldn’t pass up the opportunity to add, “Shucks, I’d say that would make it a ‘ponytail’ in more ways than one, now wouldn’t it?”
Rarity groaned, putting her hands on her hips as she glared at Applejack. “I was trying to avoid the pun, thank you very much!”
“That still doesn’t explain how you got their cutie marks right though,” Twilight repeated. “I could understand guessing one or two of them, but you got all of them perfect.”
“You said that cutie marks were a defining part of a pony’s appearance, no? And I simply couldn’t imagine myself without my three diamonds!” Rarity reached up and touched her hand to her three-diamond hairclip, though her expression was quick to change to one of uncertainty. “As for the others… I can’t really explain it, but… they just felt… right somehow. Like each symbol was… meant to be, in a way. I even tried to change one of them to something else, but no matter what I drew it never felt quite right.
“It was almost… almost like I just knew what they were meant to be somehow. I know I sound downright absurd, but I can’t think of another way to explain it.”
“Hmm… interesting. I can’t be sure…” Twilight mused as she passed the sketchbook to Sunset. “But perhaps when all of you were infused with magic, you were also gifted a small bit of ‘insight’ into your pony counterparts. It would certainly explain how Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy instinctively knew how to fly despite never having had wings before.”
“Yeah, it was the weirdest thing, now that you mention it,” Rainbow said. “It felt like the most natural thing ever, like I’d been doing it my whole life even.”
“That’s because, in a strange way, you have. Kind of par for the course when the other Dash is a pegasus.” Shrugging, Twilight turned her attention back to Rarity. “Still, most of this is just speculation and even then it doesn’t change the fact that you managed to capture them all perfectly.”
“Yeah, I’m going to have to agree with Twilight,” Sunset said as she looked through the drawings. “I’d say you’ve got drawing ponies down pat.”
“Why, thank you! That means a lot coming from you two.” Gasping suddenly, Rarity seemed about ready to slap herself. “Oh, how could I be so daft as to forget? I drew one of you too, Sunset!”
“You… you did?” Sunset asked, visibly taken aback.
“Why certainly! I couldn’t draw all my friends and leave you out. Go on, it’s the page right after Pinkie’s.”
Reluctantly, Sunset flipped through the sketchbook until she passed the drawing of Pinkie Pie, her breath catching in her throat at what she saw looking back at her.
Or, rather whom.
Compared to the previous drawings, this one was still on its way to being finished; many of the lines still rough and uneven. Even so, there was no mistaking the unicorn in the drawing, smiling as she looked up at her with soft eyes, the image of a two toned sun depicted on her flank.
“It’s… it’s me.”
“I do apologize that it’s not as clean as the others. I was in the middle of finishing yours when I was so rudely interrupted.” Pinkie Pie sheepishly grinned under the intensity of Rarity’s glare. “I also had less references to work off, though I did notice that you seem rather fond of that sun image, so I went and made the assumption…”
Rarity’s voice grew dimmer and dimmer as the world faded around Sunset, her attention drawn instead to the drawing. Reaching out, she traced her finger along the sketch, running from the tip of her horn, down her back and ending on the image of her cutie mark.
I got my cutie mark! I got my cutie mark!
A warm feeling filled her chest at the memory of that day. Like any young filly, she had been over the moon the day she had earned her cutie mark. She had spent days researching and practicing on how to generate and maintain a glowing ball of flame in order to encourage a flower to bloom, so much so that when the time finally came she had pulled it off even better than she had imagined. The fact that her teacher had been impressed enough to give her full marks had been the cherry on top.
Sunset vaguely remembered some of her classmates congratulating her, but she had been too enamoured by her cutie mark to pay any attention to them. Maybe if she had, then…
The sound of someone calling her name brought Sunset back to the present. Looking up over the top the sketchbook, she was surprised to find Twilight hovering in front of her, frowning. A quick look around the room showed that she wasn’t the only one looking at her with worry.
“Sorry, did you say something, Twilight?”
“Are… are you alright, Sunset?” Twilight asked, her frown only growing. “You kind of zoned out for a moment.”
“No, I’m alright. I just… wasn’t expecting this, is all.” Taking a moment longer to look at the drawing, she closed the sketchbook and handed it back to Rarity. “It’s very nice, Rarity,” Sunset said, failing to hide the melancholy in her voice. “I hope you’ll let me see it once you’re done.”
Twilight’s ears perked up at Sunset’s sudden dour mood. “Sunset—”
“You know, it’s a bit stuffy in here,” Sunset suddenly said, cutting Twilight off. “Think I’ll go get some air. Back in a sec!” Without another word, Sunset took off for the kitchen, the sound of the back door slamming shut ringing through the house seconds later.
Silence fell over the group, all of them still looking in the direction Sunset Shimmer had run off in. After several awkward seconds, Rainbow Dash finally said what they were all thinking. “Well, that was weird. Hell’s up with her?”
“I’m… not sure,” Rarity said, a bit startled by Sunset’s sudden change in attitude.
“Um… maybe it’s just me…” Fluttershy nervously ran her hands through a lock of her hair as she asked, “but did she sound… sad to anyone else?”
“She certainly did seem a bit down all of a sudden- Oh, no!” Rarity suddenly exclaimed, a horrified look across her face. “I’ve gone and offended her, I just know it!” Turning back to the page from before, Rarity began fussing over the drawing, looking desperately for something out of place. “Oh, maybe I got her hair and tail all wrong. Or maybe… is there some kind of social faux pas in your world about drawing someone without their permission I don’t know about!? Oh, I need to apologize to her right awa—”
“Rarity, could I see the drawing please?” Twilight asked, her voice firm enough that it snapped Rarity out of her panic attack.
“Oh! Of course.” Walking over, Rarity turned her sketchbook around for Twilight to see.
While Twilight scrutinized the drawing, Applejack peered over Twilight to take a look for herself. “Yep, that’s pretty much just what I pictured.”
“Well? Give it to me straight,” Rarity pleaded after several painfully long seconds of Twilight looking over her work without a word. “Is the hair wrong? Is her mark different? Is she not tall enough? What did I get wrong?”
“Nothing,” Twilight finally answered.
“Yeah, I can’t find anything wrong. Despite the fact that this is a sketch, it looks almost identical to the photos I’ve seen of her back in Equestria. Cutie mark and all.”
“But… but if I didn’t get anything wrong, then why did she act like that?”
“I’m… I’m not sure.” Twilight briefly thought back to the day before, when Sunset had sounded almost… disappointed when she had talked about her life back in Equestria. Something’s up, and I’m going to find out what. “Don’t worry, Rarity. I’ll talk to her sometime while I’m here.”
That seemed to calm Rarity’s nerves. “Alright, if you’re sure, dear. Promise you’ll come to us if you need help.”
Twilight smiled. “Cross my heart, hope to fly.”
“Ya know,” Applejack suddenly spoke up, “Sunset might have the right idea actually.”
“What idea?” Rainbow asked. “Running off in a huff?”
“Naw, ’bout gettin’ some air. I mean, I hope you don’t plan on spending all yer time here cooped up inside, Twilight.”
“Well, I hadn’t intended to, but I don’t really have a choice now, do I?” Twilight gestured to herself with her wings. “I’m pretty sure an alicorn is not a common sight over here.”
“Ya got me there, but what if’n we go somewhere big and open, somewhere ya’ll won’t have to worry none about anyone seeing ya’ll? Somewhere like Sweet Apple Acres, maybe?”
Thinking about it, Twilight couldn’t deter the idea. “I… guess that might work. It certainly is far enough away from the city that no one will be around and there is plenty of space for me to hide if I needed to.”
“Then that settles it!” Standing up, Applejack made a beeline for the stairs to go up and retrieve her phone. “Just let me give my brother a holler and we’ll be on our way.”
As Applejack ran upstairs, Twilight sunk back into the couch, her wings fidgeting ever so slightly. When she felt something brush up against her wings, she looked up to see Fluttershy sitting next to her.
“What’s wrong?” Fluttershy asked, easily picking up on Twilight’s concerns.
“Nothing, it’s just… I trust you girls, and I know Sweet Apple Acres is the most ideal place for me to go to avoid being seen, but I just can’t shake the idea of what could happen if someone were to see me like this. Not just for what could happen to me, but to all of you too.”
“Oh, you don’t have to worry!” Pinkie tried to reassure her. “If anyone sees you, we’ll just tell them you’re a big, huggable pony plushie.”
That managed to bring a smile to Twilight’s face, thought it was short lived. “I don’t think it’ll be that easy, Pinkie. I mean, I’m not sure if I could even cast an illusion spell, let alone maintain it for more a second or two.” Twilight sighed. “If only there was some way of disguising myself without just making myself look more suspicious.”
“Maybe there is, dear,” Rarity said, looking Twilight up and down with a discerning eye. “I think I just might have the perfect solution in mind for your current predicament.”
A chill ran down Twilight’s back at the look Rarity was giving her. She suddenly had the sneaking suspicion she wasn’t going to enjoy Rarity’s “solution” one bit.
Sunset Shimmer sat admiring the massive flower beds that lined the fences of Rarity’s backyard, losing herself in the mesmerizing display of flowers in every shade of the rainbow. The white gazebo, of which she assumed Rarity’s mother had been the one to hang the chair swing she now sat on, had been built specifically to admire the flowers from. She wasn’t sure how long she had been there—half an hour, maybe—but every so often she gave the chair swing a little rock.
A small chirp to her left made Sunset look away from the flowers, where a robin perched on the gazebo railing, hopping up and down as it pecked away at the wood in search of food. Sunset watched the bird continue its search for several seconds before spreading its wings and taking flight. Sighing after it had vanished from sight, Sunset returned to looking at the flowers, the brief distraction doing nothing to calm her still raging thoughts.
“What am I doing?” Sunset asked herself yet again since coming out here. “It was just a drawing, yet I ran off with my tail between my legs. Smooth, Sunset; real smooth.” She was actually surprised no one had come out yet to check up on her after running off like that, but she preferred that they had left her to her own thoughts. Although she had come to enjoy their company, right now she needed to be alone to think.
Sighing as she ran a hand through her hair, Sunset tried yet again to sort through the whirlwind of emotions plaguing her. First there had been that thing with the bathroom mirror, and now Rarity’s drawing. She was just being reminded of her life back in Equestria left and right it seemed. Twilight being stuck as as a pony certainly hadn’t helped, but Sunset couldn’t really blame Twilight because of a random accident.
That still didn’t explain why she had reacted like that. It was just a drawing! A drawing of her and her friends as ponies maybe, but nothing wrong with that, right?
“No… that’s not true,” Sunset finally admitted with great reluctance. She knew exactly what was wrong and she had for some time since the fight against the Sirens. Stubborn as she was, she had tried her hardest to put it off for as long as she could, and it seemed that now she was beginning to pay for it.
Even so, she just couldn’t bring herself to tell her friends. That wasn’t to say she didn’t trust them, far from it after everything they had done for her. Yet Sunset couldn’t imagine them understanding just what it was she was dealing with right now. Besides, she didn’t want to ruin Twilight’s weekend by dragging her and the girls into her mess. After the portal was fixed and Twilight went back home, she’d figure out what to do about it then.
A voice in the back of Sunset’s mind wasted no time in telling her she was being silly, but Sunset brushed it aside as she stood up, her knees cracking after having been sitting for so long. Shaking some feeling back into her legs, Sunset walked back towards the house, stopping a moment longer at the back door to fully collect herself before stepping back into the house and heading straight for the living room.
“About time you finished sulking out there.” Stepping into the living room, Sunset turned to see Rainbow Dash looking up at her from the couch, earbuds in as she listened to music on her phone. She had also changed into a pair of black track pants and a hooded sweater sporting the logo of some band Sunset couldn’t recognize. “I was starting to think we were going to need to go out and get you before we leave.”
Sunset glared back at Rainbow. “I wasn’t sulking, Dash. Wait, leave? Leave for where?”
“Sweet Apple Acres,” Fluttershy answered as she walked into the living room, having changed into a yellow jacket and a longer skirt. “We thought it would be nice if we took Twilight somewhere she could stretch her legs.”
“Er… are you sure that’s a good idea?” Sunset couldn’t help but feel uneasy at the prospect of taking Twilight out in public. “What if someone sees her?”
“Twilight asked the same thing.“ Popping out her earbuds and pocketing her phone, Rainbow leapt to her feet. “Don’t sweat it though; Rarity said she’s got it covered.” Glancing in the direction of the stairs, Rainbow shook her head. “Gotta say, I wouldn’t want to be in Twilight’s shoes right about now.”
“That’s because they wouldn’t fit!” Pinkie said as she came bouncing into the room from downstairs, carrying with her a half empty six-pack of cola she had pilfered from Rarity’s fridge. Like her friends, she had traded in her skirt for a pair of jeans but left her shirt unchanged. “Drink?” she asked, holding up the pack.
“Yeah, toss me one, Pinkie,” Rainbow Dash said, then catching the thrown cola with one hand. She was careful to break the seal without popping the tab, hoping it wouldn’t explode and drench her in cola. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice…
Knocking it back, she finished the drink just in time to see Applejack descend from upstairs. “Took you long enough,” Rainbow Dash remarked as Applejack joined them. “So, is your brother giving us all a lift or what?
“Yep, though he was none too happy about it. Had to twist his arm somethin’ fierce before he let up. I hope all of ya are up for some hard work out on the farm.”
“Work!?” Rainbow Dash balked at the very idea. “Don’t know if you noticed, AJ, but it’s the weekend. As in, ‘no-working-today’ day!”
“Spoken like a true slacker,” Applejack replied. “There ain’t such thing as a non-workin’ day on the farm, and Big Mac wouldn’t give in ‘less I agreed we’d do a few of his chores for him in exchange for a ride. ‘Sides, some farm work ‘ll do ya some good.”
“But… but it’s a long weekend!” Rainbow bemoaned.
Applejack’s expression remained unchanged. “Yeah… as ‘terrible’ as that is, we’ve got a bigger problem on our hands. Mac’s truck ’ll only fit four of us, so, seein’ as Sunset’s got her own ride and Twilight’s small enough to fit in someone’s lap, one of ya’s gonna have to ride in the back.”
“Actually, I think I’ve got a better idea,” Sunset said. “I’ve got an extra helmet, so someone could ride with me.”
“Huh… thinkin’ that could work too.” Looking around at the gathered girls, Applejack then turned her attention to upstairs. “Big Mac’ll be here soon, so now we’re just waitin’ on Rarity and Twilight. Haven’t heard a peep out either since Rarity dragged Twi upstairs. ”
“Hey, Rarity! Twilight!” Rainbow Dash shouted up the stairs, “Get the lead out or we’re leaving without you!”
“One moment!” Rarity called down from upstairs, her footsteps thumping through the ceiling.
Moments later, Rarity came down the stairs, having changed into an entirely new outfit: a navy jacket, unzipped slightly to reveal the royal purple shirt underneath, and a pair of black skinny jeans accompanied by a light blue skirt with purple trim. Though she was still wearing her diamond hairpin, she had also taken the time to put on a pair of diamond stud earrings and touch up her makeup. Finally, an oversized handbag hung off her shoulder to complete the look.
Applejack raised an eyebrow at Rarity’s new outfit, looking her up and down. “Uh, Rares? Ya do know we’ll be heading to the farm, not the salon?”
“Of course, but that shouldn’t be an excuse for me to not look my best!”
“Yeah, say that again after it gets all mucked up.” Shaking her head, Applejack noticed the lack of a certain purple alicorn. “Where’s Twilight? She still up there gettin’ ready? ”
“I’m in here,” Twilight grumbled from within the handbag.
“Oooh! Twilight’s a purse pony now!” Pinkie Pie exclaimed.
“It’s a pet carrier, Pinkie Pie,” Rarity corrected her. “I normally use it for the rare occasion I need to take Opal out, but for the moment I think it suits Twilight’s needs just as well. It’s certainly roomier than being carried around in someone’s backpack, wouldn’t you agree, Twilight?”
“She certainly don’t sound like she’s enjoyin’ herself,” Applejack noted. “So, this is yer solution to takin’ her outside?”
“Part of it, yes.” Popping open the top of the carrier, Rarity peered inside. “Come on out, Twilight, so everyone can see your new outfit.”
“Oh, don’t be like that, Twilight.” Rarity rolled her eyes as she tried to coax the mare out. “It’s not that bad.”
“Easy for you to say, you’re not the one wearing it.”
“Twilight, you’re making a big fuss out of nothing. You said you wanted a way to go out unnoticed, and this is the best solution I could come up with. Besides…” A mischievous glint twinkled in Rarity’s eyes, one known to instill fear in the hearts of many. “As much as I’d like to avoid it, there’s really nothing stopping me from pulling you out of there myself. Either way, everyone will see it eventually, so…”
There was rustling from inside the carrier before Twilight loudly groaned in defeat. “Fine… but no one better laugh!” After another moment of hesitation, Twilight reluctantly popped her head out of the carrier.
Perched atop her head was a pair of felt reindeer antlers, little bells dangling from the ends that jingled with each shake of her head. A small Santa hat covered up her horn, and to top it all off, a bright red bow was wrapped around her neck.
Silence hung in the air like a thick fog as everyone got a glimpse of Twilight and her new outfit. Sunset snickered; Applejack choked back a chuckle and Pinkie Pie held her breath, making her cheeks puff out like a chipmunk’s; Fluttershy was too busy awwing at how cute Twilight looked to laugh.
Rainbow Dash, on the other hand, showed no restraint and loudly burst out laughing, clutching her sides and teetering on her feet, threatening to collapse.
“I said not to laugh!” Twilight huffed, her face bright red from the blush quickly spreading across her cheeks.
“S-sorry, T-Twilight,” Rainbow managed to say in-between laughs. “But… but… have you looked in a mirror lately?
Twilight groaned and buried her face into her hooves, unintentionally revealing that she was also wearing little paw shaped booties on her hooves. “Yes, unfortunately.” Staring up at Rarity, she asked, “Rarity, why?”
“I’m sorry, dear, but as I said this was all I had on hand on such short notice. See, I made this outfit for Opal for the holidays, but for some reason she runs every time I try and get her to wear it.”
“I can’t imagine why,” Twilight muttered under her breath.
If Rarity heard her, she gave no indication. “As luck would have it, it fits you just as well after a few quick modifications.”
“Not sure I see how this is suppose’ to help,” Applejack remarked after regaining her composure. “Wasn’t the whole point to draw less attention to her? How then is dressin’ her up like a parade float animal goin’ to help?”
Rarity gasped, visibly surprised. “Why, Applejack! I thought you of all people would be able to understand my reasoning. After all, how does the saying go? ‘What’s the best way to hide a tree?’”
“Use a forest,” Sunset answered, a knowing smirk crossing her face. “I get it. As long as she’s dressed like that, all anyone else will see is a pet wearing a silly outfit.”
“Exactly! People see what they want to see, so should anyone take notice of our dear little Twilight here, all they’ll wonder is why she’s dressed out of season. Isn’t that great, Twilight?”
Whatever Twilight was going to say in response was interrupted by the loud blare of a car horn from the driveway. Opening the front door, Applejack briefly stuck her head out. “Well, there’s Big Mac now, so which one ya’s going with Sunset—”
“Shotgun!” Rainbow Dash shouted over her shoulder, already blowing past Applejack and out the door before anyone could stop her.
“Shot- Hey, no fair!” Pinkie whined, chasing after Rainbow.
Fluttershy frowned. “Um… shouldn’t we—”
“Hey!” Applejack yelled, taking off after Rainbow and Pinkie. “Ya’ll get back here! I’m ridin’ shotgun, ya hear?”
Rarity chuckled at her friends’ antics, looking down at Twilight. “Well, shall we depart as well, Twilight?” Twilight nodded, ducking back inside the carrier as Rarity made her way towards the doorway.
“Oh, that reminds me!” Reaching into a pocket on the side of the carrier, Rarity fished out a lanyard with a ring of keys on the end. “Sunset, darling, would you be a dear and lock up behind you?”
“Sure, no problem. I need to get my bike out anyway,” Sunset said, catching the lanyard when Rarity tossed it to her and hanging it around her neck.
“Thanks! Drive safe!”
“But… but…” Fluttershy was cut off for the third time when Rarity slammed the door shut behind her. Sighing, Fluttershy hung her head, slumping her shoulders in resignation.
Walking up to her, Sunset put her hand on Fluttershy’s shoulder, putting on her best reassuring smile. “Look’s like you’re stuck with me, Fluttershy.” When she only got a hushed mumble in response, she delicately patted Fluttershy on the shoulder. “I’ll try and drive as slow as I can, don’t worry.”
A short drive later, Big Macintosh pulled up to Sweet Apple Acres, cutting the engine before slumping back in his seat with a grunt. Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie all but flew out of the truck once the door was opened, Rarity gracefully climbing out right after them.
As Applejack undid her seatbelt, she turned to her brother. “Thanks for givin’ me and my friends a ride, Mac.”
“Ya don’t mind, do ya?”
“Nope.” Yanking the key out of the ignition, Big Macintosh climbed out of his truck, making an immediate beeline for the farmhouse.
“Goin’ for a nap?” Applejack asked as she jumped out of the truck.
“Eeyup,” he replied, not even stopping to look over his shoulder.
“Don’t ya still have to go into town later?
“If’n yer not up by then, I’m gettin’ Pinkie to wake ya up! Hear me?”
“EEYUP!” Big Mac hollered over his shoulder right before retreating inside.
Shaking her head with a smile on her face, Applejack walked over to join the others, discovering that Pinkie Pie had wasted no time in grabbing onto one of the trees by the trunk and running circles around it while shouting, “Weeeeee!”
“Pinkie, must you do that every time we come here?” Rarity asked as she watched Pinkie make herself dizzy.
“Yes! You should try it, Rarity! It’s fun.”
“If it’s alright with you, I think I’ll pass.” Putting the pet carrier down onto the ground, Rarity popped it open to allow Twilight to climb out.
“Hey, what’s taking Fluttershy and Sunset anyway? I thought they were right behind—“ Rainbow Dash stopped dead in her tracks, watching as Twilight climbed out of Rarity’s bag. On top of the antlers and padded gloves, Twilight was also wearing a festive vest with holes cut out for her wings and a bright red bow tied at the base of her tail. A smile spread across Rainbow Dash’s face as she felt another laughing fit coming on.
Twilight glared at her with an intensity that could melt steel. “Don’t. Say. Anything.”
Wisely, Rainbow Dash decided to keep her mouth shut.
She was saved by the sound of an approaching engine, everyone looking over in time to see Sunset riding up to the farm, coming to a stop next to Big Mac’s truck before cutting the engine of her bike and kicking down the kickstand.
Removing her helmet, Sunset looked over her shoulder at Fluttershy, who was still clinging to her for dear life and shaking like a leaf in the wind. “We’re here, Fluttershy. You can let go now.”
Fluttershy didn’t budge, burying her face into Sunset’s back with her arms still wrapped tightly around her waist.
“Come on, Fluttershy. I’d like to be able to breathe sometime!”
“Oh!” In a flash, Fluttershy released Sunset, quickly popping her own helmet off her head. “Sorry! I didn’t hurt you, did I?”
“Nah, I’m fine,” Sunset said, rubbing her side. “What’s a bruised rib or two?”
Fluttershy visibly paled, her eyes widening as her grip tightened on the helmet she was holding.
“I’m kidding! I’m kidding!” Sunset quickly reassured her before she could have a panic attack, taking the helmet from her before stepping off her bike. Once Fluttershy climbed off as well, Sunset quickly stowed both helmets away in the under seat compartment of her bike before going to join her friends.
As soon as Sunset and Fluttershy walked over, Applejack loudly clapped her hands together. “Right then, now that all ya’ll are here, we can get started workin’ on Mac’s chores for the day.”
That was Rainbow’s cue to make a break for it, sprinting off with plans to disappear amongst the apple trees and hopefully catch a nap. She didn’t get far though before something hooked around her ankle, causing her to wildly flail her arms as she tried to steady herself, before falling flat onto her face. Groaning, Rainbow glanced over her shoulder to see Applejack looking down at her.
“Not so fast there, Sugarcube. Ya’ll still gotta do some work, remember?”
“Ah, quit yer belly-achin’. Sooner we get all this done, the sooner ya can goof off all ya like. Now come’ on, these chores ain’t gonna do themselves!”
First order of business was to work on picking the apples in the west orchard. Dividing up into groups, Rarity and Rainbow Dash worked on one area, Fluttershy and Pinkie Pie in another and finally Applejack, Sunset Shimmer and Twilight in a third. Each group alternated between who would carry the bucket, the ladder and who would collect the apples.
Twilight was also proving to be a big help, flying up to the higher part of the trees and carefully trimming the apples with her magic, holding them aloft by the stems as she gently lowered them down into the bucket. As she released a few apples from her magical grip, she flew down and stepped out onto one of the tree’s branches, casting her gaze over the orchard as she took a deep breath of the fresh air, the many different kinds of apples coming together to form a pleasing scent that drifted over the fields.
Applejack was right; a little fresh air was just what I needed. Her main reason for coming over here had been to relax after all, and as afraid as she was of being seen, she couldn’t deny that coming out here had been an excellent idea.
Well, silly outfit notwithstanding.
“Ya almost done up there, Twilight?”
“Hm?” Glancing down, Twilight saw Applejack walking towards the tree she was standing in. “Just about. Just a few more and—WHOA!” As Twilight turned, her hoof slipped off the branch, sending her tumbling back. Flaring at her wings, Twilight desperately grappled for something to grab onto.
Next thing Twilight knew, she found herself hanging upside down from the branch, tightly holding on with all four hooves. Flapping her wings, she tried to right herself again, but to no avail. “Well, this is just great…” Contemplating just letting go of the branch, she wondered if she would have enough time to get her wings flapping before she hit the ground. I’m probably up high enough that I could make it. “Just let go.” Twilight craned her neck to see Applejack standing underneath her, her arms outstretched. “Don’t worry none, I’ll catch ya!”
“All right… here I go!” Letting go, Twilight briefly tumbled through open air, a scream welling up in her throat right before falling into Applejack’s arms, letting out an “Oof!” from the sudden stop.
“Gotcha! Told ya I was gonna catch ya.” Still holding onto Twilight, Applejack looked around as the others worked harvesting apples. “With all o’ ya helpin’ we’ll be done in no time. Course, I’d reckon this is much easier where ya’ll come from, Twilight.”
Looking up, Twilight asked, “What do you mean?”
“Well, I’d wager it wouldn’t take much to just pluck all the apples from a tree in one go with that there magic of yers. Harvest a whole orchard’s worth in time for breakfast.”
“I could, I guess, but Applejack doesn’t usually like me using magic to help around her farm. Er… I don’t mean you, Applejack.” Twilight quickly added, glancing up to see Applejack looking down at her, her lips pursed and eyebrows raised in confusion. “I mean the pony Applejack. You know, the one from my world.”
Twilight nodded. “She’s not the only one either. Most earth ponies I’ve met, especially the farmers, prefer to do things the old fashioned way, with as little outside magic as possible. I think I remember her putting it once as…” Twilight cleared her throat as she attempted to emulate Applejack’s accent, “If’n it ain’t broke, don’t go fixin’ it.”
“A notion I can get behind.” Putting Twilight back down, Applejack realized something. “If she doesn’t use magic, then harvestin’ an orchard must be a right ordeal.”
“It’s rather simple, actually. All she does is buck the tree, and the apples fall right out and land into the buckets underneath.”
Applejack blinked. “… Buck? As in kick?”
“Yeah, like this.” To demonstrate, Twilight braced her front hooves against the ground and kicked out with both her back hooves. “See?”
“Yer tellin’ me that ponies kick the trees… and all the apples just tumble out?”
“Exactly.” Walking back up to the tree she had been harvesting, Twilight reached up and ran her hoof over the bark of the trunk. “Actually… maybe…” Stepping back, Twilight took a moment to properly centre herself, spacing her hooves equal distances apart. Taking a deep breath, Twilight spun on her hooves and kicked, striking the tree as hard as she could.
The moment her hooves made contact with the tree, Twilight knew that something was wrong. She felt like she’s just kicked a slab of solid metal rather than a tree trunk, a jolt shooting up her legs that made her fur stand on end and her feathers tingle.
“Ahh!” Stumbling due to the sudden shock, Twilight fell flat on her face, lying in a very demeaning position.
Concerned, Applejack walked over to the prone pony, kneeling down next to her. “Whoa nelly, you alright there, Twi?”
Raising her head, Twilight shook the spots out of her vision. “I’m okay… I think.” Twilight swore she could taste burning ozone on her tongue. “I can’t say I was expecting that kind of reaction though.”
“Well, what did ya go in expectin’?” Picking her up by her barrel, Applejack gently set Twilight back down on her hooves. “That’s what happens when you just up and kick a tree ‘pectin’ it to rain apples.”
“No, I don’t think me kicking it was the problem. Not entirely anyway. It felt almost like the tree… rejected me.”
“I wouldn’t be none too happy if’n ya’ll just walked up an’ kicked me, and I don’t think Mary-Anne appreciated it much neither.”
“Mary-Anne?” Twilight asked, unsure as to whom Applejack was referring to.
“Yeah, that there’s this tree’s name.” Standing up, Applejack put her hand on the trunk of the tree. “What, does the other Applejack not name her trees too?”
“No, she does, I just didn’t think that… uh… nevermind.” Walking back up to the tree, Twilight lightly tapped her hoof against the bark, producing a dull knocking sound. Even if this is a different world, I definitely felt the tree push me back. Maybe… Maybe I just need to try a different approach. “I’m going to try again.”
“Twi, I don’t think that’ll—”
“Please, Applejack? Just let me try one more time.” Twilight pleaded, turning and gazing up at Applejack with a determined look on her face. “Even if I don’t manage to knock any apples down, I just want to try. Please?”
“… Alright,” Applejack relented, stepping back. “If’n ya want to give her another shot, I reckon I can’t stop ya from tryin’. Just be careful, ya hear? It didn’t look too kind the first time, and I just don’t want ya hurting yer’self.”
“I’ll be careful, I promise.” Facing the tree, Twilight positioned herself again, this time digging deep down and tapping into her stores of magic. Right, so just kicking it won’t work. I have to do something else. Hmm… I’ve seen Applejack talk to her trees before, so maybe… couldn’t hurt to try.
Taking a deep breath, Twilight kept her hold on her magic and relaxed her posture, sitting back on her haunches and placing her hoof on the tree. Well, here goes.
“Um… Mary-Anne?” Twilight paused, as if expecting the tree to reply back. “My name’s Twilight, Twilight Sparkle. You can just call me Twilight if you like.” Another pause, another bout of silence in response and Twilight was beginning to feel sillier and sillier with each passing second, yet she still pressed on, “I… I’m sorry I kicked you like that. It was rude of me to do that without asking, and I’m sorry for not considering how you would feel first. See, where I come from…”
“Hey, Applejack,” Sunset called out as she came running up to Applejack. “I finished filling the last bucket, so where should—” Skidding to a stop, she stared at the sight of Twilight sitting at the base of the tree, holding her hoof against the bark as she talked to herself. “Uh… AJ? What is she doing?”
“Far as I can tell,” Applejack replied, “she’s askin’ the tree if it’ll let her kick it. Apparently, that’s how you get apples where you and her are from.”
By now, Twilight had been having a one-sided conversation with Mary-Anne the tree for over a minute. “…So, I guess what I’m asking is if you’ll let me knock down some of your apples. I don’t need many; just one would be more than enough. Please?” A light breeze blew through Twilight’s mane as she waited for some kind of sign.
A pleasant tingling feeling suddenly flowed from her hoof down her leg, like the feeling of someone running a feather along her fur. “Is… is that a yes?” she asked, feeling the same sensation run down her leg again seconds later. Nodding in understanding, Twilight got back up and resumed her stance from before, spinning around and kicking her back hooves against the tree.
This time, the bark felt like it bent under Twilight’s hooves, the force of her kick resounding through the tree rather than back at her and making the tree shake slightly, jostling a few leaves loose to drift to the ground. For several seconds, nothing happened and Twilight thought that all this had been for nothing.
Then, one of the remaining apples fell free, bouncing against the grassy field before rolling to a stop a short distance away. Then, a second one fell right afterwards, followed a moment later by a third. When no more apples fell, Twilight stepped forward, a smile on her face as she placed her hoof back against the tree. “Thank you.”
“I saw it, but I don’t believe it.” Applejack muttered as she closed her hanging jaw and walked up to the fallen apples, picking one up and turning it over in her hand to examine. “Ain’t that something, not a single bruise or blemish I can see. Just when I think yer done being chock full of surprises, ya go ahead and spring a new one on me.”
Twilight nickered, blushing slightly as she rubbed the back of her head. “It wasn’t much, really. Most earth ponies can clear a tree with only a kick or two, but I don’t know if I could have done much better even if I was normal sized.”
Thinking about it, Twilight realized she had been seriously neglecting learning how to properly utilize her newfound earth pony magic. She had noticed early on that she could run for longer than before without getting tired and that she was physically stronger now, but besides that she’d done far more to get acclimated with her new wings and the magic that came with them.
List of things to do once I’m back in Equestria: Buy Spike the biggest gem I can find and research into the uses of earth pony magic, maybe even ask Applejack for tips on proper applebucking.
“Yo! Twilight!” Applejack, Sunset and Twilight turned to see Rainbow Dash running up to them, “You done over here? 'Cuz the rest of us are having a little trouble getting some of the apples near the tops of the trees, even with Pinkie Pie standing on her tippy toes. Think you could give us a hand?”
Frowning, Twilight glanced down at her hooves.
“Not what I meant!” Rainbow Dash scowled as the three of them laughed at her expense.
“Sorry, Rainbow,“ Twilight said, hiding a snicker behind her hoof. “Just let me finish over here and I’ll be right over.”
“Oh, why make’ em wait?” Applejack interjected. “Go right ahead, Twilight. I’ll finish up here for ya.”
“Alright, if you don’t mind.”
Shaking her head, Applejack said, “Nah, it’s fine. And Sunset, before I go an’ forget, just put the buckets by the barn. They’ll need to be sorted later anyway, so best to be havin’ them all in one place for that.”
Nodding, Sunset turned and walked back to where she had left the buckets, Rainbow Dash and Twilight following right behind her. As Applejack watched them depart, she looked down at the apple still clutched in her hand, before glancing over her shoulder at Mary-Anne and the apples still hanging from her branches.
“Hm, I wonder…” Dropping the apple into the nearest bucket, Applejack walked over and put her hand against the tree. “Hey, Mary-Anne, it’s just me. Call me silly, but I was wondering if you’d be willin’ to offer the same courtesy ya done gone and gave to Twilight just now. I know I don’t normally do this kinda thing, but I promise an extra helpin’ of mulch in it for ya if you’d let me give it a go, just this once.”
Just like with Twilight, she felt a pleasant feeling run through her hand and up her arm, making her smile. “I’ll be taking that as a yes. Better get ready, cause here I come!”
Stepping back, Applejack shifted her stance as she centered herself, digging her heel into the ground, as the muscles in her legs were primed and just raring to go. Like rivals in a kung-fu movie, Applejack’s eyes narrowed as she stared down her would-be target.
“HE-YAH!” With a mighty cry, Applejack spun on her left foot and struck with her right, driving the heel of her boot into the tough bark of the tree, a deafening thud echoing forth as the tree bore the full force of the kick.
For but a fraction of a second, as her heel came down onto the tree, Applejack’s whole body was surrounded in an orange glow, the ghostly afterimage of a pair of horse ears poking out of her blonde hair and the image of a red apple marking covering her right eye appearing for but a moment before disappearing along with the orange glow.
All at once, before the tremor had even passed, the few apples still remaining on the tree all came loose. While some happened to land in the buckets around the tree, most came to rest on the ground in the shade of the tree.
Lowering her leg, Applejack took a second to admire her work, taking a deep breath as she looked around at the apples scattered around her that she had knocked loose. With a smug smile on her face, she tipped her hat back as she looked up at the now empty tree. “Well, I’ll be.”
The hours flew by as the seven of them worked through Big Mac’s chores, including feeding the farm animals (to Fluttershy’s delight), to watering and sowing the crops, to bundling and storing bales of hay in the barn.
During a break, Twilight took the chance to sample some of the hay, remarking that it “tasted like uncooked pasta noodles.”
By the time Big Mac woke up from his nap and gone into town, all the chores that needed to be done were finished, allowing Rainbow Dash to finally cut loose by setting up a friendly game of soccer between them, designating a section of the orchard as the playing field and having two pairs of trees marked by a length of rope between them stand as the goals.
True to her nature, Rainbow zipped back and forth across the field like lightning, keeping the ball away from Applejack and Rarity’s advances as best she could. Seeing an opening out of the corner of her eye, she hooked her foot under the ball and sent it flying. “Sunset, heads up!”
Sunset leapt up and head-butted the ball as hard as she could, sending it hurtling towards the goal and its goalie, Fluttershy. Striking her square in the chest, Fluttershy lost her footing and fell onto her back with a thud.
Everyone stopped dead in their tracks, fearing that Fluttershy might be hurt. After several nail-biting seconds, Fluttershy threw her arms up into the air, proudly displaying the ball held between her hands and prompting everyone to breathe a sigh of relief.
“Nice catch there, Shy!“ Applejack quickly congratulated her teammate as Fluttershy picked herself back up and threw the ball back into play, kicking off another mad blitz for the ball.
Back and forth the ball went across the field, changing hands again and again before ending up under Rainbow Dash’s control again. Winding back, she kicked the ball towards the goal, only for her shot to go wild; the ball flying clear across the field, coming to rest past a row of trees bordering the imaginary field lines.
The harsh shriek of a whistle cut through the air as Twilight flew into view, sporting a whistle around her neck and a tiny referee’s hat on her head. Letting the whistle drop from her mouth, she hovered over the soccer ball. “Out of bounds! Applejack’s team gets control.”
“Oh, come on, Twilight!” Rainbow Dash whined. “That was so in-bounds!”
“Not from where I was sitting.” Picking up the ball in her magic, Twilight sent it hurtling towards Applejack, who wasted no time in making a running for the goal now that she was in control of the ball. With the ball back in play, Twilight flew back over to the tree she was watching the game from, a small chalkboard hanging from the branch proudly displaying the score as 2-1, in Rainbow’s and Sunset’s favour.
Pinkie put on her war face as Applejack bore down on her, arms raised as she prepared to intercept the shot. “You’re not getting by me, AJ!”
Smirking, Applejack drew her foot back for a kick, which Pinkie Pie lunged to block…
… Only for her to then strike the ball with the side of her foot, knocking it to her left to be intercepted by Rarity. Taking advantage of Pinkie Pie’s momentary confusion, Rarity swiftly looped around Rainbow Dash as she made a pass for the ball, before taking a shot at the goal.
Pinkie Pie had just enough time to watch the ball sail clear over her head, shooting past the goal lines.
“Gooooaaaallll!” Rarity shouted, jumping for joy as Pinkie Pie begrudgingly went to retrieve the ball.
“Now that’s how ya do it! Up high!” Running up to her, Applejack held up both hands, which Rarity eagerly jumped up to high-five back.
Rainbow glanced over at the scoreboard as Twilight changed the score to two all, growling from the back of her throat. I can’t let Rarity and Applejack beat me!
As Pinkie stepped back onto the field with the ball in hand, Twilight flew over and picked up the ball in her magic once more, carrying it to the centre field. As everyone got back into position, Twilight set the ball down and quickly flew back to her perch. Settling down, she blew a quick puff of her whistle and the game was back on.
Rainbow Dash immediately went on the offensive, all but tackling Rarity and Applejack aside to snatch the ball from them. Still, neither Applejack nor Rarity let up, coming down on Rainbow and Sunset at every turn. Both sides swarmed across the field like angry bees, neither side giving the other an inch as the tension grew.
Running down the field with the ball at her feet, Sunset suddenly found herself between the goal and a very determined Applejack bearing down on her. Frantically looking for an opening, her eyes fell on Rainbow Dash as she blitzed by, a clear shot to the goal in front of her,
“Dash! Take the shot!” Without a moment’s hesitation, Sunset kicked the ball towards Rainbow, who bounced the ball against her chest before running with it. With no one in her way, she pulled her leg back to make the shot, putting all she could muster into this kick.
From out of nowhere, Rarity dove into a slide, aiming to kick the ball away from Rainbow before she could take the shot. For a split second before they each made contact, their bodies became surrounded in a blue and purple glow, horse ears briefly poking through their hair as the images of a lightning bolt and a diamond respectively flashed over their eyes, disappearing just as quick as they had appeared.
With perfect timing, both Rarity and Rainbow managed to kick the ball at the same time, sending it rocketing away from the field at an untold rate of speed, shooting into the air before disappearing into the distance.
Watching the soccer ball sail away like a rocket, Pinkie Pie remarked, “Yeah… I’m not going to be the one who goes to get that.”
Meanwhile, Rarity continued on in her slide, knocking Rainbow Dash clean off her feet and causing her to fall flat on her face. Grunting, Rainbow climbed back to her feet, stomping over to Rarity as she stood up as well, wiping dirt off her pant leg.
“The hell, Rarity?” Rainbow yelled, getting right up in Rarity’s face with fire in her eyes, “Watch where you’re going!”
Rarity scoffed, meeting Rainbow’s ire with her own. “I could very well ask that you do the same. I was unaware that soccer was suddenly a full-contact sport.”
“That’s just how the game is played! Don’t like it, just give up then.”
“Hmph, I will do no such thing. Nor with I rise to the claims of someone who is clearly a sore loser like you.”
The sound of glass shattering echoed through the orchard like the rumble of a jet engine. Everyone glanced in the direction of the farmhouse, before five pairs of eyes all turned at once to stare at Rainbow Dash and Rarity, both of whom stood petrified under their friends’ glares.
Rainbow Dash glanced at Rarity, who looked back with an equally guilty expression on her face. “Uh… Whoops?”
Rainbow Dash and Rarity stood awkwardly behind Applejack, the pair looking thoroughly ashamed as the group stood in front of Applejack’s home. It wasn’t hard to see why either, as the presence of a new soccer ball-sized hole in the front window proved remarkably hard to miss. Surveying the damage, Twilight hovered in front of the window, sticking her head through the gaping hole as the others stood back to watch.
Taking a deep breath, followed by another for good measure, Applejack turned around to face Rainbow Dash and Rarity, looking all the while like she was visibly restraining herself from tearing into them. “… Well? Y’all got anything to say for yerselves?”
Swallowing the lump in her throat, Rainbow nervously chuckled. “Uh… I’m going to go out on a limb and say ‘Sorry’ isn’t going to cut it this time, is it?”
Crossing her arms over her chest, Applejack’s gaze bore into Rainbow Dash, making her wilt under its intensity. “It’d be a start, but ’sorry’ ain’t gonna go about fixin’ my window.”
“Applejack, dear,” Rarity began, doing her best to be as diplomatic as possible lest she end up on the receiving end of Applejack’s fury next. “I feel I speak for the both of us when I say we did not intend for this to happen, and I promise you that we’ll do all we can to pay for a new window.” Glancing at her unintentional accomplice, she put her hand on Rainbow’s shoulder and asked, “Isn’t that right, Rainbow?”
“Y-yeah, what Rarity said,” Rainbow stammered, slapping on her best reassuring smile. “I’m sure I could convince my folks to give me an advance on my allowance for something like this. We’ll have a new window before you know it, no sweat!”
“Besides…” Surprisingly, it was Fluttershy who spoke up in their defense. “It was an accident. I know you’re mad, Applejack, but it’s not fair to take your anger out on them over an accident, is it?
Applejack regarded Fluttershy with the same icy stare she’d given Rarity and Rainbow. Just when it looked like she might shift her rage onto Fluttershy, her features noticeably relaxed, and her anger seemingly subsided. “I know that, Shy, it’s just…” Loudly sighing, Applejack’s shoulders sagged as she ran her hand down her face. “Just what do ya suppose I do about it, then? When Granny gets back from her Bingo Night and sees this, she’s going to have my hide for sure. I’ll be lucky if I’m off the hook by the time I graduate. I mean, it’s not like I can just make a new window up and appear with a snap of my fingers!”
“Maybe I can, though.” Everyone turned at the sound of Twilight’s voice, watching as she pulled her head back from the window with a piece of glass held aloft in her magic. Glancing back and forth between the shard and the window, she licked her lips as she began running numbers through her head. If I account for my reduced size, plus my unfamiliarity with this world’s magic, while also factoring in the scale of the window… Maybe, just maybe…
“What ya thinkin’, Twi?” Applejack asked when she heard the tell-tale ‘hmm…’ emanate from the mare, a sure sign that she was deep in thought. “Got a plan?”
“Perhaps…” Turning the shard of glass over in her magic, Twilight ran the variables through her head again, coming up with the same answer as before. “I can’t promise it’ll work,” she said as she turned herself around to face her friends, doing her best to mask the hint of uncertainty no doubt on her face, “but if we can find as many pieces of the window as possible, I might be able to fix it.”
Applejack’s sudden beaming smile could have been used to blind oncoming traffic. “Ya for real? No lie?”
Glancing back at the glass shard, Twilight could just barely make out her reflection staring back at her. “Yes, I’m sure of it.”
“Well then, what’re we all just standin’ around for?” Everyone snapped to attention when Applejack turned to address them. “Y'all heard the girl, we’ve got a broken window to fix!”
Sometime later, Applejack dropped yet another glass shard into the pile. “Well, I’d say that’s all of ’em. Least, all of ‘em we could find anyway. I just know I’m gonna end up steppin’ on a piece or ‘nother when I least expect it, just ya watch.”
Standing in Applejack’s living room, Twilight regarded the collection of pieces laid out before her that they had managed to scrounge together. While they had been searching, she had also taken the time to shed the ridiculous outfit she had been wearing, if only so that it didn’t distract her during all this.
Taking a moment to arrange the shards like pieces to a jigsaw puzzle, the shards of glass now vaguely resembled the missing part of the window, though there were still noticeable gaps for pieces they had either been unable to find or that had likely shattered to a size no bigger than a bead of sand. Twilight was already starting to worry that this wouldn’t be as clean a restoration as she’d hoped, a worry that Applejack was quick to pick up on when Twilight was slow to respond.
“Ya… can still fix it, can’t ya, Twi?” Applejack pleaded, looking back and forth between the pile of glass and the shattered window.
“Well… it’s not as many as I would have liked, but it’ll have to do.” Twilight said, trying to sound as reassuring as she could. “Besides, no point in giving up without at least trying.”
Lighting up her horn, the glass shards gradually became enveloped in the violet glow of Twilight’s magic, lifting up into the air as one mass before floating over to the broken window. A bead of sweat rolled down Twilight’s brow as she carefully maneuvered the pieces into place.
“All right, now for the hard part. Fingers crossed!” Focusing, Twilight increased the magic channelling into her horn as she began weaving another spell on top of the first, the light emanating from her horn increasing in intensity.
With bated breath, everyone watched with amazement as the pieces seemed to fuse with the window as a whole, before the cracks steadily began to recede inward before their very eyes. Within seconds, the hole had shrunk to a quarter of its original size as more and more pieces shifted into place.
“It’s workin’!” Applejack cheered as she watched the window magically repair itself. “Keep this up and it’ll look good as new in no—”
An unexpected shockwave of magical energy washed over the room, causing everyone’s skin to tingle and involuntarily step back at the sheer magical pressure radiating off of Twilight. Twilight herself seemed to be struggling under the strain of the spell, her magical glow having gone from a pleasant light to a blinding beacon atop her head, her hooves digging grooves into the carpet as she struggled to keep her footing, grimacing as sweat dripped down her face.
“Twilight! That’s enough!” Sunset shouted as the magical pressure hung like a dense fog over the room. “You can stop now!”
“Not yet!” Twilight hissed through clenched teeth, eyes squeezed shut as she felt her magic pour into the window. “Just… a… little… more!” With one final burst, Twilight channelled a bolt of magic into the window, the aura of magic around the window almost glowing in brightness to match Twilight’s.
Then, just a quickly as it had started, it ended. Like a candle being blown out, the blinding aura around both the window and Twilight’s horn blinked out, the magical pressure dispersing with it. The deafening silence was almost suffocating as everyone came to grips with what had just transpired, the only sound being Twilight’s panting breaths as she stood on shaking hooves, her horn spitting out sparks from time to time.
“Twilight?” Pinkie Pie cautiously asked as she and Fluttershy poked their heads up from behind the couch they had been hiding behind. “You okay?”
“I’m… fine. Just… need… to… catch… my breath.” Taking in several gasping breaths, her knees trembled briefly before her legs collapsed out from under her and she flopped onto the living room floor, moaning at the unwanted throbbing pain behind her horn. “Ugh… I think I gave myself a headache…”
“That was one wicked lightshow, though.” Rainbow Dash remarked, ignoring the fact that her knees were shaking. “I mean, I always figured you were packing some serious power, but actually seeing it in action is a whole other story.”
“I must agree. That certainly was a spectacle to behold.” Rarity said, doing her hardest to keep her tone as level as possible, lest she betray the hint of fear that had yet to fade. Glancing out of the corner of her eye, she smiled as she pointed towards the window. “And it looks like your efforts were not in vain.”
True to Rarity’s word, Twilight had succeeded in repairing the gaping hole in the window, returning it to its previous unbroken state. However, despite the power she had pumped into the spell, a noticeable crack was still running down the left side of the window, marring its otherwise pristine surface.
Walking up to the window, Applejack cautiously tapped her finger against the glass, half expecting it to shatter under even the slightest force. When it didn’t, Applejack couldn’t have been happier, positively beaming as she spun around and looked down at Twilight. “Yer a real life-saver, Twi. Reckon I owe ya something fierce after this.”
Even as tired as she was, Twilight still found the strength to smile and shake her head. “It was nothing, Applejack. I’m just sorry I couldn’t fix it completely.”
Applejack shook her head at the mare’s humility, still unsure if she found it endearing or infuriating. “Well, if’n yer gonna be like that, then the least I could do is offer ya some grub. After a display like that, y’all must be starving.”
Right on cue, Twilight’s stomach growled like a starved beast.
“I thought so.” Already making her way towards the kitchen, Applejack didn’t so much as break stride as she hollered over shoulder, “Come on, y’all! Time I treated ya to some good old fashion Apple family style food!”
The word “food” might as well have been music to Rainbow’s ears. “Sweet! Come on Shy, let’s get ourselves something to eat!”
Fluttershy had but seconds to react before Rainbow Dash grabbed her by the arm and all but dragged her towards the kitchen, Rarity chiding Dash the whole way as she tailed behind them, while Pinkie Pie skipped along as well.
As everyone headed off to the kitchen with the promise of food, Sunset momentarily stayed behind, crouching down next to the still prone Twilight. “Need some help?”
“No, you go on ahead. I’ll catch up.” Grunting, Twilight attempted to pull herself up onto her hooves, her legs shaking as she feverishly flapped her wings to try and get some lift. Though a good effort, it ultimately turned out to be a futile attempt as she dropped back onto the floor with a dull thump.
“You were saying?”
“I… I think I might have overdone it a bit.” With a resigned sigh, Twilight looked up at Sunset while blushing with embarrassment. “Um… Sunset? Would you mind… carrying me to the kitchen? Please?”
Without a word, Sunset reached down and scooped the exhausted Twilight into her arms before standing up and following after her friends. As she did this, she glanced down at Twilight and asked, “Correct me if I’m wrong, but that was a variation on Starswirl’s beaker repair spell, wasn’t it?”
Twilight nodded. “Starswirl intended for it to be a quick fix if he ever dropped a test tube or two, but the spell is vague enough that it can be tweaked to adhere to a variety of glass structures. Still, I’m lucky it worked as well as it did.
“Even factoring in the size of the window, the energy output is generally small enough that I can effectively cast it without much of a thought, but trying to fix a window several times my size with magic I’m only just starting to get used to didn’t do me any favours.” Her horn spat out a few more sparks as she sunk into Sunset’s arms. “I feel like I just tried to fix an entire room full of windows in the castle.”
“Your castle or Canterlot castle?”
“So, there we were, running for our lives from this enormous hydra that had just emerged from the swamp.” Twilight briefly paused from telling her tale to take another bite of her third slice of apple pie. “I guess to it, four ponies and a baby dragon must have looked like a nice afternoon snack.”
“Oh dear, I can’t imagine how terrifying that must have been for you,” Rarity remarked, taking a moment to glance at the selection of lettered tiles in front of her. After a more than filling meal courtesy of Applejack, the group had settled down to unwind from the hard day’s work, with Twilight, Fluttershy, Rarity and Sunset currently competing in a game of Scrabble on one end of the kitchen table while Rainbow Dash, Applejack and Pinkie occupied themselves with a card game at the other end, equally as engrossed with Twilight’s story of one of her adventures.
“Got any eights, AJ?” Pinkie asked.
“Go fish.” While Pinkie drew a card, Applejack glanced over her at Twilight. “Now don’t go keepin’ us in suspense! What happened next?”
Stuffing the rest of her pie piece in her mouth, Twilight took a moment to chew and swallow before continuing. “Well, we eventually managed to put some distance between it and us, but we were stopped dead in our tracks by a deep gap cutting through the swamp, bridged only by a row of precarious rocky columns barely wide enough for us to cross one at a time. Remember, I didn’t have wings at the time, and the only other pony there who could fly tends to get wing locked under stress.”
While Twilight told her story, Rarity took a moment to select a few of her tiles to form salon, connecting to Twilight’s previously played hydra, which was not only the second highest scoring word on the board so far next to Fluttershy’s antlion, but had also been the catalyst for Twilight’s story about her encounter with the very beast.
“With the hydra right behind us, I knew I needed to come up with some way to distract it in order to buy the others enough time to get across. So I asked myself, ‘What would a brave pony like Rainbow Dash do?’”
“Smart thinking,” Rainbow Dash remarked without a hint of humility in her voice. “After all, if the pony me is anywhere near as awesome as I am, then I’m guessing that means you got right up in its face and showed it who’s boss, right?
“Actually… I charged right at it while screaming at the top of my lungs.”
Applejack snorted with laughter. “Yep, that sounds like the sorta’ bull-headed thing Dash would do!”
Rainbow Dash slammed her cards down and glared at Applejack indignantly. “Hey!”
“It worked though!” Twilight quickly shouted before the two could contemplate coming to blows. “The hydra certainly wasn’t expecting me to come running at it like that and ended up tripping over itself when it tried to make a grab for me. Once the others had made it safely across, I ran to follow them, but by then the hydra had recovered and wasn’t too happy with me. I barely managed to get out of the way when it made another lunge at me, but in doing so its head smashed against the edge of the cliff, knocking off a chunk of it along with the first two columns.
“With the path destroyed, I had no choice but to… wait.” Twilight paused as she looked down at the board. “Is it my turn?”
“It is, dear,” Rarity replied, “Though I do admit I was too entranced with your story to want to interrupt you to mention it.”
“Oh. Give me a second then…” After considering her tiles for a moment, Twilight carefully levitated a few of them over, forming the word around. “There we go. Now, where was I?”
“You were saying about how the hydra had just destroyed your only way across,” Sunset reminded her while Fluttershy took her turn, spelling out nest by connecting the S to the end of orange already in play.
“Ah, yes. With half the columns now nothing but rubble and a sizable gap between me and safety, I had no choice but to finally take Pinkie’s advice and take a leap of faith. I admit I was still a bit apprehensive about the whole thing, but considering the alternative was to end up as hydra food, I was far better off taking my chances with a leap of faith and jumped.
“And… I fell short.”
Fluttershy, Rarity and Pinkie Pie all gasped at once. “Oh my…” Fluttershy said, holding her hand over her mouth.
“What then, Twilight?” Pinkie Pie inquired. “Did you make it? Did you? Did you?”
“Pinkie, if she didn’t, then she wouldn’t still be here to tell us the story, now would she?” Rainbow Dash pointed out, wincing as she added, “Although, that must have been one wickedly painful belly flop!”
“Actually, here’s the part where it gets silly,” Twilight said, “As luck would have it, a bubble rose up from the surface of the swamp right below me. So when I missed the platform, I dropped down and landed right on top of it, cushioning my fall and bouncing me up…” Twilight waved her hoof to indicate her trajectory, “…right onto the first pillar, where I bounced to the second, before bouncing up and over and rolling to a stop on the other side.”
Pinkie Pie’s eyes widened in amazement. “Wow… Did you at least stick the landing?”
“If’n it were anyone else but ya, Twi, I would have believed ya were trying to pull a fast one on us. With luck like that, I’d say there may just be somethin’ to the old superstition of a lucky horseshoe. Or four,” Applejack said. “Still, I’m amazed y'all came out of that without a trip to the hospital.”
“Ponies are a lot more durable than we look, Applejack. Plus, I’d already had a piano dropped on my head that day, among other things, so compared to that, this was nothing.”
Applejack opened her mouth as if to reply, but quickly closed it again before shaking her head. “Better I just take yer word for it.” Focusing back on the cards in her hand, she asked, “Pinkie Pie, got any threes on ya?”
“Oh, that reminds me,” Rarity said, glancing over at Sunset to see her closely scrutinizing her tiles. “Sunset, I do believe it’s your turn now.”
“Just a minute, I’m thinking.” Taking in the words already in play, Sunset cycled through her options given her current selection of letters available. She briefly considered going with ichor, but that wouldn’t have been worth nearly enough points to make a difference. Liquorice was also out without trading in a few tiles and hoping for the best. Noticing a triple word space next to the word nest, she began to consider how to make use of it. Let’s see… chin, maybe? Cling? Corn?
Corn… wait a second…
Blinking in disbelief, Sunset double-checked her tiles before quickly counting the spaces between the words around and nest already on the board, not believing at first what she was seeing. After staring at the board a moment longer, she looked down at her letters again, then back up at the board, then at Twilight, who stared back at her in confusion.
“What?” Twilight asked, “Do I have something on my face?”
Oh, this is just too perfect. Grinning the whole time, Sunset grabbed her tiles and aligned them between the A in around and the N in nest.“A-L-I-C-O-R-N. Alicorn.”
Rarity puzzled over the word for a moment, unsure of its meaning. “Alicorn?”
Still smirking, Sunset pointed at Twilight. “Alicorn.”
Recalling that Twilight had referred to herself as such the day before, Rarity simply shrugged her shoulders. “I suppose I can’t very well argue with that then, can I? Let’s see… nine points, ten for the double letter on the ‘L’, plus the triple word score… comes out to thirty points. I say, that puts you in the lead, Sunset.”
Setting the pad aside, Rarity once more regarded her own set of tiles, though with a frown on her face at her selection. “Which is more than I can say. My word, I have just been having the worst luck thus far.” Sighing, she picked up a few of her tiles and placed them on the board, forming the word tile off of the T in nest. “I suppose this is the best I can do, if only to get some better options. Even with the double word, that’s still only worth eight points.”
Rarity barely had time to mark her own points down before Twilight levitated a string of letters onto the board. “Quill, with the blank as the extra L. Let’s see, ignoring the blank and adding in that double word square, that comes out to twenty-six points.”
Rarity begrudgingly added the new points to Twilight’s score. Calm down, Rarity, it’s only a game, no need to get worked up. “Fluttershy, it’s your… turn?”
Rarity wasn’t sure if Fluttershy even heard her, staring wide-eyed at the lettered tiles in front of her. She seemed oblivious to the world around her, her trembling lips creased into a frown and the pinkish hue of a blush beginning to color her cheeks.
“Um… Fluttershy?” Concerned, Rarity reached out and lightly tapped Fluttershy on the shoulder.
“Eeep!” Fluttershy flinched like she’d just been shocked, frantically glancing around the room to see everyone now worriedly staring at her. “Oh! Um… I’m sorry… did you say something, Rarity?”
“I… I was just…” Rarity briefly found herself at a loss for words, still taken aback by Fluttershy’s reaction. Pulling her hand back, she took a moment to collect herself before saying, “It’s your turn, Fluttershy.”
“Oh, yes. Right…” Looking down, Fluttershy reached for her tiles. Just when it looked like she was going to pick them up, she stopped, biting her lip as she drew her hand back, clutching it to her chest. “I… I don’t know…”
“What’s wrong, Shy?” Rainbow Dash asked as she set another matching pair down in front of her. “You stumped or something?
“N-no… I have a word in mind.” Nervously playing with a lock of her hair, Fluttershy seemed even more reluctant than usual to talk. “It’s… it’s just… I’m not sure if it’s… appropriate.”
“What, like a naughty word?” Pinkie suggested. “Like something you’d only hear in one of those movies they keep in the back of the video store?”
“N-n-no!” Fluttershy quickly stammered, her blush only deepening further. “It’s nothing like that!”
“Okay, now I really want to know what it is.” Rainbow said, leaning to look a Fluttershy from across the table. “Just play it already and I’ll be the judge on whether it’s ‘appropriate’ or not.”
“Al-alright…” Gingerly, she picked up her tiles one by one and transferred them onto the board; slowly forming the word she had been so apprehensive about making.
“S-H-I-P-P-I-N-G,” Rainbow Dash read aloud, raising an eyebrow at the seemingly innocuous word. “Shipping? That’s it?”
Fluttershy slowly nodded her head, hiding her blushing face behind her hair.
“That… that’s it? That’s seriously it?” Rainbow repeated incredulously. “Geeze, with how much you were building it up, I was expecting something actually bad. I mean, what’s the big deal about delivering a package?”
“Yes!” Fluttershy suddenly shouted, startling everyone when she leapt to her feet, an increasingly unsettling look on her face. “Package shipping! That’s exactly what I meant! I mean, it’s not like any other meaning exists, right? Right?”
A heavy silence hung in the air as everyone stared at Fluttershy, accompanied by an overwhelming feeling of unease and a loss of what to say in response. Pushing her chair back, Rainbow Dash stood up and walked around the table until she was standing next to Fluttershy, firmly putting her hand on Fluttershy’s shoulder to get her attention. When Fluttershy turned her head, she was met with an impassive stare from Rainbow in return.
“Shy, you’re scaring everyone. Could you tone it back a few notches, please?”
“Oh.” The maddening look in Fluttershy’s eyes vanished as she glanced around the room at the unnerved looks on her friends’ faces. “… Sorry.” Sitting back down, Fluttershy folded her hands in her lap and bowed her head to hide her still blushing face.
While Rainbow returned to her seat and Fluttershy tried desperately to sink into hers, Rarity took the chance to add up her points for her. “Okay… with two double letter squares, that comes out to twenty points. Along with the fifty-point bonus for using all your tiles, that adds up to… oh my. That puts you in the lead by a good margin, Fluttershy. Catching up to you won’t be an easy task, I’m sure.”
As the game progressed, Rarity couldn’t have been more right. Even when she managed to come from behind with an impressive fifty-seven-point jump thanks to a triple scored quake, catching up to Fluttershy’s early lead slipped further and further out of reach as the number of available tiles dwindled more and more and everyone began struggling to come up with anything longer than a three letter word.
Several rounds later, Twilight found herself in the unfavourable position of having been dealt the Z tile, which appropriately had been one of the last tiles left in the bag. Her tail irritably wagged behind her as she struggled to put it to use when she only had four letters left to work with, scrunching up her muzzle in deep concentration.
Shuffling the deck of cards, Applejack paused as she glanced over at the mare. “Twilight, y'all been staring at them letters for near five minutes now. If’n it ain’t come to ya yet, I doubt an answer’s gonna just pop out of the blue and—“
“Aha! I know!” With a happy grin on her face, Twilight levitated over two of her tiles and connected them to the X already on the board.
Rainbow Dash peered over at the word Twilight had managed to make. “Zax? C’mon, Twi, there’s no way that’s a real word.”
“You’d think so,” Applejack remarked, “but you’d be wrong. I should know, I had to use one when we fixed the barn roof last year.”
“Well, time to look it up then!” Pulling out her phone, Dash scowled as her phone struggled to connect. “Geeze, hurry up already! Anyone ever tell you that you get garbage reception out here, Applejack?”
“Just ya, Dash, Many, many times.”
After several seemingly agonizing seconds, Rainbow’s phone managed to get a signal. Opening up a web browser, she typed in the word into the search bar and waited for the page to load. She wasn’t expecting it when she actually got a hit. “… Huh. ‘Zax: a tool used for cutting and dressing roofing slates.’”
“See, Dash? It’s a valid word and worth a good nineteen po—” Twilight stopped mid-sentence as her ears perked up, swivelling in the direction of a sound only she could hear.
“What is it?” Sunset asked as Twilight became silent. “Hear something—”
“Hide me! Quick!” Diving under the table, Twilight made a mad dash for Rarity’s bag, yanking it open with her magic before frantically climbing inside and clamping it shut.
Rarity peered under the table as Twilight scampered into the bag. “Twilight, what in the world’s gotten into—”
The crunch of gravel underfoot and the rattling of the doorknob attracted their attention towards the front door as it swung open and Big Macintosh stepped inside. “Hey sis, any of yer friends—” Big Mac paused as he stepped into the room, noticing everyone staring at him as he entered.
“Welcome back, Mac.” Applejack greeted him, “Get everythin’ ya needed to in town?”
“Y-yep. I was just about to start unloadin’ it when I thought I’d check in on y'all first.” Big Mac continued to glance around the room, scratching his head the whole time “Huh… Could’a sworn I heard Twilight’s voice in here, but I don’t recall her comin’ with when I drove y’all up here.”
Applejack briefly caught sight of the pet carrier trembling out of the corner of her eye. “Was there something ya wanted ask us?” Applejack quickly asked, hoping to change the subject as quickly as possible.
After another quick glance around the room, Big Mac seemed to give up his search with a shake of his head. “Yep, I was wondering if any of your friends were needin’ a ride home. Don’t know if’n ya noticed how late it is.”
Turning in her seat, Applejack glanced at the clock on the kitchen wall, gasping at the time displayed. Turning again to look out the window, she was greeted to the sight of an orange sky as the sun began to dip below the horizon. “Wow, is it really that late? Shucks, guessin’ I lost track of time there.
“Tell ya what,” Applejack replied after thinking on it for a moment, “Y'all worry about unloading all the stuff from your truck while we finish our game. By the time yer done, we should have figured out what we’re doing. That sound good?”
Big Mac nodded his head at Applejack’s suggestion. “Sure, just don’t go takin’ too long now to decide. I promised I’d pick up Apple Bloom from her friend’s house in a bit, remember?”
Chuckling, Applejack replied, “I’m sure she won’t mind gettin’ to spend some more time with her friend. Don’t worry none, we won’t be too long.”
Seemingly satisfied, Big Mac turned and walked back out of the room, the slam of the front door echoing through the house moments later. Only when the sound of his footsteps faded completely did everyone look over at the still shaking pet carrier.
Twilight popped her head back out of the carrier, breathing a sigh of relief as she flew up to land back onto the table. “Phew! That was close.”
“Geeze, Twi, y’all looked like ya were gonna jump out yer skin!” Leaning back in her chair, Applejack rested her feet against the edge of the table. “Still, Mac has a point. We should really figure out about getting’ the rest of y’all home. That is, unless any of ya are plannin’ on stayin’ the night?”
Rainbow Dash shook her head. “Nah, I told my dad I’d be home tonight. He tends to panic if I’m out for longer than a day or so.”
“Same here,” was Fluttershy’s answer. “Even though I made sure all my animals would be taken care of while I was gone, they all must be worried about if I’m coming home or not.”
Pinkie’s normally exuberant attitude seemed to deflate as she replied, “Wish I could, but my folks want me and my sisters to help out at the shop tomorrow. Which is a total bummer, but I did promise them I would help, so I’m stuck I guess.”
“I think it would be pertinent if I return home as well.” Rarity said, adding, “You girls still need to pick up your things from my home, so we would need to stop at my home on the way regardless.”
Applejack nodded her head in turn as everyone gave their reasons. “Then, that just leaves ya, Sunset. What ya say, up for staying a night on the farm?”
“Hmm…” Sunset tapped her finger against her chin as she debated on whether or not to take Applejack up on her offer. “Nah, while I appreciate the offer, I think it’s about time I head back as well.” Sunset said, jokily adding, “You know, if only to make sure my apartment’s still standing.”
Twilight’s ears perked up at the mention of Sunset’s apartment. She recalled that Sunset had offered to let her stay over, and it was only now that she realised that, even after all her trips to this world, she had never once seen where Sunset lived. Plus, this could be the perfect chance for me to get to talk to her about what happened at Rarity’s.
“I’ll come too!” she quickly blurted out, prompting everyone to turn and stare at her, suddenly making Twilight just a tad self-conscious. “I mean, uh… you did say I could stay with you while I was here and I’m curious what your apartment looks like.” Her ears folded back against her head as she stared at Sunset with big, pleading eyes. “You don’t mind, do you?”
Even back when she’d been at her absolute worst, Sunset wouldn’t have been able to muster even the semblance of a resistance against such a face; to do so now would have been impossible. “I don’t mind, no. My place isn’t anything special though, so I hope you’re not expecting anything luxurious.”
“That’s fine. I did used to live in a library, so I don’t mind one… one…” Unconsciously tilting her head back, Twilight was unable to stop herself as a loud yawn bubbled up and out her mouth.
“Aww,” Pinkie Pie cooed, “Someone’s a sleepy little pony.”
“Sorry. Using too much magic tends to also make me…” She was cut off by another loud yawn, “… sleepy.”
Snickering, Applejack reached across the table and ruffled Twilight’s mane. “I’d say that means we better hurry it up then if’n we want to leave before you go fallin’ asleep on us. If I recall, it was Fluttershy’s turn.”
Grumbling under her breath, Twilight began working on smoothing her mane back down. “Before we leave though… is there any more pie?”
One quick stop off at Rarity’s later, and Sunset was ready to be on her way. Unfortunately for Twilight’s sake, carrying around a pet carrier while on a motorcycle wasn’t the safest of ideas, so she had to once again needed to resort to being carried in Sunset’s backpack. Not that Twilight had seemed to mind her current arrangement, struggling to keep her eyes open just before they’d left Sweet Apple Acres.
“You alright in there, Twilight?” Sunset asked as she fired up the ignition. Listening in over the roar of the engine, the sound of light snoring was her only reply. Chuckling to herself, Sunset prepared to slip on her helmet.
“Sunset, could I speak with you for a moment?”
Sunset paused, lowering her helmet into her lap as Rarity walked up to her. “What is it, Rarity? Don’t tell me I forgot something.”
“Not that I’m aware of, no. I simply wish to give you something before we part ways for now.”
Holding out her hand, Sunset saw that Rarity was holding a folded piece of paper between her fingers, which Sunset tentatively took from her. Staring at the piece of paper, Sunset had a sneaking suspicion she knew what she would see when she opened it. “Rarity, is this…” A quick nod from Rarity confirmed her suspicions. “How did you manage to—”
“I found the time.” Rarity answered without hesitation. “I thought it would be best if I gave it to you once it was finished. Consider it also my way of apologizing for before.”
“Apologizing? Rarity, you know you don’t have to—”
“Sunset, darling.” Rarity smiled, an amused glint in her eyes and a sharpness to her words as she spoke. “I would think that after all the time we’ve known each other, you would have realized by now that when it comes to giving gifts to my friends, I am not so easily deterred.”
Realizing that she would have been better off arguing with a charging bull, Sunset tucked the piece of paper into her jacket pocket before zipping her jacket up. “Thanks, Rarity.” Slipping on her helmet and sliding down the visor, she revved the engine before giving Rarity another glance, even if Rarity couldn’t see it. “See ya tomorrow.”
“I look forward to it, and do drive safely!” Rarity called out as Sunset sped off, waving as the bike disappeared from sight.
Sunset remained firmly focused on the road as she navigated the city streets, the piece of paper in her pocket feeling more like a lead weight the whole way. It felt like an eternity before she finally pulled up into the parking lot of her apartment complex.
Overall, the complex wasn’t anything special, just a drab grey building consisting of six floors of apartments. Its location also left much to be desired, being in an area of the city without easy access to facilities like schools, shops, parks or other such thing that potential tenants tended to look for, with the nearest such building being the Laundromat a block’s walk away.
Still, rent was cheap enough and the landlord made sure to keep the place in working order and bug free, so Sunset couldn’t complain. During her first month after stepping through the portal, she’d been far more concerned with finding somewhere with four walls and a roof that she couldn’t have cared less if there were any parks within walking distance.
Pulling up to a free space, Sunset cut the engine to her bike before removing her helmet. Tucking it under her arm, she reached up and put her hand over her jacket pocket, feeling the small square of paper through the fabric. She sat there for several seconds before sighing and dismounting her bike.
After making sure to properly secure and lock up her bike, she grabbed the rest of her things from her bike before beginning her trek up the flights of stairs, not even bothering to check and see if the elevator was working. On any given day, the chances that she would find an “Out of Order” sign taped to the front was fifty-fifty. Besides, when you lived in Canterlot Palace like she had, you tended to get used to climbing stairs.
Walking down the rows of doors, Sunset didn’t so much as glance over at the door numbers once, having walked these halls hundreds of times before. Before long, she finally came to a stop outside one door inparticular. Room 417, here we are.
As she removed her room key from her pocket, Sunset couldn’t help but feel a slight sense of joy as she stood outside her apartment, the same one that had offered her sanctuary almost since the day she had crossed over into this world. Sliding the key into the lock, it produced a satisfying click as she unlocked it and pushed against the handle.
The door only jiggled slightly, jammed shut.
“Oh, for the love of… Stupid door!” Growling, she reared back and slammed her shoulder against the uncooperative door. While the door did come loose and swing open, this also served to remind her of the previous injury she’d sustained to her shoulder that very morning, wincing as pain shot down her arm.
Note to self: kick the door next time. Rubbing her bruised shoulder, she finally stepped into her apartment proper, closing and locking the door behind her.
Sunset’s backpack rustled on her back as it seemingly unzipped itself to allow a very groggy Twilight to pop her head out with a yawn. Blinking the sleep out of her eyes, she took in the room around her. “So, this is where you live?”
The apartment itself was a standard studio size, with a closet and the door to the bathroom flanking the entrance. A twin-sized bed rested against the far wall, above which a pair of windows sat that, though currently covered by curtains, were set high enough to let in a decent amount of light during the day. A nightstand stood off to the side of the bed, on which a small lamp and a digital alarm clock resided, while a half-filled bookcase occupied the other side.
To the left of the bed was a faded couch with several barely visible food stains soaked into the fabric; while on the right side of the room a desk had been pushed up against the wall, on top of which sat a desktop computer hooked to up to a monitor that was far bulkier than any Twilight had ever seen. Finally, a kitchenette took up most of the right wall facing away from the bed, which consisted of a fridge, a decent sized countertop with a sink and faucet, rows of cupboards below and above and a device that Twilight had learned was called a “microwave”, and could be used to heat food much like an oven.
“Yeah. It isn’t much, but it’s home.” Setting her backpack down on the couch, Sunset kicked off her boots before crossing the room to hang her jacket on the back of her desk chair. Making her way over to the fridge, she began rummaging around inside for a quick bite to eat. After several moments of searching, she turned to ask Twilight a question, but said question died on her tongue at the sight of Twilight rolling over onto her back on the couch and stretching her legs out.
“Comfy?” Sunset asked, only partially succeeding in suppressing her laughter at the sight of the mare flopped over like a housecat. Oh, what I wouldn’t give for a camera right now… Even Rainbow Dash wouldn’t be able to resist!
“Hm?” Perking up, Twilight turned her head slightly to the side. “I’m sorry, I didn’t hear you. What did you say?”
Rather than repeat herself, Sunset opted instead to go with her initial question. “I asked if you wanted anything to eat. I’ve got some leftovers I could heat up if you want.”
Grumbling, Twilight rubbed her belly. “No thanks… I think I ate too much pie…”
Carefully tip-toeing over to the couch, Sunset gently draped a spare blanket over a snoozing Twilight, a light murmur emanating from the pony as the blanket settled over her withers. Having already changed into her PJs, Sunset was ready to turn in as well, when she found her eyes drawn to her jacket still hanging on the other side of the room, and the paper still contained within.
Stealthily making her way over to her jacket, she quickly pulled out the folded piece of paper, holding it between her fingers as she sat back on her bed. At first, she just stared at the paper, as if expecting it to suddenly provide her with all the answers she could ever want. When no such thing occurred, she carefully began unfolding it, her hands trembling slightly with each fold.
Just as Sunset had suspected, it was one of Rarity’s drawings from before, specifically a finished version of her depiction of Sunset. She felt a knot form in the pit of her stomach at the very sight of her old Equestrian form, yet even still she couldn’t help but admire the level of detail Rarity had managed to convey in a single image. The previously rough lines had all been dutifully cleaned up and Rarity had even taken the time to add dabs of color. If she didn’t know any better, she might have even entertained the idea that she was looking at a photograph rather than a drawing.
And yet, the soft and caring eyes that stared back at her felt more like they were taunting her, only making the knot in her stomach tighten even more.
Growling, she hastily folded the drawing back up before reaching across her bed to yank open the top drawer of her nightstand, stashing the drawing inside before slamming it shut without consideration for the sleeping Twilight. Curling under her covers, Sunset struggled to get the image out of her head, tossing and turning for some time.
When she finally felt herself starting to drift off to sleep, she couldn’t shake one final thought from her mind:
Her eyes had never once looked like that back in Equestria.
The sound of running water woke Sunset from a dreamless sleep. Groaning as she rubbed the sleep out of her eyes, she turned her head to glance at her alarm clock, the neon numbers displaying the time as a quarter after nine.
“Good a time as any to get up, I guess…” Loudly yawning as she sat up, she stretched her arms out, the aches and pains from yesterday making themselves known as Sunset tried to locate the source of the noise that had woken her up. I didn’t leave the tap on last night, did I?
The rattling of the bathroom door drew Sunset’s attention as it swung open, a content Twilight drifting out with a towel wrapped around her mane. Noticing Sunset sitting up, Twilight waved at her, positively beaming. “Morning, Sunset! Sleep well?”
It took a second for Sunset’s still half-asleep brain to process the sight of the pony princess flying out of her bathroom, the memories of last night slowly coming back to her. That’s right, Twilight stayed over last night. “I slept alright,” Sunset finally replied. “How about you? I know my couch isn’t the comfiest thing to sleep on, but—”
“No, no, it was fine. If you asked Spike, he’d probably say it was nowhere near the most uncomfortable thing I’ve fallen asleep on.” Countless nights falling asleep at her desk had given Twilight the uncanny ability to fall asleep just about anywhere. “Oh, I hope you don’t mind that I used your shower.”
“Nah, it’s fine. Just don’t forget to turn the water off when you’re done.”
Raising an eyebrow, Twilight craned her neck to peer into the bathroom. “But I already did.”
Now it was Sunset’s turn to look confused. “Then why do I still hear running water?” Listening closer, she noticed that the sound seemed to be coming from somewhere behind her. Turning around, Sunset reached up and pulled back the curtains above her bed. A wall of rain beating against the window greeted her, dark storm clouds blanketing the sky as far as the eye could see.
Sunset groaned, not for the first time cursing that this world had zero control over the weather. “Great, what a perfect way to start the day. I guess I might as well take a shower too.” Climbing out of bed, she strolled over to the closet and grabbed a fresh towel. As she shut the closet, she glanced over at Twilight, who by now had flown over to the couch. “Have you already had breakfast, Twilight?”
“Nope,” Twilight replied, shaking her head. “I only just woke up.”
“Then feel free to help yourself,” Sunset offered, pointing towards the kitchenette. “There should be a box of cereal in the cupboards and milk in the fridge. Bowls are the middle cupboard. I think I’ve got some fruit in the crisper too if you want. I won’t be long.” Without waiting for a reply, Sunset stepped into the bathroom, closing the door behind her before turning on the water, which took no time at all to heat up thanks to Twilight’s recent shower and made Sunset smile.
She better have saved me enough hot water!
It was still pouring outside by the time Sunset exited the shower, so after finding something to wear, she poured herself a bowl of cereal and sat down next to Twilight on the couch, the mare carefully levitating each spoonful up to her mouth to avoid spilling so much as a drop. The next few minutes were spent in relative silence, with the only sound being the crunch of the cereal between them.
“Hey, Sunset?” Twilight abruptly asked.
Twilight avoided looking Sunset in the eye, as if debating with herself whether she should say anything or not. “While I was looking through your cupboards, I couldn’t help but notice you have a large amount of instant noodle cups. Twenty-six of them to be exact.”
“…And?” Sunset replied, her tone that of someone who had just been told the sky was blue.
“Well… can I ask why you have so many cups of instant noodles?”
“Simple: they’re quick and easy to make and, best of all, dirt cheap. I can’t exactly afford to buy a ton of expensive food, so I make do with what I can.”
“Oh. I guess that makes sense.”
Silence once again prevailed as they finished eating. Once they were done, Sunset picked up their bowls and carried them to the sink to be washed. While she did that, Twilight took a moment to look around Sunset’s apartment some more. Not that there was much else to see given that it was basically one big room, but it certainly had a homey feel to it nonetheless. “Can I ask you something, Sunset?”
“Does it have something else to do with my eating habits?” Sunset answered over her shoulder as she set their bowls into the drying rack. Grabbing a washcloth to dry her hands, she turned back around to face Twilight, leaning against the counter with her arms crossed over her chest. “Well? Does it?”
“Then ask away.”
“I was just wondering, how exactly do you—”
Vrrr! Vrrr! Vrrr!
“Hold that thought.” Crossing the room, Sunset plucked her phone off her nightstand, quickly noticing a new text from Rainbow Dash in her inbox that read, Yo, Sunbutt. U up?
Sunset couldn’t help but giggle at the text. Sunbutt… now there’s a nickname I never thought I’d hear again. I wonder if she ever told Twilight about it. Maybe I should ask… Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed Twilight watching her with obvious curiosity. Nah, I probably shouldn’t. If Celestia never told her, then hearing it from me might just make her faint.
Sunset quickly replied back with, Yeah, I’m up. Twilight is too.
With lightning speed, a reply came back. Gr8! Log in2 UR Skype. Vid chat right now with the girls, come join.
Give me a few minutes, Sunset responded before setting her phone back down.
“Who was it?”
“Rainbow Dash. She was wondering if…” Sunset paused, thinking for a second. “Actually, it’d be easier if I just showed you.” Walking to her desk, Sunset hit the power button to her computer, the machine whirring to life as she sat down. Intrigued, Twilight flew over, peering over Sunset’s shoulder as the screen ran through a boot up sequence before switching to a login screen.
“You’ve used a computer before, right?” Sunset asked as she keyed in her login and password.
“Somewhat…” Twilight replied, remembering her embarrassing attempts at operating such a device during her first visit. Since then she’d picked up how to use some of the strange devices of this world like a cell phone, but this “computer” still eluded her.
Having verified her login and password were correct, the screen switched to show the desktop, proudly displaying a picture of Sunset and friends taken right after the Battle of the Bands. Pinkie Pie had obviously seen fit to throw a party after their triumph over the Dazzlings, managing to throw something together in under an hour in Applejack’s barn. Streamers, balloons, cupcakes, music, if it was a party staple, Pinkie had more than delivered.
Mid-way through the party, Sunset remembered standing by the punch bowl talking with Fluttershy, when Rainbow had blind-sided her and dragged her by the waist towards where her and Applejack were having an arm wrestling contest. Applejack had quickly jumped into the fray as well, silencing her protests by taking her hat off and jamming it on her head. Luckily, Rarity and Fluttershy had jumped to her rescue, coming in from either side to try and free her from Rainbow’s clutches. As all this was going on, Pinkie Pie had taken the moment to get out her phone, poking her head into frame just before taking a photo of the chaotic mess.
In the end, the photo made Sunset look like a fool… and yet seeing it never failed to bring a smile to her face.
Twilight watched as Sunset used the control device— a “mouse”, if she remembered right— to move the pointer across the screen, double clicking on a symbol that looked like a blue cloud. A separate page opened up, displaying a short list of names with colored dots next to them in either green or red. After another login screen, the little dot next to Sunset’s name switched from red to green.
“Now we just wait for Dash to add us to the call. Oh, almost forgot!” Reaching up, Sunset flicked a switch on a black box on top of the monitor, though the only noticeable change was a tiny red light on the device switching on. Curious, Twilight fluttered up to the strange box, peering into it as she tried to discern its purpose.
Meanwhile, a message popped up on screen: RainbowDash has invited you to join a group chat. Accept? One click later from Sunset, and the screen was replaced by four video boxes, each one showing one of her friends. In the bottom left was Fluttershy while Applejack was on the bottom right and Rainbow Dash, wearing a pair of headphones over her ears, was in the top right. Though the video in the upper left showed an image of what was undoubtedly Rarity’s room, the girl in question was strangely absent.
“Hey girls,” Sunset greeted, announcing her presence while her video took a moment to load.
“About time. Took you long enough to—GAH!” Rainbow flinched back as Sunset’s video feed finished loading, treating her to the sight of Twilight’s eye staring into the camera. “Twi, back away from the camera! Geeze!”
This only made Twilight lean in for a closer examination. “This is a camera?”
“Yes, it is, so unless you intend to give Rainbow an up and close look up your nostrils…” Wrapping her hands around Twilight’s barrel, Sunset pulled her down until she was sitting comfortably in her lap. Adjusting the webcam, she positioned it so both of them were visible in frame. “That’s better. Say hi, Twilight.”
“Uh…” Waving at the camera, Twilight could just make out a smaller image of her and Sunset in the corner of the screen. “Hi?”
Applejack waved back. “Mornin’, Sugarcube.”
“Good morning, Twilight,” Fluttershy said, quickly adding, “Oh, and good morning to you too, Sunset.”
Flipping two fingers off her forehead in some strange hand gesture, Rainbow’s response was an expected, “S’up?”
Twilight’s surprise was written clear across her face. Blinking, she reached out a hoof to try and touch the screen. “Is… is this all in real time?”
“Yep.” Sunset replied, trying not to laugh at Twilight’s surprised face. “With this, you can talk with anyone from just about anywhere in the world. Neat, huh?”
Twilight’s eyes lit up with wonder. “Amazing… Recording video is one thing, but to be able to see and keep in touch with your friends anywhere in the world… Equestria doesn’t have anything close to this kind of instant communication.”
Loudly groaning, Rainbow slumped against her desk. “Well, we wouldn’t even need to be doing this if it weren’t for this stupid rain. Sunny skies all weekend my foot!”
“Ah, quit yer bellyachin’ already, Dash,” Applejack was quick to berate her, by the sounds of it not for the first time today. “We’ve been up and due for some rain for weeks, so it was ‘bout time I’d say.”
“I like the rain,” Fluttershy interjected, “It’s so nice and peaceful. Sometimes I even leave on a recording of it to help the animals relax.”
Applejack nodded in agreement. “I’m with ya there, Fluttershy. Ain’t nothin’ beats the smell of the orchard after a fresh rainfall, I tell ya.”
“Yeah, yeah, whatever,” Rainbow grumbled, “Doesn’t change the fact this totally throws a wrench into our long weekend. When else am I going to find the time to practice my new move?”
“I think you’ll survive,” Sunset deadpanned, glancing up at the still empty frame in the top corner of her screen. “Hey, where’d Rarity go?”
Rainbow just shrugged. “Dunno. She up and disappeared right before I texted you. HEY, RARITY!” Rainbow shouted into her mic, making everyone wince as their speakers crackled from the feedback. “You still there?”
“Coming! One moment!” a singsong voice answered from off-camera. Moments later, Rarity stepped into frame as she pulled her chair back and sat back down, her orange spectacles perched on her face. “I do apologize for disappearing like that, I had to take care of something for a minute. Now, what were we talking—” Rarity’s face lit up as she noticed Sunset and Twilight. “Oh, Sunset! Twilight! So nice of you two to join us. I trust then that your trip back went well?”
“Oh, it went fine. We made it back no problem.” Pausing for a second, Sunset seemed to stare off into space while rubbing the back of head. “Well, except for when I crashed into that pole…”
“W-what?” Rarity stuttered, her white face somehow getting even paler. “I’m sorry, did you say you crashed into a pole on your way back?”
“Hmm… maybe it was a bar, or a bench. I’m not too sure, I’m still a little woozy from all the blood loss.”
Rarity looked like she was just about ready to faint… right up until Sunset started snickering, unable to keep a straight face. She wasn’t the only one, as Rainbow Dash and Applejack both seemed to be trying to not burst into laughter. Glaring at them through her monitor, Rarity huffed. “That wasn’t funny.”
“Ah, lighten up, Rares. It’s just a bit of dark humor, no biggy.” Applejack tried to reassure her, but Rarity just glared harder.
“Forgive me if I don’t find the idea of possible bodily injury ‘funny’.”
“Rarity’s right,” Twilight said, peering up at Sunset. “That’s not really something to joke about.”
“Thank you, Twilight. I’m glad that someone else thinks so.” Smiling, Rarity reached for her drink just out of sight and lifted it to her lips to take a sip.
“Besides, I was able to re-set the bone quick enough, so she’ll be fine.”
Luckily Rarity hadn’t been facing her computer, so her monitor was saved from the ensuring spray of water. Even Fluttershy giggled at the reaction, while everyone else either snickered or outright laughed.
Wiping her mouth with the sleeve of her shirt, Rarity returned to glaring at her friends through her monitor. “Twilight! I don’t believe you! You’re supposed to be a princess, are you not? I would have thought you would be above such… deplorable attempts at humor. Clearly, Sunset is corrupting you.”
“Hey, I’m not doing anything!” Sunset said in her defense, holding her hands up before pointing at the mare sitting in her lap. “We didn’t plan this, that last part was all her.”
“It’s true. It was a spur of the moment thing.” Twilight seemed to wilt, her wings sagging and her ears drooping as Rarity continued to glare at her. “I’m sorry if we took it too far though.”
Seeing Twilight suddenly look so disparaged finally made Rarity relent, her posture relaxing and her expression softening. “It’s quite alright, dear. It’s just that the thought of any of you being hurt is not one that sits well with me. All I ask is that you please don’t joke about something like that.”
Perking up, Twilight nodded. “That sounds fair.”
“Say, are you working on something right now, Rarity?” Sunset asked as to change the subject, having not missed the glasses Rarity was wearing, which she only ever wore when she was working.
At Sunset’s inquiry, Rarity’s previous mood seemed to pull a 180, a beaming smile spreading across her face as she clapped her hands together in unbridled glee. “I am, as a matter of fact! It’s rare that I get the house all to myself, so I’m making the most of it to try out a few more designs without fear of being disturbed.”
“I still can’t buy the fact that y’all turned down a trip to Whinny Land with yer folks,” Applejack said.
Rarity just rolled her eyes. “I’ll have you know, Applejack, that I have been to Whinny Land before. The supposed ‘happiest place on earth’ is not all it’s cracked up to be, I assure you. Though I am sure Sweetie Belle and my parents will enjoy themselves nonetheless, I would much rather spend my weekend working on my designs or spending it with you all. Besides, it was lucky that I didn’t go, given Twilight’s little unforeseen mishap on her way here.”
“Reckon y’all got a point there. So Twi, how ya likin’ yer stay at Sunset’s place?”
“It’s been nice,” Twilight replied, “I fell asleep not long after we got here, but I’ve been enjoying it so far.”
“Really? If that’s so, then I reckon we should have our next sleepover at Sunset’s. How about it?”
“Don’t count on it,” Sunset said, shooting down the idea straight out of the gate. “There’s barely enough room in here for Twilight and me, let alone all of you. Outside of trying to cram all of us in here, I’d like my security deposit to stay intact.”
Sensing that arguing would be futile, Applejack just shrugged. “Can’t blame me for askin’. Say, Twilight, I was wonderin’ if’n ya got any more crazy stories of yer adventures with yer pony friends?”
Smiling, Twilight clapped her hooves together. “As a matter of fact…”
“No way!” Rainbow leapt out of seat, her mouth hanging opening in shock. “You’re telling me Shy stared down a dragon?!”
Wide eyed, Fluttershy looked like she was just about ready to hide under her desk. “Oh my… I don’t think I could ever do something like… like that.”
“Neither did she, or any of us to tell you the truth.” Twilight still fondly remembered the moment when, faced with a colossal and pissed off dragon, the skittish pegasus had jumped in without a second thought to defend them all. “Just goes to show how someone can surprise you in the most unexpected of ways when they need to.”
“Good thing too, on account of the dragon ready to use ya to floss his teeth,” Applejack said, reclining back in her chair. “I gotta say, Twi, for a world full of magical ponies, it sounds like a mighty dangerous place to live if’n everything wants to make a snack out of ya. Now, don’t go takin’ this the wrong way, but frankly the more and more I hear of yer world, the less I’m wantin’ to visit.”
“I must agree,” Rarity said, counting on her fingers. “Hydras, dragons, endlessly multiplying vermin that devour everything…” Rarity shuddered at the very idea of such creatures. “Truly, we were lucky that the worst thing to ever cross over was the Dazzlings. How ever did you manage to survive such harrowing encounters unscathed?”
“Believe me, I sometimes wonder that myself. Still, Equestria as a whole is actually much safer than I make it out to be. Like up in the north the worst they have to deal with besides the weather are the Glacier Wolves, and they avoid fire at all costs. It’s just that Ponyville tends to have a habit of attracting these kinds of crises surprisingly frequently. I mean, don’t get me wrong, it’s a great place to live and I wouldn’t live anywhere else, but even on the best of days it can be a nexus of crazy at times.”
“That tends to happen when you build a town next door to the Everfree forest,” Sunset remarked. “Even living in Canterlot, I remember hearing reports of the kind of things that call that place home. I can’t imagine living nearby, let alone going into the forest itself.”
“Zecora doesn’t seem to mind it.”
Rarity blinked at the familiar sounding name, “Zecora? Our science teacher?”
Twilight nodded. “Her Equestrian counterpart is actually a zebra witch doctor that lives in the Everfree Forest. We kind of… got off on the wrong hoof a few years back, but she’s been a great friend ever since.”
“Wait…” Sunset paused at something Twilight had said. “She actually lives in the forest? The same place that manticores, timberwolves and chupacabras call home? Does she have a death wish?”
“Hardly. Having seen what Zecora’s potions can do, I’d be more concerned for the forest animals than for her.”
Rainbow Dash quirked an eyebrow. “So, you’re saying our science teacher’s a zebra witch doctor that lives in a forest of monsters? Geeze, next thing you’ll tell me is our principals are really prin— hmm?” Pausing, Rainbow glanced at something out of view. “Hold on, I think I can hear my dad calling me for something. Back in a sec.” Removing her headphones, she dropped them onto her desk before getting up and walking out of frame. The microphone barely picked up the sounds of a conversation in the distance, but not enough that anything could be made out.
Moments later, Rainbow Dash returned and swiftly pulled her headphones back over her ears. “Sorry about that. My dad says he’s taking us out for lunch, so I’m gonna bounce in a minute. We all still on for tomorrow?”
Rarity nodded. “Weather permitting, I don’t see why we wouldn’t be.” Everyone else was quick to echo similar words of agreement.
“Great. Well, I better get going. See ya!” Seconds later, her screen switched to black as her video cut off before disappearing, leaving three frames remaining.
“Actually…” Applejack spoke up, “I think I better get goin’ too. Talkin’ about one of our teachers reminded me I still got homework to finish. If’n I want to make it tomorrow, I better get it done by today or I’ll be hosed.”
Rarity cleared her throat before adjusting her glasses. “I hope you’ll forgive me, but I think it would be best if I depart as well. I’ve left my latest design unattended for long enough as it is, so I should get back to work before my muse slips through my fingers. Strike while the iron is hot, as they say.”
“I guess this is goodbye for now,” Sunset said, looking at Fluttershy “You leaving too, Fluttershy?”
“No, I can stay for a while longer. I’ve already fed Angel, so he should be-“ A loud crash made Fluttershy jump in her seat, whipping her head around to look at something off-screen. “On second thought, I have to go. Angel, please don’t touch that—” She was cut off by her video shutting down, followed seconds later by Rarity and Applejack logging off as well.
Sunset and Twilight stared at the screen for several seconds, just long enough for the silence to start trespassing into awkward territory. Before that could happen though, Twilight spoke up. “That was interesting. The technology of this world never ceases to amaze me.” Glancing up at Sunset, she asked, “What else can this machine do?”
“Oh, plenty of things. In fact…” Closing the program, Sunset wasted no time in opening up a web browser. “Want to see something cool?”
Molten lava bubbled and flowed through the rocky wastes, the crumbling remains of buildings the few remaining relics of humanity not yet swallowed up by the inferno. Atop a bridge spanning a river of lava, three masked men in blue uniforms stood, the only discerning factor between them being a different coloured jewel in the centre of their masks.
Floating above these men was a pack of mechanized canines radiating a light blue glow, gears visible across their bodies and some with two or even three heads per canine. They remained motionless however, scowling just as hard as their masters at the interloper that had interrupted their Hunting Game, leaping onto the bridge on his motorcycle to get in-between them and their prey.
One of the men narrowly avoided getting run over as this new challenger sped past him, shouting “My turn! Draw!” over his shoulder.
“From my hand, I summon the Tuner monster, Speedroid Tri-Eyed Dice!” In a flash of light, a creature resembling a blue four sided die that, true to its name, was covered in three markings of eyes and with three glowing orbs floating around it, appeared next to another creature, this one a mechanical card with jets on all four corners.
Riding his motorcycle towards a chunk of debris, the rider revved his engine and accelerated up it like a ramp, sailing into the air and arcing over the heads of his three bewildered opponents. “Now, I tune my level three Tri-Eyed Dice, with my level four Speedroid Menko!”
Tri-Eyed Dice suddenly vanished in a burst of light, leaving behind a trio of glowing stars that sailed into the air to form three rings that glowed a light green. Hovering over Speedroid Menko, its form faded until only an outline remained, revealing four glowing stars within it. As the body faded away, the three rings shifted horizontally, the four stars floating between them as a burst of light lanced through the centre, radiating outward until it had eclipsed the stars and rings in a column of light.
Landing the wheels of his bike against the side of a building, the motorcycle sped down as its rider began to chant, “Spread those wondrous and beautiful wings and strike down your enemies at the speed of light! Synchro Summon!
“Appear, level seven, Clear Wing Synchro Dragon!” With a mighty roar, a massive white dragon, with a striped barbed tail instead of legs and wings that glowed a fluorescent green, flew out from the column of light, flying beside its master as he kicked his bike off the building, coming to a dead stop before the trio of masked duellists.
Twilight and Sunset watched all this play out on the screen of Sunset’s computer, Twilight gasping in surprise as she watched the bike sail through the air. “Did he just…”
As the dragon appeared, Twilight glanced up at Sunset, smirking as she asked, “I’m going to assume you can’t do that with your bike, can you?”
Sunset couldn’t keep herself from chuckling. “Not unless I wanted to end up in traction with a trashed bike.”
Twilight looked back at the screen in time to watch the dragon let loose a burst of energy, blasting and destroying one of the mechanical orthrus controlled by the opponents. As the orthrus was destroyed, an armoured mass of gears and cannons on wheels sitting behind the three whirred to life and fired, blasting the one who played it in the back and knocking him to the ground. “Wait… I thought that was their card? So if their monsters are destroyed, they’ll get hit too? That sounds like a real design flaw.”
Sunset nodded. “Seems they didn’t think that far ahead, or just assumed nobody would ever make use of that particular flaw.”
In seconds, the motorcyclist proceeded to wipe the floor with his opponents, all three falling to the ground unconscious as their own weapon simultaneously blasted them in the back. The scene then cut to a control room watching all this on a monitor, all in attendance just as disbelieving of the motorcyclist’s complete victory. Just as the one in charge expressed his shock, the screen cut to black, signaling the end of the video.
“That was… interesting,” Twilight remarked after a moment of consideration. “How did you even find this?”
“Fluttershy. She watches a ton of stuff like this, and I caught her watching it one day during lunch. I should show you the one with the masked rider who transforms using a belt to fight evil. I think it was called ‘common’ something…”
The mental image alone made Twilight’s face scrunch up. “That sounds silly.”
“It is, but in a strangely entertaining way from what I’ve seen. Hey, would you mind getting up? I was thinking about making us some popcorn.” Sunset knew she could have just lifted the mare up off her lap, but she could already tell Twilight was getting sick of being carried around.
While Sunset went to make some popcorn, Twilight couldn’t shake the nagging feeling in the back of her mind that she’d forgotten something. Trying to jog her memory, she took another look around Sunset’s apartment, not for the first time noticing how beat up the couch looked. She wondered if that was just a sign of age, or if Sunset had gotten it at a discount due to damage…
Twilight’s ears shot up as it hit her like a bolt out of the blue. “Oh! I just remembered! There was something I was going to ask you before we were interrupted by Dash.”
Having already retrieved a bag of instant popcorn from her cupboard and tossed it into the microwave, Sunset looked up from keying in the time. “Oh? What was it?”
“It’s just I was wondering how you’ve managed to afford all this for so long. This apartment can’t be cheap, especially since you’ve been living here for a while. I’ve never asked where you worked, but it must pay alright if… Sunset?” Twilight stopped when she saw that Sunset was frozen in place, her hand shaking slightly as it hovered over the keypad of the microwave. “Did… did I say something wrong?”
Snapping back to reality, Sunset quickly hit the start button on the microwave, the machine whirring to life. As the slow sound of popping kernels filled the air, Sunset stepped back, sighing as she ran her hand through her hair. “You know, you’re the first person to actually ask me that. I don’t know if the others are just being nice or if they still believe the lie I told everyone the first year I was here.”
“What lie was that?”
“That I was living off the inheritance from my rich family. Throw a little money around once in a while and no one asks otherwise. Obviously it’s a bit more complicated than that, and since you asked, I might as well tell you.”
Walking over to her bed, Sunset crouched down and pulled a small chest with a number lock out from under it. Picking it up and sitting down onto her bed, she keyed in the combination and opened it just as Twilight settled down next to her.
Inside were a few assorted items, including what looked to be a second ID and a random flash drive, but what was most apparent was the purple velvet bag taking up most of the space.
“This is how I’ve been able to afford all this up till now.” Pulling out the velvet bag and undoing the string, Sunset tilted the bag and shook it over her hand. From within, several gold coins and a pearl too large to fit on an earring or necklace tumbled out.
Twilight’s eyes widened at the sight of the coins, the unmistakable image of a sun and moon printed on either side. “Those are Equestrian bits!”
“Yep. Took me a while to find the right buyer, but it turns out the exchange rate on solid gold coins and jewels is absurd. Right before I passed through the portal, I bumped into a mare that clearly had more money than common sense and… borrowed her bit pouch.”
“… Borrowed? You ‘borrowed’ her bit pouch?” Twilight narrowed her eyes at Sunset, a rebuke already forming on the tip of her tongue. “Sunset—”
“Don’t even start, Twilight,” Sunset said much harsher than she intended to, though that didn’t stop her from glaring right back at the alicorn. “This mare clearly wasn’t hurting for money considering all the jewellery and fancy threads she was wearing, and it’s not like I can go return it now! Besides, out of all the things I regret, this isn’t one of them. I don’t know how I would have survived otherwise.”
The pair locked eyes for several tense moments, before Twilight reluctantly relented and looked away, sighing. “I guess I can’t fault you there. Even though I don’t condone how you got the money, I can’t argue with needing a way to survive. Although, I am still amazed you were able to make it last this long.”
“It wasn’t easy, that’s for sure. I have to be frugal where I can.” Sunset pointed at her computer, the screen now displaying an image of multiple colored pipes looping across it. “My computer, for instance, is several models out of date so I was able to get it cheap. It’s not going to be able to run anything high-end and it has a tendency to freeze once in a while, but it still works just fine. Same with my phone, which has none of the bells and whistles that the latest models do.”
“I take it the same applies to the couch, right?”
“Pretty much. Some guy was throwing it out because it had a stain on it, so I managed to pawn it off him for fifty bucks, seventy to drop it off here. A bucket of soapy water, some fabric cleaner and an hour or two of work later, and it was… mostly good as new.” Sunset chuckled as she started returning the coins and pearl into the bag. “Come to think of it, the only thing I’ve really spent a ton of money on was my bike.”
Pausing, Sunset held up the last bit to her face. Printed on every bit was the image of Celestia’s cutie mark, a crescent moon inlaid in the centre and the words “In Celestia, We Trust” along the rim.
I certainly didn’t trust her like I should have… Sighing, Sunset tossed the bit back into the bag, tying it shut before stashing it back into the chest and slamming the lid closed.
This did not go unnoticed by Twilight. Ok, enough is enough. Reaching out, she put her hoof onto Sunset’s hand, causing the girl to jump a little at the sudden contact and look down at her. “Sunset, something’s bothering you, isn’t it?”
Yanking her hand back, Sunset nervously chuckled as she set the chest aside. “N-nothing’s bothering me. I’m fine, just fi—”
“That’s a lie, and you know it,” Twilight interjected, her eyes displaying a fierce determination that bore into Sunset and vividly reminded her of Celestia. “Ever since I’ve been here, I’ve noticed you acting strange, and I doubt I’m the only one. When you talked about your life back in Equestria, you sounded… disappointed almost. Then there was your reaction to Rarity’s drawing and how you acted just now from just seeing an Equestrian bit.” Her piece said, Twilight breathed in, her features noticeably softer when she spoke. “Sunset, as your friend, I want to help if something’s bothering you. So please, tell me what’s wrong so I can help.”
Even under Twilight’s pleading eyes, Sunset remained silent, her throat having gone dry and refusing to even let her utter a sound in denial. She wanted to say something, anything, but some part of her still held her back, praying that Twilight would take her silence as an answer and let it go.
But Twilight was not so easily deterred, especially in matters relating to her friends. Based on how Sunset had been acting, Twilight had already guessed as to what the problem might be, but had been waiting for Sunset to admit it personally. If Sunset wasn’t going to, then it fell to Twilight to force the matter out into the open.
“You miss Equestria, don’t you, Sunset?”
Sunset looked away, wanting more than anything to refute it, to tell Twilight she was just being silly, and to go back to watching silly videos. And yet… finally hearing it said out loud succeeded in draining every last ounce of energy she had left to try and push it aside, the feelings of loss and emptiness flaring up, just crying out to be set free.
“…Yeah, I do.” Sunset finally admitted, unable to deny it any longer. “I miss Equestria, Twilight. I miss being a unicorn, I miss being able to use magic, I miss walking up to a café and ordering a daffodil and Swiss sandwich, I miss seeing a pony staring back at me when I look in the mirror, I… I miss… I miss…” As everything she’d worked to hard to keep suppressed came pouring out, Sunset’s emotions overwhelmed her, her breaths coming in gasps, eyes clamped shut as tears streamed down her face, wrapping her arms tightly around herself in a futile attempt to fend off the chill that had flooded her body.
Adrift in a sea of sadness, Sunset felt a warmth press up against her side. Eyes snapping open, she looked down to see Twilight holding onto her side, her front hooves and wings against Sunset’s waist as she tried to give the much larger girl a hug. Pulling her arms away from her body, Sunset reached down and scooped up the mare and held her against her chest, an action that Twilight offered no resistance to.
Minutes passed as they sat there, the loud beeping of the microwave going unanswered as the last of Sunset’s tears ran down her face. Once Sunset felt composed enough to speak, she released Twilight from her embrace, holding her at arm's length. “Thanks for that, Twilight. I needed that.”
“Anytime,” Twilight replied, a reassuring smile on her face as she was set back down. “How long have you felt this way?”
Wiping the tears away with her sleeve, Sunset rested her hands in her lap as she thought on her answer. “I guess… I guess it started a week or so after we beat the Dazzlings. For the first time in a long while, I actually felt like I belonged. I had friends that I cared about and who cared about me, and more and more of the school were willing to give me a second chance. And yet… I still found myself thinking back to Equestria from time to time, remembering the days I’d spent studying up a new spell so I could get it just right, even if I was a total jerk about it.
“The more and more I thought about it, the more things I realized I missed, many for the first time in years. When I first crossed over, I swore that I would only return when I proved I was the best and strongest there was.” Sighing loudly, Sunset stared off as she remembered the disastrous Fall Formal. “And we both know how well that turned out…”
“But things are different now,” Twilight was quick to reassure her. “You’ve learned from your mistakes and become a better person for it. Plus, now that I can open the portal whenever I want, there’s nothing stopping you from coming over for a visit. All you’d have to do is ask and I can have one of the guest rooms in the castle set up in no time.”
Sunset still appeared uneasy. “While I appreciate the offer… it’s just not that simple, Twilight.”
“Huh? What do you me—” Twilight’s eyes widened. “It’s Princess Celestia, isn’t it? You’re afraid of facing her again after so long.”
“Wouldn’t you be, if you’d been as terrible to her as I was?”
“Sunset, I may not know exactly what happened, but I do know that the Princess has forgiven you for all of it. I know that she would give anything for the chance to see you again after all this time.”
Sunset scoffed. “I doubt that. You weren’t there when she had me removed from the castle, when she took away my title as her personal student.” Sunset began to fidget, squeezing her hands together so tightly her knuckles were turning white. “Twilight… I said such horrible things to her, things I can never take back. I’ll never forget the anger in her eyes when she called the guards on me, or the sheer disappointment on her face while I was being taken away. It hurt, Twilight. It felt like I’d been stabbed in the heart… and all I could think about was myself, how I was being denied what I believed was rightfully mine, like some spoiled child!”
Sunset buried her head in her hands, ashamed at how she had acted to the pony that had always given her everything she could have asked for. She doubted Celestia ever wanted to see her again. If she did, it would only be to have me arrested for treason.
“Sunset, do you know the first thing Celestia said to me after I returned with my crown?”
“W…what?” That was enough to make Sunset look up, caught off guard by Twilight’s seemingly random question. “I don’t know, ‘Congratulations?’ ‘I never had any doubt you would succeed?’ ‘Are you alright?’”
Twilight shook her head. “No, the first thing she said to me had nothing to do with me. Right after I stepped from the portal, she asked me if you were alright.”
“She… she did?”
Nodding, Twilight continued, “When I told her that not only were you alive, but that I’d left you in safe hands, it was like a weight had been lifted from her shoulders. Just seeing the look of relief on her face is all I need to know that, despite what happened in the past, she never stopped caring about you, Sunset.”
Sunset was left speechless. By all accounts, Princess Celestia should hate her, and yet her first concerns after Twilight had returned hadn’t been for her fellow princess, but for her. Could it be true? Could Celestia still care about her, even after everything she’d done?
“However,” Twilight went on, “if you feel you can’t face Celestia yet, then I won’t force you to. Whether or not you decide to see Celestia is your decision, and I’ll support whatever you decide to do.”
“I… I don’t know what to say.” Sunset finally managed to utter. “Thanks.”
“You don’t have to thank me, that’s what friends do. Regardless, that still shouldn’t keep you from coming back to Equestria, especially if you’re feeling homesick. Once the portal’s been fixed and is up and running again, you can come over anytime and be back before dinner. I could introduce you to my pony friends, show you around town, and we could practice magic together!” Twilight giggled, unable to hide her excitement at the prospect. “What do you say?”
As apprehensive as she had been at first, Sunset couldn’t deny that Twilight’s offer was tantalizingly tempting. All she had to do was ask, and she would be back in Equestria before she knew it. She’d have her magic back, she’d be a pony again and, maybe someday, she’d be able to face Celestia again. It was like a dream come true.
“And then what?”
“W…what?” Twilight asked, this time the one caught off guard. “I… I don’t—”
“Suppose I take you up on your offer and go back to Equestria. I get to use magic again, a chance to meet the pony versions of all our friends, maybe make new friends while I’m there and even potentially get the chance to apologize to ponies I was a total jerk to in the past. Hell, maybe I could even work up the nerve to face Princess Celestia again and learn that you’re right after all and that she really does forgive me for everything. What then?
“What reason then would I have to ever come back here?”
Unable to come up with an immediate answer, Twilight remained silent. Sunset took that opportunity to go on. “Even if it was originally only because you asked them to keep an eye on me, five girls I used to go out of my way to bully have become my best friends. They helped me when no one else wanted to even be near me, and for that I am truly grateful to them.
“But if I go back to Equestria and use everything I’ve learned about friendship from them to make up for everything there, then what’s keeping me from just staying there indefinitely? What’s stopping me from going, ‘Hey, thanks for everything you’ve taught me, but I’m just going to go back to Equestria for good. So long!’” Sighing, Sunset hung her head at the very idea of leaving them behind. “I couldn’t do that to them, but I’m afraid I wouldn’t be able to stop myself.
“If that wasn’t enough, I… I don’t know if I’d call wanting to go back to Equestria being ‘homesick’. I might have grown up in Equestria, but… but it’s not my home. Not anymore, and I’m actually wondering if it ever was. But here… I have friends here, Twilight. I’ve made a life for myself here, I’m… I’m happy here.” Holding her hand to her chest, Sunset’s next words were filled with unwavering conviction. “This city, this apartment, this world… this is my home now.”
A heavy silence hung in the air following Sunset’s declaration, during which all Twilight could do was stare in stunned silence as she took it all in. After several moments without a response from Twilight, Sunset sighed. “I’m sorry. I know I must sound silly, saying that the place I was born and grew up in isn’t my home—”
“Not at all,” Twilight finally said, a smile slowly spreading across her face. “In fact, I understand exactly what you’re saying.”
“You’re just saying that to make me feel better.”
“No, it’s true! I don’t know if I ever told you this, but I lived almost my entire life in Canterlot. Though I ventured outside of the city sometimes with the Princess, the majority of my life was spent within the city walls. At the time, it was the only ‘home’ I’d ever known.
“When Celestia sent me out to Ponyville to oversee the Summer Sun Celebration, all I could think about at the time was getting this over with so I could prove to her that I was right about Nightmare Moon and getting back home to Canterlot as quickly as possible. And yet, by the very next morning, the idea that I would have to return to Canterlot so soon made me sad.
“In less than twenty-four hours, I’d gained five friends I had come to care about, and wanted to get to know better. When Celestia agreed to let me stay in Ponyville from then on, I couldn’t have been happier. Even though I still visit Canterlot from time to time, I stopped thinking of it as ‘home’ a long time ago, and when I became a princess, the idea that I might have to leave Ponyville and my friends behind scared me the most.”
Pumping her wings until she was hovering almost eye level with Sunset, Twilight reached out and put her hoof over Sunset’s heart. “I know it sounds cheesy, but I’ve learned that old expression saying ‘Home is where the heart is’ couldn’t be more true. The memories I’ve built with my friends and will continue to build are what makes Ponyville my home, just as the memories you’ve built with our friends here makes this your home, and no one can say otherwise.”
Slowly, a genuine smile began to spread across Sunset’s face. Before Twilight knew what was happening, she was drawn into another hug by the fiery-haired girl, letting out an undignified “Eep!” as she was pulled in.
“Twilight, I can’t thank you enough for understanding. I’ll think about it, but I just want you to know I couldn’t have asked for better friends than you and the girls.”
Despite the sudden hug, Twilight felt herself smiling as well. “Anytime, Sunset.” Almost a minute later though, Twilight was less than enthusiastic about suddenly being used as a stuffed animal. “Uh, Sunset? Would you mind…”
“Oh! Sorry!” Sunset felt herself beginning to blush as she set Twilight back down. As she did so, a mischievous idea popped into her head. “Hey, Twilight… did the Princess ever tell you how she got her nickname?”
Sunset’s words seemed to fall on deaf ears as the group of six girls made their way through the Canterlot Mall. While the mall was still open despite it being a Sunday, there was a noticeable lack of people walking through it, owing possibly to the day and the recent holiday.
“Ah, nothin’ to fret about!” Applejack finally answered, slapping Sunset on the back with enough force to almost knock her over. “All we’re doin’ is goin’ to see a movie. Yer worryin’ too much, we’ll be fine!”
“It’s not us I’m worried about,” Sunset remarked as they arrived at the cinema, eying the pet carrier hanging off Rarity’s shoulder with uncertainty. Quickly glancing around to make sure there wasn’t anyone in earshot, she leaned down and asked, “You sure about this, Twilight?”
The carrier shook briefly as Twilight popped her head out, silver cat ears wiggling atop her head. Just like before, she had been dressed up in an embarrassing outfit to try and blend in, this time in a costume of a silver tabby cat that Rarity had personally made the night before, her horn hidden by a cap that made it look like just another part of the costume.
Despite the outfit though, she seemed to be in relatively high spirits. “Positive,” she said with a smile and a firm nod of her head. “From what you girls have told me, I’ve been looking forward to seeing this movie all weekend! Plus, it’ll give me another chance to witness this world’s technological advancements in comparison to Equestria’s in person!”
Clapping her hooves together, Twilight visibly shook with excitement.
Sunset wished she could share in Twilight’s enthusiasm. “But, Twilight—”
“No.” Speaking with the practiced authority of a princess, Twilight proved she could still be intimidating even while dressed like a cat and a fifth her size. “You all have already done so much for me, I won’t ruin your weekend because of my little mishap.” Before Sunset could attempt to argue any further, Twilight disappeared back into the carrier, clamping it shut with her magic.
“Well now,” Applejack remarked, “I’d say that settles it. ”
“Alright, enough talk!” Rainbow Dash exclaimed, what little patience she had wearing thin as she began shoving Pinkie Pie and Fluttershy towards the entrance. “Let’s just get our tickets already before all the good seats are gone!”
Shaking her head while smirking with suppressed laughter, Applejack followed after them. Before Rarity could follow as well, she felt a hand on her shoulder, glancing behind her to see Sunset looking at her with worry still etched across her face.
“Rarity… are you really sure about all this?”
Turning to face Sunset, Rarity took Sunset’s hand in her own. “Sunset, I understand your concerns, but Twilight knows what she’s doing, as do I. Believe me, I would never willingly put any of you into a situation where harm might befall any one of us, so all I’m asking is that you have a little faith. Besides…” Pulling away, Rarity glanced behind her towards the entrance, where Rainbow looked to be trying her hardest to push Fluttershy into the theatre, made harder by the fact that Fluttershy was gripping into the doorframe like her life depended on it. “… I already have a backup plan in mind, should the need arise.”
“… Really?” Sunset remarked with a heaving dose of scepticism in her voice, crossing her arms as she frowned at Rarity. “And if someone stops us to check in your bag? Then what?”
Rarity just giggled, an almost predatory smirk on her face. “Oh, just leave that to me.”
Getting their tickets went without a hitch, as did buying snacks and drinks. As the group headed off towards their intended theatre, Pinkie Pie happily skipping ahead of them with a jumbo bag of buttered popcorn and an extra large soda tucked under one arm, and enough candy to drive anyone else into a diabetic coma under the other, Sunset actually started to relax. Looks like I was worried for nothing…
Horseapples! I just had to jinx it, didn’t I? Suppressing a groan, Sunset turned to see one of the theatre employees, a young man not much older than them, walk towards them. Judging by the bored look on his face, it was clear that the only reason he had come into work today had been the alluring promise of a paycheck.
Rarity didn’t even hesitate, sparing a moment to toss her curls over her shoulder as she sauntered up to him, an unmistakable air of confidence around her. “Is something wrong, sir?” she delicately asked, batting her eyelashes at the employee. “We really are in a hurry.”
“Theatre policy, miss,” he dryly replied, “We’ve had more than few people try and sneak video cameras in, so I’m going to have to check your bag before you go in.”
“Oh my!” Rarity gasped, placing her hand over her heart as if the very idea had caused her pain. “Such savages! Why, a film is the physical manifestation of someone’s dream, their vision of art made real! To aspire to steal such a vision is crime against art itself!”
“Yeah, yeah, whatever.” He droned on, rolling his eyes at what he assumed was an attempt at a rousing speech. “Now, your bag, ple—“
His breath caught in his throat as Rarity suddenly closed the distance between them, placing herself directly in his personal space and giving him a perfect view down the front of her shirt, his brain lurching as his eyes drifted down ever so slightly.
Licking her lips like a cat cornering a helpless mouse, Rarity flipped her curls in such a way that the scent of her lilac shampoo wafted off her silky hair. “I must commend you on such a selfless and noble endeavour. Truly, I will have to put in a good word to the management for hiring such a devout and honourable man such as yourself.” Giggling, she slowly traced a finger along the underside of his chin, causing him to shudder briefly as his face turned red as a tomato. “And such a handsome one at that…”
The poor young man winced, slapping his hand over his nose to hide the blood dripping down his face. “W… well… I… I…”
“Oh, and I’m sure it can’t be an easy task! Having to dig through bags no doubt full of dirty clothes, used tissues, feminine hygiene products and all sorts of other icky things!”
His previously red face quickly shifted to a less than pleasant shade of green.
Finally pulling away, Rarity’s hand slowly reached up for the shoulder strap of her bag. “But, if I must, I suppose I’ll have to permit you to look through—”
“Tha-that won’t be necessary, miss,” he quickly stammered, his face growing paler by the second. “En-enjoy your movie!” Without another word, the teen spun on his heels and took off down the corridor before disappearing into the nearest bathroom.
Satisfied, Rarity turned back around to find Rainbow, Sunset and Applejack staring slack-jawed at her, Fluttershy desperately trying to hide her blushing face behind her hair and Pinkie Pie having already started on her popcorn. “Shall we?” Rarity said with a wave of her hand towards their intended theatre.
Picking her jaw up off the floor, Applejack eyed Rarity like she would a hissing snake. “…Y’all scare me some days, I hope ya know that, Rares.”
“Oh, fear not, Applejack!” Stepping past the cowgirl, Rarity flicked the brim of Applejack’s hat. “I ensure you that I have already sworn to only use these powers for good. ‘With great power comes great responsibility’, after all.”
Rainbow’s eyes widened in disbelief at the reference. “Hey! I didn’t know you were a fan!”
Waggling her finger at Dash, Rarity coolly replied, “I will neither confirm nor deny whether or not I’m a fan, though I will say I have a certain soft spot for those movies. I mean, an hour and a half of watching a hot actor swinging around in skin-tight spandex? Rawr.” Giggling, Rarity slipped into the darkening theatre, leaving her friends with several questions she had no intention of answering.
“That… was… AWESOME!” Rainbow shouted as they exited the theatre, still full of excitement and sugar. “I mean, did you SEE the size of that dragon!? And when that giant guy shot it down with one shot, even though he was blind? How sick was that!?”
“Oh, my favourite part was when that knight guy dropped from the sky to impale that monster on his sword!” Pinkie exclaimed, imitating the act of plunging a sword into the ground. “That was so cool! And then when he turned on the hero?” Hunching over, her left arm hanging limp and her right hoisting an imaginary sword over her shoulder, she spoke in a growling, strained voice. “Whoever thou art… st…stay…stay away. Soon… I will be… be consumed… by them… by the Dark…”
“That poor man…” Fluttershy lamented, wiping away a tear with the sleeve of her shirt. “He fought so hard, and in the end all he feared was what would happen to his beloved wolf... To stand watch over his grave for centuries… such a faithful companion.”
Reaching into her bag, Rarity withdrew a clean handkerchief to wipe away Fluttershy’s tears. “It truly was heartbreaking to witness, especially when the hero has no choice but to fight her in the present to continue his quest.”
“She recognized him, too,” Sunset remarked, remembering the glint in the wolf’s eyes at the sight of the figure lying at its paws. “Yet, despite what happened in the past, the old wolf refused to forsake her master’s spirit and raised her sword towards him instead.”
“Like a pair o’ knights on opposite sides, squarin’ off for one final duel to the death,” Applejack said, illustrating this by raising her fists and shadowboxing an imaginary opponent.
Twilight had been silent since the movie had ended, eventually popping out of the carrier with her brow creased in thought. “It all seemed so… hopeless, though,” she said solemnly. “The hero has no choice but to embark on this quest to regain their humanity, but at no point is there any guarantee or reassurance that all this bloodshed will stave off the end of the world. If what that snake said at the end is true, then they may, in fact, be accomplishing the opposite.”
Like what happened with Discord. With a heavy sigh, Twilight hung her head as she thought back to that day. The whole time I was certain we were getting closer and closer to the Elements when we were really only walking right into his trap.
“I think that was the point,” Sunset remarked, making Twilight glance up at her. “I mean, the people of that world didn’t seem evil to me, merely twisted. From what I’ve read, the writer doesn’t believe in terms of ‘good’ and ‘evil’, merely that their actions are what they believe at the time to be right.” Something I would know better than anyone… Sunset thought with regret, but she hid it better than Twilight.
“Right, then!” Clapping her hands together, Rarity smiled as she spun on her heels to face everyone. “The day is still young, so what’s say we enjoy ourselves while we’re here? Any suggestions?”
“Arcade!” came Pinkie’s reply, earning a fistbump from Rainbow in return.
“Hell, yeah. I’m in the mood for some Dangerous Zombie Remastered.”
“In the mood for losin’, ya mean,” Applejack grinned, earning a scowl from Rainbow as the two locked eyes, sparks leaping between them as an unspoken challenge was issued.
“Um…” Fluttershy squeaked, tapping her fingers together. “I was kind of hoping to look for a new HDMI cable for my computer. Plus I really should pick up some more of Angel’s food while we’re here. But… if you guys really want to go to the arcade, then I guess—”
“I’ll go with you,” Sunset offered, putting her hand on Fluttershy’s shoulder. “The music store’s right across from the pet store, and I need to pick up some new strings for my guitar anyway. Besides, it’s best if you don’t get caught in the middle of that.”
Fluttershy glanced at Applejack and Rainbow, her mind conjuring up images of a wall of flames burning behind them from the sheer intensity of their passion for competition. She blinked at the sight, nervously giggling. “You might be right.”
“Well, I suppose that just leaves you and me, Twilight.” Rarity idly scratched behind Twilight’s ears, snickering as the alicorn purred at the touch. “You don’t mind accompanying me while I peruse some fabrics, do you?”
“No, I don’t mind.”
“Excellent!” Rarity said, clapping her hands again to get everyone’s attention. “After we’re all done, may I suggest we meet up in the food court in say…” Glancing up at the clock above the theatre, Rarity noted it was now about 2:30, “… one hour?”
She received a chorus of “Alright,” and “Sure,” in response. “Right then, see you all in an hour.”
Before the words had even fully left her mouth, Applejack and Dash took off towards the arcade at Mach speed. Watching them as they disappeared behind a corner, Rarity turned to Pinkie Pie. “Pinkie, can I expect you to keep those two from killing each other?”
“Sure thing, Rares!” Giving a mock salute in confirmation, Pinkie Pie took off like a cotton candy blur after them.
As everyone went off, Sunset couldn’t help but glance back at Rarity and Twilight, the uneasy feeling from before rearing its ugly head yet again. Maybe I should have gone with them. Safety in numbers, after all. What if something were to happen—
With a quick shake of her head, Sunset cast those thoughts to the back of her mind. Stop worrying so much! she chided herself, following in step behind Fluttershy. Rarity knows what she’s doing, she said so herself. They’ll be fine.
“My, that was refreshing!”
Rarity was positively beaming as she exited the store, a spring in her step as she carried several pairs of bags hanging off each arm. “There’s nothing that brings out my creativity quite like shopping. Not only did I come up some new ideas, but I found a dress I just know you’ll look so adorable in, Twilight!”
Having remained hidden while inside the store, Twilight popped her head back out. “Are you sure? I can’t really try it on to see if it’ll fit or not.”
Rarity chuckled. “Dear, I designed our dresses for the Fall Formal and our band outfits, remember? I know all my friends’ measurements.” Though I keep needing to update Fluttershy’s every few weeks. I swear that girl grows like a weed! “Besides, I can always modify it if it doesn’t fit. Why? Has a certain princess put on some weight since she was last here?”
“What!? No!” Twilight quickly ducked inside the carrier in an attempt to hide her blushing face. Poking her belly, she sighed, before whispering, “Well… maybe a little…”
“Too many of your Pinkie’s sweets, I presume?” Rarity guessed, a good-natured smirk on her face as she heard Twilight mumble in response. Reaching into a pocket on the carrier to check her phone, Rarity was surprised to find that it was barely past three. “Still some time before we agreed to meet up, though all this shopping has left me a touch parched.” Looking around, she eyed a smoothie stand just down the hall. “Ah! A quick smoothie before we head off to meet the others. Any preferences, Twilight?”
“Something with strawberries would be nice.”
“Very well.” Strolling up to the stand, she took a moment to survey the menu before making a selection. “I’d like a Tropical Berry Swirl, please.”
“Right away, miss.” Taking a step back to let the smoothie stand employee work, it wasn’t long before he placed her smoothie on the counter, taking a moment to key her total into the register. “That’ll be four thirty-nine, please.”
Sliding a ten across the counter, Rarity smirked at his flabbergasted expression as she calmly replied, “Keep the change.” Picking up her smoothie and taking a sip, she was surprised at the perfect blend of flavours that greeted her. Mmm… So good. I might need to come here more often. Preoccupied, Rarity missed the sound of footsteps behind her.
“I’ll have a Tropical Berry Swirl as well, please.”
Rarity jumped in fright at the sudden voice, nearly dropping her smoothie in shock as she spun around to face the source. Twilight had jumped as well, though not from the voice itself, but rather whose voice it was. As Rarity turned, a chill ran down Twilight’s spine as her worst fears were confirmed.
Rarity gasped. “Principal Celestia!”
“’Principal’?” Celestia chuckled, placing her hands on her hips. “We’re not in school right now, Miss Rarity. Just Celestia is fine.”
“S-sorry,” Rarity stuttered, noticing that Celestia had replaced her usual outfit with a navy blue blazer, unzipped to show off her red tank top, and a pair of black track pants with a white stripe running down the sides. It was almost surreal seeing Celestia dressed so casually like she was. “I just wasn’t expecting—”
“To run into me here?” Celestia finished for her. “I know it must be a shock, but teachers do have lives outside of school. I’ve been looking forward to this weekend almost as much as my students. I do apologize if I startled you, I couldn’t resist.”
Crouching down, Celestia rested her hands on her knees as she lowered herself until she was eye level with the petrified Twilight. “And who might this little cutie be, hmm?”
On the inside, Twilight was in full-on freak-out mode. Oh no, oh no, oh no! It’s Celestia! I mean, it’s not Princess Celestia, but I’d hoped I wouldn’t run into her either! I can’t let her find out who I am, she’d have so many questions I couldn’t answer! What do I do? What do I do? What do I do?!
“Aww…” Celestia cooed, reaching up and scratching behind Twilight’s ears. “She’s adorable! What’s her name?”
“Uh… Sparkle!” Rarity exclaimed, coughing into her hand as she swiftly regained her composure. “Her name is Sparkle. I’m looking after her for a friend, and I just couldn’t leave her home all by her lonesome!”
“I’m sure she enjoys it,” Pulling her hand away, she lightly booped Twilight on the nose, snickering at her cross-eyed expression. “Have you been a good kitty for Rarity?”
“Miss?” the smoothie stand employee interrupted. “Your smoothie’s ready.”
“Ah, thank you.” Standing up, Celestia pulled out her wallet as she walked up to the counter, slapping a ten down on it. With a sly look in her eyes, she looked him right in the eyes and said, “Keep the change, young man.”
The poor employee had to kick himself just to make sure he wasn’t dreaming.
Snatching up her smoothie, Celestia took a sip as she looked back to Rarity. “Well, I think I should leave you and Sparkle to enjoy the rest of your weekend.” As she walked off, she waved behind her and called over her shoulder, “See you at school tomorrow!”
“You too, Prin—Celestia!” Rarity waved back, watching as Celestia got further and further away. Only after she’d disappeared into one of the stores did Rarity and Twilight breathe a sigh of relief.
As Rarity set off in the direction of a pair of benches, Twilight muttered, “That was too close…”
“I second that,” Rarity replied as she sat down, giving Twilight a chance to take a drink of their smoothie. “I imagine you would have liked to avoid running into anyone we knew from school if at all possible. Although…” Rarity scratched her chin in thought, “… that does make me wonder…”
“Hmm? Wonder about what?”
“Well, it’s just that after everything you’ve told us about your world and how it mirrors our own, I can’t help but wonder about your world’s Celestia. Is she a teacher like she is here?”
“… You could say that,” Twilight replied after a moment’s pause, choosing her words very carefully. Some days she could be a worse liar than Applejack, so she needed to be extra cautious about what she said. “She was my teacher while I was attending the School for Gifted Unicorns, but her position is a more… political one most of the time.”
“Like an elected official? One working directly under the heads of state?”
More like the head of state, actually. “I… I suppose? From what little I’ve read, I don’t know if there’s a clear enough comparison to be made between our worlds’ governing structures.”
“Hmm… I guess you’re right. After all, I can’t imagine what it must be like governing a world where hydras, manticores and dragons exist. My word, solving land disputes must be a nightmare!”
Oh, you have no idea! Twilight groaned as she recalled how much of a pain it was dealing with the land disputes for her new castle. Princess or not, the Ponyville Zoning Committee hadn’t been too happy with her explanation of “It magically sprouted from a seed gifted by the Tree of Harmony.”
“Running into Celestia does remind me that we have school tomorrow. I suppose we’ll have to figure something out before then, won’t we?” As soon as the words left her mouth, Rarity almost slapped herself. “What am I saying? You’ll be just fine by yourself during the day! Oh, I do apologize, Twilight, mistaking you for some animal who needs constant care!”
“Don’t worry, I kind of am one right now, or at least in this world.” Taking a sip of the smoothie, Twilight sighed. “I still don’t know how long it’ll be before Spike can get the portal back up and running, so I just have to deal with it until then.”
“We could always sneak you into school in Fluttershy’s backpack,” Rarity suggested. “Heaven knows the critters she’s smuggled into school that way.”
Twilight winced. “Thanks, but I think I’m done with backpacks for a while.”
As the two of them shared a laugh, neither one noticed a figure watching them through the window of a nearby store, eying the numerous bags lying at Rarity’s feet with a devilish smirk on his face.
The pair sat in silence as they enjoyed their smoothie. After a while, Rarity checked her phone again, leaping to her feet at the realization that it was currently three twenty-eight. “Oh dear! We’d best hurry if we’re going to make it there in time!” Grabbing her bags, Rarity sprinted in the direction of the mall food court. “Applejack will never let me hear the end of it if we’re la—”
The world became a blur as someone barreled past her, blindsiding her on her right side and sending her bags flying from her grip as she was shoved aside, landing hard against the laminated floor. Wincing, Rarity rubbed her head as her vision swam, her purchases scattered around her in heaps.
“Watch where you’re going!” she yelled as she regained her bearings. “Some people have no manners, I swear! Twilight, are you—” Her breath caught in her throat as she looked around her.
Searching the bags lying around her, she came to the sinking realization that Twilight’s carrier wasn’t among them.
Ice filled her veins as Rarity looked towards her fleeing assailant, the unmistakable sight of the carrier clutched in his hand almost making her heart skip a beat.
Adrenaline shot through Rarity’s veins as she sprinted after the thief, desperately trying to close the gap between him and her. She had no plan on what she would do once she caught up to him, nor did she have even an inkling of concern for her own safety. Right then and there, the only thing going through her mind was her desire to rescue Twilight. Our friends— No! I could never forgive myself if I let anything happen to her!
Spying him taking off down a flight of stairs towards the base level, Rarity eyed a walkway overlooking the mall courtyard. Without a moment’s hesitation, Rarity sprinted towards the open walkway, hoisting herself over the railing and plummeting to the ground a good ten to fifteen feet below.
Time seemed to slow to a crawl as she fell through open air, the feeling of weightlessness overtaking her. As the ground rose up to meet her, her body was bathed in a purple glow, horse ears poking out from beneath her hair as her feet slammed into the ground, defying the very laws of physics as her speed and momentum bled off of her in a shockwave, the floor tiles beneath her feet splintering as the forces were driven into the ground instead of shattering her legs like glass.
Taking off like a rocket, Rarity greatly shortened the distance between her and her target. “Stop!” she shouted as the thief dashed through a side exit towards the parking lot, not even breaking stride as she slammed through the door in hot pursuit.
As she took off across the parking lot, she knew this could be her last chance to close the distance between him and her, lest she lose him amongst the sea of cars. With one final burst of speed, she leapt with all her might, the last of the purple glow fading as she flipped up and over the thief, the heels of her shoes sparking against the tarmac as she skidded to a halt directly in front of him.
“What the—” The words died in his throat as Rarity knifehanded him full force in the chest, knocking the air clean from his lungs. In the split second before the hit had even registered, Rarity followed it up with an uppercut to the base of his jaw that knocked him off his feet right before she drove the heel of her foot into his stomach, sending him hurtling back to land sprawled out against the tarmac.
By sheer luck, the man remained conscious, gasping and wheezing for breath as Rarity got her first good look at him. He looked the very image of a street punk, wearing a torn biker’s jacket that made Sunset’s look like a well-ironed suit by comparison, his hair dyed a gaudy neon green and styled to hang over his left eye and a veritable star map of piercings littering his face along with a nose ring that wouldn’t have looked out of place on a bull.
“Stupid… bitch…” he croaked in-between gasping breaths.
“Such language! Do you kiss your mother with that mouth?” she chided him, glaring at him with pure hatred as she sauntered up to him.
“Go… to… hell…” he swore as he fished a switchblade from his jacket, only for Rarity to slam her foot down his hand, an agonizing scream filling the air as the switchblade was pinned beneath his smashed hand.
“Now,” Rarity spoke with venomous insincerity in her voice, “I believe you have something of mine, so I think I’ll be taking it back before I call the authorities, thank you very mu—Ugh!”
A sudden blow to the back of Rarity’s neck sent her reeling, the world spinning as she toppled forward onto the tarmac. She tasted blood in her mouth as she struggled to pick herself up, her efforts thwarted as something slammed into her back, pinning her to the ground as she yelped in pain. Straining to turn her head, Rarity could just make out the form of someone standing over her, their foot no doubt pressed against her back to prevent her from retaliating.
“Pathetic,” the second man muttered, likely the other man’s partner. “I knew you were a pushover, but to get your ass beat by a girl?”
“Bite me!” the green haired man shot back, climbing back to his feet and scooping up the dropped carrier. “Come on!” he shouted, gesturing to his buddy. “Let’s scram before someone sees us!”
“In a minute,” the second man replied, a fiendish grin spreading across his face as he held out his hand. “Pass me your switch for a moment.” The second the weapon was placed in his hand, he flicked open the blade, his grin only widening.
“Bad move, girly, thinkin’ you could take us on by yourself. I’m going to enjoy making an example out of you to show what happens to people who think they can mess with my pack and—”
It happened so fast Rarity could barely tell what transpired. One moment the second thug had her pinned underfoot, and the next his body cartwheeled through the air like a ragdoll before slamming into the tarmac with a hard thud. Rarity felt numb as she pushed herself up, staring wide-eyed at the sprawled out form of her attacker.
She barely registered footsteps behind her as a figure stepped into view, imposing themselves between her and the pair of thugs, their long hair flowing in the breeze behind them. Rarity could hardly believe her eyes as she recognized her saviour.
“If there’s one thing I won’t tolerate above all else…” Celestia growled, her voice brimming with barely contained rage as she towered over the two hoodlums, loudly cracking her knuckles, “… it’s people who think they can harm my students and get away with it.”
The thugs paled at the sight of the much taller woman standing before them, suddenly less sure of their chances. Luckily for them, their rescue came in the form of a milk white car swerving around the bend, tires squealing against the lot as the driver came to a stop, hurling open the passenger side door and hollering “Come on, let’s go!” out the door.
Not needing to be told twice, the pair scampered to their feet and scrambled for the car, all but diving inside as the driver gunned the engine before they had even closed the doors behind them and hightailing it out of the parking lot with the utmost haste.
Celestia never took her eyes off the vehicle as it sped away, quickly memorizing the license plate and only letting her guard down when it disappeared from sight completely. Turning around, she crouched down in front of Rarity, her eyes brimming with concern. “Rarity, are you all right? You’re not hurt, are you?”
Rarity was in a state of shock, her mind still reeling as she tried to grasp onto a solid thought. “What… what are you doing here?” she finally managed to say.
“I saw you chasing after them, so I followed. Good thing I did too, what were you thinking?” she harshly scolded, though her voice was still filled with concern. “You could have been hurt, or worse!”
“I… I… was… Twilight!” Gasping, Rarity shot to her feet, stumbling as a wave of lightheadedness passed over her, making her fall forward, only to be caught by Celestia before she could smash face-first into the ground.
“Easy, Rarity! You could have a concussion! What’s going on?”
Choking back a gasp, all Rarity could do was utter, “I… I couldn’t… protect her… I gave my word I would keep her safe! I promised her!” With tears streaming down her face, Rarity’s legs fell out from under her as she collapsed against Celestia, devolving into muttering, “I promised…” in-between sobs.
Celestia felt her heart break as she silently held onto Rarity. Carefully pulling her arms out from the sleeves of her blazer, she draped it over Rarity, wrapping an arm around the crying teen as she pulled her phone from her pocket, dialling a quick number and bringing it to her ear as she cradled her student.
“911, what is your emergency?”
Celestia never left Rarity’s side as the paramedics checked over her injuries, quickly ruling out a concussion or any other serious injuries besides a few bruises and a split lip. After the paramedics had given the all right, the arriving officer stepped in to take their statements.
During all this, Rarity was numb to the world, weakly answering the officer’s questions as she recounted what had happened, holding onto Celestia for support. Her mascara had long leaked down her face, her eyes were puffy from crying and her hair was no doubt a disaster, but she couldn’t have cared less about how she looked right then and there.
“Don’t worry, miss,” the officer reassured her as he finished jotting down their statements. “Based on your descriptions, these three are a bunch of low-level repeat offenders who think they have what it takes to be the next big gang. It shouldn’t take long to hunt them down.”
“Please…” Rarity pleaded, her eyes still focused on the ground beneath her. “Just… just make sure they don’t hurt my precious Sparkle. I don’t care if you can’t get back anything else, just… just bring her back to me safe and sound.”
“We’ll do everything we can, miss,” the officer reassured her, though his promises felt hollow to her. “You take care of yourself now,” he said as he walked towards his cruiser to radio the station.
Rarity shivered, clutching Celestia’s blazer tightly around her shoulders to try and fend off the chill.
“Do you want me to call your family?” Celestia carefully asked.
Rarity shook her head. “They’re out of town right now, so calling them would be pointless.”
“At the very least, let me drive you home then.”
“It’s… it’s alright, Celestia,” she weakly replied, sliding the blazer from her shoulders and holding it out to Celestia. “You’ve already done more than enough. I just need a moment to myself.”
Celestia looked like she wanted to argue, before reluctantly taking her blazer and patting Rarity on the shoulder. “Very well. I’ll be just over there if you need me.” Standing up, she walked over to speak with the officer, leaving Rarity by herself.
As she sat on the curb, Rarity’s thoughts drifted to her friends, having no doubt wondered what was keeping her after so long. What… what am I going to tell the girls?
Rarity jumped at the sound of her name, glancing over to see Sunset and the others running up to her. “Girls? What… what are you doing here?”
“Maybe you could tell us!” Rainbow Dash shouted, reaching Rarity first and kneeling down to look her over. “We got worried when you didn’t show up and when you didn’t answer your phone. We searched all over for you, and only now do we hear that you were mugged or something!”
Fluttershy kneeled down next to her, using her sleeve to wipe away Rarity’s running mascara. “They didn’t hurt you, did they?”
Rarity looked up at the looks of terrified concern on her friends’ faces before sighing and pushing Fluttershy’s hand away, the barest traces of a smile peeking at the edge of her lips. “No, I’m fine. The paramedics already checked me out and said I’m fine besides a few bruises.”
“That’s a relief,” Applejack remarked, her smile transitioning into a scowl as she drove her fist into her open palm. “Just tell me where those no good varmints are at, and I’ll show them what happens to anyone who hurts my friends!”
“That won’t be necessary,” Celestia said as she walked up to them, causing everyone to notice her for the first time. “The police have already started looking into it, so all we can do now is wait.”
“And let them get away?” Applejack yelled, glaring at Celestia. “I ain’t lettin’ those punks go free for even another minute without givin’ them what they des—”
“No.” The steely edge of Celestia’s voice froze Applejack to her core, her purple eyes burning into her very soul. “I understand your frustration, but responding to violence with violence won’t solve anything in this situation. Just let the police do their job, rather than getting yourself in trouble as well. Besides…” Celestia glanced down at Rarity, “… there are more important things for you to worry about right now.”
Applejack’s anger was replaced with shame as she realized Celestia was right. Here she was thinking about kicking the butts of some punks, when Rarity needed her right now. “… Right. Sorry.”
Celestia’s features relaxed as she looked around at the group of girls. “You’re very lucky, Rarity, to have such a loving group of friends like this. They’ll be able to help you more than I ever could.” Reaching into her blazer pocket, Celestia pulled out a small notepad and a pen. Scribbling her number down, she ripped out the page and held it out to Rarity. “Still, if you ever need someone to talk to, you can always give me a call.”
Taking the slip of paper, Rarity smiled up at her. “Thank you, Celestia. For everything.”
Nodding her head, Celestia turned away, sparing one last look behind her at the group as she walked back towards the mall.
“Well, today certainly has been eventful, hasn’t it?” Pinkie exclaimed, clapping her hands together. “But at least you and Twilight are okay!” Pausing, Pinkie glanced around, frowning. “Say… where is Twilight, anyway?”
What little happiness Rarity had managed to reclaim vanished in an instant, fresh tears running down her face as she buried her face in her hands, the others taken aback by her sudden shift in attitude.
“What? What’d I say?” Pinkie Pie asked, looking back and forth between the now crying Rarity and the others.
“Twilight’s…” Rarity muttered between sobs. “Twilight’s…”
In that instant, the uneasy feeling Sunset had been carrying all day dropped into the pit of her stomach, sending untold terror shooting through her body. Shoving Dash out of the way, Sunset kneeled down and gripped Rarity tightly by the shoulders, “Rarity, please tell me Twilight’s okay! I need you to tell me she’s all right!”
“Rarity!” Sunset violently shook Rarity, making her look up to see the sheer depths of terror reflected in Sunset’s eyes. “Where. Is. Twilight?”
Sniffling, Rarity hung her head as she croaked out, “They… they took her. Twilight’s… Twilight’s gone.”
On the other side of town, the group of hoodlums drove away as fast as they could without raising suspicion, secure in the success of their crime despite a few ‘hiccups’, their ill-gotten loot sitting safely in the back seat.
“Man, what a score!” the driver cheered, flashing his buddy sitting next to him a toothy grin. “That couldn’t have gone better, I’d say.”
“Speak for yourself!” the green haired thief whined from the back seat, wincing as he rubbed a nasty bruise on his jaw. “Damn, that chick kicks like a horse!”
He received a rough punch to the shoulder for his troubles from the passenger seat. “Ah, quit your bellyaching! Your fault for letting her get the drop on you like that!” said the third, glaring over his shoulder at his companion. “Way she was throwing around money, she just has to be loaded. If we work fast, we can drain her account before she can cancel anything. So hurry up and count it up already!”
“Alright, alright! Geeze…” Cursing under his breath, he grabbed the carrier lying next to him and plopped it in his lap, dreams of an alcohol-fueled night running through his head as he popped it open, expecting to find a wallet bursting with cash and credit cards stashed inside.
Those dreams quickly died at what stared back at him instead. “What the f—”
For but a moment, a blinding flash of violet light filled the cabin of the car, causing the vehicle to swerve uncontrollably, the tires squealing against the asphalt as the driver desperately tried to regain control. Sharply banking to the left, the car inevitably crashed head-on into a light post, toppling the pole onto the hood of the car and finally bringing the vehicle to a dead stop.
Such an accident did not go unnoticed, as passing cars slowed down to survey the damage, many concerned motorists stopping and getting out of their cars entirely to see if anyone was hurt. Curious faces popped out of nearby businesses and homes, many with their cellphones out to either call an ambulance or just to record video to post to the Internet.
In all the commotion, however, no one noticed as a small purple blur leapt out the side window and disappeared down a nearby alley.
“Ugh…” Twilight groaned as she rubbed the back of her head, wincing as she touched a small bump left from when she’d smashed against the inside of the carrier.
The last thing she remembered was ducking her head inside Rarity’s bag as the pair ran to meet up with the others, right before the bag had been almost violently shaken, causing Twilight to bounce around inside. While the cushioned interior had helped to soften the impact significantly, Twilight had still been left addled and any attempt to right herself had been hampered by the bag constantly being tossed around like a hoofball.
As the world righted itself long enough for Twilight to focus, she became aware of several unfamiliar voices around her. Perking up her ears, she focused in on their conversation.
“—it your bellyaching! Your fault for letting her get the drop on you! Way she was throwing money around, she just has to be loaded.”
That was all Twilight needed to hear to know she was in trouble, her wings trembling in fear. I’ve been foalnapped! Her fear, however, quickly turned to anger as that realization led to another. What did they do to Rarity?! If they’ve hurt her, I’ll—
Feeling the bag shake again, Twilight instinctively channelled magic into her horn, readying a stun spell as the top of the bag was popped open, giving her a good look at one of the thieves as he stared in disbelief at the pony in front of him. Despite her situation, Twilight couldn’t help but briefly wonder if his Equestrian counterpart was a minotaur given the sizable ring hanging from his nose.
“What the f—”
“My eyes!” the driver shouted, jerking the wheel left and right in a panic.
As the vehicle swerved out of control, the carrier toppled out of the punk’s lap, sending Twilight flopping over onto the back seat. Quickly grabbing the seat belt in her teeth, Twilight braced as the car came to a crashing halt seconds later, the sound of crunching metal making her ears ring.
For a moment, all Twilight could hear was the blood loudly pumping in her ears before other sounds began to slowly filter in. Sounds like grunts of pain from the three disoriented hoodlums, the hiss of the totalled engine and the sounds of commotion from outside the car slowly drawing closer.
I’ve got to get out of here! Pulling herself up using the side of the car door, Twilight’s ears perked up as her hoof clicked against a button, glancing up in time to see the window slide open. Seeing her way out, she spread her wings and leapt through the window, gliding down and taking off into a run the moment her hooves hit the ground.
The padded gloves of her costume muffled the sound of her hoofsteps as Twilight bolted from the scene of the accident, her mind set on putting as much distance between herself and the quickly growing crowd of people. Puddles left over from yesterday’s rainfall did nothing to deter her as she trampled through them, drenching the leggings of her disguise.
Coming up to the mouth of the alleyway, Twilight dove behind a dumpster to avoid being spotted by a passing group, pressing herself up against the alley wall to try to hide in the shadow of the dumpster. Taking deep, panting breaths, Twilight slumped against the wall and slid down onto her haunches, finally allowing herself a moment to process everything.
“Okay, breathe, Twilight. Now’s not the time to panic.” Taking another deep breath, she cautiously poked her head out from behind the dumpster to glance out at the streets. Her ears drooped when she found herself unable to locate any recognizable landmarks.
Despite her frequent trips to this world, she had always been in the company of one or more of her friends while walking around town, so there was much of the city she had yet to explore.
“Great, just great,” With a heavy sigh, Twilight slumped back against the wall. “I’m lost in an unfamiliar part of the city, with no way to contact my friends or any idea on how to get back. So much for a relaxing weekend away…” Giving a quick shake of her head, Twilight’s mind kicked into high gear as she tried to focus. “Sitting here isn’t getting me back any faster. What I need is a plan.”
Glancing around, her eyes lit up as she caught sight of a nearby drainage pipe hanging off the side of one of the buildings. “Aha! A better view should help me get my bearings.”
Twilight wasted no time in pumping her wings and leaping into the air. However, in her haste, she had forgotten to factor in one crucial detail: the altitude.
While height was never really a factor in Equestria thanks to the ambient magic in the air allowing pegasi, griffons and alicorns to reach great heights, it was a different matter entirely beyond the mirror, hampered even more by Twilight’s diminutive state.
Which was why, despite flapping her wings as hard as she could, Twilight barely made it a third of the way up the pipe before the strain became too much and she dropped like a rock.
“Wahh!” Thinking fast, Twilight managed to tilt herself towards the pipe as she fell, grabbing onto the pipe for dear life as she slid down it, eventually coming to a stop barely a foot off the ground.
“This might be harder than I thought…”
“What do we do? What do we do? WHAT. DO. WE. DO!?” Pinkie Pie looked about ready to tear her hair out as she ran back and forth. “Twilight could be lost, or scared, or being tied down to a table and experimented on by sinister men in white coats with horrible accents wielding lots of sharp and pointy things and—”
“Pinkie!” Rainbow grabbed Pinkie by the shoulders, somehow managing to hold onto her despite the fact she was literally vibrating in place. “Breathe!”
Taking a deep breath like she was told to, Pinkie seemed to calm down slightly. “Thanks, Dashie.” With a sigh, Pinkie flopped down onto the floor, staring up at the ceiling with a frown across her face.
After what had happened at the mall, the group had taken the still distraught Rarity straight home. Sitting in the middle of the living room couch, Rarity had built up a small mountain of used tissues on her right while Fluttershy comforted her on her left. Everyone else stood nearby, trying to work out a course of action for getting Twilight back, a heavy cloud of worry hovering over the room.
Sunset had not once stopped pacing since they’d arrived. Her footsteps threatened to wear a groove into the floor as she racked her brain for even the smallest glimmer of a plan.
“—Track her using her magic, maybe? But I don’t even know where to start in building a device capable of detecting Equestrian magic…” Sunset muttered to herself, biting her nails in worry as she discard one idea after another. “Hang up missing posters, perhaps? No, that’s a stupid idea, what would they even say? ‘Missing: One alicorn princess, if found please call— AGH!”
Growling with rage, Sunset whipped around and punched the closest wall, making everyone jump from the loud thud. “This is hopeless!” Sunset cried, grinding her teeth in frustration as she pressed her forehead against the wall. “We don’t even know where to start looking, let alone how we’re going to get her back. She could have already been taken outside the city for all we know!”
“Easy there, Sunset,” Applejack said, leaning against the wall on the other side of the room with her arms crossed. “Takin’ it out on the walls ain’t gonna solve nothin’, so best if y’all just calm down and—”
“Calm down!?“ Sunset spun around to glare at Applejack, the temperature in the room rising several degrees. “In case you’ve forgotten, Twilight’s been nabbed by a bunch of dime-store thugs and taken to hell knows where! How can anyone be calm at a time like this!?”
“Cuz punchin’ holes in the walls ain’t gettin’ us any closer to findin’ her either,” Applejack replied, meeting Sunset’s glare with her own. “Yer not the only one worried for her here, but I know that runnin’ off like a flock of chickens with their heads cut off ain’t the way to do this. What we be needin’ is a plan.”
“What do you think I’ve been doing?” Sunset shot back, her anger still burning bright behind her eyes. “This shouldn’t even be happening! We promised we’d keep her safe until the portal to Equestria was fixed, remember? Twilight trusted us… and we failed!” Lashing out at the wall again, Sunset suppressed a wince as her knuckles slammed into the wall.
“Sunset, please…” Rarity said, glancing up from wiping the tears from her eyes. “I don’t think my parents would appreciate you damaging their home—”
“And you!” Sunset spun back around, now glaring at Rarity. “I knew I shouldn’t have let you two go off alone!”
Rarity flinched back like she’d been slapped, staring up at Sunset with fresh tears in her eyes.. “Wh…what?”
“Hey, leave her alone!” Applejack shouted. “She’s just as worried as any—”
“Why should I?” Sunset yelled back, her glare only intensifying towards Rarity. “It’s her fault Twilight’s missing in the first place!” With quick strides, Sunset walked over to the couch and grabbed Rarity by the front of her shirt, lifting her off the couch so the two were now face to face. “You were supposed to keep her safe, yet you let them get away! How could you let this happen?”
A choked sob escaped Rarity’s throat as she hung limp in Sunset’s grip. “I… I…”
“Answer me!” Sunset screamed, her hands trembling as her hold on Rarity’s shirt tightened.
“That’s enough!” Sprinting across the room, Applejack grabbed Sunset by the wrist. “She’s been through enough without ya yellin’ at her. Back off, now.”
Sunset cast one last baleful glare at Rarity before dropping her back onto the couch. Yanking her arm out of Applejack’s grip, she scowled as she turned around and marched out of the room and loudly ran upstairs.
Everyone watched Sunset as she ran off, save for Rarity, who instead buried her head in her hands and continued sobbing.
“Damn it…” Bending down, Applejack put her hand on Rarity’s shoulder. “Don’t let her get to ya, Rares. She’s just worried ‘bout Twi, I’m sure she didn’t mean—”
“No… she… she’s right.” Raising her head, Rarity stared at Applejack with puffy eyes and fresh tear stains running down her face. “This… is all my fault. I… I was supposed to keep her safe, but I—”
Rarity looked at Applejack like she was crazy, her mouth hanging open in disbelief.
“So what if this is all yer fault?” Applejack continued, reaching over and popping Rarity’s jaw shut before standing back up. “Say you really are to blame for what happened to Twilight, what difference does it make? It don’t go changin’ the fact that we still gotta get her back. Ya want to blame anyone, then how ‘bout waitin’ til after we find her so y’all can apologize in person?” A smile slowly spread across Applejack’s face as she tipped her Stetson. “What ya say? Sound good?”
Against it all, the smallest glimmer of a smile peeked at the edges of Rarity’s lips. “You… You’re absolutely right. Oh, just how foolish can I be?” Reaching up, she wiped the tears from her face with the back of her hand. “Here I am feeling sorry for myself, when Twilight needs us more than ever. Certainly there’ll be a time for tears, but only after we bring her home again.”
“Thatta girl!” Applejack replied, her smile widening as she gave Rarity a quick thumbs-up. “That’s the Rarity I know!”
“Indeed,” Rarity said with a nod. “Thank you, Applejack. I can always trust in you to know just what to say in times like this. You never fail to give me the ‘kick’ I so need to get going again.”
“Any time, Rares. Speakin’ of givin’ somebody a good kick…” Her smile was swiftly replaced by a frown as she turned to peer in the direction of the stairs. “We’re all worried somethin’ fierce, but that was just uncalled for! Time I gave Sunset a piece of my mind!”
“Applejack, wait!” Fluttershy cried out, leaping to her feet.
“Don’t go tryin’ to stop me, ‘Shy,” Applejack replied, taking a step towards the stairs. She paused when she felt something against her shoulder, glancing behind her to see Fluttershy holding her back with one hand, an unusually determined expression across her face. “Fluttershy?”
“Let me talk to her.”
Applejack could only blink in disbelief. “Ya… ya sure bout that, Fluttershy?”
“Positive,” Fluttershy replied with a smile, nodding her head as she removed her hand from Applejack’s shoulder.
“…Alright, if yer sure.” Reluctantly, Applejack stepped aside to let Fluttershy pass. “Don’t be hesitatin’ to holler if ya need us to back ya up.”
“That won’t be necessary. I’ll be fine, I promise.” With that, Fluttershy walked out of the room and towards the stairs.
“You really think it’s a good idea to leave Fluttershy alone with Sunset of all people?” Rainbow Dash asked, eying Fluttershy as she ascended the steps. “I mean, if she blew up at Rarity like that, just imagine what she’ll do to Fluttershy!”
“I don’t like it any more’n y’all, Dash,” Applejack admitted, sighing as she plucked her Stetson from her head. “But ‘Shy looked like she weren’t gonna take no for answer. I just hope she knows what she’s doing…”
It wasn’t hard for Fluttershy to track down Sunset, quickly spotting the door to Rarity’s Inspiration Room hanging wide open. Poking her head in, Fluttershy glanced around the room, spying a few dress forms lying sideways on the floor, obviously having been knocked down in anger.
Within second, Fluttershy spotted the familiar red and yellow streaks of Sunset’s hair at the back of the room, Sunset herself sitting down with her back to the wall. She seemingly had yet to notice Fluttershy’s presence, too focused on what looked to be a small piece of paper in her hand.
Tiptoeing into the room, Fluttershy carefully stepped over the prone dress forms as she walked towards her. Without saying a word, Fluttershy sat down next to Sunset, pressing her back against the wall as well as she pulled her legs up to her chest.
The two sat in total silence for several moments, the steady ticking from the clock on the wall filling the room.
“Well?” Sunset finally asked without even looking over at Fluttershy, her voice sounding strained and almost defeated. “Aren’t you going to ask?”
“Ask what?” Fluttershy replied, tilting her head slightly as she glanced over at Sunset.
“If I’m alright or not. That’s how this usually goes, right?”
Fluttershy smiled, though it was a sad smile. “I could… but I think we both know the answer to that question, don’t we?”
Sunset didn’t answer back, only sighing as she returned to staring at the picture in front of her. Curious, Fluttershy leaned over to see what she was looking at.
It was one of the drawings Rarity had made, the one showing the pony Sunset. Several creases were worn into the paper, indicating that it had been folded and unfolded multiple times over the last few days. Sunset seemed almost mesmerized by the drawing, yet Fluttershy couldn’t help but notice the deep longing in Sunset’s eyes as she gazed at her other self.
“Do you miss it?” Fluttershy asked. “Being a pony, I mean.”
“… Sometimes,” Sunset eventually replied, the smallest of chuckles slipping out. “Don’t know if you’ve noticed, but magic’s a lot more useful than hands some days, let me tell you. Especially when you need to get something from the top shelf.”
Fluttershy chuckled as well, thought it didn’t last long before the pair fell back into silence. Nearly a minute passed before either of them said another word.
“She invited me back, you know.”
“Hmm?” Fluttershy glanced over at Sunset as she suddenly spoke. “Who did?”
“Twilight. She said I could go back to Equestria any time I wanted, all I had to do was ask.”
“That sounds nice,“ Fluttershy said, though her smile slipped slightly as a thought occurred to her. “To visit… or to stay?”
“To visit,” Sunset clarified, carefully grabbing the corner of the paper between the tips of her fingers and beginning to fold it back. “I don’t know if I’ll ever be ready to go back for good after so long…”
Fluttershy seemed to hesitate for a moment, eventually reaching over and putting her hand on Sunset’s shoulder. “Whatever you decide to do, we’ll support you. That’s what friends do, after all.”
“Right…” Her shoulders sagged as she finished folding the drawing back up, her eyes following the small square of paper as she twirled it between her fingers.
Pulling her hand back, Fluttershy wrapped a strand of her hair around her finger, a nervous habit she did sometimes when she didn’t know what to say. “Sunset…”
“You don’t need to say it…” Sunset cut her off, sighing as she ran a hand through her hair. “I know I shouldn’t have snapped at Rarity like that. She’s just as worried as any of one us, if not more considering what happened, but I… I…”
With a groan, Sunset tilted her head back against the wall and stared up at the ceiling. “I got so angry, both at Rarity and at myself for not being there when Twilight needed me the most. Ever since she got here, I promised I’d look after her, and yet I couldn’t even do that. Some friend I am…”
“Sunset…” Fluttershy reached over and gripped Sunset’s hand in her own, making her glance up at her. Sunset blinked in surprise at the sudden determination behind Fluttershy’s eyes. “What happened isn’t your fault. Besides, I think you’re forgetting something.”
“I… I am?”
Fluttershy nodded. “Twilight may be smaller now, but that hasn’t change the fact that she’s smart. She’ll figure out a way to get back to us in no time. The best thing we can do now is do our part to make that a little bit easier for her, right?”
“You’re… absolutely right, actually,” Sunset admitted, almost smacking herself for forgetting something so obvious. “Hell, I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s already come up with several plans by now!” Chuckling, Sunset tucked the folded drawing back into the pocket of her jacket before putting her hands on her knees and standing back up. “Thanks for knocking some sense into me, Fluttershy.”
Fluttershy smiled as she stood up as well. “No problem.”
“Gotta say though…” Sunset remarked, crossing her arms over her chest, “I’m surprised that you were the one who followed me up here. I half expected Applejack or Rainbow Dash to come bursting in at any moment and give me an earful.”
“Oh, I managed to convince Applejack to let me try instead. I figured this was one of those times where showing a little bit of kindness would work better than replying to anger with anger.”
“Spoken like a true lover of all things big and small.”
Fluttershy chuckled, turning her head to hide the blush on her face. “I… I wouldn’t go that far…” she said, fiddling with a lock of her hair.
Both girls turned at the sound of the front doorbell. “Who could that be?” Sunset asked as she made her way towards the door, Fluttershy following right behind her.
“Almost… Just a bit more…”
Twilight grunted as she carefully shimmied up the drainpipe, using her wings to push her closer and closer towards the edge of the roof. Despite the slow progress, Twilight could finally see her goal within her sights.
“Ok, 1… 2… 3!” On three, Twilight flapped her wings and leapt from the pipe to the roof’s edge, slamming into the side of the building with a grunt as her hooves scrambled for purchase. For a second, Twilight feared she might slip and plummet back down to the ground, desperately grabbing onto the roof tiles with her hooves. Tapping into her magical reserves, she sent a spike down into her hooves, grunting as she heaved herself up and over onto the roof, collapsing onto her belly.
“Note; definitely look into studying earth pony magic when this is all over…” With panting breaths, Twilight carefully picked herself back up, wiggling her hooves to get as much traction as she could. “So far so good…” Taking an experimental step, she was delighted when her hoof pressed against the roof tile without slipping, taking a few more careful steps just to confirm.
“Right, that’s step one down.” Twilight made sure to check “Get onto roof” off her mental checklist, moving her mental quill onto the next item on the list. “Now for step two, ‘Look for a proper vantage point.’”
Glancing around, Twilight quickly spotted a smoke stack jutting out from the top of one of the nearby buildings, more than high enough to provide her with the ideal view. Only problem was that there were two other buildings between it and the one she’d climbed up onto. In any other situation, she could have just teleported herself across no problem. Now, however, there was no telling if she could even pull off a teleport in her current state, let alone arrive where she intended to.
With teleporting out of the question, that meant resorting to Plan B. Twilight tugged the padded gloves off her front legs with her mouth and used her magic to remove the back pair. Tucking them safely under her costume, Twilight quickly compared the length of the roof with the distance between the two buildings, coming up with an ideal calculation. Lowering her head, she kicked against the roof with her front hoof, eyes focused straight ahead.
Here goes! With a kick of her back legs, Twilight was off like a rocket, her hooves thumping against the tiled roof as she built up speed. Just when she was mere feet from the edge, she extended her wings and kicked off, propelling herself up into the air.
The sensation of weightlessness passed over her as she soared up and over, gliding straight across the gap. In seconds, Twilight touched down onto the first roof, instinctively folding her wings against her sides as she dashed across the second rooftop. With the speed she’d built up from the first roof, Twilight easily cleared the second one, sailing over onto the third roof.
Last one! Reaching the roof’s edge in seconds, Twilight jumped and sailed through the air, landing onto the final roof. Her hooves sparked against the roof tiles as she skidded to a stop, using her wings to break her momentum.
“Woo-hoo!” Twilight cheered, giggling as she clapped her hooves together. “I so wish Rainbow Dash could have seen that. Even she would have been impressed!”
Sparing a moment to catch her breath, Twilight trotted over to the chimney, having a much easier time climbing up it than she'd had with the drainpipe. Setting down atop it, Twilight peered out across the city, looking to all the world like an adorable weathervane.
She hummed in thought as she tried to spot any kind of recognizable landmark amongst the forest of buildings. Wait… is that… Peering closer, Twilight squinted as she focused in on something way off on the horizon.
Even from this distance, there was no mistaking the glass dome adorning the roof of Canterlot High glinting in the sunlight. It’s the school! I’m sure I’ll be able to meet back up with the girls there.
Her course set, Twilight hovered back onto the roof, a smile spreading across her face. “It won’t be easy, but I’m sure I can make it there in no time. Oh, everyone must be so worried—”
A thunderous boom made Twilight shriek in fright. Looking up at the sky, she was alarmed to see a wall of storm clouds gathering over the city. A droplet of water splattered against her nose, making her face scrunch up from the sensation.
“You’ve got to be kidding me…”
“I’ll get it!” Skidding down the hall, Pinkie Pie came to a screeching halt inches from the front door. With a harsh yank, she threw the door open with a beaming smile plastered on her face. “Hello, how— oh…”
Pinkie’s face fell as she looked up at the two uniformed officers standing on Rarity’s doorstep, their cruiser barely visible from where it was parked in the driveway. “Uhhh… how can I help you, officers?”
“Evening, Miss,” the officer on the left greeted, smiling reassuringly at her. “This is the residence of Rarity, correct? Would she be home right now, by any chance?
“Uh, Rarity? You might want to come in here…” Pinkie yelled over her shoulder, chancing glances back at the two officers.
“Who is it, Pinkie?” Rarity replied as she walked down the hall, her eyes widening as she caught sight of the officers standing into a door. Breaking out into a run, she shoved past Pinkie and onto the front porch. “Officers! Please tell me you were able to find my precious Sparkle!”
The smile slipped from the officer’s face on seeing her folded-together hands and the stars in her eyes. “I wish that were case, but I’m afraid not, ma’am. We just came to return this,” he said as he presented the stolen carrier.
“Oh… my bag…” Rarity solemnly replied, her shoulders sagging as she took the bag from him and clutched it tightly against her chest.
The officer sighed at her dour reaction. “I know it’s not what you were hoping to hear, but we were able to recover everything else fortunately. Unfortunately, we were unable to locate your pet at the scene. I’m sorry.”
“If it’s any consolation,” The second officer abruptly interjected, “I’d say your cat didn’t take too kindly to being kidnapped like that.”
“Oh?” Rarity perked up slightly, a small spark of hope in her eyes. “How do you mean?”
“When we apprehended those three, “The officer continued, a slight smirk at the edge of his lips, “They were pretty beat up. Based on the statements we were able to get out of them, when they opened the bag expecting cash, they weren’t prepared for a furious feline to leap out and attack them. I’d wager she gave them quite the scare before running off somewhere.”
Rarity couldn’t help but chuckle. “That sounds like her alright. Thank you for getting this back to me, I appreciate it.”
“No problem,” the first officer replied. “You have a nice day now.” With that, the pair walked back to their cruiser and pulled out of the driveway as Rarity stepped back inside.
She was met by her friends, all of them having listened in on the conversation. “Did you hear that!?” Pinkie exclaimed, bouncing up and down with excitement. “That means Twilight managed to get away from those three meanies! She’s probably on her way here right now!”
“I don’t buy it…” Rainbow remarked skeptically. “How do we know they were telling the truth? For all we know, they could have taken Twilight and carted her off somewhere!”
“This isn’t a science fiction movie, Rainbow,” Sunset said over the upstairs railing, looking down at her with a deadpan expression.
“Settle down, Rainbow,” Applejack interjected, putting her hands on her hips as she glanced at Rainbow Dash. “They weren’t fibbin’ us. From what I heard, they were tellin’ the truth.”
“How do you know?” Rainbow Dash countered.
“Call it a gut feelin’ is all. ‘Sides, name one time I was wrong for trustin’ my gut.”
Dash opened her mouth to respond, only to close it again shortly after when she couldn’t think of anything to say. “… Fine,” Rainbow grumbled, pouting as Applejack smirked in victory. “So Twilight’s somewhere in the city. We still gotta bust our butts and find her before anything else happens.”
“Indeed,” Rarity said, setting the carrier down by the door before making her way back towards the living room. “Now that we know she’s safe, we can better come up with a plan to—”
Before Rarity could finish that thought, the front door was thrown open and a small bundle of pink and purple curls came barrelling towards her. “Rarity!”
Rarity just barely managed to turn to face the sudden arrival before they wrapped their arms around her waist in a fierce hug, making her stumble back a step before swiftly regaining her footing. “Sw-Sweetie Belle! What are—”
“We’re home!” came a voice from the doorway, causing everyone to glance over in time to see Rarity’s dad, Magnum, step inside.
Cookie Crumbles, his wife, was right behind him. “And we brought souvenirs!” she declared, holding up the bags in each of her hands for everyone to see.
“Mother! Father!” Rarity exclaimed, still taken aback by the sudden arrival of her family. “I… I was not expecting you to be back until later tonight.”
“Well, lucky for us we managed to avoid most of the traffic on our way back,” her father replied, removing his sunglasses and tucking them into his shirt pocket. “Good thing too, since I swear we hit every single blasted red light getting up there!”
“We would have called to let you know, but we wanted to surprise you and— Rarity!” Dropping her bags at her feet, Cookie Crumbles rushed over to her daughter, grabbing Rarity’s face in her hands. “Your face! What happened?”
“Nothing?! You look positively dreadful! Who did this to you? Tell me!” Scowling, Cookie glanced up at Sunset, the sheer intensity of her glare causing Sunset to flinch back in fear, a bead of sweat dripping down her face.
“Mother!” Rarity admonished, folding her arms across her chest and glaring back at her. “Honestly, I would appreciate if you didn’t accost my friends like that!” Gently detaching herself from Sweetie Belle’s grip, she stepped over in an effort to impose herself between her mother and Sunset. “If you must know, we finished watching my favourite movie not too long ago.” Dabbing at her eyes with her hand, she added, “No matter how many times I see it, it still never fails to bring me to tears…”
“Oh…” Cookie Crumbles replied, sheepishly turning away from her daughter’s judging eyes. “Forgive me, that was rude of me.” Clearing her throat, she cast her gaze across the gathered group of girls. “Regardless, I’m afraid it’s about time your friends went home soon.”
“Why?” Rarity asked, glancing up at the clock on the wall. “It’s only a quarter to six.”
“Be that as it may, but you’re forgetting that not only is it a school night, but it's nearly time for dinner,” Cookie reminded her. “Your father and I are too exhausted to cook something, so we’ll be ordering out tonight. Plus, we drove through a storm on our way back, so I thought your friends might want to head home before it passes over this way.”
“Oh, I suppose that does make sense,” Rarity reluctantly admitted, glancing over her shoulder briefly at the others. “Would it be alright if we finished what we were doing upstairs first? It won’t take long, I promise.”
Cookie seemed to consider this for a moment, before nodding her head in approval. “Alright, but don’t take too long.” Glancing over at Sweetie Belle, she said, “Sweetie Belle, go get cleaned up while your father and I unload our things from the car, ok?”
“Ok, mom!” Sweetie Belle replied before running upstairs.
With a sigh, Rarity made for the stairs as well. “Follow me, girls. We don’t have much time.”
Moments later, the group had gathered in Rarity’s Inspiration Room, the door shut to provide them with a small amount of privacy. If the atmosphere had been shrouded in misery before, now it was positively suffocating.
“Damn it, this sucks!” Rainbow swore, leaning up against one of the walls. “With everything that’s happened, I completely forgot we still have school tomorrow. I was all set to get out there and find Twilight, but Coach’ll have my hide if I don’t show up for morning practice.” She growled in frustration, kicking her heel against the wall.
“Wish I could say otherwise, but even for somethin’ like this, skippin’ school wouldn’t be settin’ a good example for Apple Bloom,” Applejack added, sighing as well.
Everyone else voiced their reasons for why they would be unable to skip school, even for something as important as finding Twilight. Everyone except Sunset, who had started pacing again, tapping her chin in thought as she did so. “You guys might not be able to skip school,” she suddenly said, gaining the others’ attention, “… but I can.”
“Sunset, you can’t be serious!” Rarity objected, frowning.
“Why not?” Sunset argued, turning to face her with a sly grin on her face. “This wouldn’t be the first time I’ve skipped school, after all. It’ll just be the first time I’ve done so for an actual good reason. Trust me, they won’t even notice I’m gone.”
Rarity didn’t seem so convinced, clutching her hand to her chest. “Darling… are you sure?”
“We don’t have a choice. All of you have prior commitments and people who’ll ask questions if you were suddenly absent, but me?” Pointing to herself, Sunset glanced out the window. “I don’t, so I can be out there searching while you’re all in school.”
The room went silent as everyone else considered Sunset’s words, glancing at one another in hope that one of them could provide an alternative solution.
“It don’t sit right with me,” Applejack finally said, “But I reckon yer right in that we don’t much have a choice here. Don’t know how I’ll be able to focus knowin’ that Twilight’s out there somewhere, but I’ll feel better if y’all are gonna be out there looking for her.”
“What Applejack said,” Rainbow chimed in.
“You’ll let us know the moment you find her, right?” Fluttershy asked with pleading eyes directed towards Sunset.
Sunset traced an X over her chest. “Cross my heart.”
“Rarity!” Cookie’s voice echoed from downstairs. “Are you almost done up there with your friends?”
Sticking her head briefly out the door, Rarity hollered back, “Almost!” Glancing amongst her friends, Rarity let out a resigned sigh. “I guess that’s it then. Once school’s done, we’ll all meet up with Sunset and go from there, agreed?”
Everyone nodded in agreement.
“Then I suppose this is goodbye for the time being.” Stepping aside, Rarity propped open the door to let everyone pass.
As Rainbow and the others filed out of the room, Sunset hung back. When it was just Rarity and her left, she spoke up. “Uh, Rarity?”
“Hmm?” Rarity turned to face her, brow raised in surprise. “What is it, Sunset?’
“I… well… it’s just…” Rubbing the back of her neck, Sunset avoided Rarity’s eye as she struggled to form the right words. “I… I’m sorry for yelling at you earlier. I know you did everything you could to protect Twilight, so there’s no excuse for how I acted. I hope you can forgive me for how much of a jerk—”
“Sunset.” Rarity cut in, walking over and gently turning Sunset’s head until their eyes met. “You don’t have to apologize. Everyone’s under so much stress because of what’s happened that I don’t blame you for acting how you did. If anything, I should apologize for spending so much time wallowing in self-pity while the rest of you were actually being productive.”
“… Are you sure?”
“Positive. Now, I think you should get going as well. You’ve got a busy day ahead of yourself, after all.”
“Right,” Sunset said, making her way towards the door. Pausing for a moment, she looked back at Rarity. “See you tomorrow then.”
“See you then as well.” Rarity smiled and waved as Sunset stepped out, closing the door behind her.
Still clutching the doorknob, Sunset clenched her other hand tightly, her nails threatening to dig into the skin of her palm. Just hold on a little bit longer, Twilight. I’ll get you back home, I promise.
Another booming crash of thunder followed in the wake of the storm before being quickly drowned out by the heavy pitter-patter of raindrops against the street. People raced up and down the sidewalk in a desperate attempt to outrun the rain, using whatever they had available on hand as cover as they searched for potential shelter.
Twilight watched all this from the mouth of the alleyway, huddled inside a discarded cardboard box that was doing a surprisingly effective job of shielding her from the rain. Even given her reduced size, she had still managed to safely travel roughly a block and a half before the storm had become too much and forced her to seek shelter. She still had a ways to go though if she wanted to reach her destination before too long.
Shivering, Twilight wrapped her wings around herself for warmth, now more thankful than ever for the costume Rarity had made her in helping to keep her warm. She winced as her stomach cried out for food, but unless she intended to feast on rotten apple cores and moldy bread, then her stomach was going to just have to wait a little while longer.
Sighing, Twilight rested her head against the floor of her shelter, idly watching the steady cascade of rain before her. Just hold on a little bit longer, girls. I’ll find my way back to you, I promise.
Sunset sighed as she strolled into True Brew, walking straight up to the counter and slapping a five-dollar bill on the counter. “Medium coffee and a blueberry muffin, please.”
“Coming up,” the cashier, a man in his late thirties with light-brown hair and a beard to match, replied and went about fulfilling Sunset’s order.
Tapping her foot impatiently, Sunset glanced up at the clock on the wall. 10:27. Nearly three hours of searching and still no luck. She’d gotten up bright and early that morning, wasting little time in scarfing down a quick breakfast before running out to search for Twilight.
Her first stop had been all their usual hangouts like the Sweet Shoppe and the Library, places she would have expected to find Twilight. When those had ultimately turned up empty, she had resorted to scouring the city block-by-block, searching high and low for even the smallest hint of the miniature pony.
“Here you are, miss.” The cashier’s voice snapped Sunset from her thoughts as he set her order on the counter alongside her change.
“Thanks,” she muttered as she snatched up the muffin and took a bite.
“Say…” The cashier took a second to look her over, noticing something off about her. “Shouldn’t you be in school right now?”
Swallowing, Sunset replied with a rehearsed, “I dropped out,” before taking a swig of her coffee.
He seemed dubious of her claims at first, before eventually shrugging his shoulders. “Eh, no skin off my neck either way. Not my fault if you can’t find a job lacking a high-school diploma.”
Sunset paid him no mind as she retreated to a nearby booth, taking another bite out of her muffin as she sat down. Reaching into her pocket, she pulled out her phone and set it down on the table in front of her. Her fingers hovered over the screen as she debated on whether she should update the others on her progress or not.
I only promised I’d let them know after I found her, texting them now would only get their hopes up. I can’t imagine how they can even focus in class with Twilight missing like this...
Leaning forward, she placed her elbows on the table and interlocked her fingers, resting her chin against her hands as she peered out the coffee shop window. Oh, Twilight… where are you?
Across town, several patrons of a local sidewalk cafe—at least those who had already had their morning coffee—looked over as another patron leapt out of his seat, nearly knocking over his coffee in the process.
“Who took my bagel!?”
Twilight hummed to herself as she rested in the meager shade of the dumpster, happily munching on the fresh bagel held aloft in her magic.
Despite being a little sore from her night spent huddled in a cardboard box, Twilight was in bright spirits this morning. With her hunger now sated, she could better focus on the task at hoof: getting to the school and reuniting with her friends.
With any luck, she thought, Spike will have gotten the portal fixed by now and I can go back home. Honestly, after the craziness of this weekend, I’d welcome a week of paperwork! Chuckling, Twilight stuffed the rest of the bagel into her mouth and swallowed before fishing a city map that she had previously plucked off a newsstand out of her costume.
“Let’s see…” Unfurling it onto the ground, Twilight scanned the map in order to determine her current location. “The school’s there,” she said, pointing her hoof at the marked location before trailing diagonally across the map to the other end of the city. “Which means that I started around here somewhere. Adding in the block or so I traveled last night, that should put me somewhere around… here!”
Jabbing her hoof into the map, Twilight glanced over the listed street names, noticing one that appeared the closest to her current location. “‘Emerald Boulevard’, that seems to be the best place to get my bearings. If I go straight down this street, then take a left, it should be the next street on my right. If not, then at least I’ll still have a better idea of where I am in relation to the school.”
With her course set, she neatly folded the map up with her magic and tucked it back into her costume. Standing up, she arched her back as she stretched, extending her wings and giving them a brief flap. Sparing a moment to poke her head out from behind the dumpster to make sure the coast was clear, she took off down the sidewalk, her hooves thumping against the pavement.
Hold on girls, I’m on my way!
“… By reviewing literature of the era, one can get a better understanding of the ideas and issues prevalent at the time, such as those present in the following verse…”
Rarity’s focus faded in and out as Mrs. Harshwhinny droned on, tapping a pen against her desk as she stared out the window. On any other day she would have been diligently taking notes, but today she couldn’t bring herself to care. What good does debating the meanings of a book written hundreds of year ago do me whenTwilight is still out there somewhere?
A slight hum from her bag caught her attention. Glancing around to make sure the teacher wasn’t looking her way, she quietly unzipped her bag and pulled out her phone. A quick tap on the screen revealed an alert for a group text from Rainbow.
[RD: Hey, any of U guys heard from Sunset yet?]
[AJ: Nothing yet, sorry.]
[PP: That’s a big NOPE.]
[R: Sadly, I haven’t heard anything from her either.]
[RD: I’m going CRAZY here! Why hasn’t she texted us yet!?]
[FS: It must mean she hasn’t found her yet.]
[AJ; Yeah, ‘Shy’s right. Settle down RD, she’ll let us know when she has news.]
[R: Correct. All we can do right now is trust in Sunset.]
[FS: I just hope Twilight’s ok…]
Rarity’s head shot up from her phone to find Mrs. Harshwhinny glaring at her, as well as most of the class staring her way.
Mrs. Harshwhinny stared daggers at Rarity, a scowl firmly etched across her face. “Would you be so kind as to explain to the class what is obviously so much more important than learning about sixteenth-century literature?”
“No…I … I just…” Hanging her head in shame, Rarity folded her hands in her lap as a blush spread across her cheeks. “… Sorry.”
Hushed laughter rippled through the room.
“You kids today…” Mrs. Harshwhinny droned on as she shook her head disappointingly. “All it takes is one long weekend and suddenly you forget even the most basic of manners. It’s my job to teach you all something, not babysit a bunch of teenagers!”
Rarity weakly nodded her head, muttering, “Yes, Mrs. Harshwhinny…”
The crackle of the PA system saved Rarity from any further scolding as Principal Celestia’s voice came through. “Mrs. Harshwhinny?”
Walking over, Harshwhinny pressed the call button. “Yes, Principal Celestia?”
“Please excuse Rarity from class. There’s a matter I’d like to discuss with her in my office.”
“Right away, Principal.”
Stepping away, Harshwhinny peered over her shoulder at Rarity. “You heard her, Rarity. Best not to keep the Principal waiting.”
“R-right…” Ignoring the judging eyes of her peers, Rarity quickly gathered up her things and walked out of the room, heading straight for Celestia’s office.
It was a well-known fact that nobody liked being called down to the Principal’s office, no matter the reason. Rarity could already sense her classmates discussing possible reasons why she had been called out in the middle of class; none of them were good. Truth be told, Rarity already had a sinking suspicion at to why she had been called down so suddenly.
This has something to do with Sunset I bet. But out of all of us, why call me?
She didn’t have long to consider this before she arrived at Celestia’s office. Briefly hesitating, Rarity knocked against the frosted glass. “Principal Celestia?”
“Come in, Rarity,” came Celestia’s soothing voice from behind the door.
Doing as she was told, Rarity grasped the doorknob and pushed the door open, stepping into the room.
Principal Celestia was seated behind her desk with her hands folded in front of her, her eyes following Rarity as she stepped through the door. She was dressed in her usual yellow jacket today, a small sun clip pinned to her lapel. As opposed to her more casual outlook yesterday, Celestia’s posture was still inviting, yet the little things like how her shoulders were set square against her chair carried with them an undeniable aura of authority.
“You wanted to see me, Principal?” Rarity said, carefully shutting the door behind her.
Celestia smiled up at her, nodding as she gestured to the chair set up directly opposite her desk. “Please, take a seat.”
Rarity was quick to do so, placing her hands in her lap nervously as she glanced across Celestia’s desk. The desk was far less cluttered than Rarity had imagined, with the few items atop it including the placard displaying Celestia’s name, the microphone for the PA system, a bog standard office phone, and a few carefully placed framed photos.
Celestia leaned back in her chair, having expected Rarity’s apprehensive posture. “I guess I should begin by saying you’re not in trouble.”
With that, Rarity noticeably relaxed; her shoulders sagged slightly and her hands shifted into a more comfortable position. “I suppose I should have suspected that, but I couldn’t help myself.”
Celestia chuckled, leaning forward to rest her hands against her desk once more. “Yes, I find myself needing to start with that more often than not. Sadly, you aren’t the first student who’s marched into my office like a death row inmate. Comes with the job, I suppose.”
Rarity chuckled slightly, absentmindedly playing with a lock of her hair. “I guess I should inquire as to why I was excused from class then.”
“Two reasons, actually. First off, I wanted to make sure you were alright.” Celestia’s eyes seemed to lose some of their luster as she gazed into Rarity’s. “When I saw your name on this morning’s attendance, I was honestly surprised. As this school’s Principal, it is my duty to ensure both the safety and wellbeing of all who walk through these halls. Unfortunately, the sheer size of the student body means that tending to each student personally is next to impossible, so I can’t follow through with that responsibility as much as I’d like.
“However… when I personally witness one of my students suffering, I refuse to sit by and do nothing. Which is why I called you down here, to see for myself that you weren’t still hurt by yesterday’s events.”
Rarity was silent for a moment as she considered Celestia’s words. “While I appreciate the concern, I can honestly say that I’m doing much better than I was yesterday,” she replied with a smile. “While I did spend far too long wallowing in self-pity, I’m lucky enough to have friends who were there to help me through it in their own special way.”
“That’s good to hear,” Celestia replied. “I suppose you told your parents what happened as well?”
“Oh, good heavens no!” Rarity exclaimed with a fierce shake of her head. “You don’t know the lengths Father will go to keep his precious daughters safe. Had I told him that I was mugged at the mall, I don’t doubt I would be confined to my room at this very moment while he went about changing all the locks in the house.” Chuckling, she added, “I adore Mother and Father deeply, but I do admit that they can be a bit overprotective at times.”
“I’d say that’s a sign of how much they care about their daughters,” Celestia replied before leaning back in her chair with a sigh. “While I cannot force you to tell your parents, I would advise against keeping it from them for much longer. Inevitably they will learn about what happened somehow, and it may be preferable if they were to hear the events from you personally than having to hear about it later.”
Rarity nodded, seeing the logic in Celestia’s reasoning. “I’ll think about it.”
“That’s all I ask,” Celestia said with a smile. “If I may, I was curious if there have been any news from the police regarding those three hoodlums.”
“As a matter of fact…” Rarity’s smile noticeably widened. “A pair of officers came to my house yesterday to tell me that they’d caught the three and to return my bag with my wallet and everything still inside.”
“I’m happy to hear that! I’m sure Sparkle must have been excited too.”
In a flash, the smile slipped from Rarity’s face. “Actually… Sparkle was the only thing they weren’t able to get back to me.”
Celestia gasped. “Oh, Rarity, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have—”
“No, it’s fine. At least I can say they didn’t get away as clean as they might have thought.”
Celestia blinked in confusion, raising an eyebrow. “I don’t follow.”
“Well,” Rarity said, her smile returning and shifting into a sly smirk, “The reason the police didn’t find her on them is when they opened the bag, she leapt out and showed them just what she thought of their type. After that, she ran off somewhere into the city.”
“Oh…” Celestia muttered, chuckling as well at the image of the trio of hoodlums undone by an angry cat. “I suppose that’s a small silver lining in all of this. However, I believe that brings me to the second reason I called you down here…” In the blink of an eye, Celestia’s entire demeanour shifted, the warmth in her eyes dulling slightly as the smile slipped from her face. The authoritative aura Rarity had felt before flared up much like a dwindling flame supplied with fuel anew.
“Tell me, Rarity: do you know where Sunset Shimmer is right now?”
Rarity gulped, her breath catching in her throat for a moment. “W…what?”
Instead of answering, Celestia reached down and pulled open the bottom drawer of her desk, rifling through it for a few seconds before pulling out a manila folder and dropping it onto the centre of her desk.
Sunset’s name was clearly written on the label.
“I’ll admit, Miss Shimmer hasn’t been the most punctual student at Canterlot High, “ Celestia remarked dryly as she slammed the drawer shut with her foot. Glancing down at the folder, she flipped it open and withdrew one of the sheets from within. “This isn’t her first unexplained absence since she’s attended this school, but I was never able to get a solid reason behind any of them. Plus, her grades remained at the top of her class regardless, so I couldn’t say it was affecting her schoolwork in the long term.”
Rarity listened intently, clutching her hands tightly in her lap.
“Previously, I would have simply chalked this up as another unexplained absence. However…” Placing the sheet back down, Celestia’s eyes bore into Rarity. “Given her recent change of heart following the events of the Fall Formal, in addition to her valiant efforts in atoning for her previous misdeeds, I can’t help but notice how out of place this particular absence is. This isn’t the action of someone skipping school for the thrill of it, no. I get the distinct feeling that there’s a much more… personal reason behind all this.”
Folding her arms across her chest, Celestia leaned back in her chair as she met Rarity’s eye. “With all that being said, I will ask you again: Do you know where Sunset Shimmer is, Rarity?”
Rarity grasped for anything to say in her defense, her mouth feeling drier than sandpaper. As much as she wanted to lie, one look at Celestia’s face told her that it would be pointless to even try. Sighing in defeat, she finally managed to mutter, “She… she’s out looking for Sparkle.”
“I thought so.” Spinning her seat to face the wall, Celestia stood up and walked over to the window. Pulling back one of the blinds, she gazed out onto the field, where the soccer team were currently practicing. Silence hovered in the air like a thick blanket of fog as several moments passed without a word spoken between them.
“This puts me in a difficult position, unfortunately,” Celestia finally said, snapping the blind back before folding her hands behind her back. “As a school administrator, I can’t in good conscience condone skipping school for any reason outside of an emergency. Including all of her prior absences, I have more than enough grounds to bar her from participating in school-wide events, enact an in-school suspension for an undetermined amount of time or, should this behaviour continue, expel her from Canterlot High all together.”
“Expel?!” Rarity leapt to her feet, staring horrified at Celestia. “But… but you can’t—”
“However!” Celestia loudly interjected, cutting Rarity off. “As a fellow pet owner, I sympathize with her commitment to helping a friend return a beloved pet back home.” Turning away from the window, Celestia plucked one of the photo frames off her desk, smiling at the photo of herself alongside a bird with a fiery plumage of orange and red perched lovingly on her arm. “I doubt there are any lengths I wouldn’t go to if I ever lost my dear Philomena.”
Setting the photo back down, she turned her chair back around and sat back down. “In addition to all this, I would be remiss not to factor in the services you and your friends have done for this school, services that all of you have refused reward for.”
“Anyone would have done the same thing if put in our place,” Rarity admitted.
“Be that as it may, it doesn’t change the fact that both I and this school owe you girls a debt of gratitude. With that in mind, I have a proposal you might be interested in.”
Steeling her resolve, Rarity sat back down and met Celestia’s gaze with her own. “I’m listening.”
“I will overlook Sunset Shimmer’s absence this time, as well as holding off on following through with any disciplinary actions. By doing so, I expect you to strongly inform Miss Sunset that I will not be granting her this courtesy a second time. While I am sympathetic to your plight in finding your cat, should Sunset Shimmer be mysteriously missing from school tomorrow or at any other time in the future without a doctor’s note or other valid proof of an acceptable explanation, I will have no choice but to carry through with enacting disciplinary measures against her.”
Folding her hands together on her desk, Celestia leaned forward slightly and looked directly into Rarity’s eyes. “Do I make myself clear?”
Rarity tried her best to not buckle under Celestia’s gaze, a slight tremor shooting up her legs. “Crystal.”
The loud buzzing of the school bell, signalling the start of lunch period, dispelled the tense atmosphere in the room. Celestia glanced up at the clock on the wall, the intimidating aura surrounding her dwindling greatly in size. “Lunch time already? Well, I guess that means I’ve taken up enough of your time.” As she picked up the manila folder to return it to the drawer, she said warmly, “You should get going, Rarity, before the cafeteria runs out of all the good food.”
Nodding, Rarity stood up from her seat. “Farewell then, Principal Celestia. It was… nice talking to you.” Turning away, she made for the office door.
“Oh, and Rarity?”
Pausing with her hand on the doorknob, Rarity glanced over her shoulder to see Celestia staring up at her with a concerned look on her face.
“For what it’s worth, I do hope you find her soon.”
“Me too, Principal Celestia,” Rarity replied with a sigh. “Me too…”
Darting out from beneath a parked car, Twilight bolted across the street once the rows of cars had all slowed to a stop at the red light. Scrambling onto the sidewalk on the other side, she quickly ducked beneath a bench as a stream of people walked by.
Once the coast was clear, she dashed behind a nearby newsstand, then behind a garbage can, before finally diving beneath another car parked on the side of the road. Taking a moment to catch her breath, she spotted another alleyway not far from her. Waiting for another group of people to walk past, Twilight took off like her tail was on fire, skidding to a stop only once she’d crossed into the alley.
Leaning against the wall, Twilight wiped a bead of sweat from her brow with her wing. “I need to thank Pinkie Pie for convincing me to play all those games of Hide and Seek.” Pulling the map out from her costume, she laid it out to check her progress. She was pleasantly surprised by how much ground she had managed to cover in just a few short hours, having covered roughly two-thirds of the distance to the school.
At this rate, I should be able to reach the school before nightfall. From there, I can either try and figure out the way to Rarity’s house, or sneak into the school and wait until tomorrow. If I can just—
Twilight had but a split second to react before something passed over her, her world upended as she was suddenly lifted up. As she stared down at the map still lying on the ground, she discovered, to her horror, that she had been scooped up in a massive net.
“No!” Twilight struggled against the confines of the net, only succeeding in getting her horn and wings further trapped between the holes of the net.
“Well now, never seen a breed like you before…”
Twilight strained her neck in the direction of the noise, coming face to face with her captor, an older man with light green skin and orange hair. He raised the net to get a better look at her, squinting at her through the mesh net.
“Hmm… must be a rare breed.” He remarked as he slung the net over his shoulder and began to walk away. “Probably imported by someone with more money than brains and no idea how to care for her…”
Twilight continued to struggle, trying desperately to wiggle free. Her eyes widened as the man approached a large white van, but it wasn’t the vehicle itself that made Twilight’s heart skip a beat. No, it was what he kept inside.
Cages. Rows and rows of cages both big and small, several of which already contained multiple cats, dogs and what appeared to be a raccoon. Twilight could just barely make out a logo on one of the back doors: Canterlot City Animal Control.
No… No! I can’t let him put me in one of those cages! If he does, I’ll never see my friends again! As she struggled even harder to escape the net, her magic reacted to her fear and instinctively channelled a large surge of magic into her horn.
“Hmm?” A light at the corner of his vision prompted the man to glance over his shoulder, nearly dropping the net in shock from the massive ball of violet light swirling around inside. “What in the world!?”
“Let me go!”
“Waah!” he cried out as the orb of light burst with a deafening pop, a bright flash of light forcing him to shield his eyes with his other arm lest he go blind. After a moment, he lowered his arm as the spots began to fade from his vision. “What was th—huh?”
With wide eyes, he stared in disbelief at his now empty net. Grabbing it in his hand, he examined it for any sign of a tear or rip the animal could have escaped through, only to come up empty. Whipping his head around, he scanned the area for anywhere it could have hidden, only to find nothing.
A filly Twilight Sparkle frantically ran through the streets of Canterlot, searching desperately for her mother amongst the crowds of ponies going about their everyday routine. Her face was wet with tears and her throat burned from screaming so much, and yet she still called out in the vain hope that she would hear her mother’s voice answer back.
“Mommy!” She sobbed before she suddenly found herself pressed up against the side of some older pony. Twilight looked up with tear filled eyes at the pony.
“Hey! Watch it!” A scowling stallion yelled, shoving her harshly aside before walking around her and muttering, “Stupid brat…” under his breath.
Lying on her side in the middle of the street, Twilight sniffled as she curled up into a ball, cradling her tail against her chest as ponies strolled around her without so much as a passing glance, like a river flowing around a stone.
“Mommy…” Twilight muttered in between sobs, “Daddy… Shining… Princess… ” Images of her parents, her brother and her mentor flashed through her mind as her sobs worsened. “Somepony… please…”
Overcome with sorrow, Twilight didn’t notice as her horn began to glow with a radiant violet light. “I… I wanna... I wanna go home!”
In an instant, the glow of her horn burst forth into a sphere of magic that quickly eclipsed the sobbing filly. Several ponies cried out as the sudden sphere of raw magic expanded across the street before bursting with a deafening pop.
Twilight felt the sensation of weightlessness, like a balloon floating in a spring breeze. The bustling sounds of Canterlot had vanished, an almost eerie silence filling the gap left behind. For a brief moment, Twilight felt like she was floating within a vacuum.
Then, as abruptly as it had occurred, Twilight felt herself being pulled back to reality, reappearing a foot in the air before dropping onto her side against the ground. Twilight groaned as she rolled over onto her belly, rubbing her throbbing head. Spots danced across her vision, making it hard to see more than a foot in front of her. Pulling herself up onto her haunches, Twilight gave a shake of her head to clear away the spots, gasping as she took in her surroundings.
Gone were the cobblestone streets and rows upon rows of businesses and houses, replaced by gleaming laminate flooring and walls carved out of the finest polished marble. Beneath her was a vibrant red carpet that ran the length of the room, the sides adorned with golden threads. Massive stained glass windows ran from floor to ceiling along the walls, the carefully forged glass casting a cascade of colors across the room as the light passed through them.
Twilight whimpered and clutched her tail tightly as she noticed several Royal Guards advancing towards her, glaring down at her like she was an unwanted intruder. A choked sob escaped her throat as she squeezed her eyes shut, waiting for them to descend upon her. “Mommy…”
Snapping her eyes open, Twilight whipped her head around in the direction of the voice. Seated upon a golden throne at the back of the room was none other than Princess Celestia, her white coat positively glowing in the light of the sun—her sun—as her prismatic mane flowed behind her. Her violet eyes gazed down at the helpless filly before her, her mouth hanging open in a rare moment of shock.
“Pri—Princess Celestia…” Twilight stuttered, her ears pressing flat against her head as fresh tears threatening to leak down her face.
“My student,” Celestia said calmly as she stepped off her throne, taking slow steps towards the scared filly. “I must say I’m surprised to see you. I thought you were spending the day out with your mother?”
“I… I was…” Twilight replied, just barely holding back her tears. “But… But I got lost, and… and I couldn’t find mom anywhere. I… I looked… looked all over for her, but she wasn’t there… and… and then…” Despite her best efforts, Twilight was unable to hold back her grief anymore, crying out as a torrent of tears flowed down her face and onto the throne room floor.
Soft wings embraced Twilight as she was pulled against Celestia’s chest, a soothing warmth radiating off the princess as she comfortingly held the sobbing filly, running a hood gently down her back. “Shh… It’s alright,” Celestia whispered into Twilight’s ear. “You’re safe now…”
Twilight said nothing, burying her face into Celestia’s fur as she wailed with anguish. Holding Twilight protectively in her hooves, Celestia turned her head to lock eyes with one of the pegasus guards. “Go and locate Twilight Velvet at once. I doubt she’ll be hard to find since her daughter’s missing.”
Saluting, the guard flew off at breakneck speed. Before he had even left the room, Celestia turned her attention to the closest guard. “Cadet Shining Armor should be at the barracks. Tell him to report to the throne room immediately; his little sister is in need of her big brother.”
Saluting as well, the guard raced off towards the barracks. The rest of the guards kept a respectable distance from the Princess as she cradled the distraught filly in her hooves, the sounds of Twilight’s sobs echoing through the throne room and making Celestia’s heart break from the sheer despair in her voice.
Several painful minutes passed before Twilight’s tears finally ran dry, her sobs slowly subsiding into little more than sniffling hiccups. With her face still buried in Celestia’s fur, she muttered, “I’m so sorry, Princess… you must be so mad at me…”
“On the contrary, my faithful student,” Celestia replied, looking down at her with a smile on her lips, “I’m actually rather proud of you.”
Twilight glanced up at Celestia, confusion written clear across her face. “W…what?”
Celestia’s smile could have melted ice from its warmth alone. “Tell me, Twilight; do you remember how you ended up in the palace throne room?”
Twilight’s muzzle scrunched up in thought, thinking back to before. “I… I remember lying in the street, thinking about my family. I wanted to go home so badly, but I remember thinking about the castle too. Then… then I was suddenly here. How… how did I…”
“You teleported yourself here, that’s how, my faithful student.”
“Teleported? Really?” The smallest glimmer of a smile poked at the edge of Twilight’s face.
Celestia nodded. “Really. Teleportation is a very difficult spell to manage, and yet you were able to do it instinctively. However…” Celestia’s voice dipped slightly as her expression shifted to a much more sterner one. “It can also be a very dangerous spell if not performed properly. It is fortunate that you were able to pull it off perfectly on your first attempt, but I need you to promise me that you won’t try and teleport again unless you know for certain you’ll arrive safely.”
Sniffling, Twilight sank into Celestia’s embrace. “I promise, Princess.”
A moan of pain escaped Twilight’s lips as she drifted awake. Struggling to lift her head, Twilight felt like her brain was caught in a fog, her thoughts a scattered mess as she tried to grasp onto one for more than a moment.
She remembered… a man… with a net. There had been… a raccoon in a cage, maybe? She could vaguely recall having cast a spell, but what that spell had been or why she had cast it at all escaped her.
“Where… where am…”
With a grunt, Twilight’s head flopped back down as she slipped back into unconsciousness.
Sunset sighed as she leaned against her bike, taking a bite from her chocolate bar. She had stopped at a random convenient store to grab a quick snack before continuing her search, sipping from her watermelon slushie as she scanned the streets for even the smallest glimpse of purple fur or feathers.
I must have covered half the city by now, and still no sign of her, she thought, going over her mental map of the city. I suppose now would be a good time to check the Sweet Shoppe and the library again. She might have headed there since the last time I—
The chirp of her phone shook Sunset from her thoughts. Placing her slushie atop her bike, Sunset pulled her phone from her pocket, frowning at yet another text from Rainbow Dash. Rainbow had been rapid-fire texting her non-stop for the last two hours, asking again and again if she’d found Twilight or not. She’d received texts from the others as well, including one from Rarity informing her about her meeting with Principal Celestia. “Exactly what I didn’t need right now,” she groaned as she stuffed her phone back into her pocket.
If Principal Celestia was anything like Princess Celestia, then Sunset knew her words were anything but idle threats. Getting expelled could potentially threaten her ability to remain in this world, especially since, despite being a full-grown mare in Equestria, she was still considered a minor by their standards. Some people might even feel the need to ask a few pressing questions about her situation, questions Sunset couldn’t easily answer.
Even still, the thought of abandoning Twilight for her own selfish reasons was twisting her into more knots than that game of Twister from before. Biting her nails, Sunset gazed up at the towering skyscrapers in the distance. “Come on, Twilight… Just give me a sign that you’re alright…”
“Oh, for the love of—” Yanking her phone out again, Sunset quickly switched it to silent before returning it to her pocket. “There. Rainbow can yell at me all she wants afterwards, but right now I don’t have time for this.”
Quickly finishing her snack—and unsurprisingly getting brain freeze for her troubles—Sunset slipped her helmet on as she climbed back onto her bike. Gunning the engine, she sped off down the road, her jacket fluttering in the wind against her back.
In her haste, she failed to notice the clouds brewing on the horizon behind her.
Twilight groaned as she slowly regained consciousness once more, her eyelids pressing up against her face like weights as she struggled to pry her eyes open. Managing to open them a crack, all she saw was darkness surrounding her.
“What… what happened?” She muttered, wincing as a sharp pain shot through her horn, like an ice pick being jabbed into her skull. The darkness was briefly broken by the glow of sparks coming off her horn, each one only making the pain in her horn worsen.
Though her memories were hazy, she remembered being captured in a net before being carried over to a van filled with cages. She had struggled desperately to escape, channelling magic into her horn on instinct. There had been a bright flash of light and then… nothing.
I must have cast a spell while I was trying to escape, but what spell did I cast?
Gradually picking herself up, she shook her head to try and clear the cobwebs clouding her thoughts, perking her ears up at the sound of a twig snapping to her left. As her eyes adjusted to the darkness, she could finally make out the wall of leaves surrounding her.
“Am… am I in a bush?” She wondered out loud, brushing a few stray leaves and twigs from behind her ears. “How did I get here? Did that man with the net drop me here? No… I think I would have remembered that…”
Twilight gasped, a chill running up her spine as she came to a sinking realization. “Could… could I have teleported myself here, like that time when I was a filly? But… But I promised the princess I wouldn’t teleport anymore unless I knew where I was going to end up!” Twilight bit her lip, frantically checking herself over from head to toe to make absolutely sure she was still in one piece.
“23… 24… “ Twilight paused as she realized she was missing a feather on her left wing, though considering that was the only thing she had found to be missing, she supposed she could live with it, breathing a sigh of relief. “Okay… so I managed to get here in mostly one piece. The question now is… where is here?”
Reaching out and parting a small opening in the wall of leaves, Twilight winced as the afternoon sun assaulted her tired eyes, reeling back and holding a wing up to shield herself. After waiting a moment for her eyes to stop burning, she carefully lowered her wing and peeked through the opening she had made.
Twilight gazed across an open field, a massive oak tree sitting at the edge of her vision. To her right, she could just make out several pieces of brightly painted playground equipment in the distance, including a swing set, a jungle gym and a seesaw shaped like a pair of snails. As Twilight looked around, she noticed a tennis ball fly past her field of vision, following it with her eyes as it rolled to a stop.
A small dog with shaggy brown fur bounded across the field towards the thrown ball, happily snapping it up in its mouth before racing back towards his owner.
This is a park, Twilight realized, retreating back into the bush. I don’t recall seeing a park on my— “My map!” Frantically digging around in her costume, Twilight came to the sinking realization that she had left her map behind when she’d teleported. “Just great! Back to square one, with no idea where I am or how I’m going to get back to—”
“Hey, did you hear something?”
“Eep!” Twilight squeaked, throwing her hooves over her mouth in a panic. Chancing a peek, she noticed a bench she had overlooked a few feet away from her location.
A young woman with light beige skin and rose coloured hair peeked over the back of the bench, searching around for something. “I could have sworn I heard something…”
“You’re imagining things, Roseluck,” Her companion, a young man with dark grey skin and metallic cyan hair, confidently remarked.
Roseluck looked unsure, but sat back down regardless. “I guess I’m just being a little jumpy, Thunderlane.”
Roseluck? Thunderlane? Twilight recognized both names, having seen them hanging around Canterlot High, as well as having interacted with their Equestrian counterparts back in Ponyville. Peering closer, Twilight noticed something sticking out of Thunderlane’s pocket, the sun reflecting off its metal casing.
A phone! The pocket-sized device was one of the few pieces of technology that Twilight had been able to gain a basic understanding of, having used one briefly to stay in contact with her friends. The wonders of such a device aside, it was exactly the thing she needed right now to finally get herself out of this mess. If I can get my hooves on that, I can use it to call the girls and let them know where I am.
Hoping to levitate it towards her, Twilight tried to channel a bead of magic into her horn, only to give herself a splitting headache for her troubles. Right then, no magic, she thought as she rubbed her throbbing temples. Guess that means I’ll have to do this the hard way.
Crouching low to the ground, Twilight crawled out from beneath the bush and slowly inched her way towards the pair of high-schoolers, keeping a close eye on her surroundings to make sure no one spotted her. Creeping up behind the bench, glancing up at the phone sticking out of Thunderlane’s pocket.
Not wanting to flap her wings lest she give herself away, Twilight braced her front hooves against the bench and pushed herself up onto the toes of her back hooves. Leaning forward, she stuck her muzzle through the gap in the back of the bench and gently bit down on the edge of the phone. Gripping the phone in her teeth, Twilight slowly pulled her head back, smoothly sliding the phone out.
Twilight froze, her eyes widening as she looked up at Thunderlane, expecting to find him staring down at her.
To her relief, however, he wasn’t even looking at her, instead pointing at something across the park. “Roseluck, look at that!” he said, elbowing Roseluck in the side to get her attention.
Taking advantage of the momentary distraction, Twilight yanked the phone out of Thunderlane’s pocket, clutching it in her mouth as she dropped back down and raced back towards the bush. Diving back into the foliage, she spat the phone out and tightly clutched it to her chest, taking deep panting breaths.
“That was more nerve wracking than it should have been,” she whispered, now more mindful of keeping her voice down. “Now let’s see…” Setting the phone on the ground, she tapped on the screen with the toe of her hoof, bathing her face in a blue light as it came on. Hovering her hoof over the sea of icons on display, Twilight’s muzzle scrunched up as she tried to recall how to operate the device.
“I think it was this one,” she said as she tapped on an icon with the image of a human silhouette, bringing up a list of names and contact info. “Now I just have to find their names…” Scrolling through the list, Twilight scanned for any of her friends’ names.
Her breathing quickened slightly when she reached the end of the list without having spotted a single one of their names. Scrolling to the top again, she ran through the list once more, hoping that a familiar name would leap out at her.
And then she did it again, her hoof trembling as she frantically searched through the list name by name. “There has to be someone here I can—”
Her hoof froze, her eyes widening as she finally came upon a name she recognized.
A smile spread across Twilight’s face. Flash will be able to help me, I just know it! Pressing the button, his contact information popped up, alongside an icon shaped like a receiver that read “Call?” Tapping the icon, the image shifted to a white screen, the words “Calling Flash Sentry…” displayed in the centre of the screen as the sound of a dial tone rang out once, then twice.
On the third ring, a brief static hiss came from the phone before a familiar voice came through. “Yo, Lane, what’s up?”
Twilight froze at the sound of Flash’s voice, her throat suddenly drying up as she tried to form words. “Uh… um…”
“Hello?” Flash replied, sounding noticeably impatient. “Thunderlane, you there? I swear, if this is another butt-dial—”
“F-Flash?” Twilight finally squeaked out, holding her mouth over the speaker.
There was a lengthy moment of silence on Flash’s end before he finally answered, “Who… who is this?”
“Tw-Twilight?!” Flash exclaimed, the utter disbelief in his voice coming through loud and clear. “How… what… why do you have Thunderlane’s phone?”
“I… I kind of stole it from him when he wasn’t looking,” Twilight sheepishly replied. “But I had a good reason too, I swear!”
“Is… is everything okay, Twilight? You sound nervous.” Twilight swore she heard him growl through the phone. “Did Thunderlane hurt—”
“No! No, no, no! He didn’t even know I was there! I promise!”
“Oh… that’s good. Still, is something wrong? Do you need my help?”
“It’s…” Twilight bit her lip, her wings rustling against her side, “…kind of hard to explain. All I can say is I really need to get in contact with my friends. Do you think you could call them for me? I couldn’t find their names in Thunderlane’s phone when I looked.”
Flash loudly sighed. “Wish I could, but I don’t have any of their numbers either. Sorry, Twilight.”
Twilight sagged in defeat, sighing at having hit yet another dead-end. “No, it’s alright. Thanks anyway—”
A booming crack of thunder split the air, making Twilight glance up to peer through the foliage. The storm clouds from yesterday had returned in full force, a wall of grey blocking out the previously clear skies. “Oh no…”
“What was that?” Flash asked with worry in his voice. “Was that thunder? Where are you right now, Twilight?”
“I… I don’t know…” Twilight reluctantly admitted, using her wings to shield herself as a torrent of rain poured onto her head. “I’m in a park, but…”
“Which park?” He desperately asked, his voice straining with concern. “Just tell me where you are and I’ll come get you.”
Twilight bit her lip, debating with herself if she should tell him or not. If she did, then not only could he potentially get her out of the rain, but he would be able to bring her to her friends. And yet… she had never told him that she was really a pony, so she had no idea how he would react.
Another crack of thunder made up her mind for her. “Flash… I need you to promise me something first.”
“Promise… promise me you won’t freak out when you see me, please? I might look a bit… different than the last time I saw you.”
There was a brief pause on Flash’s end. “Alright, I promise.”
Twilight could hear the sincerity in his voice, putting her slightly at ease. “Alright, give me a minute.” Scooping up the phone, Twilight tucked it under her wing as she checked to make sure the coast was clear. Seeing the park deserted, Twilight leapt out from her shelter, shooting across the park as she looked around for something she could use to pinpoint her location.
Spotting a sign on the edge of the park, she raced over to it, skidding to a stop against the wet grass. Written across the sign in large white font were the words, “Meadowgrace Park.”
Memorizing the sign, Twilight quickly ran back, ducking under the bench in the hopes that it would provide her with better shelter than the bush. “Flash?” Twilight asked as she raised the phone to her ear and spoke into the receiver. “You still there?”
“Still here, Twilight. You find something?”
“I found a sign that says “Meadowgrace Park.”
“Meadowgrace? That’s only about fifteen minutes from my house. Hang tight, Twilight, I’ll be there soon.”
Further rumbles of thunder made Twilight hug the phone tightly as she whispered, “Please hurry…”
“Almost there,” Flash muttered as he jogged through another puddle, the rain pounding against his umbrella. As soon as he had hung up the phone, he had torn through his house like a hurricane, quickly stuffing some supplies from a first-aid kit and a spare raincoat into his bag before donning his own raincoat and racing out into the storm. It had only gotten worse since then, coming down in a never-ending torrent of rain.
Finally, Flash spotted Meadowgrace Park in the distance, running as fast as his legs would take him. The wet grass squished beneath the soles of his shoes as he looked around for any sign of Twilight.
“Twilight!” He called out, trying to be heard over the roar of the rain. “Twilight, where are you?”
His phone buzzed in his pocket. Pulling it out, he saw Thunderlane’s name pop up on screen and quickly answered. “Hello?”
“Flash?” Came Twilight’s nervous voice from the other end. “Is that you?”
“Yeah, I’m at Meadowgrace Park, but I don’t see you. Where are you?”
There was a moment of uncertain silence on Twilight’s end before she replied, “You… you promised not to freak out, right?”
“Twilight!” Flash practically screamed into his phone. “No matter what it is, I don’t care right now how you look. All I care about is getting you out of this rain and somewhere safe. So please, Twilight, just tell me where you are…”
Twilight was silent again, before sighing. “Alright. I’m hiding by the bench. You should be able to see it from there.”
Glancing around, he quickly spotted the bench in question. “I see it,” he said into his phone as he ran over, stopping in front of the bench. “But I still don’t see you.”
“I’m right here.”
Flash glanced down in time see something crawl out from beneath the bench. He could only stare in disbelief at the creature standing a foot away, staring back at him with big, violet eyes.
It looks like some kind of horse… he thought, before correcting himself. No, too small to be a horse. Pony maybe? But I didn’t know ponies could get this small— are those wings?! And a horn? Although, its mane kinda makes it look like… No… no, it can’t be! … Can it?
With a sigh, Twilight nodded her head. “Hello, Flash.”
Over the last few months, Flash had needed to radically rethink what he thought he knew about the world, having borne witness to powerful magic during the Fall Formal and the Battle of the Bands. Not the typical smoke and mirrors performed by stage magicians, but real magic, like the kind spoken of in fairy tales.
If that wasn’t enough, he had not only also learned that his ex-girlfriend was a runaway from another world, but that the cute new girl in school was from there as well! And a princess, no less!
Following this discovery, however, a voice of reason in the back of his mind liked to remind him that there was a good chance that Twilight wasn’t human. He had been able to ignore it so far since, despite her quirks, she still looked human in every way.
Besides, the way she liked to write with her mouth was admittedly adorable in its own way.
Now, however, Flash was being harshly reminded of that fact as he stood out in the rain in the middle of Meadowgrace Park, staring wide-eyed at the cat-sized pony that had crawled out from under the bench.
In that moment, Flash felt the world drop out from under him, his umbrella slipping from his grasp onto the wet grass as the roar of the rain faded into the background. His mouth hung open in disbelief as his brain tried to connect the image in his mind of the Twilight he knew with the pony standing in front of him. It couldn’t be true! This couldn’t be Twilight! It just didn’t—
Promise… promise me you won’t freak out when you see me, please?
That’s right… He thought, his surprise giving way to guilt. I did promise her I wouldn’t freak out… Taking a deep breath to steady his nerves, Flash pushed down his doubts as deep as he could, clenching his fists tightly as he focused only on what was truly important right now.
In an instant, the almost deafening roar of the rain filled his ears once more.
His eyes flittered across Twilight as he took in her diminutive form. There was no denying now how much she still looked like the Twilight he knew, from her purple mane with the magenta stripe to her deep violet eyes that he had first fallen in love with. Her fur and feathers were even the same shade as her skin, which were visible in places through the tattered remains of the outfit she was wearing. She was still staring up him expectantly, waiting for him to respond.
“Twilight…” Flash finally said, “what… what happened to you?”
Twilight shuffled her hooves awkwardly, rubbing her right foreleg. “Uh… well… you see…” she muttered, her ears drooping as she looked away. “It’s… it’s kind of… kind of a long story…”
“I’ll bet,” Flash remarked dryly, crouching down until he was almost eye level with her. Picking his umbrella back up, he held it over the sopping wet Twilight to shield her from the rain. “You look like you’ve gone through the wringer.”
“I guess that’s one way of putting it…” she remarked with a chuckle.
Carefully slipping his backpack from his shoulders, Flash rummaged around inside for a moment before pulling out a yellow raincoat. “I was worried if this would fit you or not. Guess I was worried for nothing, huh?” He chuckled as well as he draped the raincoat over her, nearly covering her completely. “How’s that?”
Twilight wiggled inside the massive raincoat, eventually poking her head out from beneath the hood. “Thanks.”
“No problem,” Flash replied, rubbing the back of his neck awkwardly.
Another crash of thunder and a burst of lightning crackled above their heads, prompting Flash to look up at the wall of storm cloud blanketing the sky.
“Probably be a good idea if we got you out of this rain and somewhere dry, huh?” Flash reached his arm out towards Twilight, but pulled back suddenly. “Uh…”
“What’s wrong?” Twilight asked, the hood of the raincoat slipping over her eyes as she tilted her head.
God, she’s as cute as ever… Focus, Flash! Focus! Clearing his throat, Flash pulled the hood up from Twilight’s eyes. “Well… it’s just… do you mind if… if I carry you to my place?”
“W-what?” Twilight turned her head away so Flash wouldn’t see her blushing.
“I mean…” Flash stuttered, blushing just as much as Twilight was. “It’s the closest place I know of… and… and I didn’t really plan for this kind of thing, and—”
“… Huh?” Thinking he might have misheard her, he tentatively asked, “Are… are you sure?”
Twilight nodded. “I mean, it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve needed to be carried somewhere over the last few days,” she muttered, though the barb of irritation in her voice made Flash wonder if she was being serious or not.
“Al-alright, if you’re sure…” Setting his umbrella aside for the moment, he gently scooped Twilight up in his arms, nestling her carefully into the crook of his arm. “How’s that?”
Twisting herself in Flash’s arms, Twilight almost purred as she wiggled into a more comfortable position. “Much better.”
Figures that my car decides to break down right before it would have come in handy. Picking his umbrella back up from off the ground with his other hand, Flash held onto Twilight as he turned and raced back in the opposite direction. His sneakers splashed through the puddles on the sidewalk as he hurried for home.
All the way, Flash couldn’t help himself from chancing brief glances at the cat-sized pony currently snuggling up against his chest.
Just when I thought things couldn’t possibly get any weirder…
“Eeek!” Twilight shrieked as a torrent of water washed over her head. “Flash!”
“Sorry!” Flash replied as he ran a brush through her wet mane. “I did tell you to close your eyes, didn’t I?”
“Could have given me a little more warning…” Twilight grumbled as she sunk into the shallow bathwater.
Upon arriving at Flash’s place, the first order of business had been to give Twilight a bath. Her journey through the streets of Canterlot had left her with a layer of dust and grime clinging to her fur and mane, despite her costume and the frequent rainfall over the last few days.
Undressing Twilight had been an… awkward experience, for Flash mostly. Twilight had just been happy to finally be free of the cat costume once and for all. Not that the costume could offer her much protection anyway, now little more than a ragged lump of dishevelled fabric.
As Flash gently worked soap into Twilight’s fur, he couldn’t completely shake how utterly surreal this entire situation was. The theme song to that old “Zone” show played on loop through his head as he worked, trying not to think too hard about the weirdness of it all, lest he need to start seeing a therapist. “Alright, Twilight, one more rinse and you should be all clean. Ready this time?”
“Ready!” Twilight said, clamping her eyes shut. Despite her best efforts, she couldn’t completely keep herself from squealing as the flow of water cascaded down her head.
“There, that should do it.” Pulling the stopper from the drain, Flash reached down and scooped up Twilight before setting her down on the bathroom floor. Before he could even think about reaching for a towel, Twilight vigorously shook herself dry like a dog, spraying water all over the bathroom and Flash. “Hey!” Flash cried out, throwing up his arms to try and protect himself. “Twilight, really?!”
“Ah…” Twilight sighed, unfurling her wings and giving them a quick shake as well. “Feels like forever since I’ve been this clean. A bath was just what I needed.”
“I’m happy for you…” Flash remarked as he dried himself off with a towel. Once he was done, he knelt down and gently began drying Twilight’s mane. As he worked the towel through her mane, he noticed she started making a strange noise, almost like…
“Are you purring?” Flash asked with a smirk on his face.
“No!” Twilight replied, perhaps a bit too hastily as her face broke out into a blush. “You’re imagining things!”
“Really?” Flash snickered, not wanting to miss this perfect opportunity to tease her. “Cause it sounds to me like a certain little pony is enjoying this.”
Twilight was saved any further torment as the sound of the front door opening and closing reach their ears, followed by a voice calling out, “Flash? Are you home?”
“Crap, it’s my mom!” Leaping to his feet, Flash bolted for the door and quickly hollered, “Just a minute!” before glancing back at Twilight. “Follow me, my room’s just down the hall.”
Once they tip-toed down the hall, Flash pushed the door to his room open to allow Twilight to step inside.
Glancing around the room, she couldn’t help but notice how similar it looked to Shining’s room when he was in high school. Several band posters were hung against the walls around his unmade bed while his guitar rested in its stand in the back corner next to a speaker as big as she was. Discarded laundry littered the floor and a stand with a sizable flatscreen television on it sat at the back of the room, hooked up to a myriad of electronics that Twilight couldn’t even begin to understand, while a desk with a laptop on top had been placed opposite it. Torrential rain continued pouring down the window on the far wall.
“Sorry…” Flash said as he looked at the sorry state of his room. “I know it’s a mess, but I wasn’t exactly expecting visitors.”
Carefully stepping around a foul-smelling sports shirt, Twilight stared up at one of the posters, depicting a grisly image of a goat’s skull with a mane of fire and what she could only assume was blood pouring from its eyes and mouth. A horde of skeletons happily danced within the flames. She grimaced at the macabre imagery. “It’s… nice?”
“I’ll be back in a minute, just sit tight until I get back.” Flash said.
Before Twilight could reply, Flash had already shut the door behind him. Sighing, Twilight glanced around the room once more, her eyes falling on a backpack lying in a heap against the desk. Trotting over to it, Twilight poked her head inside.
Meanwhile, Flash ran downstairs to find his mother waiting for him in the kitchen. She was dressed in a finely tailored suit, giving off the aura of a highly-professional woman. Her skin was a darkened shade of violet while her hair was an icy blue, braided past her shoulders. She looked up as he entered, placing her freshly cleaned glasses back over her blue eyes. “Ah, there you are. I was wondering if you made it home all right, especially with all this rain.”
“I’m fine, Mom,” Flash said with a roll of his eyes. Walking past his mother into the kitchen, he began to rummage around in the pantry. “Is Dad working late again?” he asked over his shoulder.
“He said he would be home for dinner, but you know how demanding your father’s job can be,” Flash’s mother replied. She crossed her arms over her chest as she looked to her son. “I hope you weren’t planning on spoiling your dinner with junk food again.”
“I’m just grabbing something to snack on,” he replied as he pulled out a bag of party mix from the pantry. “I’ve got a ton of homework I need to get back to upstairs.”
His mother raised an eyebrow suspiciously. “Homework, huh?” Walking over, she placed a hand against Flash’s forehead. “Hmm… You don’t appear to be running a fever…”
“Mom!” Flash ignored his mother’s laughter as he grabbed a bottle of water from the fridge and raced back upstairs. Pushing the door to his room open, he slinked inside before nudging it closed with his foot.
“Sorry about that, Twilight. I figured you didn’t want to try explaining to my mom—” Flash paused as he noticed Twilight sitting at the foot of his bed, idly flipping through the pages of a book resting at her hooves. “Er… Twilight?”
She didn’t respond, lost in her own little world as she absorbed the words before her.
Giving his head a quick shake, he headed over to his stereo and set it to shuffle, tweaking the volume enough that it would hopefully mask the sounds of him and Twilight from his mother. With a cheeky grin, he hit play, filling his room with loud music.
“Eek!” Twilight leapt a foot in air as her ears were assaulted by punk rock, flopping down onto her belly atop Flash’s bed. Shaking the ringing from her ears, Twilight finally noticed Flash’s presence. “Oh, Flash! I… I hope you don’t mind, but I started reading this book I pulled out of your bag. It’s pretty interesting.”
“Is it?” Flash said as set the food onto his bed. “I haven’t touched it since I borrowed it from the library. I’m supposed to write a report on it for English class. Think you could write it for me?”
Twilight narrowed her eyes. “Flash…”
He threw his hands up in defense. “I’m kidding, I’m kidding!” Ripping open the bag of party mix, he set the bag next to Twilight. “Thought you might be hungry, so I grabbed a few snacks for you.”
Just barely resisting the urge to stuff her head into the bag and chow down to her heart’s content, Twilight inched her way towards it. Luckily she had started recovering the use of her magic, so she levitated a handful of pretzels, sunchips and cheese sticks towards her muzzle.
Flash’s eyes followed the ball of floating snacks as Twilight ate, his eyes glancing up at the violet glow radiating from her horn. Wheeling his swivel chair over from his desk and turning it towards his bed, he sat down with a sigh as he leaned back and stared up at the ceiling.
Several slow minutes passed before Flash finally spoke. “So… you’re a unicorn, huh?”
Twilight paused, swallowing another mouthful of snacks. “Uh… alicorn, actually.”
“What’s the difference?”
Twilight blinked, extending her wings and flapping them briefly.
“Yeah…” Twilight sighed and turned her head to stare at the wall. “I’ve been meaning to tell you the truth eventually, but… but I could never find the right time to bring it up. Sorry…”
How exactly does one bring up something like this? Flash thought, keeping his mouth shut or else he might say something stupid. Resting his hands in his lap, Flash twiddled his thumbs as he tried to organize his thoughts. “It’s not your fault. I mean, I know you came from another world and all, so I guess I sort of assumed, but… I mean, you always looked human to me, so I guess… I guess I just chose to ignore it.”
“That’s because the portal I use to travel to this world has a built in system that transforms anyone passing through it into a more proper form to avoid causing a disturbance,” Twilight explained, looking back at Flash. “Except this time the portal sort of… broke on the other side while I was traveling through.”
“Broke? You’re not… stuck here now, are you?” Flash asked worriedly.
“Not permanently, fortunately,” Twilight said. “I just have to wait for Spike to fix the portal back home.”
“Spike?” Flash raised an eyebrow. “Isn’t he your dog?”
“In this world, maybe,” Twilight said with a cheeky grin. “Though he still thinks I haven’t yet noticed him sneaking dog treats in-between meals.”
“…Right…” Flash remarked, adding yet another question to the long list forming in his mind. Speaking of which… “You said the thing that changes you into a human stopped working, right? So I guess this is how you usually look then?”
“Yes and no. This is how I normally look, but I’m nowhere near this small back home.”
“Does that mean the people over there are all horses to—”
“… Ponies. Okay, so is everyone a pony in your world then?”
Twilight nodded. “While there are other races besides ponies, a large part of the population does consist of ponies.”
Just as Flash was about to ask more about these “other races”, a thought suddenly popped into his head that made him pause. “Is… is Sunset a pony too?”
Flash took a second to try and imagine Sunset as a pony. It took all of two seconds for him to start howling with laughter at the mental image, barely restraining himself from falling out of his chair. He couldn’t help but picture Sunset trying to act all tough and proud but only succeeding in angrily pouting, which only made him laugh even harder. Oh, if only I had known that while—
In a blink, Flash stopped laughing. Staring off into space for moment, Flash slumped back in his chair with a loud groan as he slapped his hand against his forehead. “Oh, I’m an idiot!”
“Wha… what?” Twilight asked, confusion written clear across her face. “What is it?”
Flash leapt up and ran over to his desk, yanking his phone from its charger. “I know I said I didn’t have any of your friend’s numbers,” He said as he frantically scrolled through his phone, “but I might still have— Aha! Bingo!” Grinning, he ran over to Twilight and held his phone up for her to see. Highlighted across the screen was a single name:
Twilight blink to make sure she wasn’t seeing things. “You… you have Sunset’s number?”
“Yep!” Flash replied excitedly. “I completely forgot that she gave me her number back when we—” Flash paused, some of the mirth draining from his face as he sighed wistfully. “… When we were dating. I guess I never got around to deleting it.”
“That’s perfect!” Twilight exclaimed, leaping to her hooves and bouncing up and down atop Flash’s bed with unrestrained excitement. “You can let everyone know I’m okay! Call it, call it, call it!”
“Geeze, Twilight, hold your… er… actually, nevermind.” Selecting Sunset’s name, Flash held the phone to his ear as it dialed Sunset’s number. He tapped his foot impatiently as he waited for the call to connect.
On the third ring, the call finally connected. “Hello, this is Sunset Shimmer…”
“Sunset, it’s Flash, I—”
“…. I can’t come to the phone right now, but feel free to— Pinkie! Quit it! ... As I was saying…”
Flash sighed as he realized he was hearing Sunset’s voicemail message. “Great, just great… “
Twilight stopped bouncing when she saw the disappointed look cross Flash’s face. “What’s wrong?”
“Sunset’s not answering her phone. She might have it turned off. Still, I’ll leave her a message telling her you’re okay at least.”
“…so just leave a quick message and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can. Promise!”
At the sound of the beep, Flash said, “Sunset, this is Flash. I’ve found Twilight and she’s safe. Call me as soon as you get this message, bye.” Ending the call, Flash also sent her a text saying the same thing before returning his phone to its charger. “There. All we can do now is wait from her to call back.”
Twilight slumped back onto Flash’s bed. “I hope my friends are alright…” she muttered, watching the rain through Flash’s window.
Walking over, Flash sat down next to her. “Cheer up, Twilight,” he said reassuringly as he gently ran a hand through her mane. “You’ll see them again in no time! I bet you that portal thing’s fixed already and you’ll be able to go home first thing tomorrow!”
Flash’s optimism was contagious, as Twilight felt a smile start to form across her face. “You’re right. I just have to be patient. In the meantime…” Twilight glanced up at Flash, wagging her tail as she asked, “You said something about homework?”
Sunset stared at her reflection in the window, blurry as it was from the cascade of rain still pouring outside. Pressing her hand against the window, Sunset sighed as she leaned forward to rest her forehead against the cool glass. Hours of searching, and still nothing. Twilight, where could you be?
Sunset flinched at the sound of her own name, glancing over her shoulder to find Rarity staring back at her with a worried frown. “Oh, sorry, Rarity. Do you need something?”
Rarity’s frown only deepened. “No, I was just coming over to check that you were alright. You’ve barely said a word since you arrived.”
There’s nothing I really can say after showing up empty-handed, Sunset thought, biting her lip to keep from saying anything that might upset Rarity. “I’m… I’m just worried, is all.”
“We all are, darling, but sequestering yourself away from your friends isn’t healthy.” Stepping back, Rarity gestured behind her. “Come, the girls and I are all working on a plan, and we could really use your input.”
Sunset gave a tired shrug of her shoulders. “Sure…” she said as she followed Rarity into the dining room.
They had convened at Pinkie’s house this time around, with everyone gathering in the dining room. A map of the city was sprawled out across the table, circles drawn in marker showing potential areas to search.
“Alright,” Applejack said, tapping the marker in her hand against the table. “So we know Sunset already checked out the library, the Sweet Shoppe, along with the obvious places Twilight might go, and each one turned up empty.”
“Ooh!” Pinkie yanked the marker from Applejack’s grip as she hovered over a spot on the map. “We could check—”
“I checked there already, Pinkie,” Sunset told her as she and Rarity entered the dining room.
“Oh…” Pinkie slumped back into her chair, her hair seemingly losing some its usual lustre.
Taking the marker from Pinkie, Sunset stood hunched over the map. “I also checked here, here, and here…” Marking off one area after another, it wasn’t long before at least a third of the map was dotted with red X’s, with only a small number of circled areas remaining.
“Well, shoot,” Applejack remarked as she looked over the map. “That don’t leave us much more to go on, lest we plan to cover the entire dang city.”
“Sorry…” Sunset said as she set the marker down on the table. “I wish there was more I could have done…”
“You could answer your phone once in awhile!” Rainbow Dash angrily remarked, glaring at Sunset. “If we didn’t send Pinkie out to hunt you down, who knows where you’d be?”
Sunset met Rainbow’s glare with her own. “I’d still be out looking for Twilight probably! And I would, if you weren’t texting me every five minutes!”
“Can you blame me?” Rainbow Dash countered, getting right up in Sunset’s face. “We didn’t hear a word from you all day! You promised you’d let us know when you found her.”
“Uh… girls?” Fluttershy squeaked out.
“Key word being when I found her. Don’t know if you’ve noticed, but we’re still short one pony princess!” Fire burned in Sunset’s eyes to counter the sparks flying behind Dash’s. “If you think you could do better, why weren’t you out there looking with me then?!”
“You were the one who said you could search for her without attracting attention!” Rainbow was very close to shouting by this point. “Judging by what Rarity told us, that worked out just swimmingly! Got any more bright ideas, oh fearless leader?”
“Why you…!” Clenching her hand into a fist, Sunset swung at Rainbow. Ducking under Sunset’s punch, Rainbow rammed her shoulder into Sunset’s chest and shoved her up against the wall.
Everything happened so fast that the others were left stunned as to how to react.
Grunting as her back slammed against the wall, Sunset instinctively kneed Dash in the gut, knocking the wind out of her and causing her to stumble back several steps. As Rainbow gasped for breath, Sunset stepped away from the wall, fists raised as she readied to throw another punch. Recovering quickly, Rainbow responded by raising her fists in turn, the two just raring to go another round.
“Girls! Enough!” Leaping in-between them, Fluttershy shoved the two apart before they could come to further blows. Grabbing them both by the arms, Fluttershy dragged them off into the living room. Forcibly shoving them onto opposite ends of the couch, she stood over them with an intense look of disappointment etched across her face that filled Sunset and Rainbow with a terrifying unease.
“We’re all tired and worried about Twilight, I get it!” Fluttershy said, “But resorting to violence is not helping us get her back!”
“She started it!” Rainbow Dash and Sunset both shouted at once, pointing an accusing finger at the other.
“And I’m ending it! Apologize to each other,” Fluttershy commanded, a steely edge to her voice. “Now.”
Taken aback, Sunset and Rainbow slowly turned to look at one another. An awkward silence hung in the air for several moments with nary a word spoken. The others hung back in the doorway, silently watching events unfold.
“… Sorry, Sunset,” Rainbow Dash eventually grumbled, awkwardly fiddling with the hem of her skirt.
“Yeah… I’m sorry too,” Sunset replied in turn, hanging her head with a sigh. She looked up as Dash extended her hand out to her, a hopeful smile on the rainbow-haired girl’s face. Smiling as well, Sunset grabbed Rainbow’s hand and gave it a firm shake.
“There, was that so hard?” Fluttershy sighed, flopping down on the couch between them before looping her arm around them to draw the pair into a hug. “Friends shouldn’t fight like that!”
“Fluttershy…” Rainbow wheezed, her face starting to turn purple. “Need… air…”
“Oh! Sorry!” Releasing the two from her grip, Fluttershy leapt to her feet and happily clapped her hands together as a smile spread across her lips. “I know! I’ll go make us some snacks!” With an uncharacteristic spring in her step, Fluttershy skipped off towards the kitchen.
“I’ll help!” Pinkie Pie announced, racing off in a pink blur after Fluttershy.
“She’s… oddly perky,” Sunset remarked once she was sure Fluttershy was out of earshot.
“Take it from me,” Rainbow said with a gasp as she finished catching her breath, “That’s just ‘Shy’s way of keeping her mind off things. I’d wager she’s more worried than the rest of us combined.”
“Reckon we’re all tired and hungry somethin’ fierce, so a short break seems like a good plan,” Applejack said, turning her head to meet Sunset’s eyes. “I’d say that goes double for y’all, Sunset.”
Sunset opened her mouth to argue, only to be betrayed by a growl from her stomach. Her cheeks blushed as looked away and grumbled, “Shut up…”
“I ain’t said anythin’,” Applejack said with a grin better befitting a fox in a henhouse.
“You were thinking it, I just know it.” With nothing else she could say in return, Sunset figured now was as good a time as any to check her phone, if only to clear it of the slew of messages that had no doubt gathered since she had set it to silent.
Pulling her phone from her pocket, Sunset scrolled through the notifications. There were at least a dozen texts from Dash, a few from Rarity and the others as well; two missed calls from unknown numbers, as well as a missed call from— “Huh, that’s weird…”
“What is, dear?” Rarity asked, leaning her hands against the couch armrest as she peered over to catch a peek at Sunset’s phone.
“I got a call from Flash. I didn’t even think he had still my number, not after…” Sunset winced, recalling the cruel and inevitable end to her and Flash’s relationship.
“Hmm, that is peculiar,” Rarity said. “Perhaps he wishes to put your past history aside and start anew?”
“Maybe. Oh, hang on, he sent a text too. It says—” Sunset froze as she read the text, letting out a rasping gasp as her eyes widened in disbelief.
“Sunset?” Rarity asked, concerned by Sunset’s inexplicably startled reaction. “What is it? What does it say—”
Shooting to her feet, Sunset practically smashed the redial button and pressed the phone up to her ear. “Come on, pick up, pick up, pick up!”
Everyone was staring at Sunset now as she paced back and forth. Even Pinkie and Fluttershy had poked their heads out from the kitchen to see what was going on.
“What in tarnation has got yer—” Applejack began, but was swiftly cut off.
“Ssshhh!” Sunset felt her heart leap into her throat as a hiss of static filled her ear, followed seconds later by Flash’s voice.
“Flash!” Sunset practically shouted into her phone. “You found her!? Is she alright? She’s not hurt is she? Please tell me she’s—”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa! Slow down, Sunset!” Flash interjected, barely able to even get a word in edgewise. Only when Sunset took a second to breathe was he finally able to reply, “If this is about Twilight, then she’s fine. She’s sitting right next to me at the moment.”
Her throat felt like sandpaper as Sunset croaked out, “Let me talk to her.”
“One sec…” The seconds ticked by like hours as the sound of hushed voices could be heard through the line. Sunset could just make out Flash saying, “Just speak into it and she’ll hear you…” before a second voice came over the line. “Hello? Sunset?”
In that instant, the oppressive weight that had been resting on Sunset’s shoulders vanished. Despite how fatigued she felt, Sunset couldn’t help but laugh, her legs going slack as she flopped back against the couch. “You have no idea how good it is to hear your voice again…”
“Same. Hey, is Rarity okay? Those guys didn’t hurt her, did they?”
“Why don’t you ask her yourself?” Standing up, Sunset placed her phone face-up on the table in the middle of the room. After pressing a few buttons on her phone, she replied, “Okay, you’re on speaker-phone. Go ahead.”
“Hi, girls!” Twilight yelled through the phone, prompting a deafening rush of voices as everyone spoke at once. “One at a time!”
Racing out of the kitchen, Pinkie scooped up the phone. “Twilight! Is it really you? You’re not some kind of evil shape-shifting cheese-legs, are you?”
There was a moment’s pause on Twilight’s end. “No, Pinkie, it’s really me. I promise.”
Pinkie beamed. “Goody goody gumdrops!”
Chuckling, Applejack plucked the phone from Pinkie’s hands and set it back on the table. “Real great hearin’ yer voice again, Twi. Good thing too, seein’ as we don’t have to scour the city no more lookin’ for ya. Where you at, anyway?”
“Flash’s house. I managed to get in contact with him and he brought me here.”
“Flash’s huh? Y’all listenin’, Flash? We can’t thank ya enough for lookin’ after Twilight for us.”
“Oh, it was nothing,” Came Flash’s reply. “I couldn’t just leave her out in the rain, now could I?”
“Hey…” Twilight said, “Is Rarity there?”
“I’m right here, darling,” Rarity said, leaning down to speak directly into the receiver. “And I simply cannot apologize enough for letting those ruffians take off with you like that! I hope you can forgive me for being such a terrible host!”
“No, no! You don’t have to apologize!” Twilight answered, before worriedly asking, “They didn’t hurt you, did they?”
“A few minor bruises, nothing you need worry about. If anything…” Rarity said with a grin, “I’d say you showed those three what for! They’ll think twice before making off with a lady’s bag again, that’s for sure.”
Twilight chuckled. “Yeah... I don’t think they enjoyed my stun spell very much.”
“We’re just glad you’re safe,” Fluttershy said. “We were so worried something might have happened to you!”
“Sorry for making you worry. I’m fine, really!” Twilight confidently reassured them. “All you have to do is come get me, and then we’ll—”
“That might be a bit of a problem, “ Flash interjected. “Don’t know if anyone’s looked outside lately?”
“Hmm? Strolling over to the blinds, Pinkie Pie pulled them back to see sheets of heavy rain still pouring outside. “Oh…”
“Finally noticed, huh? I wouldn’t feel right making any of you have to drive through this. Tell you what,” Flash suggested, “I’ll look after her for the night and we can all meet up before school tomorrow by the Wondercolt statue. Sound like a plan?”
Silence fell over the room as everyone mulled over the idea.
“I don’t see a problem with it.” Rainbow replied.
“Neither do I,” Sunset said, the others echoing this opinion. “What do you think, Twilight? Up for spending the night at Flash’s?”
“Sure, not that I have much of a choice really until Spike finishes fixing the portal. Guess I’ll see everyone at school tomorrow, then?”
“Yep,” Sunset replied, snickering as she added, “Just promise me there won’t be any shenanigans between you and Flash before then, okay?”
“Wait, wh—” Twilight was cut off as Sunset ended the call. Glancing up, Sunset glanced across the room at her friends, each one of them staring wide-eyed at her as the beginning of a smile tugged at the edges of their mouth. No one said a word for several seconds.
In perfect unison, everyone in the room burst out laughing. Rarity braced herself against the couch as she nearly cried from laughter. Pinkie Pie and Rainbow were both rolling on the floor, howling like a pair of hyenas. If she hadn’t been sitting on the couch, Sunset might have joined the two on the floor. Applejack remained on her feet, but just barely as she clutched her gut from laughing so hard. Even Fluttershy couldn’t help but join in, her demure laugh like a melody of wind chimes.
“Hey!” Someone shouted from upstairs, banging against the ceiling. “Shut up down there!”
“So—Sorry, Limey!” Pinkie Pie yelled back, gasping for breath. Eventually, everyone’s laughter began to wind down to little more than occasional chuckles.
“My word, Sunset,” Rarity wiped a tear from her eye as she worked to collect herself. “That was simply awful!”
“You were all thinking it!” Sunset countered, “Don’t lie!”
Applejack removed her Stetson as she wiped the sweat from her brow. “We certainly lucked out, didn’t we? If’n there’s anyone who’ll take better care of Twi than any of us, it’d have to be Flash.”
“No kidding!” Rainbow finally picked herself up off the floor and plopped down onto the couch with a smirk. “I bet the two of them are making ‘goo-goo eyes’ at each other right now!”
“Wait, what!? Sunset? Sunset!” Twilight grabbed the phone and shook it violently as she hollered into the speaker. “Answer me!”
“Twilight!” Grabbing the phone from the panicking pony, Flash held it just out of her reach. “I doubt she’s going to answer, but if you don’t quiet down my mom might wonder what all the commotion is about!”
“But… but I need to know what she meant by that!” Twilight pleaded as she leapt for the phone, only for Flash to once more yank it away.
Walking over to his desk and setting his phone back in its charger, he turned around and leaned against his desk with his arms crossed. “She was just getting under your skin. Take it from me, Sunset can have a very dirty mind when she wants to.”
Twilight grumbled as she flopped over onto Flash’s bed. “I guess you’re right…”
“Besides, I would never try something like that, even if…” Flash trailed off awkwardly, prompting Twilight to glance up at him.
“Even if what?”
“Uh…” Flash stuttered, rubbing the back of his neck awkwardly. “Well, it’s just… you know… the… the…”
For the second time that night, the awkwardness was dispelled by the sound of the front door opening. “That must be my dad!” Flash quickly said as he made a made dash for the door. “I better go see if he needs my help with anything!”
“But…!” The word had barely left her mouth before Flash slammed the door behind him. With a huff, she crawled back over to the book still lying open on Flash’s bed. “Now, where was I...?”
From downstairs, Twilight could just make out the sound of Flash’s mother as she greeted her husband. “Good to see you, honey. How was work?”
The man grumbled. “Busy, same as always.”
Twilight’s head shot up from her book, her ears raised in disbelief. “That… that voice! It… it can’t be…” Straining her ears to listen in, Twilight caught more bits of conversation between Flash’s parents, her suspicions growing and growing with each word. There’s no mistaking it…
Minutes later, Flash walked through the door, carefully shutting it behind him. “Mom says dinner should be ready soon, so is there anything you’d like me to sneak up for you—”
“Uh… Flash?” Twilight asked, nervously shuffling her hooves. “You don’t happen to have a photo of your parents, do you?”
Flash blinked at the strange question. “Y…yeah, I think I have a few on my computer. Why?”
“Just… just curious is all, “She replied, her ears lowered against her head. “Do you think you could show me?”
“Sure, I guess.” As Flash went and booted up his computer, Twilight flew up and came to rest atop the back of his chair. He sputtered as her tail shifted into his face, batting it aside. “Ah! Come here, you!” Twilight yelped indignantly as he reached up and plucked her off his chair before sitting her in his lap. “There, that’s better.”
Twilight bit her tongue as Flash navigated through his files. It was several moments before he found what he was looking for. “Ah, here’s one,” Flash said as he enlarged the photo to cover the screen.
The photo showed a much younger Flash after a school event, his parents standing next to him as he proudly held a trophy in his arms. His mother stood on Flash’s left, beaming as she hugged her son. But Twilight’s eyes were focused more on the man in the photo, smiling as he ruffled Flash’s hair. The man’s skin was charcoal grey, his hair a jet-black color with dual blue streaks running through it. His eyes were a bright green color, but Twilight could just as easily imagine him with eyes as red as blood.
“That’s my mom, Radiant Hope,” Flash said, pointing at his mother, “and that’s my dad—”
“Sombra…” Twilight whispered, unable to take her eyes off the man in the photo.
“Som—hey, yeah…” Flash glanced down at Twilight. “How did you know that?”
“Er… Lucky guess?” Twilight replied, grinning innocently up at Flash.
Flash raised an eyebrow, the stony look on his face making it clear he wasn’t buying it. “Twilight…”
“Fine…” Twilight relented with a sigh. “The thing is… I knew someone named Sombra once and your dad looks just like him.”
“Really? That’s weird. Was he a friend of yours?”
“N-no…” Twilight ducked her head lest her eyes give her away. “H-how did your parents meet? Do you know?”
“Course I do. Mom and dad just love to tell the story of how they met. See, they were friends since elementary school, not to mention high-school sweethearts. After high school though, Mom moved away to go to college across the country while dad stayed in Canterlot. They tried to stay in contact, but eventually they just drifted apart.
“Apparently they didn’t see each other again until years later, when mom was back in Canterlot for an internship. As luck would have it, they both had the same idea for lunch one day and literally bumped into each other in the store. After that mom moved back here, they rekindled their relationship, got married and then a few years later had me! And the rest is history!”
Twilight looked at the photo again, noting the joy on Sombra’s face at his son’s accomplishment. I don’t know why I was worried. In this world he’s Flash’s dad, not the same Sombra I encountered in Equestria. They’re not the same person, no matter how alike they look.
“Flash!” Radiant Hope suddenly yelled from downstairs. “Dinner!”
“Coming!” Flash yelled back, glancing down at Twilight. “Hungry?”
A shrill scream echoed through the room, causing Fluttershy to bury her face behind the pillow she was desperately clinging to. “Is… is it over? Is it safe to look?”
“Not yet,” Rainbow replied casually as she watched the woman on screen run to escape from the crazed murderer, only to stumble and hit the pavement hard. “Not yet…” She popped a handful of popcorn in her mouth as the woman lifted her face from the ground, only to gasp at the sight of a pair of shoes belonging to the person who had moments before been behind her. “Not yet…”
Another terrified scream echoed from the TV as the killer raised his knife over his head, the sharpened blade glistening in the moonlight as he drove it down towards the helpless woman. The sharp thud of a piano chord replaced the music as arterial spray splashed across the camera. Slowly, the screen faded to black before cutting to the police department.
“… Okay, you can look now.”
Cautiously, Fluttershy peeked over the pillow, sighing in relief upon seeing that the danger had passed. Her joy was short lived though as the scene shifted to show the woman’s now mutilated body lying across the coroner’s table, making Fluttershy duck back behind her pillow with an “Eep!”
“Whose idea was it again for us to watch this movie?” Rainbow inquired.
“Pinkie’s,” Rarity replied, not even paying attention to the movie as she polished her nails.
“Aw, come on guys!” Pinkie replied in her usual bubbly fashion from in-between Dash and Fluttershy on the couch. “This movie’s a classic!”
Applejack glanced over at Pinkie. “Didn’t it come out just last ye—”
“A classic!” Pinkie repeated, pulling Rainbow and Fluttershy into a hug, much to Rainbow’s chagrin. “Sunset, back me up here! Isn’t this movie just…?” Pinkie Pie abruptly trailed off, her silence leading the others to look towards their fiery haired friend as well. Even Rainbow had to suppress an “Aww…” at what greeted them.
Curled up on the armchair in the corner of the room was Sunset, fast asleep with a smile across her face.
Bolting down the stairs, Flash raced past his startled parents and into the kitchen where he began rummaging through the pantry.
“Whoa, where’s the fire?” Sombra asked, raising an eyebrow at his son’s apparent hurry. “School doesn’t start for another hour.”
“I know, but I’m meeting some friends before school starts.” Dropping a bag of trail mix into his backpack alongside some fruit and chocolate bars, Flash zipped it up and slung it back over his shoulders. “Plus, I found something of Thunderlane’s I think he might want back ASAP.” Reaching into his pocket, Flash held up Thunderlane’s phone for his parents to see. “Look familiar?”
“Again?” Sombra could only shake his head with a chuckle as he returned his attention to his newspaper. “I swear, that boy loses his phone more often than your mother loses her glas—Ow!”
Radiant Hope scowled at her husband, pinching his ear painfully between her fingers and twisting it. “I do not lose my glasses that often.”
“Then what do you call the time you spent an hour looking for them when they were in your pock—Ah! Easy, easy! I need that ear!”
Ignoring his parent’s antics, Flash ran to the front door and hastily put on a jacket and his running shoes before stepping outside. Taking off down the street before the door could finish closing behind him, Flash stomped through leftover puddles from yesterday’s storm on his way towards Canterlot High. Stopping at a crosswalk, he picked up the sound of munching coming from his backpack. “Hey, leave me some at least, Twilight!”
“Sorry!” Twilight mumbled through a mouthful of trail mix. “I was hungry!”
Chuckling, Flash glanced up in time to see the traffic sign switch from stop to go, taking off into a run once more. “I’ll pick up something on the way there, but we really should hurry. Don’t want to be late, do we?”
Leaning against the base of the Wondercolt statue, Sunset checked her phone for the umpteenth time, tapping her foot with impatience. Having been the first to arrive, Sunset felt like she’d been standing there for hours, even when her phone showed that it had only been around fifteen minutes.
“Sunset, please be patient,” Rarity said as she quickly touched up her eyeliner before clamping her compact shut and slipping it back into her purse. Around her, the others were all trying to occupy themselves in their own way while they waited for Flash and Twilight to arrive, with Applejack, Pinkie Pie and Fluttershy huddled together as they finished their homework, while Rainbow Dash lay against the grass and worked on her sit-ups.
“...28… 29… 30!” With a grunt, Rainbow flopped back onto the grass, panting for breath. “Yeah, give... it… a rest…” Sitting up, Rainbow propped her chin up with her hand. “Flash is cool, so if he says he’ll be here, then he’ll be here.”
“Clearly you’ve never dated him before,” Sunset said before she could stop herself, groaning right after as she buried her face in her hand. “Sorry, that was uncalled for. I just—”
“You can’t wait for all this to be finally over, correct?” Rarity surmised with a smile. “I like to think I speak for everyone here when I say we’ll all be much happier when we finally see Twilight again with our own eyes. All we can do now is wait patiently for Flash to arrive.”
Everyone glanced over as Flash ran up to them, a coffee cup clutched in one hand.
“Speak of the devil,” Rarity said as Flash skidded to a halt next to the Wondercolt statue, panting for breath after running most of the way there.
“So… sorry I’m… late…” Flash gasped as he panted for breath, sparing a moment to take a quick sip of his coffee. “Hope I didn’t keep you lovely ladies waiting too long,” he said with a grin and a wink.
Sunset couldn’t help but smirk and shake her head. Same old Flash.
“‘Bout time you got here,” Rainbow said as she leapt to her feet and stretched her arms over her head. “I hope you didn’t forget a certain someone on your way here…”
Flash grunted, feigning pain as he placed a hand on his chest. “You wound me, Rainbow Dash! Of course I remembered!” Removing his backpack, Flash held it to his chest as he unzipped the top and peered inside. “You can come out now, Twilight.”
“Already? But I was just starting to get comfy!” Twilight bemoaned sarcastically from inside.
“Well… if you like it so much, I could always leave you in there a little longer—”
Before Flash could even raise a hand to reach for the zipper, Twilight popped her head out of the bag. “Well, I guess I could use an excuse to spread my wings and—EEK!” Before Twilight could react, she was scooped out of the bag and drawn into a very enthusiastic bearhug by a beaming Fluttershy.
“Twilight! I’m so glad you’re safe!”
Not again! “Fluttershy!”
Everyone else laughed as Twilight was helpless to resist being hugged by the demure girl, despite no short amount of struggling on her part. Breaking away from the group, Sunset walked up to Flash, stopping a short distance away from him as she awkwardly rubbed the back of her neck. “Uh… hi, Flash.”
“Uh… Hey, Sunset,” Flash replied back, avoiding meeting Sunset’s eyes. An uncomfortable silence settled over the pair as both struggled to think of what to say to the other.
“Th...thanks for looking after Twilight like that,” Sunset finally said, smiling at Flash. “We really owe you one.”
“Oh, it was nothing, really. I couldn’t just leave her out in rain like that, now could I?”
“Right…” Before the awkward tension could set back in, Sunset quickly asked, “So… you still have my number after all this time?”
“Oh! Well… I… you see…” Flash’s face was flush with pink as he tried to come up with a response. “I… I just never got around to deleting it from my phone, that’s all. Lucky thing I didn’t, though, since I wouldn’t have had any other way of contacting you otherwise.”
“... Right…” Sunset said with a sigh. “Just serendipity then. Still, thanks again.”
“Hey! Why the gloomy faces!?” Popping out of nowhere like a Jack-in-the-Box, Pinkie looped her arms around the two and pulled them into a hug. “Twilight’s back! You should be happy, not sad!”
Wrestling free of Pinkie’s grip, Sunset looked over to see Fluttershy had seen fit to not squeeze Twilight to death, holding her in her arms as the others gathered around the alicorn. A smile crossed Sunset’s lips as she watched Applejack ruffle Twilight’s mane. “You’re right, Pinkie.”
“I should probably get going,” Flash said once he had freed himself from Pinkie’s headlock as well. “Don’t want to get in the way of your little reunion. See ya later!” With a wave, Flash turned to leave.
“Flash, a moment, please?”
Pausing, Flash looked over as Rarity walked up to him. “Yeah?”
“I must offer my thanks for bringing Twilight back to us as well, but I couldn’t help overhearing you mentioning that you would not have had a means of getting in contact with us did you not still possess Sunset’s number. With that in mind, I thought I would see fit to give you this, just in case.” Holding out her hand, Rarity clutched a slip of paper with a series of numbers written on it between her fingers.
“Rarity, is this…?” Getting a nod in return, Flash reached out to take the slip of paper from her. Before he could take the piece of paper, however, Rarity’s other arm shot out like a snake and grabbed Flash tightly by the wrist, her grip like a vice as she yanked him forward and glared into his eyes.
“Let me make one thing very clear first.” Rarity’s tone was like ice as she spoke, chilling Flash to his core as her eyes piercing straight through him. “This is my personal phone number, so I am trusting it to you in the event something like this should ever occur again and you need to contact one of us. With that said, I am also trusting that you will not abuse this by giving this number to any of your friends or colleagues, or use it yourself for some selfish reason. Understand?”
Flash gulped. “Got it.”
“Good!” In the blink of an eye, Rarity voice went from icy cold to warm and pleasant as she released Flash from her clutches. “So glad we understand each other. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a friend I need to go hug.” With that, Rarity gave a polite wave to him as she ran back and joined her friends in embracing Twilight, not a single one of them without a smile on their face.
The school day seemed to pass by in a blur, and before long the lunch bell loudly rang through the halls of Canterlot High. Today, the six girls (and one pony) were enjoying their lunch on the roof of the school, listening as Twilight recounted her adventures following her abduction.
“Sounds like y’all had a rough time of it,” Applejack remarked as she took a bite of an apple. “Glad ya came through it all in one piece.”
“Well, it certainly wasn’t the ‘relaxing weekend’ I had planned, but I can’t say it wasn’t eventful,” Twilight said as she took a sip from her juice box, having spent the day napping in Fluttershy’s backpack during classes. “Sorry about destroying the costume you made me, Rarity.”
“Fret not, dear. I can always make another one, but you are much harder to replace.”
Their conversation was interrupted by a familiar sound, causing everyone to glance over at Sunset’s journal resting against her backpack, the tome now enveloped in a magenta aura. Picking up her journal, Sunset flipped through to the newest page, her eyes flicking back and forth as she scanned the message.
“It’s from Spike. Seems he finally got the portal working again on his end.” Walking over to Twilight, Sunset knelt down and placed the book in front of the princess to let her see for herself.
Reading the message, Twilight flicked her tail as her lips creased in a thoughtful pout. “Hmm… anyone got a pen I could borrow?”
“Coming right up!” Without blinking an eye, Pinkie reached up and plucked a pen out of her bountiful curly hair. “Here you go, Twi!”
Taking the pen in her magic, Twilight tapped the end against her chin for a moment before leaning forward as she began to write.
Spike, this is Twilight. Just to be safe, set the portal apparatus to run a full diagnostic scan first. You’ll find the instructions among my notes, and the scan should only take a few hours at most. Let me know when the scan’s complete so we can coordinate bridging the portals.
“There we go! That should make sure nothing goes wrong this time.” Setting the pen down, Twilight began to munch away on a chocolate chip cookie. “Plus, it’ll give me more time to spend with you girls before I have to head back,” she added in-between bites.
“Bettin’ y’all are lookin’ mighty forward to gettin’ home after all the ruckus of the last few days, huh?” Applejack said, smacking Rainbow’s hand away as she tried to pilfer Applejack’s apple fritter.
“Mm-hmm. I mean, I love spending time with my friends, but I miss my home, too. Plus, Spike must be worried sick by now.” Finishing her cookie, Twilight took another sip of juice before sighing. “Sadly, it might be a while before I can cross over here from Equestria again.”
“Why?” Fluttershy worriedly asked. “I thought Spike got the portal working again?”
“Yes, but this little ‘experience’ of mine has made me realize that I need to seriously modify the portal apparatus back home. I originally built it in a haste during the incident with the Sirens, but I didn’t fully consider the possible ramifications of continued use at the time. I’m kind of amazed it lasted as long as it did, to be honest.”
“So… no more little pony you, then?” Pinkie Pie asked, disappointment clearly written across her face.
Twilight shook her head. “Sorry, Pinkie, but I’m already thinking of ways to make sure something like this doesn’t happen again. I’ll have to build the machine completely from the ground up, which means drawing up schematics, evaluating potential future power fluctuations, building redundant safety protocols upon redundant safety protocols…” Twilight’s eyes seemed to glitter as she thought of the project ahead of her, clapping her hooves excitedly. “I’ll need to remember to schedule time to reorganize my schedule once I get back.”
“That’s a real bummer…” Rainbow said, making another swipe at Applejack’s apple fritter only to have it snatched away from her at the last second. She glared at Applejack as the farmgirl stuck her tongue out at her before taking a bite of the treat. “I was thinking of asking for you to join our team for the Friendship Games. We could use all the help we can find.”
“Friendship Games?” Twilight tilted her head as she asked, “What’s that?”
“It’s this big event Canterlot High hosts along with our rival school, Crystal Prep,” Rainbow explained. “Every four years, students from here and from Crystal Prep compete against each other in a mix of academic and athletic events to prove once and for all who’s better.” Blowing a lock of hair out of her eyes, Rainbow Dash scowled and crossed her arms over her chest. “Course, Crystal Prep just loves to rub our noses in how much better they are than us at everything as they’ve stomped us into the dirt and humiliated us time and time again at the Games.”
“But it’s called the Friendship Games, isn’t it?” Twilight asked hopefully. “Surely that must mean friendships can still happen between schools regardless of who wins or loses, right?”
This time, it was Rarity who huffed dismissively in response. “Oh, sure. Nothing builds friendships between schools more than having our school’s monument defaced again and again after each loss.”
“I’m with ya there, Rare’s,” Applejack chimed in. “All them Crystal Prep folks care about is gettin’ a chance to kick us down a down a peg or two while they watch from up high. Bunch of stuck up jerks, the whole lot of ‘em, I say.”
Twilight could only sit silently, her ears wilting as she listened to her friends speak about this Crystal Prep with such ire. Feeling a hand on her back, Twilight looked up to find Sunset smiling down at her.
“Don’t let it get you down, Twilight,” Sunset reassured her as she ran her hand up and down Twilight’s back. “If it helps, I don’t get it either. Considering everything else that’s happened, getting so riled about it just seems silly to me.”
“Silly? This is serious!” Shooting to her feet, Rainbow clenched her fists as her eyes burned with determination. “But this year will be different! Canterlot High is stronger than it’s ever been, and we’re not going to sit by anymore and let those preppy jerks walk all over us again! This year the Friendship Games belongs to the Wondercolts! Who’s with me?!”
As the others cheered Rainbow on, Sunset could only roll her eyes before glancing at Twilight and muttering, “See what I mean?” which the pair shared a laugh about.
The following few hours seemed to fly by at speeds that would have made even the Wonderbolts airsick. The moment school had ended for the day, the group of friends had all rushed over to Pinkie’s to enjoy an afternoon filled with copious amounts of sweets, laughter between friends, and an entire weekend’s worth of excitement crammed into just a few hours.
Before long, Twilight and the others found themselves waiting by the Wondercolt statue as Twilight relayed the “all-okay” to Spike through the journal. “And, done,” Twilight said as she popped the cap back on the pen. “Now all we can do is wait for Spike.”
“This is goodbye for now then, huh, Twi?” Applejack said wistfully. “Don’t be a stranger now, ya hear?”
“We’ll miss you,” Fluttershy said as she crouched down and scratched between Twilight’s ears, making the alicorn purr contently. As she pulled her hand back, Fluttershy tapped her fingers together nervously as she stuttered, “Ummm… I was wondering… I mean, if you don’t mind… if… if before you go, I… I could… Ummm…”
“Go ahead, Fluttershy.”
Squealing, Fluttershy scooped up Twilight and drew her into one last hug, grinning as she rubbed her cheek against Twilight’s.
A light from the base of the statue drew their attention as the mirrored surface of the pedestal became visibly charged with energy, rippling like water. Pouting, Fluttershy reluctantly put Twilight back down.
“Looks like your train’s here, Twilight,” Rainbow said as Twilight trotted up to the statue.
Pausing as she stared at the shifting surface of the portal, Twilight glanced over her shoulder and smiled warmly at her friends. “Thanks again for looking after me while I was here. I promise I’ll come back and visit as soon as I can.” Facing the portal once more, she took a deep breath as she readied herself for the journey ahead. Here goes nothing! Kicking her hooves against the dirt, Twilight sprinted headlong towards the open portal.
“Bye!” Pinkie shouted, Rarity throwing in a quick, “Don’t forget to write!” as they all watched Twilight jump into the portal and disappear in a flash of light.
A disorienting kaleidoscope of colors and sensations filled Twilight’s senses, making her feel like she was being stretched like taffy before then being squeezed through a tube like toothpaste. After only a moment, Twilight felt the brief sensation of weightlessness before she stepped through the other side of the portal, her hooves clip-clopping against the crystal flooring of her castle.
I’ve still got hooves, so that’s a good sign. Giving herself a quick once over, Twilight flexed her wings to ensure they were still working properly, checked that her cutie mark was still where it should be and counted her hooves to make absolutely sure she wasn’t missing any. . “Twilight!”
The scampering of tiny claws against crystal was Twilight’s only warning before Spike leapt up and latched himself onto her chest, wrapping his arms around her neck. “You’re back! I was so worried when the portal broke, I thought I might never see you again!”
Twilight could tell that Spike was doing his best to hold back tears, wrapping her wing around him before nuzzling his scales comfortingly. “I’m sorry I made you worry, Spike. Despite a few hiccups, though, I’m back home safely and I’m not going anywhere any time soon.”
The two stayed that way for a moment before Spike released his grip on Twilight and dropped back onto his feet. “So…” Twilight asked, “Anything exciting happen while I was gone?”
“Not really, it was a pretty quiet week,” Spike answered with a shrug of his shoulders. “Well… as quiet a week as you can living in Ponyville. Like, just yesterday there was—”
“Actually, hold that thought for a moment.” Igniting her horn, Twilight felt the familiar sensation of Equestrian magic flow through her as she levitated the journal off its platform towards her. “Just need to let the girls know I made it back safely.” Levitating a quill over as well, she cracked open the journal and wrote a quick response. Just as she was about to set the book aside, however, she paused for a moment before quickly scrawling a short message at the bottom of the page before slamming the book shut. “Now, you were saying?”
“Well…” Spike began, walking with Twilight towards the doorway. “Yesterday Pinkie Pie had the ‘brilliant’ idea to mix cake batter, pop rocks, and her party cannon…”
“Do you think she made it back safely?” Rarity asked after several silent moments. As if on cue, Sunset’s journal began to resonate with an incoming message.
“I think that just answered your question.” Cracking open her journal, Sunset scanned the latest entry. “Yep, looks like she made it back alright.” Just as she was about to close the journal, she caught a fresh line of words writing themselves. Sunset blinked at the words forming before her very eyes.
My invitation to visit is still open for when you’re ready.
“Yo, Earth to Sunset!”
Sunset snapped out of her stupor at the sound of her name, glancing up to find the others staring at her. “I’m sorry, what?”
“You alright there?” Rainbow asked. “You look like you’ve just seen a ghost.”
“It’s nothing,” Sunset quickly replied, snapping the journal shut and stowing it back in her bag. “We should really get going before someone starts to wonder why we’re loitering around the statue.” Slinging her backpack over her shoulder, Sunset began to walk away from the school, a single thought in the back of her mind:
Just wait, Twilight. I may take you up on your offer sooner than later...
The late evening sun cast a vibrant orange glow across the sky as it slowly dipped below the horizon. The grounds of Canterlot High were completely barren at this time of day, with both students and faculty having departed for the weekend, including those who often stayed behind well into the night.
Well, almost completely barren, as a lone figure still remained.
Grass crunched under her boots as Sunset paced back and forth in front of the base of the Wondercolt statue, the iconic statue having yet to be replaced. Biting her nails as her growing worry gnawed away at her dwindling confidence bit by bit, Sunset cast occasional glances towards the mirrored base, every time expecting to find someone standing there.
“This was a bad idea…” she muttered, wrapping her arms around herself despite the warmth in the air. “I should just call the whole thing off and tell her something came up and I had to cancel. She’ll understand, right?”
Slinging her backpack off her shoulders, she rested it on the ground as she rummaged around inside. “Where is it, I know I—” Sunset froze as her thoughts drifted back to the events of yesterday…
“Ah! Pinkie Pie!” Twilight Sparkle held up her notebook defensively as she was assailed by a shower of fresh frosting from a plate of freshly made cupcakes, courtesy of the cotton candy haired Pinkie Pie herself.
“Sorry, Twi-Twi!” Pinkie apologized, reaching up and wiping a stray patch of frosting off Twilight’s face with her finger.
Lowering her notebook from her face, the human Twilight sighed as she pushed her glasses up the bridge of her nose. “Pinkie, can you please stop calling me that?”
“Aww… but I need something to call you to tell you apart from the other Twilight...“ Tapping her chin in thought, her face lit up as she exclaimed, “I know! I’ll call you Sci-Twi!”
Sunset giggled from across the room. She could tell that this world’s Twilight Sparkle was still getting used to her new group of friends since her transfer to Canterlot High, all of whom had gladly welcomed her into their band of friends with open arms. Sunset still couldn’t help but laugh at how similar the two Twilights were despite their different circumstances. I guess no matter the world, Twilight will always be Twilight.
School had let out for the day just hours before and the group had convened at Pinkie’s for the afternoon. Sunset had been largely silent since her arrival, making light small talk here and there as she leaned against the wall and watched the others. For some reason, she was nervous about saying what she had wanted to say when she had arrived.
Come on, Sunset! Just tell them!
“So…” Sunset finally said, loud enough to garner everyone’s attention. “Anyone got any plans for this weekend?”
“Yeah! Shy and me are going paintballing this weekend,” Rainbow Dash was quick to say, looping an arm around Fluttershy and pulling her close, prompting the shy girl to let out an “Eep!”
“Sounds like fun...” Sunset took a breath, steadying her nerves. Here goes… “You’ll have to tell me all about it when I get back.”
She was met with six blank stares from her friends as an awkward silence hovered overhead. After a moment, it was Rarity who finally asked what they were all thinking. “Back from where, if I may ask?”
“Well, do you all remember the last time Twi— Princess Twilight was here?” Sunset asked, quickly correcting herself as she looked to the human Twilight. Yeah, I’m sure that’s not going to get confusing anytime soon…
“You mean when she dropped by after the Friendship Games in time to meet herself?” Rainbow Dash replied, also pointing at the bespectacled girl in the room.
Oh, how awkward that encounter had been, Sunset mused before shaking her head. “Actually, I meant the time before that.”
A look of realization crossed Rainbow’s face. “Oooh, you mean when she was stuck here as a cat-sized horse—”
“Whatever!” Rainbow huffed, crossing her arms over her chest. “Still, what does that have to do with where you’re going?”
“Well… while she was here, Princess Twilight extended an offer for me to go back to Equestria briefly for a visit and… well...” Rubbing the back of her neck, Sunset glanced at the wall as she said, “With how hectic the last week or so has been since the Friendship Games, I figured now was a good a time as any to take her up on the offer.”
“Equestria…” Twilight clutched her notebook tightly to her chest as her shoulders sagged dejectedly. “That was that world I saw when I… when I became that monster…”
Frowning, Sunset walked over to Twilight and put a comforting hand on her shoulder. “Twilight, what happened then wasn’t your fault. Take it from me, I’ve been down this road before and I know that wallowing in self-pity like this isn’t going to do you any favors.”
“Right…” Twilight muttered, perking up slightly as she raised her head to look at Sunset. “You won’t be gone long, will you?”
“Just for the weekend. I’ll be back in time for classes on Monday, I promise. Still, there’s something I need to do before I go.” Walking across the room, Sunset rummaged around in her backpack for a moment before pulling out her journal. “I need you to look after my journal for me until I get back.”
“O...kay?” Twilight replied, taking the journal from Sunset and turning it over in her hands to carefully examine it. “But why? What’s so special about it that you can’t take it with you?”
“This journal is linked to its twin back in Equestria,” Sunset explained, tapping a finger against the cover. “It’s how I communicate with the princess, but it’s even more than that. It also serves as a fixed point between here and Equestria, allowing the portal between the worlds to be freely opened and closed.” Sunset took on a solemn look as she added, “Without this, I won’t be able to return until the portals connect again naturally, which could take months, if not years to happen again.”
Twilight’s eyes widened, staring down at the journal in her hands like it was suddenly the single most important artifact in the world. “And… and you’re just giving this to me?”
“Just until I get back. I trust any one of you to look after it for me while I’m gone, but I figured if there was anyone who would make sure a book like this would still be here come Monday, it would be you, Twilight.” Smiling, she ruffled Twilight’s hair slightly as she added, “Just… try not to use it in any of your experiments, promise?”
Nodding her head, Twilight smiled as she clutched the journal tightly to her chest. “I won’t, I promise.”
“Oh…” Sunsetsighed as her shoulders sagged in defeat. She’d only been half telling the truth when she’d left the book with the others. While it did need to stay in this world in order to bridge the gap between here and Equestria, Sunset had made sure to leave it with her friends as a contingency plan in case she considered backing out at the last minute. In that moment, Sunset was both thanking and cursing herself for her forethought. Stupid past me!
Sunset yelped, jumping to her feet and whipping around to discover that she wasn’t alone anymore. “Tw-Twilight! How… how long have you been standing there?” she asked, trying and failing to put on a convincing smile for her fellow Equestrian.
“Long enough.” Shortening the distance between them, Twilight put her hand on Sunset’s shoulder. “Sunset, if you don’t feel up to this, we can call this off and—”
“No.” Sunset quickly replied before she could have any more second thoughts. “If I put this off now, then I know I’ll just keep finding some kind of excuse to push it further back. It’s just…” Biting her thumb, Sunset looked away as she hung her head. “What… what if your friends don’t like me? I mean, making friends with them over here wasn’t easy after all the things I did to them, and last any of them saw me I was trying to steal your crown.” Sunset winced at the memory of her last brief return to Equestria. “I’m pretty sure that qualifies as treason in certain circles...”
Twilight smiled warmly. “Sunset, I already forgave you for that, plus I’ve also explained everything to everypony, and Pinkie’s already looking forward to throwing you a ‘Welcome Back To Equestria’ party once we get there.”
“Of course she is…” Sunset muttered, through a small smile managed to work its way onto her lips.
“Rainbow might take a little bit more convincing, but everypony’s looking forward to getting to meet you properly this time. I’m also looking forward to getting to introduce you to my new student.” Holding out her hand, Twilight met Sunset’s eye. “Well, shall we?”
Hesitation gnawed at Sunset as more and more worst case scenarios developed in her mind, only to send them scattering as she gave a shake of her head and grabbed the princess’ hand. “Let’s.”
Smiling, Twilight gently led Sunset towards the base of the statue and together they stepped through the mirrored surface, causing ripples to cascade across it as they vanished from sight. The base glimmered for a brief moment longer before becoming idle once more and the grounds of Canterlot High were once again silent.