The Fluttershy Effect
“Quiet!” whispered Rainbow Dash. “They should be back any minute now.” The lights were off that night and the library was pitch black. None of the five ponies could see a thing- Pinkie knew this was going to be her most “surpriserific” party ever. The door cracked open; all five ponies started to grin in anticipation, not that anyone could see.
“...I’m just saying Twilight,” said Spike as he walked in, “Carbonites are more of a dessert treat. Silicate gems are much more fitting for breakfast or maybe even-.” Twilight stepped inside just in time for Pinkie to turn the lights on.
“SURPRISE!” yelled Twilight and her friends. Spike looked around- the library was nearly saturated with ribbons, balloons and treats of all shapes and colors. He stood still for a few seconds admiring Pinkie’s handiwork before speaking. “Wow guys, thanks! ...But what is this all for, exactly?” Rarity, Applejack, Fluttershy and Rainbow all looked each other with confusion. Then at Twilight, confused as well, then at Spike.
“It’s your birthday, silly!” said Pinkie, never breaking a gaze or grin. Then with an eyebrow raised. “...isn’t it?” Spike looked at her for a few seconds with a stern look, then breaking back into a smile. “Hah, I got you guys!” The ponies laughed, and as Pinkie knows, a party hasn’t truly started until everypony laughs.
The party went on a few hours until Spike realized something very important. He approached Twilight. “Say, Twilight I just remembered- my birthday isn’t the only special thing about today.”
“Oh?” said Twilight inquisitively. “What else?”
“Come on, you should know better than me. So should the rest of you, for that matter.”
Twilight stared blankly for a few moments. Then she remembered something she learned a few years ago.
“My gosh! You’re right, Spike!” She called the others. “Hey, everypony! Spike just reminded me that his birthday coincides with another important date. Do you remember?”
Applejack scratched her head.
Fluttershy was going to say something, but withdrew, fearing she might be wrong.
Rarity drew a blank.
Pinkie Pie asked what “coincides” means.
Rainbow Dash was the only one to remember. “Seriously guys? This is the day all of us got our cutie marks!” The room filled with realized “Ohhhh!”s.
They all recalled the fateful day- Applejack found her calling in farming, Fluttershy her love of animals, Twilight her unprecidented talent for magic, Rarity her ability to scavenge for beautiful gems, Pinkie her love of party planning and Rainbow, her passion to race, all by the hand of Rainbow Dash’s explosive Sonic Rainboom.
After a round of nostalgic smiles, Pinkie Pie stared blankly; she just realized this marks another important event. “Hey! Do you know what else this means?” she asked with an eager smile. “This my first seven-reason party! A new record! We should celebrate that too!”
“Hey! Do you know what ELSE this means? This is my first eight-reason party! A new record! We should celebrate that too!”
Applejack put her hoof over Pinky’s mouth. “Looks like someone needs to lay off the sugar cubes, sugar cube.”
The party continued into the warm, summer night, but as they had their fun, they were blissfully unaware that an old visitor to Ponyville had decided to drop by again. Someone whose pride gained her nothing but public disdain. Someone who tested her worth and lost. Someone who does not know the consequences of what she is about to do.
Twilight woke up the next morning exhausted from all the fun she had last night, exhaustion that was multiplied when she found the mess they made last night wasn’t cleaned up. “Ugh...” she groaned as she started to use her powers to pick up the deflated balloons and apple-cores off the floor and telekinetically shove them in the trash.
She was done faster than she expected, but not before she heard a knock on her door. “I wonder who that could be?” she said to herself. She opened the door and gasped in surprise. A mage’s hat. A cloak. It was the self-proclaimed Great and Powerful Trixie.
“Hello, Sparkle,” she said with her head high as she walked herself inside.
“Trixie? What are you doing here? Are you here to put up another one of your self-aggrandizing magic shows? Because I don’t think the town is going to be very welcoming after last time.”
“Oh, I have nothing to prove to them, my dear. That’s why I’m here and not on stage in the town square... where I belong. Yes, I’m here for you, Sparkle,” she pointed a hoof at Twilight. “I will NOT accept second-best. I have spent my whole life training in magic, and I was upstaged by some... goody-two shoes.”
“You brought that on yourself, Trixie. I had to save Ponyville, it had nothing to do with being the best.”
“Well,” she huffed, “be that as it may, I’ve trained nonstop over the past few years. Literally; the first new spell I learned since I left takes away my need for food and sleep. I’m a magic machine, Sparkle. And I am back to prove it.”
“You don’t need to prove anything, Trixie. All you need is a good reason to use that magic. Why waste your talents just trying to prove yourself to everyone?”
“What’s the matter, Sparkle?” she asked tauntingly, “Are you afraid to lose?” She grinned slyly at Twilight. Her horn began to glow.
Twilight glared at her and looked around. She shut the door with her hind legs. “If this means that much to you, then fine. But I’m not doing you any favors.”
“Wonderful!” she said, “Then watch... AND LEARN!” Her horn flashed brightly. Twilight closed her eyes to avoid the glare. When she reopened them, she was shocked to see herself standing at the other side of the room. She looked at her legs and back, to find herself in a blue coat, wearing a hat and cape. “Ta-da! A body switching spell! Pretty impressive, no?”
She was very surprised. “It’s certainly... something, Trixie. Now change me back before I lose control of my ego like the last owner of this body.”
“Oh, ha ha,” she said sarcastically. Another flash and they were each back in their respective bodies. “This is no fun if you’re just going to hold back, girl. Come on, show me your worst!”
Twilight looked around. She smiled “Well, since there’s no one else here to judge, maybe I’ll just show you one of my latest tricks.” Twilight flashed her horn. When the light cleared, Trixie saw two Twilights standing before her. “I’ll admit, Trixie” said the lefthand Twilight. “Maybe I do have some competition in me,” said the right. They fused back into one. “But at least I don’t have the compulsive need to rub my skills in the face of everypony I see.”
Trixie ignored her. “Oh, you think two yous is something? I say one Twilight Sparkle is more than enough. But the world can’t have enough Trixies!” Another flash of light. Twilight found herself surrounded by Trixies. “Give up, Sparkle!” they all said in unison. “There’s no contest here. Just a natural winner and a natural loser.”
This contest of spells went back and forth for a while. They lost count of how many spells they each did by the time they were out of breath, but Trixie still had one more trick up her sleeve- her coup de grace.
“And now, Twilight Sparkle, you will be the first witness of the greatest trick ever performed by ponydom. Behold!” Her horn began to spark. And then, it gleamed. Soon, it may have been as bright as the sun. She started to run forward, using her horn to cut some invisible fabric in the air. Her horn’s glow died and she slid on the floor out of breath. The fabric began to tear, creating a bizarre hole in midair. “Ta-da!” she said, panting and gesturing towards the rift.
Twilight looked at the hole in awe and confusion. She cautiously approached it. “What... what is it?”
“Wouldn’t you like to know?”
“Twilight!” called a voice upstairs. It was Spike. “What’s going on down there?” he asked, rubbing his just awoken eyes as he walked into the room. He looked off the ledge of the top stair. His eyes opened wide in disbelief as he saw a massive floating portal beneath him. The shock caused him to trip off the staircase. “Waah!” he yelled as he fell.
“Spiiiike!” called Twilight as she lept to catch him. But it was too late. Spike fell into the rift, his image distorted as he vanished into seeming nothingness. Twilight’s jaw hung open, her eyes widened. She was too devastated to speak.
“Oops,” said Trixie. Her voice was nonchalant, but her face was clearly trying to hide her guilt. Twilight slowly turned her head to Trixie, her expression slowly transforming into an angry glare. She started to walk towards Trixie, backing her into a wall. “What... did you... do? Where is Spike!?!”
“I... I... don’t know. All I can tell you is that this isn’t an ordinary spell, Twilight. It’s a... gateway. Into the past.”
“Oh, I just couldn’t live knowing you tamed that Ursa Minor at the expense of my reputation. The only way I thought I could change things was by going back and changing it myself. I learned the spell, but I never actually went through the rift... I didn’t know when or where I would end up.”
A brief pause. Twilight started to calm.
“Well, you want to redeem yourself, Trixie? Then go in there and bring Spike back.”
“I already told you, I don’t know where I’d end up. And for that matter how to get back. It could be a one way trip for all I know.”
Twilight didn’t know what to do. She started to look back and forth between Trixie and the portal in a panic. She took a deep breath and looked to Trixie.
“Well, if you’re not going to find him... I will.” She walked resolutely towards the rift and jumped in, disappearing with a spark.
Twilight emerged from the portal, landing with a thud on the ground. When she looked up, she found she was still in the library. “Well, this isn’t so bad. At least I’m still in the same place,” she told herself. “Spike are you in here? Spike!” she called for him a few times, but no answer.
She examined the library for a bit before walking out of the front door. Ponyville didn’t seem different at all. “Well, it doesn’t seem I’m too far in the past,” she said with relief. A brown male pony walked by Twilight. “Excuse me, sir, have you seen a small, purple dragon around here? About yea high? She put her hoof up to about body level.” He shrugged and walked off.
She walked around town, asking a few ponies with no luck. “I wonder how far back I am... It doesn’t seem too long ago. Maybe my friends are around?” She decided to start at Applejack’s farm.
When she arrived at the farmhouse, she knocked on the door. Granny Smith answered. “Oh, a visitor,” she said frailly. “We don’t get many visitors. May I help you, young filly?”
“Hi Ms. Smith, do you remember me?” asked Twilight. Granny squinted and examined Twilight. “Sorry deary, but I don’t recall. But then my memory hasn’t been too good in years. Should I know you?”
“That depends, is Applejack here?” Twilight looked behind her, to see if Applejack was in the house.
“Sorry young lady, but she just left home a few days ago. Apparently, the farm life wasn’t good enough for her, so she headed off to Manehattan. Why? Did she do something?”
Twilight was petrified. The only time last time Applejack ever went to Manehattan was during her childhood, just before getting her cutie mark. Anything she did could change the fate of her friends, or herself for that matter. Still, she was glad she ended up in a familiar time period and not some on some prehistoric Ponysaurus’ dinner plate.
“No, not yet anyway. But thanks.” She galloped straight back to ponyville, trying to find Spike before he had a chance to do anything that could radically alter horstory as they know it.
Time Travelling: A Reference Guide
Twilight made a few more rounds about the town with no luck before finally returning to the library. After walking inside, she slouched down onto the floor, depressed. “Oh, it’s no use,” she said to herself. “I’ll never find Spike at this rate.” Suddenly, she heard a familiar voice.
Twilight stood right up and looked around. Spike walked out from the side of a bookshelf, obscured from Twilight’s point of view. “Spike!” Twilight’s sudden smile nearly threw her cheeks right off her face, and she dashed straight for Spike and embraced him as hard as she could with her front legs. “Oh Spike, I was so worried! I’m just so glad to see you safe!”
“Yeah? Hck- I won’t be for... much longer unless you- Hagh-... stop... choking... me...”
“Sorry...” She let go of the dragon and he fell flat on the floor, gasping for air. “Where were you, anyway?”
“You tell me, Twilight. All I remember was falling in that weird hole... thing and I arrived here about a minute ago.” He scratched the back of his head.
“A minute ago? Huh... but I arrived a few hours ago. Maybe the gateway wasn’t consistent...”
“Gateway? What are you talking about? What was that thing Twilight?” He was perplexed.
“Spike, you may find this hard to believe, but that hole sent us back in time.”
Spike shifted backward in shock. His eyes widened. “What? You can’t be serious.”
“Do you have a better explanation for the giant, enigmatic vortex that was floating in the middle of this room? Or rather, WILL be floating in this room? Several years from now?”
“Well, no, but it’s just a lot to take in after- wait... did you say several years? Just how far back did that thing take us, Twi?”
“I looked around town for a bit and discovered that let’s just say tomorrow’s your birthday. Literally.”
“You- you mean I’m not even born yet?”
“That’s what I was going for, yes.”
Spike sat down on the floor. “Well, then we better not mess anything up. At least not before tomorrow or we’ll make a time paradox or something, like in that movie.”
“Good thinking, Spike. We shouldn’t take any chances. Before we start looking elsewhere, we should probably see if we can find any information in one of these books. We can’t do any damage from here.”
Twilight and Spike started rummaging through the shelves, book by book, skimming through all the books they could find that might have information on time travel. They were at it for hours; the floor started to pile up with books, opened and closed. But to no avail.
“It’s no use, Spike,” said Twilight with an exasperated sigh. “There’s nothing in any of these books.” She started throwing books around in frustration.
Spike carried a large, blue hardcover. “What about this one, Twi?” He handed the book to her and she read the title aloud. “Time Travelling: A Reference Guide.” She looked at Spike. “Where did you find this?”
“It was under ‘T.’ Section 502.” He crossed his arms and raised an eyebrow. “You know, for a bookworm that literally lives in a library, you really don’t seem to know much about the Dewey Decimal System.” But Twilight was already too busy skimming the book to listen.
Twilight spent all day and night reading the guide, but it didn’t really help. Spike was long since asleep leaning on Twilight’s side, but woke up to one of Twilight’s annoyed grunts. “None of this is helping. This book’s all about what to do when already in another time. Nothing about the means of time travel itself.”
“Well, maybe it’s enough. What if we look up the guy who wrote it? Maybe if we track him down, he could help us out.”
“Spike, that’s genius!” exclaimed Twilight with excitement and hope. She flipped back to the About the Author page. “It says his name is Dr. Quantum Leap... A native of Cloudsdale... Graduated from Fillydelphia Polymagic... aha! It says he’s been leading a study on time travel for a decade and a half! Maybe he could give us a hand.”
“I’m not so sure, Twilight,” said Spike skeptically. “I mean, Cloudsdale’s pretty far- who knows how much damage we could do on the way?”
“I know, but what choice do we have? It’s that or stay here forever. Or at least wait until the same time we left, but we can’t hide here for that long, and besides, we’ll conflict with our counterparts in this timeline.”
“Good point. Alright, then start up your walk-on-clouds spell, Twilight. We’re going to Cloudsdale.”
Twilight and Spike hurried down to the hot air balloon ride station at the edge of Ponyville and took the next ride to Cloudsdale. They tried to avoid contact with other passengers, fearing the possible repercussions of every move. They weren’t very good at avoiding attention, though, the way they stood in the corner so anxiously. Fortunately, the other passengers didn’t disturb them during the ascent.
When Twilight and Spike arrived in Cloudsdale, they searched for the way to Dr. Leap’s house. Reluctantly and quickly, they asked a few ponies where he might be. They were pointed to a large house at the edge of the floating city.
They were pretty nervous about entering the house. It was a cumulonimbus cloud, spraying lightening every which way- it was an extremely ominous structure, whose presence had the pony and the dragon on their toes. Not seeing any other alternative, though, they cautiously walked to the front gate. They pushed the buzzer. “State your purpose,” said a deep, stern voice on the speaker.
“Hi, I’m Twilight Sparkle, and this is my friend Spike.”
“Hello,” said Spike.
“We need to speak with Dr. Leap. It’s a very urgent matter.” There was a brief pause.
“How urgent?” asked the voice on the buzzer.
“It’s about time travel,” said Spike.
“I’m sorry, but I’m very busy right now. If you have any questions about my studies, you can ask it at my lecture next week.”
“Hold on,” said Twilight, interrupting him before he cut them off. “It’s not like that. See, we ARE time travellers.”
Another long pause. “Seriously?” said the voice angrily. “Why must you kids keep pulling this prank on me? It’s not funny anymore! I have dedicated my LIFE to this study and you sick kids constantly trivialize it with your incessant tomfoolery. Why I have half a mind to come out there right now and-”
“We’re not joking, sir,” interrupted Twilight. “I guess we can’t really prove anything, but you have to take our word for this. We were sent back in time by a powerful magical spell and we have no way of getting home. You’re the only pony we could find who could possibly help us.”
Yet another pause. “If I find out this is an elaborate trick, there will be consequences, understand?”
“Yes,” said Twilight. “And believe me when I say this is no trick.”
“Then come in. We have much to discuss.” The gates slowly opened, clearing a path to Dr. Leap’s estate. Twilight and Spike gave each other a smile. It was a look of relief and hope- they just might get home!
“Hello?” echoed Twilight’s voice through the doctor’s large foyer. She heard loud noises coming from her left.
Twilight and Spike quickly looked at each other and then walked to the source of the sounds. They were taken aback by what they saw around the corner. It was a large, round machine, with quickly rotating gyroscopic rings, emitting bolts of electricity, as well as absorbing them from the cloud house through a tall antennae at the very top. And at the base of it was a crimson, male Pegasus pony with a greying mane, glasses and a lab coat. His cutie mark was an atom.
“Hello!” called Twilight, trying to beat the noise. The pony turned around and saw Twilight and Spike. He powered down the machine and walked over to them. “Good day,” he said. His voice was a bit deep and raspy. His tone was polite, but still a bit skeptical. “Twilight Sparkle and Spike, was it?” he said, looking at each of them as he spoke their respective names.
“That’s right, sir,” said Twilight. “And you must be Dr. Quantum Leap?”
“You would be correct. So, you say you’re from the future, Twilight? And stranded in this time period?”
“So it seems,” she said.
The doctor grabbed a fork-shaped device from his left flank pocket and held it up to Twilight. It began to beep and flash a red light. “Well, I’ll be a donkey’s uncle. Your chronotons are radically desynced from this position in time!”
Spike raised an eyebrow. “Uh... what?”
He smiled. “Fear not. You’ve come to the right place.” He pointed a hoof to his machine.
“This device,” he said, “is my life’s work. Since I was a child I was fascinated by the prospect of a pony travelling through time. Ever since, I have dedicated my studies to achieving such a goal. And this machine is that end: a time machine. If what you say is true, Twilight, I may finally have the chance to achieve my lifelong dream: creating time travel.”
Twilight, being an enthusiastic intellect, started to become lost in a conversation about his research. Spike, on the other hand, quickly grew bored and started to wander and look around the lab. He looked at some of the devices and fiddled with a few. Unfortunately, his haphazard fidgeting did not have good results- a console blew up right in his face. Twilight and Quantum winced and looked over to Spike, who turned around, his face blackened with ash. “Sorry,” he said.
“Oh, you buffoon! That was my last Turbo Hurbo Flibblecelerationator! And now I need to go buy a new one.”
“Please, doctor,” said Twilight, “It’s no trouble, I can get one for you.”
“No, no,” said Dr. Leap. “I should do this- the more time you spend out there, the more you risk messing up your present day. Besides, I know what to look for. I can handle this.” He walked to the door. “You just stay here and make sure your friend doesn’t touch anything else. I’ll be back in an hour.” He walked out the door. Twilight gave Spike a look of annoyance, to which Spike returned a guilty grin.
A Filly In Need
The doctor flew straight for the ScienceMart across town, slightly annoyed. On the way, he made a brief stop, finding a ruckus going on at the flight camp. Two pegasus colts were harassing a young, scrawny yellow pony. “Nice going, Klutzershy!” said one. “Yeah, my baby brother could fly better than you!”
Quantum was frequently bullied in his youth for being a nerd, so he was a sensitive to her predicament, so he felt the need to intervene. “Hey!” he called, “You kids knock it off!”
“Heh. Or what?” replied one of the ponies smugly. “You want to take us on, old timer?”
“No, but you if you runts don’t leave that girl alone, you should know I’m close friends with the principal of your flight school. He and I go way back.”
The colts turned to each other, nervously. “Come on dude,” said one, “This girl’s not worth our time, anyway.” They flew off.
The yellow filly turned to Quantum and smiled. “Thank you, sir,” she said timidly. He smiled back. “Don’t worry, young lady, those kids shouldn’t give you any more trouble.” Feeling good about protecting her from those bullies, he completely forgot why he was annoyed. It was a fulfilling emotion, something he hadn’t felt in ages. With a smile mirroring that of the young filly, he continued on his way to the store.
But now that his mind was clear, the thought soon crossed it that he would not have likely left his workshop hadn’t Twilight appeared. He was nervous about the effects it could have on the time stream, but also ashamed that he, a renowned expert on time travel all across Equestria, could have made such a rudimentary mistake. He told himself that it didn’t seem like a major intervention and it shouldn’t have a big effect in the long run. All he knew now is that’s its too late to fix his faux pas and that from here on, he’ll stop for nothing.
Science is Magic
“You can try using something other than rock, Twilight.”
“Sorry, Spike. I guess hooves aren’t really built for this game.” Just then, the front door unlocked and Quantum walked in with a paper bag in his mouth. It made a quiet beeping sound accompanied by a rhythmic flashing through the paper.
“Oh, hi doc,” said Twilight. “You’re back fast.”
“Yes, well, I wanted to get in and out as fast as I could. Didn’t want to take any chances of causing a paradox, right?” he said nervously as he put the bag on a table in his workshop.
Spike looked at the bag. He noticed the beeping and flashing. “WATCH OUT!” he yelled suddenly, nearly giving Twilight a heart attack. “IT’S GOING TO BLOW!” He dove for the bag, but Quantum stepped back, causing Spike to fall on his face in front of him.
“My boy,” said Quantum,” you’re the reason this thing exploded in the first place. Besides, that’s just how it works.” Quantum opened the bag and carefully removed a small, spherical, metal device. “This, Spike, is a Turbo Hurbo Flibblecelenator. It’s a very delicate device that creates a Type-L fusor cycle, creating an feruson cascade that concentrates the time machine’s 4-dimensional coordinate system at a single point and time and space for the duration of a transfer.”
Spike glared at him, confused. His explanation was falling on deaf ears.
“Or in layman’s terms: Don’t touch it.”
“Yeah, yeah, I get it.”
Dr. Leap carefully carried the device over to the charred chamber inside the console Spike was messing with earlier. “Just give me some time to install this. I concentrate best when I’m not being watched, so if you don’t mind...” he gestured subtly toward the door.
Spike and Twilight walked into the foyer. After waiting a few minutes, Spike turned to Twilight and whispered. “I’m kind of nervous, Twi. I mean, has this guy ever even used this machine before? There’s no telling if it’ll even work.”
“Don’t worry, Spike,” replied Twilight reassuringly, “Dr. Leap’s been working on time travel for fifteen years. He even wrote a book on it. He must know what he’s doing. Besides, I doubt he’d send us back now if he didn’t have complete faith in his work.”
“Alright, it’s all set,” said Dr. Leap, walking in from the other room. “I’ll be honest with you two, this is all completely experimental technology. No idea if it’ll even work, probably won’t even prove itself in the scientific community for decades. But if we don’t try, the odds of your presence messing up time will only escalate.”
Spike gave a nervous look at Twilight. She returned an even more nervous smile.
“Well, it’s for the good of science, right doctor?” said Twilight.
“Unfortunately, no. Not yet anyway. If I record the results of this, or any evidence of your presence, that will drastically increase the chance of paradox. I should probably even erase my memory after this is all done. The best thing we can do is make it like you were never even here.
Twilight was disappointed. If she was going to risk her life to an untested time machine, she at least wanted to make it a contribution to the world.
“...however, there shouldn’t be anything wrong with getting the results once you’re back in your proper position in time. Fortunately, I’ve been prepared for just this sort of thing.” He removed a card from his pocket. It had a red border and his face on the front. He grabbed a pencil in his mouth and wrote down a few numbers on the back. He passed it to Spike. “This,” he said, “is a time card. When you’re back home, I want you to find me and show me this card. I probably won’t remember you what with the memory erasing and all, but I will recognize that card. It’s something I planned to give to time travelers for purposes like this. Do you understand?”
Twilight nodded. Spike was too scared to move, but the doctor seemed to take that for a yes.
“Very good. Then...” he pointed to the time machine. “Let’s begin.”
Twilight put Spike on her back and walked into the time machine’s main chamber. Dr. Leap put on a pair of goggles and stood at the console. “I’m setting the machine to detect the configuration of your chronotons so you arrive at the exact time and place you left. Are you two ready?” he called.
Twilight looked at poor Spike whose heart was racing too faster than he could think. “As we’ll ever be.” Dr. Leap pushed a few buttons. The machine reved up. The gyros around the machine began to move. The volume of the motor matched their increasing speed. Faster and faster they spun until they just became semi-transparent blurs.
“Farewell, you two! I’ll see you soon enough!” He pressed a final button. And with that, a light bloomed, carrying Twilight and Spike away in a flash.
A Peculiar Night
Twilight fell right out of the ether and tumbled in a daze across a wooden floor. She found Spike standing there, having waited for her to arrive. (If what Dr. Leap had said about them arriving at the exact time and place they departed was true, it would make sense as Spike had fallen in first.) Twilight looked around. She was right back in her library. Her furniture and books were just as she had left them- she was home.
It was a calm and pristine night- a satisfying end to such a chaotic day. Despite having just travelled through time twice in a single day (relative to themselves, of course) all they felt was relief and exhaustion. Twilight and Spike looked at each other with tired eyes and after a quick laugh to release the stress they had accumulated on their trip, decided it was time for bed. They headed upstairs, tucked themselves in and dozed off.
An even nine hours later, Twilight was out of bed, bright eyed and bushy tailed. Spike, on the other hand, would be hammering the snooze button if he had an alarm clock to begin with. After freshening up, she opened the curtains to let in the new day. That’s when she first discovered something was amiss; there were many starts in the sky, but none were the sun.
“Spike? What time is it?” she asked. Spike didn’t respond. He just quietly muttered something about pumpkins and birds. Twilight rolled her eyes and walked over to her clock. “5 o’ clock. Huh. Must have underslept.”
She tucked herself back into bed to sleep out the rest of the night. But before she began to doze off, she suddenly remembered something: when Trixie came by and opened the time portal, it was still morning. Twilight and Spike came back at night. Whatever time they arrived, it wasn’t the right one. They could be 12 hours off or they could be 12 years off for all she knew.
Twilight ran outside to make extra sure if anything was different. And sure enough, things were. The husks of wilted trees and plants lined the streets of Ponyville. Ponies in the streets were pale and paranoid. Buildings were dilapedated and signs were beaten.
“Something... is NOT right here.”
Twilight could throw a few hours sleep to get to the bottom of this apparently drastic mystery. She walked through town to see if there were any familiar faces, whether she knows them personally or from the history books. She didn’t recognize any one in particular, but a lot of the ponies she passed did give her an estranged, fearful look. This did look like some sort of famine; could she have landed in the Great Equestrian Carrot Shortage? That possibility was ruled out when she found Rarity’s house; its architecture would be a massive anachronism to that theory. She walked inside to see if Rarity was there. The bell rang. The store was mostly empty, but still inhabited. Dusty old cardboard boxes lined the walls and cobwebs the ceiling. All that was there was somepony in a black, hooded cloak, quietly sewing away in the back of the shop.
“Rarity’s not the kind to let this place get so out of hand,” Twilight thought to herself. She quietly walked over to the figure in the back of the room. “Excuse me,” said Twilight nervously, “do you know if I could... find a pony named Rarity here?”
The pony stopped sewing. She rolled her hood back with her hooves. “Is there something I can help you with?”
Twilight couldn’t believe her eyes. It was Rarity. Or at least, something OF Rarity; her main was strayed and sloppy, her eyes tired and baggy. Twilight recognized her face, but not her spirit. “Rarity, what happened to you? What happened here? What’s going on?”
“I’m sorry, dear, but do I know you?”
“It’s me! Twilight!” no response. “Twilight Sparkle?” she elaborated. Rarity shook her head and resumed sewing. “You might be looking for a different Rarity, Ms. Sparkle. This one has nothing to offer, anyway.” She was right- this isn’t the Rarity Twilight was looking for- it was somepony else. But whether or not she was truly her friend Rarity, she was her only lead into this situation, so Twilight had no choice but to talk.
“I only know one Rarity, Rarity. She understands style, glamour and beauty to a T, but she never forgets that the greatest beauty is on the inside. And she’s greatest dress maker I know. She lives in this very building.”
Rarity stopped sewing again. She began to chuckle. Her chuckle grew into laughter. Twilight began to smile; had her friend come back? But her smile quickly turned into a frown as her laughter transformed into a sob. “Do you think you’re funny? Do you think it’s funny to walk into ponies’ homes and hold their failed dreams over them like a carrot on a fishing rod? Well, I have news for you Ms. Sparkle: You are talking to the bottom of the fashion barrel.” She pointed at the boxes scattered across the store. “These are filled with my life’s work. Boxes and boxes of failure. Each with disasters no better than the last. And do you want to know the saddest thing? I have nothing else. Fashion is all I truly understand. It’s part of me, down to my soul.” She sighed. Her frustration receded into meloncholy. Twilight started to feel very bad, both for herself and Rarity.
“Dressmaking is many things, Ms. Sparkle. A science, a study, a culture, all of which come naturally to me. But above all of that, it’s an art. There is an Art of the Dress, and I have wasted half my life at this sewing machine trying to understand it, all of my attempts doomed to failure.” A bitter raise in tone mixed with more tears. She looked sharply at Twilight. “Then you have the nerve to come in here and tell me that all of this time I’ve been sulking in success? Why don’t you take a look in those boxes and tell me in all honesty that any of those abominations are worth a cent?”
Twilight nervously walked over to one of the boxes lying on the floor and opened it up. She coughed as the dust escaped the box. She telekinetically picked up and unfurled a poorly cut dress with a strange mix of dark green and pink fabrics, meshed together with orange stitching, among plenty of other amateurish design choices. “It’s ...er... very... avant garde...?” Twilight gave a nervous smile. She had a tough time saying something honest and reassuring given material that was virtually irredeemable.
“Oh, don’t bother,” said Rarity returning to her depressed tone. “I can see in your eyes what you’re thinking. But... thanks anyway.”
“I’m sorry,” said Twilight. “But there’s really not much else I can say to help.”
“Then if you don’t mind, I’d like to get back to my dresses.” She put her hood back on.
Twilight folded the dress back up and put it back in the box. “Fair enough,” she said, “but even if you don’t think you know me Rarity, I know you very well. And I know that the reason you aren’t making any progress is because this isn’t the you I know. These dresses aren’t bona fide Rarity. And whether or not you think you have the skill, I know you have it inside you because I’ve seen it in action, and I’ve worn it. With pride. Not just pride in how it looks, but pride in the fact that it was made by the most artistically gifted, cunning, resilient, generous pony I know. But you aren’t going to be that until you accept that you have potential to.”
With that Twilight headed towards the door. As she turned, Rarity caught a glimpse of Twilight’s cutie mark against the moonlight beaming in from the window. “Potential...” she thought to herself as she lifted up the black cloak to get a look at her bare flank.
It crossed Twilight’s mind that they weren’t in a different time at all, but something they did in the past had a drastic effect on the present. She didn’t have any idea what that thing might have been, as both she and Spike were particularly cautious. Either way, it caused her to never meet Rarity, so it must have been something important. But before she could confirm how major the event was, she took it upon herself to find her friends, or possibly, friends-could-have-been, to get some answers. Rarity’s house was not far from Sugar Cube Corner, so Twilight chose Pinkie Pie as her next visit. Familiar with Pinkie’s erratic behavior, Twilight was aware she might have to take what she says with a grain of salt.
She walked into the sweet store with bated breath, but was surprised to find Mr. and Mrs. Cake at the counter; 6 AM is three hours before they open.
“Welcome!” greeted Mrs. Cake.
“Hi, Mr. and Mrs. Cake,” replied Twilight. “Is Pinkie around?”
The cakes looked at each other confused and then back at Twilight.
“Who?” inquired Mr. Cake.
That was not a good sign. Twilight didn’t know Pinkie if not for her love of sweets and partying. If the local sweets shop didn’t know her, there’s no telling what this world’s Pinkie is like or where she could be.
“Never mind,” said Twilight. “Thanks anyway.” She walked out of the store.
She sat at a table and thought to herself for a while. “If Pinkie’s not here, who knows where Applejack, Fluttershy or Rainbow Dash could have ended up?” She realized with all the dying trees around here that Applejack probably isn’t faring well either, being a farm pony. So off Twilight went to see what had become of her good friend Applejack.
As Twilight arrived at the hill overlooking Applejack’s farm and orchard, she was taken aback by the decay that covered the landscape from her hooves to the horizon. No apples, no leaves- nothing but blackened bark and hopelessness. With some trepidation, she walked over to the farmhouse.
With a feeling of vague deja vu, she knocked on the door. Granny Smith answered. “Oh, a visitor,” she said frailly. “We don’t get many visitors. May I help you, young filly?”
“Hi Ms. Smith, do you remember me?” asked Twilight. Granny squinted and examined Twilight. “Sorry deary, but I don’t recall. But then my memory hasn’t been too good in years. Should I know you?”
“That depends, is Applejack here?” Twilight looked behind her, to see if Applejack was in the house.
“Sorry young lady, but she hasn’t lived here in years. Apparently, the farm life wasn’t good enough for her, so she headed off to Manehattan. Why? Did she do something?”
“...No, no, everything’s fine. Well, more or less. Sorry to disturb you.”
Applejack was gone too. That’s three of her friends she may have never met. With luck, there was some hope that she may have crossed Rainbow Dash or Fluttershy at some point
Whatever the case, Twilight’s search caused her to lose track of the time. When she returned to town, she saw a clock, the hands showing it to be 9. She was starting to get suspicious- it was 9 in the morning, yet there was no sign of the sun. Was it 9 PM? No, she woke up at 5 and it was just as dark then. Was it winter? Did the sun set early? No, it was the middle of the summer; for too warm and humid for a winter night, anyway. It was a puzzling paradox that not even having a military clock could solve.
And with that, the fact hit her like a brick; there was only one reason she ever knew of that the sun would not rise: Nightmare Moon.
It was all starting to make sense to Twilight- it was her and her friends that stopped Nightmare Moon from conquering Equestria; if she never met her friends, she would have never found the Elements of Harmony and ended her scheme. There hasn’t been any sunlight since the Summer Sun Celebration they first met. All she knew at this point is if she was to get anywhere, Twilight had to reunite with her friends. It was going to be a long trip, but Twilight had to start with her only lead: Manehattan.
The Big Apple
After a day’s journey, Twilight finally arrived in the big city. It was only at this point though that she made an important realization: she has no idea where to look. She was in one of the most heavily populated metropolises in Equestria, split over several districts, no less. This wasn’t going to be a door-to-door search.
Though daunted by the scale of the town, Twilight was not one to give up so easily. She was resourceful- she knew that in a city this big, there must be a way to find the one pony who she’s looking for. She started at the one facility she could always count on in any city: the library.
She asked a few ponies on the street to guide her in the direction of the library. As she trotted to her destination, wind started to pick up. Not too soon after, rain started to fall. The shower became a thunderstorm and her trot became a gallop as she tried to escape the downpour.
She was soaking wet by the time she arrived at the library. She didn’t want to mess up any of the books, so she shook the water off her coat under the front awning, and walked inside. It was a big library- larger than she was used to. Ten stories tall, filled with what may have been at least one copy of every book ever written. All she needed now was one book, with one name. As she looked around, she spotted the librarian sitting at a round desk in the center of the lobby. She was an old graying mare with a light blue coat and a pile of books for her cutie mark. “Why hello miss, Can I help you?” she asked Twilight.
“As a matter of fact, I am looking for something. Somepony, actually. You wouldn’t happen to have a directory, would you?”
The librarian smiled and took out a large book from under her desk. She actually might have pulled a muscle, as it was a very massive tome; its spine was wider than it was long.
“Everypony living in Manehattan should be in this book, Miss Sparkle. Hopefully the princess will find who she’s looking for.”
“Actually, this is- wait a moment.” Twilight was confused. Her voice started to speed up as things were starting to get ahead of her. “How do you know my name? How is the princess involved in this?”
The librarian seemed just as surprised as well. “What are you talking about Miss Sparkle? You’ve been coming here for quite some time now to regularly pick up information for the princess.”
Twilight seemed relieved to find her life doesn’t sound too different from when she left- better even. From the sound of it, she was promoted from Celestia’s pupil to assistant, a fact that left a big smile on her face.
“Really!?!” she asked ecstatically. Her questions flooded her mind like a torrent and had to be released in a burst from her mouth. “How often do I come by? What do I say about the Princess? What does the princess say about me? What kinds of books do I-”
The librarian’s confusion became fear and suspicion. Why would Twilight be asking all of this- she should know all of the answers anyway. “Are you feeling... alright Miss Sparkle?” she asked?
“Never better!” said Twilight with a grin so wide it was scary. Apparently, the news of being Celestia’s assistant was enough to erase her mind of the current situation, at least for the time being. Unfortunately, her massive grin would soon become a massive frown upon hearing the next bit of information.
“Well, alright then, just find whoever it is you need to find. And give my regards to Princess Luna.”
A strange fear was trying to erupt from Twilight’s mind, but all she could muster was idle confusion. She had just come to grips with the fact that the biggest threat she had ever come to face had never been stopped. To hear that she was her courtier in this world was just overkill. All she could wonder was: why? What could have she have hinged on so much that without it, she could be willing to serve Nightmare Moon or her cause?
Twilight began to talk to herself, trying to justify the situation internally. She was more than welcoming to the possibility her counterpart in this reality was only feigning loyalty but was actually a saboteur. But Twilight was not one to entertain a thought without seeing the facts, and she still had plenty of work to do. She had difficulty finding Applejack in the directory, but she did manage to find locate her through an asterisk under the Orange name. Memorizing the address, Twilight made a beeline for the library’s exit.
The rain was starting to pick up. Twilight braved the storm and made her way to the Upper East Side of Manehattan. While turning a corner, she accidentally slipped into a puddle. “Wagh!” she yelped. Twilight was soaked and somewhat disoriented from the fall. She heard a friendly, female voice approach from behind her. “Oh, you poor thing. Do you need some help?” Twilight stood up slowly, her joints aching a bit from hitting the ground. She shook some water out of her coat and rubbed some mud out of her eyes. “I’m fine… but thanks for asking.” The voice continued. “Look at you- all drenched. Do you have someplace to stay for the night? I can’t possibly let you stay out in this horrendous weather.” Twilight turned around to face the voice. She still couldn’t quite see, but she could tell the source of the voice was very posh- if she didn’t know any better, she would have thought it to be Rarity. “Look, it’s very nice of you to offer, but I’m looking for somebody.” She started to trot off on her original course. “But thanks for your help, Miss…”
Twilight stopped short in her step and turned back. Her vision now clearing, she found it hard to believe what was before her. Where there was once a cowboy hat there is now a beehive haircut. Where there were once freckles, there is now a smooth, clean muzzle. And most shockingly, where there was once a cutie mark with three apples, there was now a cutie mark of an appletini.
Apples and Oranges
“So let me get this straight… Twilight, was it? You come from another world much like this one where I lived in Ponyville and was a friend of yours?” Applejack gave Twilight a suspicious look across the dinner table. “I know it sounds absolutely crazy, Applejack, but I don’t know how else to put it,” replied Twilight.”
“Dear, if you told this fable to my auntie or uncle, they’d boot you back onto the streets for being some kind of mad vagrant. But not me.”
Twilight smiled. Did that really work? Was she getting through to Applejack? But that hope started to fade away as Applejack put on an angry look.
“I should kick you out for trying to trick me into trying to come back to the farm! Is my family still so upset after all these years that they had to send someone to trick me out of my great life here? Really! They should be happy for me if anything. I can’t believe I was foolish enough to let you stay here. I’m sorry, but I must ask you to leave.” She pointed her hoof at the door.
Twilight was a distraught by Applejack’s outburst and subconsciously offended by her theory. But she couldn’t judge- her own story is a lot to take in and Applejack’s belief that it was a trick had the advantage made more sense by an Occam’s razor standard. “Look, I can’t tell you what to believe, but I assure you that your family didn’t send me. I’m not asking for you to come home AJ.” Applejack glared at her for the colloquial nickname “All I need is your help.”
The table was silent for a moment. The only noise was the grandfather clock at the edge of the room ticking away. Under the stress, it felt like an hour passed between each tick to Twilight, but Applejack couldn’t even hear it anymore, looking in the other direction and lost in thought. Eventually, she started to speak. “Even if your story is true… why should I help you?”
“What do you mean?”
“If I were to help you go back to the past and fix… whatever it is you broke, I’d be living back on the farm, right?”
“Well, what if I don’t want that?”
“I have a fine life here, Twilight. Yes, being surrounded by socialites made me homesick when I was young, but I gave it a chance and, honestly… I discovered it to be a clean, enriching, welcoming world. I would not have gotten this cutie mark if I didn’t discover this was the right place for me.”
Twilight was confused. Was it possible that a pony could find her place in something else entirely if conditions were different? Had she not only changed the progress of her world but fate itself? Only one thing to ask:
“How did you get your cutie mark anyway, if you don’t mind me asking?”
Applejack looked at Twilight at smiled. “Oh, it’s not a grand tale, but it was an interesting night. It was a few years ago- I was at my coming-out party…”
Applejack had just gotten into her dress; it was a beautiful design, a real Hoity-Toity creation. A pure white gown, it reflected the virgin personality she grew to adopt, just as her aunt and uncle adopted her. She walked out of her room and found her aunt waiting for her. “How do I look?” she asked, gracefully posing.
“Oh, just marvelous, dear! Simply brilliant! Oh, you remind me of me at your age.” She approached Applejack. “I remember how you looked when you first came here. You were so preciously simple, without standard or grace. I wanted to make a true mare out of you, and seeing you now…” she was holding back a few tears. “I couldn’t be prouder.” She embraced Applejack with her hooves. “Now, go out there and give the world the gift of you.”
Applejack looked out at the ballroom. It looked like the entire city of Manehattan was waiting for her. She had cold feet, but she looked back at her aunt’s face and knew she couldn’t turn back now. She slowly walked down the stairs in her white heels, welcoming a round of turning eyes and applauses. There were her friends from her private school. Her mentors. Some ponies she didn’t even know. And of course, her Uncle, who flashed her a wink of approval. But with all those eyes on her, filled with pride and appreciation, Applejack felt something inside- that she was a part of something bigger: a community. She used to miss working on the farm as a filly. But these long years have shaped her into something else, something she could finally believe her choice to stay was worth it. After all, apples can’t appreciate her like these ponies do.
Through that long night, Applejack couldn’t stop smiling. She mingled. She talked. She had fun. She felt reborn. She didn’t find it until she took off her dress that night, but there was her cutie mark, plain as day. An appletini- an icon representing her class and love of mingling.
“So you see, Twilight- I really wish I could help you. I do. But you must understand that I can’t just give up my entire history, everything I’ve come to accept… if your story were true, of course.”
Twilight started to question if this was worth taking away from Applejack. But she still knew the situation was above both of them- the fate of Equestria was still at stake. If she couldn’t convince Applejack to take back her true calling, then all she could do is explain the consequences in the greater scheme of things.
“Let me ask you this,” said Twilight, “how long has it been since Princess Luna took away the sun?”
“About a year, I believe.”
“Right. And you don’t have to be a farmer to know that a plant doesn’t last long without sunlight. Correct?”
“…What are you trying to say, dear?”
“How do you think your farm’s fairing?” That’s when it hit Applejack.
“…My goodness. I never even considered. Poor Big McIntosh. Poor Granny Smith! What are they going to do without the farm?”
“This is above just you Applejack. Your Aunt and Uncle will be fine without you, trust me, but if you’re not going to do it for me, at least do it for your family. Your true family.”
Applejack was speechless and perplexed. She has just been given hardest decision of her life. Though she tried to tell herself otherwise, she really couldn’t doubt Twilight anymore. She just needed one last piece of information.
“In your world, Twilight… with my life on the farm- am I happy there?”
“In my world… you’re the jolliest pony I ever knew. Well, second jolliest anyway. You’re a proud and fulfilled hard worker. Honest, to your friends and to yourself. Trust me. You won’t be giving up anything. In fact, you’ll be saving the world, and that’s a lot bigger than being a big star in your local circle.”
This world had brought Applejack a new life that seemed to make her just as content as the one of Twilight’s reality. It was one life versus another. Different in nature, but in the end, equal fulfillment. Apples and oranges.
Applejack started to tear up. She began to think. “It’s strange Twilight- somehow, I get the feeling you know me better than I do myself. Uncanny, but all the more reason I have to trust you. But if I can do anything to save my family, then very well, I’ll help you.”
Twilight had stayed in Applejack’s guest room that night (at least according to the clocks it was ‘night.’) The next morning, they both awoke to yet another sunless day. Before they could do anything else, they had to find the three remaining ponies in Twilight’s original circle of friends. They both set off into the streets with absolutely no idea where to go next. Twilight didn’t expect Applejack to have any leads toward any of the others, but it couldn’t hurt to ask.
“Applejack, you wouldn’t happen to be familiar with the name Rainbow Dash, Fluttershy or Pinkie Pie, would you?”
“Sorry, but those don’t ring any bells.” She shook her head, but then her eyes suddenly widened. “Wait- you mentioned a ‘Pinkie Pie’? You wouldn’t happen to be talking about Pinkamena Pie, would you?”
“That’s her full name, yes.”
“You can’t be serious. You mean to tell me that, in your world, you are friends with the greatest business icon in all of Equestria?”
“Business icon? What are you talking about?”
“Oh, so she’s not the founder and CEO of Geoquine Industries where you come from?”
Twilight stopped in her tracks. “Pinkie Pie? A business executive? She shouldn’t even have a paid job. She just kind of… throws parties.” Applejack started to trot forward and Twilight started walking to keep up.
“My, my, that certainly sounds like an interesting life. But your ‘Pinkie’ Pie is a true paragon of the financial world.”
“It was just a few years ago. Everypony knows the story by now. She grew up as a diligent worker on a rock farm. One day, her family harvested a large surplus of rock and marketed it to the rest of Equestria.”
“Rocks!?!” Twilight said in so much surprise it almost seemed like anger. “How does anypony sell- no, how CAN anypony sell… rocks? What use could one possible have for rocks?”
“You’re standing on rocks right now, aren’t you?” replied Applejack nonchalantly.
Twilight looked down. Indeed, she was standing on a cobblestone street.
“But that’s not something that…“ she stopped and took a breath. “Eh, never mind. But where can we find Pinkie?”
“Lucky for us, Geoquine Headquarters is right in Manehattan’s financial district, just several blocks south of here.” Applejack pointed southward. “I doubt we’ll be able to get to see Pinkamena Pie, though. She must be a very busy mare, after all…” Applejack looked a bit depressed; this wasn’t going to be an easy task. But she motivated herself by remembering what’s at stake. She stood up straight and glanced at Twilight. “Come, come. No time to waste. If I’m going to save my family- and Equestria, then we must be off.” They both ran off toward the city’s horizon.