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The Snowball Effect

Chapter 1:  “A Little Jaunt”

        Wind Whistler laid down in a patch of thick, soft grass and rolled on to her back.  The bright sun shined down on her pale blue underside, bathing her in warmth.  She spread her wings on the ground as wide as they would stretch without straining to catch more of the warm rays.  She exhaled a sigh as her entire body relaxed.

        It was one of those lazy afternoons when the weather was nice and nothing was going on in particular.  There was no news about harpies, and no news was always good news when it came to them.  Even the general chores and duties around Dream Castle and the surrounding area were done, leaving everyone to spend the afternoon as they pleased.  She usually read or contemplated something for recreation.  However, today, she felt like spending the precious reprieve lying in the grass and sunning herself.

        “Wind Whistler,” Wind Whistler heard Gusty call out.

        Wind Whistler blew her wavy, pale pink bangs out of her eyes.  There was always something.  She folded her wings against her sides and rolled on to her side.  She looked up to see the white unicorn galloping towards her.

        Gusty stopped next to her.  “Hey, Wind Whistler, what are you doing?”

        “I am just sunning myself,” Wind Whistler answered honestly.  “Why?”

        “Magic Star wants to see you in the rainbow chamber when you get the chance,” Gusty answered.  “We’ve found something.”

        “What is it?”

        “It’s kind of hard to explain,” Gusty said.  “We don’t really know what it is.  That’s why Magic Star wants you to see it.”

        Wind Whistler heaved a sigh.  “All right, I will see what it is.”  She rolled on to her hooves and stood up.

        She spread her wings and leapt into the air.  She had picked a spot not too far from Dream Castle and the waterfall that was the head of the stream that passed by it.  She flew to the waterfall cascading down from the plateau into a pond as its base.

        She landed at the foot of what looked like a normal rock face next to the waterfall.  However, they had learned better.  Gusty galloped passed her to the cliff and placed her hoof against it.  The rock disappeared to reveal a huge, dark gray, metal door.  The door split in half and slid open.

        Wind Whistler and Gusty walked into the huge elevator beyond the door.  The doors slid shut, squeezing off the light from the outside and leaving them in the almost nonexistent light inside.  The air also became noticeable cool all of a sudden.  Dull clunks resounded around them and Wind Whistler felt the elevator descend.

        Wind Whistler’s eyes adjusted to the dimness.  Though, there was not much to see.  They stood in a giant, metal box with a tiny, dim light in the ceiling and dark purple walls.  The elevator slowed to a stop and the doors in the opposite wall slid apart.  They walked out into the massive, room on the other side and the doors slid shut behind them with a thunderous thud that echoed around them.

        Wind Whistler could not help but think of the irony they called this dim, gloomy room the rainbow chamber.  Even after all the time she had been in it, the thought was still the first thing that entered her mind.  Tiny lights in the ceiling like the one in the elevator provided scant illumination at best and the dark purple walls absorbed much of what little light there was.  It had to the diametric opposite of rainbows.

        “I’m glad you could come so soon,” Magic Star said.  The yellow earthling walked up to them.  “I’m sorry if we interrupted anything.”

        “It was nothing important,” Wind Whistler replied.  “What do you want me to see?”

        “It’s up here,” Gingerbread said.  Wind Whistler looked up at the giant control panels along the same wall as the elevator where Gingerbread’s voice came from.  The white earthling stood on the main control panel.

        Wind Whistler fluttered up to the control panel and landed next to Gingerbread on an area free of illuminated controls.

        “I was looking through the controls to see what other capabilities the rainbow has,” Gingerbread said.  She motioned to the monitor in front of them.  “I unlocked a fourth coordinate to the destination code.”

        Wind Whistler looked at the huge monitor in the center.  In glowing, red text, it displayed the latitude, longitude and elevation like normal.  They were the all too familiar coordinates of Megan’s home as it was the default destination.  However, at the end, there was the seven digit number 4907343.  It seemed completely arbitrary.

        “What does it mean?” Wind Whistler asked.

        “We were hoping you would know,” Gingerbread replied.  “Could it be time or other planets?”

        Wind Whistler pondered for a moment.  It did not seem like temporal coordinates ruling out time.  The rainbow was also not strong enough to extend very far out of Earth’s atmosphere ruling out other planets.  They had made the equipment display its readouts in English instead of its original language.  The translation might have lost the format to this fourth coordinate.

        Her mind wandered to the rainbow the machine was connected to.  It then came to her like the proverbial light bulb switching on in her head.  “Of course.  It must be a dimensional address.”

        “A dimensional address?” Gingerbread asked.

        “Think about it,” Wind Whistler said.  “This machine is tied to what was a naturally occurring dimensional bridge.  Its purpose was probably not only move to different places on the planet but also to different dimensions.”  She looked up at the monitor and the number in particular.  “This is a huge find.”

        Magic Star sighed.  “I was hoping it would be something more practical.  We don’t need to travel to other dimensions.  There are enough problems in this one.”

        “We can use it to get back to our home dimension,” Gusty said eagerly.  She grinned mischievously.  “I’d like to rattle the witches’ cage.”

        “We might also search for those who left Ponyland to see if they formed another country on another part of the planet,” Wind Whistler said.

        “I like that idea.”  Gingerbread walked around the massive buttons, switches, and dials.  “We can probably find trips within our dimension in the records.”

        She stepped on a rectangular button.  It sank into the panel and glowed pink.  A list of coordinate sets appeared on the main monitor.  She planted her hoof on smaller button and the list changed.  Several sets were red while others were white like those at the top.  Those in white had the dimensional address 4709343 like those at the top while those in red had the address 2698235.

        “Those coordinates in red must be our home dimension,” Wind Whistler said.

        “I guess they’re a different color so they stand out,” Gingerbread said.  “I’ll just select one and enter it as a destination code.”

        She tapped another button repeatedly.  A box appeared on the monitor and moved down to a red set.  She jumped towards the massive enter button.  The giant rectangle compressed and glowed.  However, a large, red message stating “RESTRICTED” appeared on the monitor with a low buzzer sounding.

        Gingerbread scowled at the monitor.  “What do you mean it’s restricted?”

        “Perhaps whoever built this intended to limit travel in our dimension,” Wind Whistler suggested.  She did her best to hide her disappointment from her expression and tone.  It would have been nice to return to their home dimension again.  However, that was apparently impossible.

        Gingerbread heaved an exasperated sigh.  “Figures.”

        The list appeared on the monitor again.  Wind Whistler read through it.  The red coloring must have meant the set was restricted.  All of the sets with the dimensional address 2698235 were red.  However, one white set near the bottom had an address different from the others: 2692239 instead of 4709343.

        Wind Whistler raised an eyebrow.  She had not noticed it when the list first appeared.  Though, she was concentrating on the colors.  “I wonder what is with that one.”  She pointed to the set.

        Gingerbread looked up at the monitor.  “I don’t know.”  She hopped on a series of buttons.  The box collapsed to one coordinate and worked its way to encase the address.  The rest of the list disappeared and the set moved to the top.  “It’s the only one to this address.  It might have been an expedition or a test of the equipment.”

        She looked to Wind Whistler and her mouth widened into a grin as if she had swallowed the pet canary.  “Why don’t we check it out?”

        “I don’t know,” Magic Star said warily.  “There’s no telling what’s there.”

        Wind Whistler looked down to Magic Star.  She looked up at them with a small, uncertain frown.  She had always been the cautious one.  It was one of the many reasons she was the mistress of Dream Castle as she reigned in the others when needed.

        Wind Whistler considered what dangers might lurk in this other dimension, but also the wonders.  Her curiosity won over her caution.  “That is the point of exploration, to make the unknown known,” she said to Magic Star.  “It would not hurt to investigate the dimension a little.”

        “Just on the fly?” Magic Star asked.  “That’s not like you, Wind Whistler.”

        Wind Whistler could not argue with her on that point.  She usually preferred to think things through and not give in to impulse.  However, she really wanted to get at least a glimpse of this world.  Her imagination was running wild, and her curiosity was nagging her.  She could not resist the urge to indulge it.

        “I am not thinking of an extensive expedition,” Wind Whistler replied, “just a short little jaunt to see what is there.”

        Magic Star paused for a second.  “All right.  You can open the rainbow.”

        “Nice negotiating Wind Whistler,” Gingerbread said.

        She leapt onto the enter button.  The coordinates disappeared and appeared again in big, red numbers.  A yellow hologram of a wire frame globe also appeared.  Solid areas representing land appeared on the globe, but not like the continents of Earth.  In the middle of one of the continents in the northern hemisphere, a red dot appeared to indicate the location of their destination.

        Wind Whistler fluttered down the ground.  She happened to catch an orange earthling out of the corner of her eye.  She turned to see Applejack sitting up against the wall.  “I did not know you were in here,” she said to Applejack.

        Applejack turned to her and shrugged.  “I just felt like being here.”

        “Here we go!” Gingerbread announced.

        She jumped on the activation button.  The metal rings lining a short tunnel in the wall opposite the control panel glowed blue.  A vortex of light and color formed in the tunnel and expanded to fill it.  The light from the vortex flooded the room with harsh light, casting vivid shadows behind everything.

        Wind Whistler turned back to the monitors above the control panels.  Gingerbread stepped on a button to bring up a series of readings on the far left monitor.  “A nitrogen and oxygen dominate atmosphere and temperature of twenty-three degrees centigrade,” Wind Whistler read out loud.  “Sounds like a nice day over there.”

        “Let’s see for ourselves,” Gusty said eagerly.

        “I’ve got some instructions before you go,” Magic Star said.

        Gusty sighed and rolled her eyes.  “Of course you do.”

        Magic Star picked up a band with a watch on it.  Wind Whistler lifted her hoof so she could pull it around her front leg.  “I’m guessing bridging dimensions will take more time to cool down the system and rebuild power, so I’ll give you an hour over there.  See what there is to see, but minimize your contact with whatever is there.”

        “We will,” Wind Whistler replied.

        “I’ll come along too.”  Applejack trotted up to them.  She licked her chops.  “Maybe there are new things to eat over there.”

        “Thinking with your stomach as always,” Gusty said.

        Applejack scowled at her.

        “You are welcome to come along,” Wind Whistler said.

        She flew towards the vortex.  The light and color surrounded her and she felt something pull her forward.  She tucked in her wings and let the vortex carry her forward.

        Usually, their time in the vortex was a few seconds.  However, bridging dimensions must have taken longer as the vortex seemed to stretch on.  She looked back to see Gusty and Applejack floating just behind her.  Around them, the tube of light and color flew past them.

        The effect started to hurt Wind Whistler’s eyes and made her a bit nauseous.  Hopefully they would arrive at the other end soon.

        Finally, the forward pull subsided and Wind Whistler felt gravity taking hold again.  She landed on the bottom of the vortex edge.  It supported her like it was solid instead of energy.

        She walked to the edge and stopped to look at where they had arrived.  The vortex opened up to a well established dirt road passing through an apple orchard that covered the hills as far as she could see.  A split rail fence ran along the side of the road, suggesting there was civilization for some kind here.

        “I’ve died and gone to heaven,” Wind Whistler heard Applejack say from behind her.

        The three jumped out of the vortex and it collapsed into nothingness.  Wind Whistler set the watch on her hoof to count down from 60 minutes.

        “It’s like Dream Valley with all these apple trees everywhere,” Gusty said.

        Wind Whistler opened up all of her senses to take in as much as she could.  The songs of various kinds of birds filled the air.  The smell of dirt and sweet, ripe apples entered her nostrils.  She even took note that the road they stood on was soft under her hooves.

        She turned her attention to the sky.  It was a beautiful.  Along with being pleasantly warm, it was sunny with white, fluffy clouds drifting through the blue sky.

        She realized the clouds were not drifting at all.  She watched them for a few seconds.  They were absolutely stationary.  Wind Whistler furrowed her brow at this.  She had never seen fair weather clouds be stationary.

        One of them suddenly moved.  It quickly slid across the sky.  Wind Whistler wondered what could make it do that when she saw something that made her gasp.  It was a pegasus just like her.

        “There are ponies here!” she gasped.

        “What?” Gusty asked.

        “Look.”   Wind Whistler pointed up at the mint green pegasus.

        Gusty looked up and her jaw dropped.  “You’re right.  But, how?”

        “Apparently ponies like us developed in this dimension too,” Wind Whistler said.  She then remembered the dimensional address of their old home dimension and this one.  “Come to think of it, this dimension and our home dimension have very similar addresses.  Perhaps it represents a high degree of congruency between them.”

        “Whatever that means,” Gusty said.  “Why don’t we stop talking about it and do some sightseeing.”

        Wind Whistler flew up above the apple orchards.  She looked around the hilly area.  A collection of buildings caught her attention immediately.  She flew back to Gusty and Applejack.  “There is a town that way.”  She pointed in the direction of the community.

        “Let’s check it out then,” Gusty said.  “Magic Star won’t believe us when we tell her this.”

        “Since they are ponies like us,” Wind Whistler mused aloud, “I think we can make contact so long as we do not reveal we are not from this dimension.  We are here for only an hour, they would just think we are passing through.”

        “I’ll stay here,” Applejack said, licking her chops.

        “Suit yourself,” Gusty said.

        “Remember, we have to be here in one hour and don’t let anyone know you are from another dimension,” Wind Whistler said.  “Also stay out of trouble in general.”

        “Yeah, yeah, yeah,” Applejack said hastily.  “You guys do your thing, I’ll do mine.”

        Wind Whistler turned to Gusty.  “I figure the town is about five minutes away at a moderate gallop, so we will return with ten minutes to go.”

        “Then let’s get moving.”  Gusty turned to Applejack.  “Try not to eat too many apples, Applejack.  You’ll need to fit in the vortex on the way back.

        Applejack bent her mouth into an exaggerated frown.  “I’ll try to keep that in mind, Gusty,” she said grumpily.

         Gusty turned and galloped down the dirt road.  Wind Whistler took to the air and followed her.

* * *

        Applejack watched Gusty and Wind Whistler disappear around a bend.  She then turned her attention to the trees full of big, juicy apples of verying shades of green and red.  Her mouth watered at the sight of them.  There were baskets sitting at the base of several trees meaning they were to be harvested.  They had to be edible.

        “You all look so delicious,” Applejack said greedily to the apples.  “I could eat you up.  In fact, I think I will.”

        She looked the orchard.  “Now, I just need a ladder so I can reach you.”  She did not see a ladder anywhere.

        Applejack bent her mouth into a confused frown.  How did they intend to get the apples in the baskets without climbing to into the trees to pick them?  Moreover, how was she supposed to get up there?

        She noticed a little, yellow earthling filly with a large, pink bow in her red mane skipping along the road.  She could ask her.  Hopefully they spoke the same language.  “Hey, kid, you wouldn’t know where I could get a ladder, would you?”

        The filly stopped and looked at her quizzically, cocking her head to one side.  “What do you need a ladder for, Applejack?” she asked with a slight accent.

        Applejack coiled back in shock.  At least she spoke the same language, but how did this Filly know her name?  Her haunch mark might lend the apple part, but for her to get her full name just like that was a big surprise.

        “I want to get some apples, so I need a ladder to climb into them,” Applejack replied, trying to downplay her surprise.

        The filly chuckled.  “Why don’t you just buck ‘em down like always?”

        Applejack raised her eyebrows.  The Filly acted like she knew her and that she knew what she was talking about.  Why was that?

        “What do you mean by buck?” Applejack asked.

        The filly frowned at her.  “Are you pulling my leg, Applejack?  You’ve shown me a thousand times.  You buck those trees for all they’re worth to shake the apples out.”

        Applejack frowned herself and eyed the filly warily.  “Why would I ever do that?  The fall would bruise the apples.”

        The filly’s eyes widened.  “What?  What’s gotten into to you, Applejack?”  She looked Applejack over.  “Come to think of it, where’s your hat, and what happened to your hair.  You’re also talking funny.”

        Applejack thought for second of her curly, blond hair.  It was how her mane and tail had been since she was a filly.  “My hair has always been, and I’ve never worn a hat.  I’m also not talking funny.”

        The filly scowled at her.  “Granny Smith’s gonna have to call you the doctor.  You’ve obviously been out in the sun too long.”  She grabbed Applejacks leg and tried to pull her away.

        Applejack pulled her hoof out the filly’s grasp.  “There’s nothing wrong with me.”

        The filly scowled at her again.  She yelled, “BIG MACINTOSH,” at a volume Applejack did not expect to hear from such a little pony.

        A thud resounded from behind her and made the ground shake.  She looked behind her timidly, almost afraid of what was behind her.  The biggest stallion she ever saw loomed over her.  The huge earthling had a red coat and ratty, blond hair.  However, it was his size that caught Applejack’s attention.  She gulped as she wondered what he would and could do.

        “What is it, Applebloom?” the stallion, apparently Big Macintosh, asked.

        “Applejack’s real sick,” the filly, apparently named Applebloom, said.  “She thinks she’s a completely different pony.  We need to get her back to the house and call the doctor.”

        “All right.”  Big Macintosh put his nose under Applejack.  Before she could do anything, he flipped her on his back.

        “Don’t worry, sis,” Big Macintosh said.  “The doc’ll fix you up.”

        “Sis?” Applejack asked.  “You mean sister?  I’m not your sister?”

        “See what I mean?” Applebloom asked.

        “I’m telling you, I’m not your sister,” Applejack insisted.

        Applebloom and Big Macintosh walked down the road in the opposite direction Gusty and Wind Whistler had gone.  Applejack was tempted to slide off Big Macintosh’s back and make a run for it.  However, he would probably catch her.  Her best bet was to let them take her to their house and she could work this out with them.

* * *

        Wind Whistler looked around the town as she and Gusty strolled through the streets of the town.  Ponies went about their business.  They bought food and goods from stands and entered and exited the thatch-roofed buildings.  There were more ponies milling about than she had ever seen in her life, and this was probably just a small, rural town.

        The town was well cared for.  There was no litter in the streets and the landscaping was trimmed and vibrant.  The town even smelled almost as clean as the surrounding countryside.  The ponies also seemed well groomed and healthy for the most part.

        “Reminds me of the pictures from before the Fall,” Gusty said.

        Wind Whistler nodded.  “I imagine this is what it was like during the time of the Pony Kingdom.”

        “Hey, Wind Whistler,” Gusty said.  “Why don’t we move everyone here?  Let’s forget trying to rebuild.  We have a civilization of ponies like us right here with all the comforts and conveniences we need.  I’m sure they would not notice an extra eighty ponies.”

        Wind Whistler shook her head.  “That would be impossible.”  She pointed to small, gray colt near a stand.  “Do you see that colt?”

        “Yeah.  What about him?” Gusty asked.

        “Notice his flank has no haunch mark,” Wind Whistler said, keeping her voice hushed.  “Our foals are born as young versions of their parents, including their marks.  They then grow their adult coats and mark when they reach maturity.  Although these ponies look very much like us, we are not entirely the same.”

        “I doubt they would notice,” Gusty replied dismissively.

        “Would they not notice that we live for more than two centuries if they do not?” Wind Whistler said.  “The pegasi of this dimension also seem to have some magical relationship with the clouds.  The pegasus earlier moved one like it was a solid object.  They would know.”

        She looked at the buildings.  She had no idea what was inside them, but their construction suggested a relatively low level of technology.  “That’s just biology.  What about culture, history, and technical knowledge?  We have had contact with other dimensions and have research and relics of dead civilizations they never knew of.”

        She turned to Gusty.  “Even if those all were not the case, it is impolite to invite ourselves into their civilization.”

        “I get your point,” Gusty grumbled.

        Wind Whistler returned her attention to the town.  Thankfully, she had been correct about the population’s attitude towards them.  They passed by them, barely taking any notice.  They were just two more ponies.

        “I don’t suppose we can talk to them, can we?” Gusty asked.

        Wind Whistler thought for a second.  The only real concern she had for speaking with the ponies here was language.  However, from what she had heard in the conversations around town, the language was almost exactly like theirs.  Their written language was even the same Pictoscript they had used before adopting the English alphabet.  “I do not see a problem,” Wind Whistler said.  “Just avoid telling them where we are from.”

        A pink earthling mare with very fizzy hair walked close to them.  She stopped and looked at them.  They stopped and looked at her.

        “Hello,” Gusty said.

        The mare gasped and jumped clear off her hooves before dashing away.

        Wind Whistler stared at the fleeing pony as she disappeared behind a building.  “That was odd.”

        “Maybe talking to them isn’t such a good idea,” Gusty said.

        “Perhaps we could do a little research.”  Wind Whistler looked at the watch on her leg.  They had about 45 minutes before the rainbow would be reactivated.  “We can read up on their world for a half hour in a local library.”

        “We’re in luck.  There’s one right there.”  Gusty pointed to a large tree in the middle of the square.  However, windows and a door were carved into the trunk to make it a building.  A wooden sign next to the door had a picture of a book and the words “Books and Branches Library” written in Pictoscript under it.

        Wind Whistler walked up to the French door and pushed it open.  They walked in and looked around.  The interior of the trunk had been carved out to make a cozy place.  Books sat on shelves carved right out of the trunk wood and a stairway led to an open second floor.  The semi-circular windows let copious amounts of sunlight into the room.

        A purple unicorn mare walked along one of the shelves.  Her horn glowed as well as several books hovering around her.  The books levitated into empty spaces on the shelves.  She looked to them and stopped.  “Hello, welcome to the Books and Branches Library.  Can I help you?” she asked politely.

        “We are just passing thought we would spend our time doing some reading,” Wind Whistler replied just as politely.  “Where are your books on history?”

        “They’re over there.”  The unicorn pointed a shelf on the other side of the room.  “I’m Twilight Sparkle, by the way.”

        “Wind Whistler.”


        “If you need any help, just ask,” Twilight Sparkle said and returned to placing books on the shelves.

        “At least she didn’t gasp and dart off like the last one,” Gusty said.

        Wind Whistler sat down in front of the shelf and scanned the books on it.  She saw one titled “Modern History of Equestria.”  Apparently Equestria was the name for this country.  It sounded like as good a book as any to look in.

        She picked the book up in her mouth laid it down on a nearby table and opened it to the first page.  “Let us see what it is like here.”

        She skimmed through the table of contents.  An entry about the “Royal Pony Sisters” caught her eye.  She turned to the page and read through the entry.  “Equestria is ruled by two apparently immortal winged unicorn mares.  Princess Celestia raises the sun in the morning to bring on the day and Princess Luna raises the moon in the evening to bring on the night.”

        “That can’t be right,” Gusty said.

        Wind Whistler put her hoof to Gusty’s mouth and shushed.  She motioned to Twilight Sparkle.  “Quietly.”

        “Oh, right,” Gusty whispered.  “But, that can’t be right.  It’s the planet’s rotation that causes days and nights.”

        “In our old home dimension and Megan’s dimension perhaps,” Wind Whistler replied.  “However, we do not know how things work here.”

        She turned back to the table of contents.  She saw an entry on a place called Cloudsdale.  She thought of the pegasus moving that cloud like they were placing it.  She turned to the entry and skimmed over it.  She found the passage she was expecting.  “Ponies make the clouds and rainbows.”

        She found a passage on something called the Winter Wrap-Up where the ponies literally wrapped-up winter in preparation for spring.  “Many of the natural processes here are done manually by ponies.”

        “Why would that be?” Gusty asked.

        “Perhaps there was some titanic calamity long ago they disrupted the natural order of this world and the ponies now have to maintain nature,” Wind Whistler said.  “I wish I could do a full study of the ecology of this world.”

        She looked up when she heard the front door creak open.  A stack of scrolls on stubby, purple legs walked in.  The stack turned to show a purple, juvenile dragon with green spines down his back was carrying them.

        “Spike?” Wind Whistler and Gusty asked at the same time.

        The dragon looked to them.  “Do I know you?”

        Wind Whistler bit her lip to stifle a gasp.  She had to remember it was not the Spike she knew.  “I am sorry.  You remind me of a young dragon we know who is also named Spike.”

        “Oh,” Spike said.  He shrugged.  “It is a pretty common name for dragons.”

        “Small world isn’t it,” Twilight Sparkle said.

        Wind Whistler looked to Gusty.  Gusty looked back to her and seemed to be fighting an awkward grin as much as she was.

        Twilight Sparkle’s horn glowed and the scrolls hovered out of Spike’s claws.  “I we’re stocked up on scrolls.”

        “You can send your reports to Princess Celestia to your heart’s content,” Spike said.

        Gusty turned to Wind Whistler and put her mouth to her ear to whisper, “Isn’t Princess Celestia one of the rulers here?”

        “Yes,” Wind Whistler replied carefully.  “This mare must be one of her protégés.  How I wish I could ask her about it?”

        “She might get suspicious,” Gusty said.  “Besides, we only came here to check it out for an hour.”

        Wind Whistler looked at her watch.  The numbers counted down past 30:00.  She sighed.  There was so much to discover but so little time and too many ways to arouse suspicion.

        She looked up at Spike and Twilight Sparkle.  “It is fortunate we did not bring Spike along.”

        “At least we could get away with saying he’s just another dragon,” Gusty said.  “Could you imagine if we had doubles in this dimension and ran into them?”

* * *

        Big Macintosh carried Applejack to what was apparently a homestead.  An orange farm house sat next to a big, red barn surrounded by more apple trees.  He carried her towards the farm house.

        “Finally, I can explain to you I’m not your sister,” Applejack grumbled.

        “Granny Smith, call the doctor for Applejack!” Applebloom yelled at the farm house.

        “What?” a tired voice replied from inside.  An elderly earthling mare walked stiffly out of the front door.  She was pale green in color and her white mane and tail were both done up in buns.  “Why does Applejack need a doctor?”

        “I think she’s been apple bucking with her head,” Applebloom answered.  “She’s acting like she’s a completely different pony.”

        “What are you talking about, Applebloom?” a voice asked.

        Applejack looked up and gasped.  She wondered if her eyes were working properly.  Standing at the gate was almost a mirror image of her.  The same orange coat, the same blond hair and even the same three red apples on her haunch.  She wore her hair differently as it was straight and tied off at the end of her mane and tail.  She also wore a Stetson hat.

        “Applejack?” Applebloom asked the mare.  “But how?”

        She looked back to Applejack on Big Macintosh’s back.  Applejack stared at her double in shock.  “Oh, you’ve got to be kidding me.”

The Snowball Effect

Chapter 2:  A Hastier Than Expected Departure

        Applejack stared at her double who stared back at her.  She slid of Big Macintosh’s back and walked up to the orange mare.  They were practically identical.  They had the exact same shade of orange coat and blond hair.  They were the same size and build.  Although some ponies made fun of her big appetite, Applejack was actually quite fit from taking care of the apple trees around Dream Castle as this mare was except her double was a little more toned in the hind quarters.  If not for their different hair styles and her double’s hat, it would be like looking in a mirror.

        “What hay?” Applejack’s double finally said to break the awkward silence hanging in the air.  “Who are you?”

        “I’m Applejack,” Applejack answered.

        “That’s impossible,” her double retorted.  “I’m Applejack.”

        She turned to Applebloom.  “Where did she come from?”

        “I found her in the orchard near the bend in the road,” Applebloom answered.  “She was looking for a ladder to get some apples.”

        “Oh,” the other Applejack said dismissively.  Her eyes suddenly popped open and she glared at Applejack.  “That’s it.  You’re an imposter trying to steal our apples?”

        Applejack took a step back only to back into Big Macintosh.  “Your apples?” she stammered.  “You own this orchard?”

        “You better believe it, sister,” her double said with a growl to her voice, “and we don’t take kindly to thieves.”  She stepped menacingly closer.

        Applejack galloped away.  What else could she do?  She could not reveal she was actually from another dimension.  Her only hope was to find Wind Whistler and Gusty and return to Dream Valley.  There should not be much time left before they opened it for them to return.  She could then forget all of this like a bad dream and her double would hopefully forget about it too.

        She suddenly felt her legs be pulled out from under her.  The rest of her body flew forward before being stopped suddenly by her legs, and she fell on her stomach.  She rolled over on her side and tried to pull her hooves apart, but they were bound together.  She looked at her hooves and the lasso binding them.  Her double had the other end in her mouth and started pulling her in.

        Applejack felt tears welling up in her eyes and lump forming in her throat as she was dragged across the ground.  She wanted to go home.  She wanted to go back to the apple trees she cared for.  She did not want to go to jail in this strange dimension.

        “You don’t understand,” Applejack whimpered.  “This is all a big misunderstanding.”

* * *

        Wind Whistler snapped her head up from the book when she heard the front door burst open.  The pink mare from earlier literally hopped to Twilight Sparkle.  “Twilight, Twilight, Twilight!” she said excitedly, bouncing rapidly in place.

        Twilight Sparkle turned to the mare.  “What is it Pinkie Pie?”

        “You’re not going to believe this!” the mare, apparently named Pinkie Pie, said rapidly while still bouncing.  “I was walking through the streets not even a half hour ago!  That’s when I came across ponies!  Something told me they were new in town and needed to be introduced to everyone!  I was so excited I went,” she did the distinct gasp she did when they met her, “and dashed off!  I knew I had to plan them a surprise welcome party!”

        “Do you plan a surprise welcome party for everypony who comes to Ponyville?” Twilight Sparkle asked.

        Pinkie Pie stopped bouncing and giggled.  “Oh, Twilight, you’re so silly.”  She waved her hoof dismissively.  “Of course I do.  It’s just that Mr. and Mrs. Cake only let me actually throw one occasionally.”

        She started bouncing again.  “Anyway, I was trying to think of a good place to throw the party.  Sugar Cube Corner would be too obvious, so I thought of the library.  They would never expect a party in a library.  I remember how surprised you were when we threw you one here.”

        “And I thought Surprise was hyper,” Gusty murmured to Wind Whistler out of the corner of her mouth.

        Pinkie Pie glanced in Wind Whistler and Gusty’s direction.  She immediately stopped bouncing and dropped her head, sinking her face into an exaggerated scowl.  “Aww.  You’re already here.  And if you’re already here, that means you heard my plans.  And if you heard my plans, that means it won’t be a surprise.  And if it isn’t a surprise, I can’t call it a surprise welcome party.”

        Wind Whistler glanced to her watch.  They had less than eleven minutes before the rainbow would be activated again.  “I am sorry for spoiling your surprise.  We would not have time for a party anyway.  We have to move on.”

        “Where are you going?” Twilight Sparkle asked.

        “Uhh…”  Wind Whistler thought through her next words carefully.  “It is very far away.  It would be hard to explain.”

        Twilight Sparkle stood there for a second, staring at them.  Wind Whistler felt sweat forcing its way to the surface across her body like pins.  That sickening feeling like you had been caught doing something you were not supposed to twisted her innards.

        Twilight Sparkle shrugged.  “All right.  I hope you enjoyed your time in Ponyville.”

        Wind Whistler held back the urge to sigh in relief.  “We did.  Perhaps we will come back for a longer visit at some point.”

        “Then you have to stop by Sugar Cube Corner!” Pinkie Pie said excitedly, bouncing again.  “We’re the best sweets shop around.”

        “We’ll keep that in mind,” Gusty said.

        Wind Whistler picked up the books they had taken out and put them back in their places on the shelves.  She and Gusty walked out of the library.  What a report she had for Magic Star?

        She stopped when she noticed the bustle of the town had stopped.  Everyone was standing and staring in the same direction.  She followed their gazed to a group of earthlings with a cart.

        The pony that immediately caught her attention was Applejack.  However, her blond hair was straight and she wore a hat.  She, the elderly mare, giant stallion drawing the cart, and tiny filly all glared forward with their mouths bent into severe frowns as they walked through town.

        “I’m telling you this was all a big misunderstanding,” Applejack’s voice said, but Applejack’s mouth did not move.  Wind Whistler noticed four orange legs sticking out of the cart, tied together with rope.  The one wearing the hat was not Applejack, at least, not their Applejack.  Theirs must be the one in the cart.  “I didn’t realize the orchards were privately owned.  Where I come from, if you want an apple you can take an apple…or two…or a dozen.”

        “A likely story,” the hat wearing Applejack snapped back at the Applejack in the cart.  Her voice was slightly deeper and far more forceful than Applejack’s, even considering she was clearly angry.  She also had a distinct accent their Applejack did not have.  “If that’s the case, then why’d you go to the trouble to gussy yourself up to look like me?”

        “I didn’t,” the Applejack in the cart sobbed.  “This is how I really look, and my name’s Applejack too.”

        “Well, tell it to the judge,” the hat wearing Applejack said, glaring forward again.

        Wind Whistler heard a smack next to her.  She turned to see Gusty with her front hoof plastered on her forehead.  “Why did we agree to bring her along,” Gusty grumbled.

        “What is done is done,” Wind Whistler replied.  She held up her watch which was ticking towards nine minutes.  “We have to save her.  We should be on our way back right now.”

        Gusty sighed.  “And here I was starting to like this place.”

        She pointed her horn at the group.  A blast of wind erupted from it and blew straight at them, kicking up dust as it scraped along the street.  The gust blasted all four to the ground and Applejack fell out of the cart as it tipped over.

        “What did you do?” Twilight Sparkle gasped.

        Wind Whistler looked back to see Twilight Sparkle and Pinkie Pie standing in the doorway of the library.  Both stared forward with widened eyes and their mouths hanging open.

        Wind Whistler wished she could explain.  However, time and orders made that impossible.  She instead flew to Applejack.  In a little more than nine minutes, it would not matter anyway.

        “I’m glad to see you,” Applejack said as Wind Whistler landed next to her.  “Untie me, quick.”

        Wind Whistler grabbed the end of the knot.  It was a simple knot designed to keep Applejack’s leg’s bound.  However, a simple tug undid it and the rope fell from Applejack’s hooves.  Applejack quickly got to her hooves.

        “Let’s get out of here!”  Gusty galloped past them.

        Wind Whistler jumped into the air and flew after her.

* * *

        Big Macintosh watched his sisters and especially Granny Smith get up.  He was relieved to see his grandmother get to her hooves and seem no worse for wear.  A pony her age had to watch every fall.  

        Applejack took off after the imposter and the unicorn and pegasus who blew them down and Twilight and Pinkie Pie followed her.

        Big Macintosh tried to stand up.  However, the cart harnessed to his midsection kept him from rolling over.  He glanced up at some of the ponies watching.  “Eeee-help.”

* * *

        Gusty glared to Applejack.  “I swear, Applejack.  Only you.  Only you would try to still from your own dimensional double.”

        “I said this was a misunderstanding,” Applejack blubbered.

        “You can take up your little tiff when we return to Dream Valley.”  Wind Whistler flew between them.  “We must get back to the site in time to enter the rainbow.  Then all of this will be moot.”

        She glanced back.  Gusty looked back to see the other Applejack running after them with Twilight Sparkle and Pinkie Pie flanking her.

        “I am amazed by the similarity,” Wind Whistler said.  “I wonder what the odds are of two ponies from different dimensions being exactly alike down to their name and haunch mark.”

        “I’m more interested in how we’re supposed to ditch them,” Gusty said irritably.

        She looked forward and saw they were running towards a fairly large building.  It looked like a giant, blue and lavender carousel house with gold trim.  They were running towards its back.  “Go around that building and duck inside the front door.”

        They whipped around the building.  Gusty pushed the door open and slammed it shut as soon as they were in.

        Gusty looked around the place.  The blue and lavender with gold trim color scheme continued on the inside.  Life sized models of ponies attached to stands stood along the walls.  Many had fancy, colorful dresses draped over them.  A glass display case held colorful gems and small squares of fabric.  Doors to a number of fitting rooms were lined up along one wall.

        Gusty had never been in a clothing store.  Seeing as they usually wore no clothes, she never figured ponies would have one.  However, they were in one now.

        She heard galloping outside.  She peeked out the window.  The three ponies ran past, not aware they were inside.  She leaned against the wall and heaved a sigh of relief along with Wind Whistler and Applejack.

        “Welcome to Carousel Boutique.”

        Gusty almost jumped out of her skin from the sudden greeting.  She put her hoof over her heart which was thumping rapidly in her chest.  She looked forward.  A white unicorn mare with a purple mane and tail that twisted around in a series of large curls stood before them.

        “Ah, Applejack, what brings you here today?” the unicorn said in a welcoming tone.  “And what have you done with your mane.  I must say the curls suit you.”

        Gusty glanced to Wind Whistler and Applejack.  They glanced back at her and each other.  This pony must know the other Applejack.

        “And please introduce me to your friends,” the unicorn said.

        She looked to Gusty and Wind Whistler.  “Are you here to place an order?  Or perhaps I can do something about that green mess for you,” she directed the last sentence at Gusty.

        Gusty thought of her mane and tail.  Her hair did not behave as well as others’, especially for a mare.  However, the short, slightly ratty style suited her gruff image.  “My hair’s fine the way it is.”

        The unicorn shrugged.  “Suit yourself, darling.”  She walked towards a door to the back.  “I’ll need a few minutes to take your measurements.”

        Wind Whistler held up her watch.  It tacked past eight minutes.

        The door burst open and the other Applejack, Twilight Sparkle, and Pinkie Pie ran in.  Gusty turned to Wind Whistler and Applejack to tell them to get out.  However, the two were already creeping towards the door.  She got up and tiptoed towards the opened door.

        “Applejack?” the unicorn asked.  “How did you change your style back that fast?”

        “Then she is here,” the other Applejack huffed.

        “Who is here?” the unicorn asked.

        “An imposter trying to steal my family’s apples,” the other Applejack stated.  “She’s with a pale blue pegasus with pink hair and a white unicorn with green hair.”

        “The unicorn also has a red streak in her mane,” Pinkie Pie added.

        Gusty crept through the threshold.  A couple more steps and she would break out in a dead run.

        “Well they’re right there,” the unicorn said.

        Gusty hazarded a look back.  Her line of sight met up with the other Applejack’s glaring right at her.

        Gusty grinned weakly and then broke out into a full gallop.  She heard the other Applejack scream, “Get ‘em!”

        She looked back and saw all four ponies chasing after them.  She turned to Wind Whistler flying just ahead of her.  “We’re picking up a crowd back there,” she said she said nervously.

        “That is a greater problem than you would initially believe,” Wind Whistler said.  “Do not forget the extended time it took to transit through the vortex, time during which the rainbow is open at both ends and anything could enter.  We must divert them from their pursuit.”

        “Operation ditch the double,” Gusty said to herself to simplify what Wind Whistler had said.

        An idea suddenly came to her.  “Leave it to me.  As soon as we round a blind turn, hide.”

        They ran out of the town.  The buildings suddenly stopped at the river with fields, orchards, and farms on the opposite bank.  Gusty looked back again.  The four galloped across the bank, but were the only ones.  At least they would not have to shake off the whole town.

        Ahead of them was a bend obscured by trees and bushes.  They rounded and Wind Whistler and Applejack jumped into the bushes.  Gusty concentrated and the world around her dissolved in a shower of sparkles to rematerialize so she was on a nearby road they led in a different direction.

        Their four pursers rounded the bend and stopped.

        “Where did they go?” the other Applejack asked, looking around.

        Pinkie Pie glanced in Gusty’s direction and pointed.  “They’re over there.”

        “Get ‘em!”  Applejack galloped across the field between the roads with the others following behind.

        Gust galloped down the road.  She looked behind her.  The four ran after her.

        She ran over the crest and into the dip between it and the next hill.  This was as good a place as any.  She winked out, teleporting herself back to the bushes Wind Whistler and Applejack were hidden in.

        “They should be thrown off enough we can return to Dream Valley without a problem,” Gusty said.

        Wind Whistler and Applejack climbed out of the bushes.  After looking in the direction Gusty had led the four to make sure their pursuers didn’t backtrack, they galloped down the road towards the orchard where the rainbow would soon appear.

        Wind Whistler took to the air and looked at her watch.  “We have less than five minutes.”

        “It doesn’t matter,” Gusty said.  “We’ll get there with plenty of time and no interlopers.”

        “Hello, Applejack,” a soft voice said.

        Gusty and Wind Whistler both looked to a yellow pegasus mare with very long, pink hair flying alongside Wind Whistler.

        “Oh come on,” Gusty whined.  “Is this going to happen with everyone we run across?”

        “Everyone?” the pegasus repeated quizzically.

        “I am sorry, Miss…”  Wind Whistler trailed off.

        “Fluttershy,” the pegasus said.

        “I am sorry Miss Fluttershy,” Wind Whistler said, “but we are in a hurry and cannot talk right now.”

        “Oh, um, I didn’t realize that,” Fluttershy mumbled.

        Gusty growled as Fluttershy fumbled for words.  “Wind Whistler, get out of the way!”

        “Why?” Wind Whistler asked.

        Gusty pointed her horn at Fluttershy.  Wind Whistler gasped and dropped back.  Gusty blasted a gust of wind at Fluttershy, blowing her away.  Fluttershy screamed as she shrank to a speck in the distance.

        Wind Whistler flew back to the group.  She glanced in Fluttershy’s direction and then scowled at Gusty.  “Gusty, that was uncalled for,” she scolded.

        “We needed her gone and she’s gone,” Gusty grumbled.

* * *

        Fluttershy tumbled through the air from being hit by the gust the unicorn had created.  She finally got control of herself and stopped flying backwards.  She hovered and looked down at the ground.  She did not see Applejack or those two other ponies.

        She planted her hooves on her hips.  “Hmph.  What a horrible thing to do!”  She stopped and put her hoof to her chin as she thought about it.  “Though, she might have had a good reason.  They looked like they were in a rush and I was mumbling.”  She shook her head.  “Still, why would Applejack associate herself with such a rude pony?”

        She noticed movement on a different road.  It looked like Applejack with Rarity, Twilight, and Pinkie Pie.  “Applejack?”

        She flew down to them.  It was her four friends.  “Applejack, what are you doing here, and where did the other two go?”

        Applejack dug her hooves in and slid to a stop.  The others stopped around her.  Fluttershy landed in front of them.

        “Did you see a pony who looks like me with a white unicorn and a blue pegasus?”

        “Yes,” Fluttershy said.  “They were in a rush and headed to Sweet Apple Acres.”

        Applejack smacked her forehead and gritted her teeth.  “They tricked us.  The unicorn must’ve used some kind of teleportation magic to throw us off.”

        “Why would they do that?” Fluttershy asked.

        “They’re after our apples.  That’s why that one is impersonating me,” Applejack stated.  “Now she’s met up with her accomplices.  Between the pegasus and the unicorn’s wind magic, they’ll pick our orchard clean faster than Big Macintosh cleans his plate.”

        “Are you sure they’re after your apples?” Twilight asked.

        “My imposter was trying to get into my apple trees,” Applejack said.  “What more proof do you need?”

        “If they intended to steal all your apples, why would the unicorn and pegasus come to the library?  They spent all their time there reading about Equestria’s history and discussing it,” Twilight said.  She paused and glanced away.  “In fact, it seemed like they were learning about it.  I think there is something more going on than apple thievery.”

        “Whatever it is, we have to get them before they reach my orchard.”  Applejack jumped over a fence and galloped away in the general direction of Sweet Apple Acres.

* * *

        Applejack ran onto the road leading to her family’s orchard.  She was soon surrounded by apple trees on both sides.  Thankfully, they were still full of apples.

        She noticed a familiar pink blanket draped over one of the branches of a nearby apple tree.  She stopped and shouted at the tree, “Rainbow Dash, are you sleeping in one of my trees again?”

        The blue pegasus with rainbow streaked hair poked her head out of the leaves.  “What if I am?” she asked groggily.

        “There’s somepony impersonating me and trying to steal my apples,” Applejack said.  “Get down here and help us find them.”

        “An apple thief?” Rainbow Dash said alertly.  “Nopony’s allowed to steal your apples.  What would I snack on?”

        Applejack rolled her eyes.  It was ironic was enlisting the help of a pony who ate plenty of their apples right off the tree.  At least they were friends and Rainbow Dash had the decency to keep a tab she paid every once and while.  “Just get down here.”

        Rainbow Dash fluttered down to the road.

        Everypony else joined them.

        “I suggest you stop and think about this,” Twilight said.  “Something doesn’t make sense.”

        “Time we spend thinking is time they have to take apples,” Applejack retorted.  “We can figure this all out when we’ve caught them.”

        “Do you even know where they would be?” Twilight asked.  “Your land is immense.  It would be easy to lose three ponies in it.”

        Applejack was about say something, but stopped.  Twilight was right on that one.  They could not waste time looking all over the place for them.

        She then got an idea.  “Why don’t we start with where Applebloom first ran across my imposter,” she said.  “It’s this way.”  She galloped down the road.

* * *

        Wind Whistler sighed in relief as they came to the gentle bend in the road.  It was where the rainbow had opened up to and would do so again shortly.

        “We made it,” Applejack said, slowing to a stop.  “Now we can get out of this place and never come back again.”

        “How much time do we have?” Gusty asked.

        “With all the distractions and switchbacks we had to take, I suspect we got here just in time.”  Wind Whistler checked her watch.  The last few seconds were ticking down.  “They should be opening it any time now.”

        The watch hit zero and beeped.  A flash pulsed in front of them and the swirling vortex of light and color formed.  Gusty and Applejack galloped into it, disappearing as they passed into the vortex.  Wind Whistler flew in and took relief and the vortex pulling her along.

* * *

        Fluttershy stopped suddenly with the others as they rounded the bend and stared forward.  A huge cone of light and color swirled above the road.  The other Applejack and the two ponies with her jumped into it and ran up it until they vanished at its vertex.

        “What is that thing?” Rainbow Dash asked Twilight.

        “I don’t know,” Twilight answered.  “I’ve never seen anything like it.  I’ve never even read about anything like it.”

        “I guess you were right, Twilight,” Applejack said.  “There is something going on.”

        “Wee!” Pinkie Pie squealed.  “Let’s go!”

        “Pinkie Pie, don’t!” Twilight shouted after Pinkie Pie as she galloped towards it.

        Pinkie Pie galloped right for the cone.  She jumped in and galloped up it until she vanished like the three before.

        Twilight sighed.  “I guess we have to go after her.”  She galloped towards the cone.

        Fluttershy stared at the swirling color and light.  She trembled.  There was no telling what it was and what would happen to them.  “I, uh, think I’ll stay here.”

        “Don’t be such a wimp, Fluttershy.”  Rainbow Dash grabbed her tail and dragged her towards the cone.  “We have to rescue Pinkie Pie from herself and we might need your skills.”

        Fluttershy tried to fly back, but Rainbow Dash was too strong and she had too tight a grip.  She looked at the world being left behind and her friends galloping up the slope of the cone behind them.  Everything was suddenly pinched off by color and light.  She felt like instead of being pulled by her tail her whole body was being carried along.  The others burst through the light and floated along like they were in a current.

        “This just keeps getting stranger,” Twilight said.  “Where are we?”

        “I think the more important question is, where are we going?” Rarity replied.

* * *

        Applebloom poked her head of the bush.  Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo poked theirs out next to her.  They stared at the cone of light above the road everyone disappeared into.

        “I told you weird stuff was happening,” Applebloom said.

        “No kidding,” Sweetie Belle said.  “What is that thing?”

        “It might have some to do with our cutie marks,” Scootaloo said eagerly.  “Let’s check it out!”

        “I guess so,” Sweetie Belle said uneasily.  “If Rarity and her friends went in, it can’t be dangerous, right?”

        “Then let’s go,” Applebloom said.

        “Cutie Mark Crusaders Weird Cone Checker Outers, YAY!”  They smacked their hooves together.

        Scootaloo jumped out of the bush flew into the cone.  Applebloom and Sweetie Belle galloped up it.  As they reached the back, Applebloom felt the bottom drop out from under her hooves, but she was being carried forward like in the current of a river.

* * *

        Wind Whistler planted her hooves on the glowing, metal ramp in the rainbow’s tunnel.  She galloped past Gusty and Applejack.  “Close the rainbow immediately!”

        “I can’t,” Gingerbread said.  “There are still nine objects in transit.  We have to wait for them to complete the trip before we can close it.”

        Wind Whistler walked off the end of the bridge straight into Magic Star’s glare.  It was her glare that needed no words.  Wind Whistler could hear her say, ‘You’re in so much trouble, young lady,’ in her mind.  She felt a cold sweat prickle her skin.  This time she knew she had done something wrong.  To make matters worse, she convinced Magic Star to let her when she was supposed to by the voice of reason and responsibility.  She forced a weak grin in hopes of salvaging the situation.

        “What happened over there?” Magic Star asked sternly.

        Wind Whistler tried to gulp down the lump in her throat.  “It would take a long time to explain properly.”

        “Start explaining properly,” Magic Star ordered.

        “Here they come!” Gingerbread announced.

        Wind Whistler looked back at the rainbow.  The five ponies they had run across as well as a blue pegasus with rainbow streaked hair stood there.  Their mouths hung open, and they looked around them in bewilderment.

        Wind Whistler looked back to Magic Star timidly.  She expected the glare to end all glares before being torn into like a misbehaving filly for her recklessness.  However, Magic Star stared at the ponies standing the ramp, as bewildered as they were.  Wind Whistler was use to them after spending an hour in their dimension, but this was news to Magic Star.

        “Ponies?” Magic Star asked.

        “They appear to be the dominant species of that world,” Wind Whistler said.  “Just the rural town we came across had as many ponies as there have been in Ponyland since the Fall.”

        “Everyone’s out,” Gingerbread said to no one in particular.

        “Close the rainbow before something else comes through!” Gusty shouted.

        The rainbow faded and the rings deactivated, leaving everything in the chamber in its usual dimness.

The Snowball Effect

Chapter 3:  On Earth for the Duration

        Twilight Sparkle looked around her.  The light and color faded to nothingness, revealing the giant, metal cylinder around them.  The light on the rings built into the cylinder’s wall faded, leaving them in almost complete darkness.  Under her hooves was grating made of metal that gave off a warm and gentle heat after it had been glowing while the cone of light existed.

        She was not sure if she should be frightened or excited about what just happened.  All she felt was confusion and a sense of wonderment.  The others seemed just as awestruck as they looked around at their strange surroundings.

        Her eyes adjusted to the dim light, and she looked ahead to the dim chamber beyond the cylinder.  It gave her the settling feeling she was very small as everything was gigantic in their proportions.  The control panel on the opposite wall was the size of large building with monitors above them larger than theater screens.

        The only thing normal sized compared to them was the ponies.  They stood out against the dim, dreary chamber with their pale or bright colors.  The three they had chased were gathered around a yellow earth pony with sleek, green hair.  Another pony walked off the control panel onto a gantry leading up to it.

        “What is this place?” Applejack asked.

        “The phenomenon we entered must have been some kind of portal,” Twilight Sparkle said, trying to make sense of everything herself.  “It transported us from your farm to wherever this place is.”

        “Which is?” Rainbow Dash asked.

        Twilight paused to think.  She had never seen or heard of anything like this.  She only knew it took them from Sweet Apple Acres to someplace else.  Other than that, she was clueless.  Who knew where it could have taken them?

        “It could be anywhere.  We might not even be in Equestria anymore,” Twilight Sparkle said.  “We could be on a different planet, in a different time, or even in a different dimension completely.”

        “You’re right on the final part,” the yellow earth pony said.

        Twilight looked in her direction.  She walked past the three ponies onto the ramp.

        “I’m Magic Star, the leader of the Little Ponies,” she said.  “Welcome to Dream Valley.”

        “An earth pony princess?” Rainbow Dash said quizzically.

        Magic Star narrowed her eyes and frowned at them.  “Is there something wrong with an earthling being in a position of leadership?”

        “No,” Twilight Sparkle answered for Rainbow Dash, putting her hoof over Rainbow Dash’s mouth.  “There’s nothing wrong with it.”

        Twilight Sparkle was also surprised an earth pony was this group’s leader.  She was use to Princess Celestia being the high ruler.  Though, she found comfort in the fact for some reason.  She always wanted to believe Equestrians did not see Princess Celestia as their ruler because she was an apparently immortal winged unicorn demigod if not goddess with power over the sun, but because she was a kind, just, and intelligent leader with best intentions for her subjects.  If she was just an earth pony but still the same pony at heart, would they still see her as their princess?  Seeing an earth pony as a princess here gave her hope they would.

        “Well, I wouldn’t call myself a queen or princess anyway,” Magic Star said.  “I’m not royalty or even nobility.  I was elected as leader.  My official title is Mistress of Dream Castle, but no one uses even that.”

        “Oh,” Twilight Sparkle said.  She felt a little disappointed Magic Star was not a princess.  It sounded more like she was like the mayor of Ponyville.

        “Wait a minute, I thought there were nine objects in transit,” Wind Whistler said.

        “Nine?” Applejack and Rairty asked simultaneously.

        Twilight looked behind her.  Applebloom, Sweetie Belle, and Scootaloo stood behind them, looking around.  They faced forward when they realized everyone was looking at them.

        Applebloom laughed weakly.  “Hi, sis.”  She grinned weakly along with Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo.

        “Applebloom!” Applejack scolded.

        “Sweetie Belle!” Rarity said in the same tone.

        “It was Scootaloo’s idea!”  Applebloom and Sweetie Belle pointed at Scootaloo.

        Scootaloo folded her front legs and scowled at the two.  “Way to blame it on the one filly who doesn’t have an older sister here,” she grumbled.

        “What possessed you three to jump into a swirling energy vortex?” Twilight Sparkle asked.

        “You did it,” Sweetie Belle, said.

        Twilight was about to reply, but had no response.  She stood there, probably looking stupid with her mouth half open as she tried to form an argument.

        “That’s because we’re adults,” Applejack said sternly.  She shot a scornful glance to Pinkie Pie.  “We also had to go after Pinkie Pie.”

        “How could something so bright and colorful be dangerous?” Pinkie Pie said.  “It just screamed jump in and have some fun.

        “We also thought it might have something to do with our cutie marks,” Applebloom said.

        “Did we really enter another dimension?” Scootaloo asked with a big, eager grin.

        “Yes.  We used our rainbow to form a bridge to your dimension for study,” Wind Whistler said, walking up the ramp to them.

        “Awesome!” Scootaloo cheered.

        “Cutie Mark Crusaders Dimension Hoppers!” the three shouted and smacked their hooves together.

        “What is a cutie mark?” Wind Whistler asked.

        “It’s the mark on your flank,” Twilight Sparkle said, pointing to the pink and blue whistle marks on Wind Whistler’s.

        “Oh,” Wind Whistler said.  “We call them haunch marks.”

        “So, do we get cool-looking portal cutie marks?”  Scootaloo looked at her orange flank, but it was bare as well as the others.  All three groaned and let their bodies sink.

        “What’s going on?”  Magic Star walked up to them.

        “These three fillies have been trying real hard to find their special talent so they can get their cutie…or rather haunch marks,” Twilight Sparkle answered.

        Magic Star cocked her head to the side.  “What?”

        “The ponies in that dimension mature differently than we do,” Wind Whistler said.  “They’re born with their permanent coat and hair color, but lack a haunch mark.”

        “How does it work in your dimension then?” Twilight Sparkle asked.

        “When ponies are born, the filly looks like their mother and the colt looks like their father,” Magic Star said.  “They grow in their adult coloration and get their own haunch mark when they reach maturity as well as choose their adult name.”

        “While this session in comparative biology is very interesting,” Rarity said sarcastically, “we need to get back.  Mother will dye my mane green if she ever found out about this.”

        “You’re going to have to wait,” the white pony next to the control panel said.  “The bridging process takes a lot of energy.  The system has to cool down and then we can start rebuilding power in the capacitor.  The process took about an hour for bridging dimensions.”

        “An hour?” Twilight and the others asked.

        Some flashed behind them and a loud pop resounded in the tunnel.  Twilight yelped and galloped down the ramp with the others.  She swung around and looked at the tunnel.  Glowing sparks sat on the ramp on the very inside of the tunnel.

        “Pony feathers,” the white pony snapped.

        “What happened?” Twilight Sparkle asked.  She concentrated on her teleportation magic and in a flash she was on the control panel.

        The white earth pony leapt from giant control to giant control.  “I should have known this would happen.  It hadn’t been used in millions of years.”

        “What?” Twilight Sparkle asked.

        “The mechanism that handles interdimensional travel,” the pony said.  She looked at the left most monitor which displayed a purple schematic with a red section and a message in strange symbols under it.  “We started it up without calibrating it, and it just suffered a burn out somewhere.”

        “Does it affect normal travel?” Magic Star asked from below.

        “In dimensional travel is fine,” the pony said.  “However, we can’t bow to other dimensions.”

        Twilight Sparkle felt a chill run down their spine and her throat go dry.  She gulped to wet it.  “Does that mean we’re trapped here?”

        “It’s going to be awhile before we can send you back at least,” the pony said.  “We have to find out what burned out, make a replacement, install it, and run calibrations.  I’m guessing twelve hours at least assuming nothing else goes wrong.”

        “Get Four-Speed, Steamer, and Salty down here to start work on it,” Magic Star said dully.

        Twilight Sparkle teleported to the ground.  The others gathered around Magic Star.  All of them tried to talk at once in a panic, only drowning each other out.

        Magic Star plastered her ears against her head and grimaced.  “One at a time!” she shouted.

        “We can’t be trapped here for half a day,” Rarity insisted.  “I had to close my store early just run after your ponies.”

        Applejack shot Rarity a suspicious glance.  “You took the time to close your shop?”

        “Of course, darling,” Rarity replied.  “A turn of a sign and a click of a lock, and it’s closed.”  She glared at Magic Star.  “However, I have orders to fill and appointments to keep.”  She glanced to Sweetie Belle.  “There’s also the problem of getting my little sister back home before Mother finds out.  I must get back immediately, if not sooner.”

        “My animal friends also need attending to,” Fluttershy said meekly.

        “My family is probably missing me too,” Applejack added.

        “I’m sorry,” Magic Star said.  “However, this is out of my hooves.  If the rainbow can’t send you back, it can’t send you back period.  We’ll work as fast as we can to fix the problem, but until then, you’re stuck here.”

        The three sighed.

        “I supposed I can tell my customers I was called away on an emergency,” Rairty said.  “I’ll also think of something to tell my mother.”

        “My animal friends are pretty smart, I think they can handle things for one night,” Flutter shy said.

        “I’ll tell my family I was chasing my imposter all over hay and gone.”  Applejack coughed a small laugh.  “It’s actually a pretty honest answer when you think about it.”

        “If we are here for the duration, I guess we might as well introduce ourselves.”  Rarity bowed graciously to Magic Star.  “I’m Rarity, Mistress Magic Star.”

        “Please, bowing isn’t necessary.”  Magic Star grinned sheepishly at the display.  “And, everyone just calls me Magic Star.”

        “I’m Applejack,” Applejack said plainly.

        Magic Star looked to the other Applejack.  “This is going to get confusing.”

        “How about you just call me A.J. while they’re here,” the other Applejack said.

        “I guess that’ll work,” Magic Star said.  “Applejack wears a hat and A.J. has curly hair.”

        “I’m Pinkie Pie,” Pinkie Pie said excitedly.  She took Magic Star’s hoof in hers and shook it rigorously.  “I’m so happy to meet you.  I’m so happy to meet new ponies.  When I met your ponies I went [gasp] and had to plan them a surprise welcome party.  Unfortunately, they overheard, so it wouldn’t be a surprise.”

        “She gets the picture,” Twilight Sparkle said to Pinkie Pie.

        “Oh.  Right.”  Pinkie Pie stopped shaking Magic Star’s hoof.

        “I’m Fluttershy,” Fluttershy said quietly.

        “And I’m Rainbow Dash, the fastest and most awesome pegasus in all of Equestria!” Rainbow Dash announced loudly, standing on her hind legs and flexing her front legs.

        “Rainbow Dash,” Twilight Sparkle murmured.

         Rainbow Dash fell onto all four hooves and laughed weakly.  “Pleased to meet you.”

        “I’m Twilight Sparkle,” Twilight Sparkle said.

        She glanced to the three fillies.  “These are Applebloom, Sweetie Belle, and Scootaloo, also known as the Cutie Mark Crusaders.”

        “You’ve already met Wind Whistler, Gusty, and A.J.” Magic Star said.  She pointed to the pony on the control panel.  “Gingerbread is up there.”

        “Yo!” Gingerbread called down to them.  She quickly descended the gantry to the ground.  Now that Twilight Sparkle got a good look at her, she noticed her blue eyes had an iridescent quality to them as they seemed to shimmer in the dim light.  Her hair was also the four evenly distributed colors light blue, dark purple, lavender, and pink.  She had never seen such features on a pony before except Rainbow Dash who had six hair colors.

        “So, since we’re here for a while, can we look around?” Scootaloo asked with that eager grin again.

        “I would like to be somewhere else as well,” Rairty said, looking around scornfully.  “This place is absolutely ghastly.”

        Wind Whistler looked to Magic Star.  “I do not believe to would do any more harm to let go topside.”

        “I suppose not,” Magic Star replied.

        She turned to Twilight and the others.  “This way.”

        Twilight and the others followed Magic Star to a pair of massive, metal doors next to the control panel.  The doors slid apart to let them walk into a huge metal box with a small light in the ceiling.  The door slid shut behind them and Twilight Sparkle felt the floor lift up.

        “Did you build all this?” Applejack asked.

        “No,” Wind Whistler said.  “We believe it was built millions of years ago and abandoned.  We discovered it a few months ago and use it to travel to other locations on the planet.  However, today we discovered it could also connect dimensions.”

        “So you came to ours?” Twilight Sparkle asked.

        Wind Whistler shrugged.  “We found a record of a bridge to it made eons ago.  We figured it was as good a place as any for a test run.  We never expected to find ponies like us there.”

        “Well, when I woke up this morning I never expected to meet ponies from another dimension either,” Twilight Sparkle said.  “It’s like stepping into a science fiction novel.”

        “You’ll be in for a shock when you see Dream Valley,” Magic Star said.

        The giant elevator stopped and the doors on the opposite wall parted.  Light flooded into the elevator.  Twilight Sparkle closed her eyes for a second to let them adjust.  She slowly opened them and gasped in awe.

        They walked out of the elevator into a picturesque valley.  Apple trees dotted the rolling, green landscape.  A waterfall striped in the colors of the rainbow cascaded down the cliff face next to the doors they exited into a pond.  The pond emptied into a stream that flowed past a large, pink castle with blue, cone roofs on the towers at its corner.

        “This is where you live?” Fluttershy asked.

        Magic Star nodded.  “This is Dream Valley.”

        “I can see where you got the name, it’s beautiful,” Twilight Sparkle said.

        “But, all I see is that one castle.  There’s no town or anything,” Rarity said.  “How many ponies live here?”

        “There are eighty-one of us,” Magic Star said.

        “That few?”  Twilight Sparkle asked.  “There are more ponies in Ponyville, and a it’s small town.”

        “Check this out!”  Rainbow Dash shouted.  Twilight Sparkle looked up to see her hovering next to a rainbow extending from the bottom of the falls into the sky.  “I guess we found the end of the rainbow.”  She chuckled.

        “That can’t be,” Twilight Sparkle said.  “Rainbows are light refracted by raindrops and are technically circles.  They can’t really end.”

        “Well this one does,” Rainbow Dash said.  “It looks like you could actually touch it.”  She reached her hoof out and tapped on the rainbow.  She pulled her hoof back suddenly.  “It’s solid?”

        “It’s not a real rainbow,” Wind Whistler said.  “This phenomenon is actually what makes the machine underground work.  It connects Dream Valley to another place on earth, originally bridging two dimensions.”

        “What do you mean originally?” Twilight Sparkle asked.

        “It’s a long and complicated story,” Magic Star said.  “Paradise can explain it.  She’s our historian and storyteller.”

        “I want to hear all about it,” Twilight Sparkle said.  She then said giddily to herself, “Princess Celestia won’t believe what I’ll have to tell her.”

* * *

        Luna spent much of her spare time reading.  After being trapped as a pattern of caters on the moon’s face for a millennium, she had a lot of catching up to do.  Today’s book was on the history of Manehattan, currently Equestria’s biggest city by population.  She lounged a fluffy, blue pillow, using her magic to turn the pages as she absorbed the information she read over.

        A knock on the door broke her concentration.  She looked up at the door.  “Who is it?” she asked politely.

        “It’s Celestia,” her older sister’s gentle voice answered.

        “Come in, Big Sister,” Luna replied.

        The doors swung open and her sister walked in.  She looked concerned about something with her mouth bent into a frown and her eyes looking a little downward.

        Luna stood up.  “Is something wrong?”

        “I’ve felt something very strange,” Celestia replied quietly.  “It felt like the very fabric of space and time was punctured near Ponyville.”

        “Punctured?” Luna repeated.

        Celestia nodded.  “It’s as if a momentary hole formed.  When it first happened I just thought it was my imagination, but it happened again exactly one hour later.”

        “Have you informed Twilight Sparkle and her friends?” Luna asked.

        “I sent them a letter asking for them to investigate,” Celestia said.  “However, haven’t gotten a reply yet.”

        A green flame flashed into existence for a moment above them and left a rolled up scroll.  Celestia caught it with her magic and unrolled it.

        “Dear Princess Celestia,” Celestia read.  “I have received your letter.  However, I cannot find Twilight anywhere.  She and the others chased after a pony impersonating Applejack and haven’t been seen or heard from since.  You obedient, Spike.”

        “Do you think what you sensed has something to do with it?” Luna asked.

        Celestia paused for a couple seconds.  “There’s only one way to find out.  I must go to Ponyville and look into this myself in secret.”

        Luna eyed Celestia suspiciously.  Celestia could not do anything in secret.  Even without her regal wears, she was immediately recognizable.  She had both wings like a pegasus and a horn like a unicorn which only she and Luna had.  She was also much larger than the average pony, closer in size to a horse because she had lived so long.  “You do realize you randomly arriving in Ponyville could cause a stir, right?”

        “That’s why Princess Celestia is not going to Ponyville,” Celestia said.  “Don’t you remember one of the first spells we taught ourselves?”

        Luna’s eyes widened as the memory came back to her.  When they were very young and just learning to use magic, they were forbidden to go outside the castle grounds.  The guards always found them and the ponies always treated them like royalty even if they just wanted to play.  Celestia then found a way to solve both problems.

        Celestia’s long, white horn glowed.  The white light covered her body and long, flowing hair.  She shrank in size to that of an average pony and her horn retracted completely.  Her hair became shorter, but still appeared to be quite long and silky judging by its shape.

        The light faded revealing her new form.  The almost nonexistent pink tint of her coat was now strong enough to make her appear pale pink.  The green, purple, and blue stripes of her hair were gone so it was now all pink and no longer waved as if in a breeze.  Her horn was gone and her wings were more like those of a normal pegasus.  Even her cutie mark had changed to a simpler sun peeking out between two hills.

        “Dawn, your typical pegasus, will,” Celestia, or rather, Dawn said.  She still had her warm, tender voice.  She stepped out of her gold slippers and pushed off her gold chest plate and crown which were now too big for her.

        “I’ll come with you.”  Luna ran to a full body mirror.  A dark blue winged unicorn with luxurious, light blue hair that covered one blue eye.  She was not as big as her sister, as the spell that trapped her on the moon had also frozen her in time.  However, her horn was still longer than any unicorn’s.

        Luna closed her eyes and concentrated on her magic.  Celestia had taught her the transformation spell all those centuries ago.  She felt her body ingle all over until it no longer felt solid.  Her horn retracted into her skull with barely a feeling of pressure on it.  Her transformation was not as dramatic as only a few changes gave her the build of a normal pony.  The tingling sensation faded and she opened her eyes.

        A light blue pegasus with dark blue hair in much the same style.  She turned around to check her cutie mark.  Instead of crescent moon surrounded by a black patch that covered most of her flank, it was a white, full moon surrounded by four white stars.

        She turned to Dawn.  “Or should I say, Moonbeam will come with you.”

        Dawn smiled and nodded.

* * *

        The blue drawbridge lowered to span the stream.  Twilight looked inside Dream Castle through the large opening it had been covering.

        Up close, she could see Dream Castle was huge.  It could almost hold Princess Celestia’s palace inside it.  However, being able to look inside gave her a real sense of its scale.  The middle was an open, cobblestone courtyard surrounded by buildings on the other three walls.  The main building in the back was huge, big enough to have all the amenities expected of a castle and still have enough room to comfortably house a couple hundred ponies at least.

        “So, you all live here?” Rainbow Dash asked.

        “We sure do,” Gingerbread said.  “It has everything: a ballroom, a library, a gourmet kitchen, a workshop, and enough rooms for everybody to have their own a few times over.”

        “Much of it goes unused for the most part, however,” Magic Star said.  “We’d be working all day and all night just maintaining it.”

        She walked onto the drawbridge and the others followed.  Twilight Sparkle stepped onto the bridge and walked across, her hooves making a series of hollow thuds on the wooden planks.

        Several ponies were standing in the courtyard and on the balconies of buildings.  All of them stopped what they were doing stared at them.  A couple put their mouth to the ear of the pony next to them and apparently whispered something.

        Twilight Sparkle felt a sickening feeling her stomach.  She knew they were talking about them.  They just had to see the two Applejacks and know something was up.  It was like her entrance exam into Princess Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns.  All eyes were on her, and she could not shake the feeling they were all examining her.

        “I guess we’re going to have to call a meeting to explain all this,” Magic Star said quietly.  She then shouted, “Whizzer!”

        A pink pegasus with four colored hair; purple, blue, green, and aqua; and the same iridescent blue eyes as Gingerbread dashed off a balcony to them.  “What do need Magic Star?” she asked in a very hurried voice, practically merging the words into one.

        “Your name’s Whizzer?”  Rainbow Dash bit her lower lip and sputtered a small laugh.

        “Yeah, that’s my name.  I came up with it.  It’s because I whiz all over the place.”  Whizzer looked to the side.  “One moment I’m over there.”  She swung her head to the other side.  “Then the next I’m over there.”

        Rainbow Dash burst laughing, laughing so hard she fell off her hooves.  Twilight Sparkle looked down at her condescendingly.  “She means whiz as in moving fast.”

        “I know,” Rainbow Dash managed to get out as she got control of herself.  “It’s still funny.”

        Magic Star rolled her eyes at Rainbow Dash before turning back to Whizzer.  “I’m calling meeting.  Is everyone in Dream Valley?”

        “Hurricane and Atlas just got back from patrol,” Whizzer reported, “so that just leaves Jet Streak who went to get Megan.  He should be back in a couple minutes.”

        “That’s going to be fun,” Magic Star said in her breath.  She called out, “North Star!”

        A pink pegasus with purple hair galloped to them.  “Yes.”

        “Wait by the rainbow for Jet Streak and Megan,” Magic Star said.  “Bring them to the meeting hall when they arrive.”

        “You’ve got it,” North Star said in strange accent.  She leapt into the air and flew out of the castle’s perimeter.

        Twilight Sparkle noticed Whizzer was staring at them.  That sickening feeling returned.

        “Who are they, and why are there two Applejacks?” Whizzer asked.

        “They’re what the meeting is about,” Magic Star said.  “Now spread the word.”

        “Consider the word spread.”  Whizzer took off and within a split second she was nothing but a speck in the sky.

        Rainbow Dash’s jaw dropped.  “Whoa.  She’s fast.”  She turned to Twilight Sparkle.  “Is my take off that fast?”

        “I guess so,” Twilight Sparkle said.  “It would be interesting to see you two in a race.”

        A grin crept onto Rainbow Dash’s face.  “I might just challenge her to one.”

* * *

        Megan felt Jet Streak lean to his right a little.  “Are you alright?”

        The blue pegasus righted himself.  “I’m just having trouble keeping my balance with you sitting that way.”

        “Sidesaddle is the traditional and dignified way a woman wearing a long skirt rides a horse,” Megan replied.

        “Yeah, well, whoever came up with it obviously didn’t have pegasi in mind,” Jet Streak said.

        Megan fought the giggle form in her throat at his statement.  She simply smiled.  “Obviously.”

        “It’s fine if you have all four hooves on the ground,” Jet Streak said.  “However, in flight I’ve got to balance you myself.”

        “Is there anything I can do make it easier?” Megan asked.

        “I think you’re compensating a little too much for your legs being on one side,” Jet Streak said.  “Sit up a little more straight.”

        “Like this?”  Megan shifted her weight slightly to the left.

        “That’s much better,” Jet Streak said.  “We’re also here.”

        Jet Streak started to descend, following the sharpening incline of the rainbow.  North Star was standing at the edge of the pond.  Jet Streak landed next to her and Megan dismounted.

        “Hello, North Star,” Megan said cheerfully.

        “Hello, Megan,” North Star replied.  “That’s a nice outfit.”

        “Thank you.”  Megan looked at her outfit.  It was a denim overall skirt and long-sleeved white with red hearts blouse.  “I just got it.”

        “You’re probably already design a matching saddle blanket for Sundance,” North Star said.

        Jet Steak rolled his eyes and shook his head.  “You two have the strangest hobby.”

        North Star glanced at Jet Streak with mocking scorn.  “So says the pegasus who has a collection of palm tree pattern shirts.”

        Jet Streak coughed in response.

        Megan grinned at the exchange.  It seemed like the ponies had adjusted to living in her world.  Though, the sudden appearance of intelligent penguins, harpies, Atlantians, and who knows what else probably made them feel more at home.

        “Magic Star has called a meeting,” North Star said to change the subject.  “They’re waiting on us.”

        “What’s it about?” Megan asked.

        “You’ll have to see it to believe it,” North Star said.

* * *

        Twilight Sparkle eyed the ponies sitting the benches.  All of them stared at her and the others.  Most had a curious expression while a few had a hard expression of mistrust.  Apparently, they had not seen other ponies in a long time.

        She decided to return the favor and examine them.  Aside from the dozen ponies with iridescent eyes, they looked pedestrian.  There was nothing differing them from the ponies in Equestria.  If she met them on the street in Ponyville, it would never occur to her they came from another world.  In fact, Gusty and Wind Whistler stepped into her library, and she just thought they were new ponies in town.

        However, now that she could see all of them, she noticed some patterns that made them different.  All the unicorns who did not have iridescent eyes had a color streak in their mane while earth ponies and pegasi had a solid hair color.  The foals were also smaller versions of their parents like Magic Star had said.  It was amazing ponies so similar and yet so different had evolved in a completely different dimension.

        The door in the back opened.  North Star and a blue pegasus stallion with hair a couple shades lighter blue walked in along with a strange, slim creature like nothing Twilight Sparkle had ever seen before.

        Twilight Sparkle figured she was female by her style of attire and rounded features.  She stood on her hind legs with feet and her slim arms ended in what looked like claws only not as sharp.  Her pale skin was apparently hairless except for long, blond hair growing out the top of her head and tied in the back with a red ribbon and in very thin lines above her blue eyes.

        “What’s that?” Twilight Sparkle murmured to Magic Star.

        “That’s Megan,” Magic Star answered quietly.  “She’s a human, the dominant species on this world.”

        “She sure is a weird looking thing,” Applejack said.  “I’ve never seen anything like her.”

        “I think she’s cute,” Fluttershy added.

        “Hey, Megan!” a white earth pony mare with pink hair called out.  “You can sit here.”

        North Star, the pegasus and Megan sat down on a bench towards the back next to her.  The room filled with whispers.  Magic Star stamped her hoof on a wooden block that made a loud pounding sound, and everyone fell silent.

        “Now that everyone’s here,” Magic Star said, “let’s start the meeting.”

        She turned to Twilight Sparkle and the others standing in line with in the front.  “The first order of business is introducing you to Twilight Sparkle, Rainbow Dash, Fluttershy, Pinkie Pie, another Applejack…”

        “There goes the neighborhood,” a dark gray pegasus stallion with dark blue hair joked.  Many of the ponies erupted into loud laughter.

        Magic Star stamped the block to get everyone quiet again.  She turned to the line again.  “…Rarity, Applebloom, Sweetie Belle, and Scootaloo.  They’re our ‘guests’ for the day, so make them feel welcome and keep them out of trouble.  Also, refer to our Applejack as A.J. to avoid confusion.”

        Some quiet greetings came from the group.

        “Our second order of business is how they got here,” Magic Star said.  “We discovered the rainbow can reach other dimensions and accidentally brought them back when we explored their dimension.  However, we ended up burning out the equipment that handles interdimensional travel and it needs repair before we can use it again.”

        “Let me guess,” a powder blue earth pony stallion said, “you want us to fix it.”

        “Once this meeting is concluded,” Magic Star said.  She looked to Twilight Sparkle and the others with her eyes slightly sunken in a concerned expression.  “They’re trapped in this dimension away from their lives and loved ones.  The sooner it’s fixed, the sooner they can go home.”

        “We’ll get it up and running as soon as we can,” the stallion said warmly.

        Magic Star turned back to the other ponies.  Her mouth curved into a determined frown and her eyes narrowed.  “The third order of business is interdimensional travel itself.  I’m personally against it.  Just one little hour long ‘jaunt’ caused all this trouble.”  She focused her glare on Wind Whistler who looked away shamefully and shrank back a little on her bench.

        Magic Star turned her attention back to the group in general.  “We can’t risk getting involved in the affairs of other worlds.  There are enough problems here.  Due to restrictions made by the original builders, we cannot use it to return to our home dimension, so I see no constructive use for it.  After we send Twilight Sparkle and her friends home, I’m forbidding use of the interdimensional capabilities of the rainbow.  Is that clear?”

        There were some hushed conversations amongst the group.  However, everyone eventually nodded in agreement.

        Magic Star’s expression softened.  “Now that that’s through, let’s get on to more normal business.  Has anyone heard anything about harpies?”

        “Not so much as a peep,” a white pegasus stallion with dark red hair said.

        “They’re probably still licking their wounds after the Atlantis incident,” a pink pegasus mare with blue hair said boastfully.

        “Or, they could be planning something,” Wind Whistler said to her.  “We should remain vigilant.”

        “I’m with Wind Whistler,” Magic Star said.  “Keep your ears to the ground.  I don’t want them catching us unawares.”

        “There’s nothing else happening that we should concern ourselves with,” a blue unicorn mare said.

        “Then if there are no questions, I’ll adjourn the meeting,” Magic Star said.

        Everypony was silent.

        “Alright, you’re free to go.”  Magic Star stamped the block.

        Everypony got up and filed out of the room.  Megan and a white pegasus mare with orange hair walked up to Magic Star.  “You wanted to talk to me?”

        “I was thinking you could give our guests a little history lesson,” Magic Star said.  She turned to Twilight Sparkle.  “This is Paradise.”

        “Pleased to meet you,” Paradise said.

        “Hi, I’m Megan,” Megan said warmly.

        “Hi, Megan,” Fluttershy replied.

        “I was hoping to see your library too,” Twilight Sparkle said.  A castle this size had to have a huge one filled with history and literature.

        “You’re in luck,” Paradise said.  “I spent much of my time there.”

        “Actually, I’m hoping to stretch my wings and explore a bit,” Rainbow Dash said.  “I also want to see just fast…”  She bit her lip and sputtered a short laugh.  “…Whizzer is.”

        “I want to see what kinds of cute and cuddly creatures live here,” Fluttershy said.

        “I’m more interested in the fashion of this place, personally,” Rarity said.

        “Sundance and I were about to take up a sewing project with Buttons,” Megan said.  “Do you want to come with us?”

        “That’ll work,” Rarity said.  She and Megan walked out of the room.

        “I’m not much on history,” Applejack said.  “I’m going to check this place out myself.”

        “Same here.”  Pinkie Pie hopped out of the room.

        “Hey!” one of the foals called out.  “Do you three want to play polo?”

        “That’d be great,” Applebloom said.  She turned to Applejack.  “Can we?”

        “I don’t see why not,” Applejack replied.  “Just stay out of trouble.”

        “Cutie Mark Crusaders Polo Players, YAY!”  The three smacked their hooves together before following the other foals out of the room.

        “Do they do that all of the time?” Paradise asked.

        “Seems like it,” Twilight Sparkle said dully.  “So, where’s your library?”

        “It’s this way.”  Paradise walked towards the door and Twilight Sparkle followed.

The Snowball Effect

Chapter 4:  Since We’re Here


        Twilight Sparkle gasped as Paradise opened the door and she stepped into the library.  Tall shelves crammed with books were everywhere.  She could only imagine everything written in all of them.

        “What do you think?” Paradise asked.

        “Not even my library in Canterlot is this big,” Twilight Sparkle said, looking around her.

        “The knowledge and literature of many civilizations are contained within these books,” Paradise said.  “At the height of the Pony Kingdom, books were collected from all the neighboring regions.”

        Twilight Sparkle’s trance-like fascination with the library was suddenly broken by her curiosity.  “The Pony Kingdom?” she asked.  She then remembered.  “Magic Star said you could explain why there are so few of you and only this castle.  I can’t believe it’s always been like this.”

        “It wasn’t,” Paradise said solemnly.  She looked up at nothing in particular, or at least nothing Twilight Sparkle could see.  Her eyes seemed to glisten as she looked on longingly.  “We use to be a thriving civilization much like yours.  We numbered in the tens of thousands at least and were considered the stuff of legends by those who saw us.  I wish I had been alive to see us back then.”

        “What happened?” Twilight Sparkle asked, making sure to hide her eagerness to know.  She had a rough idea, but she would prefer to hear what happened exactly.

        “Since the three species united to form the Little Pony race, we have dedicated ourselves to helping those in need and preventing the powerful from exploiting and oppressing the weak.  We believe it’s our responsibility to use our abilities as such,” Paradise said.  “However, about a century ago, our ancestors encountered a group of evil witches and wizards who spread misery and mayhem purely in the name of malice.  They naturally put a stop to their rampage, and a war ensued.  It ended with the witches destroying our kingdom and almost wiping out our race entirely.  They destroyed this valley which held almost all our population with a massive, sudden flood.  It was an act born out of such blind, venomous hatred; they almost destroyed themselves in the process.”

        Twilight Sparkle gulped.  She had guessed they were the remnants of a ruined civilization, but she never pictured anything like what Paradise described.  It sent a chill threw her as the thought of Equestria meeting the same violent and senseless fate crept into her mind.  As Nightmare Moon had shown, the nation that seemed so strong was really only one calamity from collapse.

        Paradise continued, “Most of the survivors fled Ponyland to the west.  However, a small band stayed behind and with help from creatures called dell dwellers among others, restored the ecology of our valley.  Although every other structure had been destroyed, Dream Castle was also still intact thanks to the spells protecting it.  It looked like restoring our civilization would be simple.”

        Paradise bent her mouth into a frown and narrowed her eyes.  “Unfortunately, it was not.  We’ve failed to build another additional building.  Many others got discouraged and followed the path of the original emigrants in the hopes they had better luck wherever they ended up.”

        She turned to Twilight Sparkle.  Her expression lightened a bit.  “Your name actually reminded me of one of the last emigrants.  Though, her name was simply Twilight.  I actually have a picture of her somewhere.”

        Paradise walked over to a desk.  “I believe it’s in here.”  She pulled open a drawer and rummaged through it.  “Yup.  Here it is.”  She pulled out a picture in a frame and held it up for Twilight Sparkle to see.  It was a picture of a pink unicorn mare with white, straight hair and a dark purple streak in her mane.  Her cutie…haunch mark was a collection of dark purple stars.

        “She looks almost like my mom,” Twilight Sparkle gasped.  “Though, my mom has more purple streaks in her mane and tail.”

        “Huh.  Small multiverse.”  Paradise put the picture back in the drawer and pushed it closed.  “Twilight was always the wanderer.  She never stayed in one place too long.  I was surprised she stuck around Ponyland as long as she did.”

        “It’s too bad I didn’t get to meet her.”  Twilight then remembered her second question.  “Anyway, what about this talk of your home dimension?  Isn’t this your home?”

        “No,” Paradise answered bluntly.  “We ended up here because of a spell cast by one of the surviving witches.  She had been trying to destroy us for years without success.  I guess throwing us off our world was enough for her at that point.  However, this world is becoming our home.”

        “I kind of get the feeling,” Twilight Sparkle said, being in a different dimension herself.  Fortunately, she would hopefully be returning home soon though.  “What about these harpies and Atlantis?”

        Paradise smiled.  “I could spend all day explaining everything that’s happened to us on just the last few months and barely scratch the surface.”  She looked to the shelves.  “I know you wanted to see our library.  What book do you want to read first?”

        Twilight looked at the staggering shelves.  She felt like a foal in a candy store.  What strange stories and events she could read about?  However, Princess Celestia’s standing order crept into the back of her mind.  She was supposed to learn about friendship as well as her normal academics.  She had to find that happy medium.  “I could spend a lifetime reading here, but I can probably learn more about you from you.”

        “I hear you,” Paradise said.  “I find it so easy to get lost in fairytales and stories.  Sometimes you need to get back to reality just to pull yourself out.”

        Twilight Sparkle smiled.  “I’m glad to meet another bookworm.”

        “Guilty as charged,” Paradise replied jokingly.

        “I would like to do some reading about recent events in this world,” Twilight Sparkle said.

        “I think I’ve got just the one.”  Paradise flew up to a shelf.  She pulled a book off the shelf with a gray cover.  She landed and placed it on a table.  “This book is on the first decade of the twenty-first century here.  I should warn you it’s not pretty.”

        “You have to take the bad with the good.”  Twilight Sparkle looked at the book.  The title was written in strange symbols.  She frowned at it.  After hearing these ponies speak the same language and Wind Whistler and Gusty reading books in her library, she thought they had the same written language.  However, this world had a different language she had never seen before.

        It then came to her.  “Of course, I can use a translation spell.”  She concentrated, and in her mind the symbols turned into their corresponding characters in Pictoscript.  It was easier as they were based on almost identical spoken languages so it was replacing on character or group of characters with another.

        “I was about to get you a cheat sheet, but I see you have it covered,” Paradise said.

        “Thanks.”  Twilight Sparkle took up the book with her magic and walked towards the door.

* * *

        Pinkie Pie skipped down the hallway.  She noticed a white earth pony with light blue hair and a bunch of cupcakes for a cutie mark disappearing inside a room along with Gingerbread.  She figured they were the bakers around here.  She knew they had to be planning a welcome party for her and the others.  She would.  These two were probably preparing all kinds of sweets for it.

        She stopped at the wooden door with a label in a strange language above it.  She figured it said “kitchen” or something to that effect.  She pressed her ear to the door and listened.

        “When dandelions come up, they really come up,” Gingerbread said.  “We’ve got enough to feed everyone for a month.”

        “I’m sure they’ll appreciate the variety,” the other pony said.  “Hay grass is great, but you can tire of it without something to liven it up.”

        “What about ingredients for sweets?” Gingerbread asked.

        Pinkie Pie listened more closely as sweets were now involved.

        “We’re low on everything,” the other pony answered.  “Fortunately the apple trees on the eastern hill are ready for harvesting.  We should be able to barter them for some.”

        Pinkie Pie frowned.  It did not sound like they were planning a party.  It sounded more like the discussions Mr. and Mrs. Cake had after hours.  They would discuss what was in stock at the end of the day and what they would need to buy or make for the next.

        “Excuse me,” a quiet voice said from behind her.

        Pinkie Pie jumped in the air and spun around to land facing in the opposite direction.  A powder blue earth pony mare with the four hair colors stood behind her.  Pinkie Pie felt her skin prickle.  She knew she should not have been eavesdropping, especially for a surprise party.

        “I’m sorry,” the pony said.  “I didn’t mean to frighten you.”

        “It’s alright.”  Pinkie Pie sighed in relief.  At least she was not mad at her.  “I’m Pinkie Pie.”

        “I’m Sweet Stuff,” the pony replied.  She eyed Pinkie Pie suspiciously.  “Were you listening in our Cupcake and Gingerbread’s discussion?”

        Pinkie Pie gulped and grinned sheepishly.  “Kinda,” she said in a very small voice.

        Sweet Stuff looked at her sternly.  She then drew her mouth up in a big, goofy grin all of a sudden.  “Don’t worry.  We don’t mind others listening in.  They actually lend some helpful advice from time to time.”

        “I was hoping they were planning a party,” Pinkie Pie said, trying to hide disappointment.

        Sweet Stuff cocked her head and looked at Pinkie Pie curiously.  “Why would we be planning a party?”

        “Well, whenever somepony new comes to Ponyville, I want to throw them a welcome party to make them feel welcome in town.  I don’t always get to throw them, but I at least plan them,” Pinkie Pie said.  “I thought maybe you would too.”

        “I suppose we can ask them.”  Sweet Stuff pushed the door open.  “I’m sorry I’m late, Posey wanted to talk about her strawberry vines.  She said we’ll be getting some within the week.”

        “That’s good to know,” the white pony, apparently Cupcake, said.  “I do love strawberry shortcake with fresh strawberries.  Don’t you?” she asked Gingerbread.

        Gingerbread licked her lips.  “Mm.  I sure do.  We definitely need to stock up on ingredients.”

        “Pinkie Pie also wanted to talk to you,” Sweet Stuff said.

        Pinkie Pie walked slowly into the kitchen.  The walls were red brick and cabinets and counters along the three walls.  A large wooden, table sat in the center.  There were the typical fixtures, a large sink, a stove, a dishwasher, and a refrigerator only much larger than those in her kitchen at Sugar Cube Corner.

        “What do you want to discuss, Pinkie Pie?” Cupcake asked in her gentle voice.

        “I was just wondering if you were planning a welcome party for us to make us feel welcome,” Pinkie Pie said.  She seemed unusually uneasy about asking this question.  However, having been on the giving end so often, it felt a little embarrassing to be asking for something like it was a given.  “I was planning one for your friends when they came to Ponyville.”

        Cupcake and Gingerbread looked at each other.  They frowned slightly.  Cupcake turned Pinkie Pie and sighed like she wished she did not have to say what she had to.  “I’m sorry.  While it would be nice to throw a party to welcome you and your friends, we can’t.”

        “It takes a lot of planning for us to do a party,” Gingerbread said.  “Especially right now because we’re low on supplies.  We can’t just throw one on the spur of the moment.”

        “But planning parties is supposed to be fun,” Pinkie Pie said, a little dejected.

        “The planning is fun, it’s the preparation that can be a little stressful,” Gingerbread said.

        “But, I think it makes the party and everyone enjoying themselves all more the satisfying,” Cupcake said.

        “Oh, definitely,” Gingerbread replied.  “In fact, having parties whenever would take away from the experience in my opinion.”

        Pinkie Pie her felt heart sink.  She had never thought about it like that.  She planned parties constantly because that was her special talent.  It was the first thought of true happiness ever to enter her mind.  The one time when she thought she had lost it, she felt empty and frankly lost it a bit in another manner.  She celebrated with anyone and everyone.  If there was a reason to celebrate, any reason to celebrate, she was there.  She never thought of parties as being a rare luxury.  To her, they were a way of life.

        “Don’t let it get you down, dear,” Cupcake said warmly.  “We do want you and your friends to feel welcome here.  I do have enough supplies to make you some of my special cupcakes if you want some.”

        “Mm.  You should try them,” Sweet Stuff said.  “You haven’t had cupcakes until you’ve had Cupcake’s cupcakes.”

        “No thanks.  I’m fine.”  Pinkie Pie sulked out of the kitchen.

* * *

        Rarity scrutinized the outfits on pony mannequins.  “Parkas, windbreakers, rain gear…”  She levitated a short, light gray hat with a flat top and a large, white cloth draped from the back.  “…whatever this is.”

        “It’s a hat for desert travel,” Buttons said.  “The cloth covers the mane to keep the wearer from getting overheated in the sun.”

        Rarity placed the hat back on the mannequin’s head.  She turned to the pink unicorn.  “I must say your work is brilliant.  These outfits look functional and durable.  However, they’re all hazardous weather gear and rather bland in their design.  They seem too utilitarian.”

        “We’re ponies,” Buttons said bluntly.  “We don’t need to wear clothes normally.”

        “That doesn’t mean we can’t wear them just because we feel like it,” Rarity said.  “You surely have some you can just throw on for the sake of wearing it.”

        “Well…”  Buttons trailed off and rolled her eyes.  “There is Masquerade’s ‘ponywear’ collection is made me make,” she said dully.

        Rarity’s expression brightened.  “Can I see them?” she asked, trying to keep from sounding too enthusiastic.

        Buttons groaned.  “Sure.  Just don’t be too shocked.”

        She pushed open a door.  Rarity looked inside and her face sank into a disgusted frown.  She might as well be looking into a bargain basement costume store.

        “How garish,” she said, fighting the urge to stick out her tongue.  “They’re all costumes, and tacky ones at that.”

        “The designer’s name being Masquerade should have been a dead giveaway,” Buttons said, mercifully closing the door.  “She’s the self-professed mistress of disguise and loves dressing as what she’s not.  Granted those costumes are fun to put on for the occasional costume party, but I wouldn’t just wear one for a day.”

        “So you don’t have anything casual or even formal?” Rarity asked.

        Buttons shrugged.  “Aside from Sundance and Megan’s saddle blanket collection and the stallion pegasi’s Hawaiian shirts, no.”

        “Well, this simply won’t do,” Rarity said.  “On my honor as the dress designer for Ponyville, I will show you the most elegant fashion Equestria has to offer.”

        Button’s raised an eyebrow.  “Right,” she said unconvincingly.

        Rairty looked around.  It was just the two of them in the room.  “Speaking of Sundance and Megan, where did they go?”

        “They’re getting a bolt of denim,” Buttons said.

        A door opened and the human and pony came in carrying a large bolt of light blue fabric the same color as the main part of Megan’s outfit.  “I think this’ll do nicely,” Megan said, putting down her end of the bolt.  “You sure have a lot of denim.”

        “I don’t have much use for it even though we’ve come across some from time to time,” Buttons said.  “It’s good for everyday clothing, but ponies have built-in coats for that.”

        “If only humans were so lucky,” Megan said with obviously fake longing.

        “Where are Danny and Molly by the way?” Sundance asked.

        “They’re both at friends’ houses,” Megan said. “My parents also have their hands full with a Belgian they ended up adopting and getting him settled in at the ranch.  I was lucky to get away myself.”

        “It’s nice your parents know of us now,” Sundance said.  “I felt kind of guilty for you having to sneak around behind their backs.”

        “I did too.  I just wish we could have broken it to them more gently,” Megan said.  “This also means you don’t have to hide as much around town.  We might actually get to be seen in our matching outfits.”

        “Do you have a sketch ready?” Buttons asked.

        Megan pulled a small sketch pad out of her skirt pocket and opened it up.  Rarity looked at the drawing on it.  It was a basic sketch of a pony with a basic blanket over their back edged with frills and a large pocket sewn to the side.

        “I was thinking the main blanket would be denim with the edging and pockets made out of fabric like my blouse,” Megan said.

        “That’ll be easy,” Buttons said.

        “I like it,” Rarity said.  “It’s simple and yet has a kind of charm that way.”  She looked to Megan.  “Though, why do you want to make it match your outfit?”

        “It’s their hobby,” Buttons said.  “When we first met Megan, she and Sundance hit it right off and are the best of friends.  They like making a matching blanket for outfits Megan buys.”

        “Now we might get to show them off,” Sundance said with a slight eagerness to her voice.  “We can stroll around your home town and see everything there.”

        “There isn’t much to see, but I’ll show you around,” Megan said.

        “I don’t like it,” Buttons grumbled.  “I’d rather minimize our contact with the outside world.”

        “Don’t be such a killjoy,” Sundance retorted.  “Like it or not, this is our new home.  We might as well live in it.”

        “What are we talking about?” Rarity asked, confused by the direction the conversation had taken.

        “We’re not from this world originally,” Buttons said.  “Our entire valley was taken from our world and dropped here.  Although, we’ve ended up making our presence known, the humans and other races that seem to be popping up on a daily basis on this planet know little about us.  Frankly, the less they know about us, the better.”

        Rarity shook her head as if it would break up the mental cobwebs forming in her mind.  “All this talk of dimensions is giving me a headache.  Let’s talk about fashion.  You’ll certainly not lose me there.”

        “All right.”  Buttons concentrated on her horn glowed.  The bolt unraveled some and a white template with a large, leaf shaped hole in the middle floated over to lay on the fabric.  “We’ll start by cutting out the main body.”

        “I’ll just watch for now,” Rarity said.  It was a rare occasion she got to see somepony else make clothes now that she was a master of the craft.

* * *


        Scootaloo ran with the others into a large, flat field with short grass.  She finally had everyone’s names down.  The foals had the same name as their parents only the fillies had “Little” in front of their names and the colts had “Junior” after theirs.

        Little Sundance rolled a yellow ball into the middle of the field.  “We have an odd number of players, so someone will have to be ref.”

        “I can do that,” Quarterback Junior said.

        “How do you play polo?” Applebloom asked.

        “It’s easy,” Quarterback Junior said.  “Your team try to get the ball in the other team’s goal while preventing them from getting the ball in your goal.”

        “The goals are the spaces between those poles.”  Little Shady pointed to the pair black and white striped poles standing at one end of the field.  An identical pair stood at the other end.

        “However, you’re only allowed to move the ball with your nose,” Quarterback Junior said.  “It can hit you anywhere in the body, but you can’t kick it with your hooves unless you’re the goalie kicking it away from the goal or back into play.”

        “This sounds like fun,” Applebloom said.  “Maybe we should teach it to everypony back home.”

        “Another important rule is pegasi aren’t allowed to fly and unicorns can’t wink or use their magic on the ball,” Slugger Junior added.

        “Wink?” Sweetie Belle asked.

        “You know,” Little Gusty said, “winking.”

        She closed her eyes and her horn started to glow.  She vanished in a shower of sparkles and reappeared on the other side of the group.  “Every unicorn can do it, even foals.”

        “Not where we come from,” Sweetie Belle said, frowning.  “I’ve seen Twilight do it, but she’s the only one.”

        “That stinks,” Tornado Junior said.  “But, you don’t need it to play.  We’re out here to have fun.”

        “Right!” everyone shouted.

        “We’re going to need goalies,” Jet Streak Junior said.

        “I’ll be one,” Little Lickety-Split announced.

        “I’ll be the other,” Slugger Junior said.

        The two trotted out of the group and stopped about halfway to the goals.

        “I’m thinking of a number between one and ten,” Quarterback Junior said.  “Whoever’s closer gets first pick.”

        “Five,” Little Lickety-Split said.

        “Seven,” Slugger Junior said.

        “It was three, so Little Lickety-Split gets first pick,” Quarterback Junior said.

        “Then I pick Applebloom,” Little Lickety-Split said.

        “Awesome.”  Applebloom trotted to Little Lickety-Split.

        “I’ll take Little Lofty,” Slugger Junior said.

                Little Lickety-Split and Slugger Junior quickly picked their teams who gathered around their goalies.  Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle were both on Slugger Junior's team.  However, Applebloom was on Little Lickety-Split's.  Applebloom looked to them and frowned.  “I was hoping we’d all be on the same team.”

        “It’s okay, Applebloom,” Scootaloo said.  “It’s just a game, and it takes real friendship to be opponents and still friends.”

        “That’s the spirit.”  Thundercloud Junior patted Scootaloo lightly on the back.

        Applebloom managed a little smile.  “You’re right, Scootaloo.”  The smile widened to one side and she narrowed her eyes into a determined expression.  “Besides, I could beat you with one hoof tied behind my back.”

        “You’re going to eat those words, Applebloom,” Scootaloo boasted.

        “Let’s get the game started.”  Quarterback Junior rolled the ball to the exact middle of the field.  “Go for the ball!”  He galloped towards the side.

        Everypony galloped at the ball.  Scootaloo was almost to it, but Applebloom knocked it out of the way.  Scootaloo chased after her, remembering she could not fly.

        She thought of how awesome this dimension was.  She had made a bunch of friends who did not care she did not have a cutie mark and learning a new game which was instantly fun.  What more could a young, fun loving filly ask for?

* * *

        Applejack trotted along the stream, following its flow away from Dream Castle.  She inhaled deeply to take in the sweet smell of white apple blossoms in the trees over her head.  The area around Dream Castle reminded her of her family’s orchards.  They were simple, but well cared for.  It looked as though the valley became less tame further from the castle, but there was only so much eighty ponies could do.

        What reminded her of her orchards the most was of course the apple trees.  Just about every kind of apple tree imaginable dotted the landscape with apples in various stages of maturity.  There were also a number of cherry trees, though not quite as numerous as the apple trees.

        “What do you think of our trees?” a voice asked behind her.

        Applejack turned around to see the other Applejack or A.J. as they were calling her and a peach-colored earth pony mare with curly, reddish-orange hair standing behind her.  “Howdy,” Applejack said.

        “Hey, Applejack,” A.J. said.  “I want you to meet Cherries Jubilee.  She and I take care of the orchard trees around Dream Castle.”

        “Hello,” Cherries Jubilee said in a rather throaty voice.

        “Pleased to make your acquaintance,” Applejack replied.  “I have to compliment you two on your work.”  She looked around at the well kept trees.  “You do some fine work with these trees.”

        “That’s why we’re out here, actually,” Cherries Jubilee said.  “There are some twigs and suckers that need to be pruned.”

        “That can sure be a chore,” Applejack said.  “Can I help?”

        “Sure.”  A.J. reached into her saddlebag and pulled out a pair of pruning shears.  Applejack took them.

        Cherries Jubilee leaned a metal ladder against an apple tree.  “I’ll deal with the twigs.  You two can deal with the suckers.”  She got out her pruning shears and clipped a wayward twig.

        Applejack pruned off a sucker growing out of a trunk.  She looked to her counterpart who was doing the same to another tree.  Applejack moved her shears to the side of her mouth so she could talk.  “I can see why you can just take an apple here.  You have all these trees and so few ponies.”

        “Dream Valley provides for our needs,” A.J. said.  “Dream Castle gives us shelter, the sun crystals give us power, and the valley provides all the food and fresh water we need.  We barter apples and treasure for luxury items and other stuff we might want or need.”

        “Too bad it ain’t that simple where I live,” Applejack said.  “We sell our apples all over Equestria to maintain our farm and family.”

        “Actually, it’s not all that simple,” A.J. said.  “We don’t have enough resources or ponypower to make anything substantial.  Our population also grows very slowly.  It’s the reason after a century we’re still a small enclave living in a reclaimed castle.  We might be fine, but we’re not going to rebuild our civilization like this.”

        “I never thought of it that way,” Applejack said.

        “Though, I wonder if I really want a bustling civilization,” A.J. said.  She looked around.  “This use to be a city before the Fall.  I just can’t imagine all this overturned for another one.  We are living just fine right now.  We might not be what we were, but we’re thriving in our own way.”

        “I guess so,” Applejack said.  She looked around the picturesque valley.  Rolling hills covered with meadow grass and speckled by wild flowers extended to the gray hills that made the walls of the valley.  The stream weaved through it, following the lay of the land.  It was beautiful.

        She turned her attention back to A.J. when a tug of guilt came to her.  “Anyway, I want to apologize for what happened in Ponyville.  It was a misunderstanding.”

        “I should apologize for not asking,” A.J. replied.

        “Both of you should stop yakking and start pruning!” Cherries Jubilee shouted.

        “Yes Ma’am!” the two Applejacks said at the same time and went back to pruning.

* * *

        Fluttershy stopped and looked back to Dream Castle.  It was far off, a small square of pink against the green.  She was in a meadow of grasses that came up to her shoulders and some kind of wild flower with clusters of tiny white blooms around a single black one poked up above them.

        She felt more in her element here.  She lived on the edge of the Everfree forest and far from Ponyville because it was where the animals lived.  She often found animals easier to interact with than ponies.  Out here, in the wilds, she was sure to find whatever life lived in this world.

        She noticed a nest held by the switch in a branch of a solitary tree nearby.  A baby bird of some kind raised its head out.  It was old enough to not be downy, but its dark gray back and red chest were still speckled.  Fluttershy gasped as it leaned further and further out of the nest.  It suddenly tumbled out of the nest and fluttered to the ground.

        She dashed to the little bird.  It looked around, staying low to the ground.  It had to be so scared.

        Fluttershy felt her heart melt for it.  “Don’t worry,” she cooed.  “I’ll put you back in your nest.”

        She reached to take it gently in her mouth.  Two birds suddenly flew out of the branches.  They dove at her.  Fluttershy quickly retreated away.  The baby bird hopped into a bush under the tree and the two adults, probably its parents flew back into the branches.

        Fluttershy glared at the two scornfully who were eyeing her.  “That was very rude,” she scolded.  “I was only trying to return your baby to your nest.”

        “They don’t see it that way,” a male voice with an odd accent said.

        Fluttershy spun around.  A yellow earth pony with four-colored hair stood behind her.  “G’day,” the stallion said.  “The name’s Gator.  I’m the wildlife enthusiast around here.”

        “I’m Fluttershy,” Fluttershy said in a very small voice.        She shied her eyes away.  She did not expect other ponies to be our here.  She would have rather avoided them.  After what Gusty had done to her, she was afraid others were just as rude.

        “You have to be wary of robins,” Gator said.  “They’re pretty birds and have a beautiful song.  However, if they have a chick in the nest or hiding, they can be real nasty if you get too close.  They thought you were going to eat their baby.”

        “But, it can’t get back in its nest on its own,” Fluttershy said.

        “It won’t,” Gator said.  “It’ll hide in that bush until its strong enough to fly.  The parents still care for it there.”

        One of the robins flew out of the tree and disappeared into the tall grass.  The other sat there and watched them.

        “One of them is hunting down a meal as we speak,” Gator said.

        Fluttershy frowned.  She took care of the animals back home.  She even brought worms to the birds herself, dealing with them wiggling in her mouth.  Here, they just did it themselves.

        She looked to Gator watching them with fascination.  “If they do everything themselves, what do you do?” she asked.

        “I watch,” Gator said.  “There’s nothing like watching nature at work.”

        “Oh.”  Fluttershy returned her attention to the robins.  The one that had left the tree flew out of the grass with an earthworm in its beak.  It flew into the bush to probably feed its baby.  It returned to the tree and the other robin flew into the grass.

        “Why don’t I show you the other wildlife in the valley?” Gator asked.

        Fluttershy looked to Gator.  His green, iridescent eyes were warm and so was his smile.  She felt her defenses slowly drop.  There was something that told her he was a kindred spirit.  Even if he did not take care of the animals, she somehow knew he cared for them just as deeply as her.  “I would like that very much.”

        A disjointed chorus of shouts broke the tranquility of the area.  The robin flew out of the grass, tweeting angrily.  The shouts seemed to be coming towards them, and the grass rustled.

        “Perhaps it’ll come to us,” Gator said.

        A number of small creatures covered in thick, brightly colored hair tumbled out of the tall grass in front of them.

        Fluttershy instinctively stepped back.  “What are you?”

        A purple creature with prominent eyes on the top of his sack-shaped body bushed to the front.  “We’re bushwoolies,” it said.

        The others gave a disjointed chorus of affirmatives.

        “They live in a tunnel system under the valley,” Gator said.  “They ended up being dragged along when we were sent to this dimension.”

        “What do you think?” another bushwooly asked.

        “How do we look?” yet another asked.

        Fluttershy giggled.  “I think you’re all just adorable.”

        The bushwoolies cheered.

        “I don’t remember seeing a pony like you,” the purple bushwooly said.  “You look like Posey, but she doesn’t have wings.”

        “I’m Fluttershy,” Fluttershy said.  “I’m just visiting.”

        She stooped down to get a better look at the little creatures.  She felt an urge to squeal at how cute they were.  However, she managed to suppress it.

        “I wish I could take you home to meet all my friends?” she said.

        “Why don’t you?” the purple bushwooly asked.

        “Yeah, why?” the others asked.

        “I don’t think Twilight would like me bringing back a species from this world,” Fluttershy asked.

        “Yeah, Twilight wouldn’t like it,” the other bushwoolies said.

        Fluttershy cocked her head to the side.  “Why are you agreeing with me now?” she asked.

        “Aside from the purple one which is their leader, bushwoolies agree with whoever’s spoken last,” Gator said.

        “Yup.  We always do,” a number of bushwoolies said.

        “How strange,” Fluttershy said.

        The bushwoolies voiced a chorus of agreement with her.

        “To us, you’re the strange ones,” the leader bushwooly said.

        The bushwoolies agreed with him.

        Fluttershy giggled.  “I guess you’re right.”

* * *

        Rainbow Dash flew over Dream Valley, or rather, island.  The whole place was surrounded by water as far as the eye could see.  However, she did not smell salt like at the ocean.  Were they in the middle of lake bigger than anything she had ever seen?  Whatever the case, it was not the reason she was out here.

        She looked around for Whizzer.  She could feel her muscles tense in preparation for a race.  Speed was what she lived for.  She was the fastest Pegasus back home and now she had a chance to see how this world stacked up.

        She spotted the pink pony taking a drink from the stream.  Rainbow Dash glided down to her.  “Hey, Whizzer,” she said upon landing, resisting the urge to snicker at her name.

        Whizzer looked up from the stream.  “Hi, Rainbow Dash.  What’s up?”

        “I saw you’re pretty fast,” Rainbow Dash said.

        “You better believe it.  I’m the fastest pegasus around.  Not even Blitz is as fast as me.” Whizzer said in her hurried manner of speaking.  She spoke so fast, Rainbow Dash could not tell if she was being boastful or just stating it as a matter of fact.

        “Well, I’m the fastest pegasus in Equestria,” Rainbow Dash said boastfully.  “They don’t call me Rainbow Dash for nothing.”

        “Are you thinking about a race?” Whizzer asked.

        “You read my mind.”  Rainbow Dash let a devious, lopsided grin creep on her face.

        Whizzer’s mouth formed into a similar smirk.  “You’re on.  Why don’t we get the others to prepare a course, and I’ll race you as soon as they’re ready?”

        Rainbow Dash felt every muscle in her body tense.  She felt like a tightly wound watch.  “I’m so there.”

        They grinned at each other.  Whizzer must have thought she had a chance of winning.  However, Rainbow Dash had something planned that would literally blow her out of the sky.

The Snowball Effect

Chapter 5:  The Fastest Pegasus in the Multiverse

        Surprise spotted her prey.  It was one of the new ponies, the pink one.  She was laying at the edge of lake, looking into it.  She was unaware Surprise was there.

        Surprised crept towards her, making sure not to grab her attention.  She was a predator, a great white shark stalking a sea lion.  She could practically hear the bass playing ominously in the background.

        The pink pony heaved a melancholy sigh.  “What good’s a party pony in a place that hardly has parties?” she said to herself.

        Surprise got closer.  The pink pony was still unaware.  She was almost there.  Just a few more paces.  She got right on top of her.

        “SURPRISE!!!” Surprise screamed at the top of her lungs.

        The pink pony shrieked and jumped forward.  She fell straight into the water with a big, loud splash.  Surprise doubled over laughing.  That had to be one of her best in a long time.

        The pink pony raised her head out of the water.  Her frizzy hair had gone flat and floated on the surface.  Her scowl was so overdone Surprise was sent into a new laughing fit seeing it.

        “I don’t see what’s so funny,” the pink pony grumbled.

        “It was all in good fun,” Surprise said.  She held out her hoof to help the pink pony out of the water.  “You looked so concerned that you needed a good surprise to snap you out of it.”

        The pink pony looked at her quizzically.  “What do you mean?”

        “Sometimes ponies get stuck in a rut of stinking thinking about the most trivial things,” Surprise said.  “They’re wasting time on something that doesn’t deserve it.  That’s when I come in and surprise them.  You’re not obsessing about whatever you were, are you?”

        The pink pony paused for a second.  “No.”

        “Then my mission is complete.”  Surprise giggled.

        “I was just bummed that you rarely have parties here,” the pink pony said.

        “You can’t have constant parties,” Surprise said.  “They wouldn’t be special anymore.”

        “That’s what Cupcake and the others said,” the pink pony said quietly.  She looked to Surprise with a frown and watery eyes like one of her foalhood fantasies had been brutally shattered.  “My special talent is parties.  Here, I feel like I’m useless.  I’m just glad we can go home soon.  I don’t feel like this place is very fun.”

        “Not fun?”  Surprise felt hurt by this statement.  “You need to open your eyes.  There’s plenty of fun to be had around here, and I’m just the pony to show you.”

        The pink pony’s expression brightened.  “Really?”

        “You better believe it,” Surprise replied.

        “Then let’s go!”  The pink pony shook the water out of her coat and hair.  Her mane and tail regained their frizzy poof.  “I’m Pinkie Pie by the way.”

        “Surprise is my name and my game.”  Surprise hovered above the ground.  “Stick with me, and you’ll have more fun than you can handle without worrying about supplies or planning.”

        “I can’t believe I didn’t think of that,” Pinkie Pie said.  “I’m the Element of Laughter.  I should think of all kinds of way to have fun.”

        Surprise frowned confusedly.  “Element of Laughter?”

        “Uh…it’s a long story,” Pinkie Pie said.  “Anyway, let’s have some fun.”

        “Surprise!” a voice called out.  Surprise looked behind her to see Firefly flying towards them.  “Surprise, we need you.”

        “What for?” Surprise asked.

        “Rainbow Dash challenged Whizzer to a race,” Firefly answered.  “We need to make a flying course.”

        Surprise glanced to Pinkie Pie.  “See.  A race is fun.”

        Pinkie Pie smiled.  “You better believe it.  Rainbow Dash’ll fly rings around Whizzer.”

        “I wouldn’t underestimate Whizzer,” Surprise replied.  “You’ve yet to see her get up to speed.”

        “You will soon,” Firefly said.  “Let’s hurry up.”

* * *

        Rainbow Dash wiggled her hooves in the dirt.  She was ready.  She was oh so ready.  She glanced to Whizzer beside her who seemed just as stoked.  If only she knew what was in store for her.

        News of the race had spread quickly and everypony had gathered to watch.  The spectators stood off to the side.  All her friends were together in a group together.  The pegasi were holding up rings to make a course, the closest of which was in front of them.  They would all see just had fast she was.

        An orange pegasus stallion with white, yellow, orange, and red hair walked out in front of them.  He stopped and looked at the two.  “Okay, dudettes, here are the rules,” he said in his weird accent.  “There are eight rings being held above Dream Valley.  You have to fly through all of them starting with the one above us.  Then, you fly through this one again to finish.  The first to finish wins.  You’re also not allowed to buck, shove or pull, or otherwise touch each other.  Do you understand?”

        “Yeah.  Yeah,” Rainbow Dash said anxiously.  “Let’s get on with it.”

        “The race will start when Megan blows the air horn,” Scud said and walked out of the way.

        Megan held up a can with a large, red horn on the top.  “Get ready.”

        Rainbow Dash spread her legs out to maximize her push off.

        “Get set,” Megan shouted.

        Rainbow Dash felt every muscle in body tighten for the release.

        “GO!”  Megan blasted the horn.

        Rainbow Dash threw herself into the air.  She flapped her wings as fast as they would beat to gain speed.  She flew at the first ring and passed through it.

        She leveled off and flew towards the next.  She looked beside her.  Whizzer was close behind, but she was behind.  She looked forward at the next ring coming closer.

        She straightened her body to make it more streamlined.  The air whipped through her mane and tail and passed through her coat.  This was what she lived for.  It was a race like this that gave her her cutie mark.  It was also when she learned she could do that.

* * *

        Twilight Sparkle peered through the binoculars she held to her eyes with her magic.  Rainbow Dash and Whizzer were just streaks of their coat colors she had a hard time keeping up with.  She was glad Rainbow Dash picked to race a pink pony.  If she was racing another light blue pony, she would not be able to tell who was who.

        They passed through the second ring and headed towards the third.  The course was a wide oval about the size of Dream Valley.  They had plenty of distance to get up to top speed.

        “Who’s winning?” Pinkie Pie asked giddily.

        “I think Rainbow Dash is ahead by just a little,” Twilight Sparkle said.

        “All right, go Rainbow Dash!” Scootaloo cheered.

        “Come on, Whizzer, you can beat her,” a pony said with others cheering on Whizzer.

        “I’m surprised Rainbow Dash hasn’t tried to go for a sonic rainboom yet,” Fluttershy said.  “I would think she would try it as soon as she could.”

* * *

        “Come on, come on,” Rainbow Dash forced through her tightly clenched teeth.  Her legs were straight out in front and behind her to reduce her draft.  Her wings beat as fast as they could.  She had done everything needed to make it happen.  She was ready to make a sonic rainboom.

        However, there was nothing.  She had the speed, but nothing. There was not even the air cone that singled she was approaching critical velocity.

        “What’s wrong?  Why can’t I do it?”

        “Do what?” Whizzer asked, still just behind her.

        “Forget it,” Rainbow Dash snapped.  She had been hoping to show these ponies her ultimate trick.  However, nothing was coming.  It was like this atmosphere did not work like Equestria’s.

        It did not matter.  Even if she could not show off, she could still beat Whizzer.  She could still prove she was the fastest pegasus not only in Equestria but in the Multiverse.  As long as Whizzer was behind her, all was well.

        They blasted through the third ring.  Rainbow Dash glanced back to Whizzer.  She was still behind but very close behind.  She did not seem too worried about this.  In fact, she had a determined smirk.  She was up to something.  After failing to make a sonic rainboom, Rainbow Dash had no more tricks of her own.

        Rainbow Dash faced forward.  All she had was speed.  However, that was all she needed.  She tried to beat her wings faster to get every ounce of thrust out of them.

* * *

        Megan watched the streaks of pink and blue through her binoculars.  They shot through the fourth ring.  Rainbow Dash was still just ahead of Whizzer.

        “Who’s winning?” Buttons asked.

        “Rainbow Dash,” Megan answered, “but Whizzer is keeping up with her.”

        “Maybe Whizzer is waiting to make her move,” Buttons said.

        “What do you mean make her move?” Twilight Sparkle asked.

        “The race isn’t over until it’s over,” Buttons said.  “All that matters is who is ahead at the finish line.”

        The two blasted through the fifth ring.  They were so fast.  Megan knew the pegasi were fast, and Whizzer was exceptionally fast for even them.  However, their speed was incredible.

        “They’ve reached the halfway point,” Megan said.  “Rainbow Dash still leads, but just barely.”

* * *

        Rainbow Dash looked forward.  The only thing in her mind was reaching the next ring.  She pushed the stiffness and burning in her wings out of her mind.  She could rest them when the race was over.

        She also tried to keep Whizzer off her mind.  She was still just behind her.  She was fast.  There was no question about that.  Nopony had given her this kind of challenge in years.  It was concerning, but also exhilarating.  This was what she wanted when she challenged Whizzer.  Beating someone by a mile was too easy.  A close race was what truly proved your mettle.

        They passed through the sixth ring.  Only a third of the race to go.

        She focused on the race.  Time seemed to accelerate in the gaps between rings as her mind focused on things ahead of her.  The seventh ring went by.  Then the eighth.  They were in the home stretch.

        She looked back to Whizzer.  She was where she had been along, behind but just barely.  If she was going to try something, it was too late.

* * *

        “Rainbow Dash still leads,” Megan announced.  Megan watched the two streaks head towards the finish line.

        “Rainbow Dash wins!” Scootaloo cheered.

        “Don’t be too sure,” Buttons said.  “They still have to reach the finish line.”

* * *

        Compass saw the two heading for them.  “Get ready, Spike.  This looks like it’ll be a photo finish.”

        “Right.”  Spike laid down on his back and pointed the camera at the ring above them.

        Compass hovered so they were right under it.  They would catch the winner right when she crossed the finish line.

* * *

        The ring got closer.  Rainbow Dash could taste victory.  “Too bad, Whizzer.  You might be fast, but not fast enough.”

        “Says you,” Whizzer replied confidently.

        They passed through the ring.  The race was over.  Rainbow Dash grinned confidently.  She was the fastest pegasus in the Multiverse.  She caught Whizzer out of the corner of her eye at the last moment, but she could not have passed her in time.

        She looped around and descended towards the ground.  Her wings felt like they were made out of lead, and her whole body was soaked with sweat.  Her heart pounded against her ribcage and she breathed heavily.  Her throat was so dry she felt like she could drink a small lake.  The race had taken her to her limit.  However, she relished every ache and discomfort.  They were only proof of how awesome the race was, especially the taste of victory.

        She landed and sighed.  Her friends quickly gathered around her. Whizzer was also surrounded by a crowd when she landed.  She looked just as sweaty and out of breath as Rainbow Dash.

        “That was so awesome!” Scootaloo cheered.  “You guys were nothing but streaks, you were so fast.”

        Rainbow Dash gulped some air.  “You weren’t expecting any less, were you?”

        Compass flew down with Spike on his back.  Spike handed Megan the camera.  She looked at the back.  “We have a winner.”

        Rainbow Dash grinned gloatingly and struck a fatigued, but triumphant post.

        “The winner is…”  Megan paused.  “…Whizzer by a hoof!”

        Rainbow Dash popped her eyes open her lower jaw hung open.

        Cheers and clacking erupted from the crowd.

        “I lost?” Rainbow Dash practically squeaked.

        “Don’t be so down,” Twilight said.  “You can’t win them all.”

        “But, I was in the lead the whole time,” Rainbow Dash said.  Her voice had a wheeze to it from shock and exhaustion.  “There has to be some kind of mistake.”

        She walked up to Megan.  “How could Whizzer have won?”

        “I don’t know, but the picture doesn’t lie.”  Megan showed her the back of the camera.  It was a screen with a still photo of them from below as they crossed the finish line.  It was a shot of Rainbow Dash’s forward most hoof just crossing the plane of the ring while Whizzer’s hoof had crossed completely.

        Rainbow Dash stared at the picture dumbfounded.  Whizzer had passed her at the last second.

        She glanced to Whizzer chatting casually with some other ponies.  The other pegasi landed, laying their rings down and joining the crowd around her.  They gave her hoof bumps and a stallion even hugged her.  She was not boasting, but clearly glad to have won and ready to celebrate.  It made Rainbow Dash feel a little ashamed.  She would have been bragging about it from the highest hilltop.

        She walked up to Whizzer.  She could at least be a gracious loser.  “Good job, Whizzer.”

        “Thanks,” Whizzer said, still breathing a little hard.  “You’re really fast.”

        “Not fast enough,” Rainbow Dash grumbled quietly under her breath.  “But, how did you beat me?  I was ahead of you the whole time.”

        “That was my plan,” Whizzer said.  “I quickly realized we were evenly matched.  So, I hung behind a little to get the feel of your slipstream figuring I could ride it.  I slipped into it during the home stretch and then used it to slingshot past you with a quick burst of speed right at the end.  It took perfect timing, but I pulled it off.”

        “Slipstream?” Rainbow Dash asked.

        Wind Whistler chuckled.  “All objects in motion create turbulence in the fluid they pass through.  It is possible to ride that turbulence wave and then accelerate for a short to a much faster velocity than is normally manageable.”

        “Say what now?” Rainbow Dash asked, not understanding a word Wind Whistler said.

        “Whizzer let you drag her along and then sped past you at the last second,” Twilight Sparkle clarified.

        “What?” Rainbow Dash literally squeaked this time.  “Isn’t that cheating?”

        “It is cheating!” Scootaloo stated, glaring at Whizzer.  “You just let Rainbow Dash drag you along.”

        “It’s not cheating,” Twilight said.  “There’s more to a race than just speed.  Strategy can be just as important.  It’s not like she actually grabbed Rainbow Dash.  She took advantage of nature.”

        “But,” Rainbow Dash started to say, but she was at a loss for words.  She could not even think of an idea to argue against it.  Twilight was right, Whizzer did not cheat.  “I guess so,” she mumbled.

        “This doesn’t mean we can’t be friends, does it?” Whizzer asked.  “I would like to be your friend.”

        Rainbow Dash looked to Whizzer.  A warm smile sat on face.  Rainbow Dash managed a smile of her own.  “I don’t see why not.  It was just a race.”

        Whizzer nodded.

        “It was also real fun,” Rainbow Dash said.  “I haven’t flown a race like that in a while.  In the end, that’s probably what matters, even more than winning.”

        “Good for you, Rainbow Dash,” Pinkie Pie said suddenly.

        Rainbow Dash shot a displeased glance to her.  She knew what she meant and did not like what she was insinuating.

        Rainbow Dash looked away.  The bigger disappointment was she could not show off her ultimate trick.  “I’m probably more bummed I couldn’t do a sonic rainboom.”

        “A what?” Whizzer asked.

        “When a pegasus reaches a certain speed, they create a sonic rainboom,” Twilight said.  “They create a brilliant ring of color with a rainbow trailing behind them.”

        Whizzer cocked her head.  “Never heard of it.”

        “Well, I’m the only one who’s done it and then only twice,” Rainbow Dash said, trying to not sound too boastful.  At least there was one thing she had on Whizzer.

        “Maybe you just weren’t going fast enough,” Twilight said.

        “Then thing is I was,” Rainbow Dash said.  “However, I wasn’t even getting a hint of one.”

        Twilight cocked her head and groaned softly, apparently deep in thought.  “Well, pegasi do have a special relationship with the atmosphere of Equestria.  Perhaps the atmosphere here works differently, and somehow prevents you from doing it.”

        Rainbow Dash shrugged.  “Oh well.  It kind of sticks, but there’s nothing I can do about it.”

        A loud boom suddenly resounded through the valley, making everyone flinch.  Fluttershy jumped behind Twilight.  “What was that?”

        Wind Whistler spread her wings and flew up several hundred feet into the air.  She looked to the northwest for a couple seconds and then quickly flew back down.  “There is a storm front moving in.  I first noticed it on the horizon during the race.  Fortunately, we could get the race in well before it arrived, but it will probably reach us in fifteen minutes.”

        Rainbow Dash looked up at the sky.  It was a milky with a thin layer of high clouds.  However, there was nothing suggesting a storm.  “What storm?”

        “Follow me.”  Wind Whistler flew back up.

        Rainbow Dash followed her.  She gazed towards the northwest.  Several miles away, a line of dark clouds that rose from the water’s surface to the high clouds and stretched as far as the eye could see in either direction.

        “Whoa,” Rainbow Dash said.  “Your cloud makers must really love their work to make that monster.”

        “That is not the work of any industry,” Wind Whistler said.  “A cold front is approaching.  The cooler, drier air behind it is forcing the warm, moist ahead of it up.  The rising motion causes the water vapor in the air to condense to water droplets forming clouds.  Other processes are sustaining it and probably leading to severe conditions under it.”

        “Uh, yeah,” Rainbow Dash said.  Once again she did not understand anything Wind Whistler had said.  What was a cold front for one thing?

        “Wind Whistler, Rainbow Dash,” Magic Star shouted, “head to Dream Castle.”

        “Let’s head in,” Wind Whistler said.  “The weather is about to get very ugly.”

* * *

        Twilight Sparkle picked her head up from the book as the light coming through the large window faded.  Wind Whistler guessed the storm’s arrival with almost perfect accuracy.  Fifteen minutes after seeking shelter, the dark clouds were spreading over them.

        The window like the entire castle faced east, so the southeast moving storm appeared to her left at first.  Instead of starting as a light sprinkle and increasing, the rain fell like a falling curtain.  It went from dry to blinding rain from left to right in a blink of an eye.  The rain was so heavy she could barely make out the shape of the towers on the other side of the courtyard against the grayness.

        The wind also whipped up fiercely.  The rain blew sideways and spun around courtyard as it got trapped inside its tall walls.  She had never seen a storm this violent before.

        Blue lightning flashed.  Almost immediately afterward a sound like a massive tree cracking in half rumbled into a deafening thunder.  The sound was so loud it shook the huge, crystal chandelier hanging over the grand hall.

        Despite the raging storm, Twilight Sparkle felt safe.  The castle was a well built structure.  She could also feel the protective magic it had repelling the brunt of the storm.  The storm could do its worst, but they were well protected.

        “How’s the book?” Paradise asked from behind her.

        Twilight Sparkle spun around to see her standing behind her.

        “I’m sorry if I frightened you,” Paradise said.

        “It’s all right,” Twilight said.  She looked out at the dark gray fog obscuring almost everything outside.  “I was actually playing more attention to the storm.  I’ve never seen weather this violent.”

        “This is just your typical squall line,” Paradise said, looking out the window.  “This part of the world gets them every couple of weeks or so during the summer.”

        “Every couple of weeks?” Twilight Sparkle gasped.  A storm like this would level or at least severely damage Ponyville.  The thought of a storm like it blasting through every other week was staggering.

        “Applejack told me the ponies of your world control the clouds and generally try to keep storms like this from happening,” Paradise said.

        “Usually,” Twilight Sparkle replied.  “Sometimes they have no other choice though.  Still, they’ve never made anything like this.”

        “This isn’t actually all that violent,” Paradise said.  “You should see a tornado or a hurricane.  They’ll chew up and spit out an entire town.”

        “I believe you.”  Twilight Sparkle looked down at the book and frowned.  “You weren’t kidding when you said this book wouldn’t be pretty.  There are so many terrible things that have happened here.  I don’t know how humans can stand it.”

        “They say the hottest fires forge the hardest steel,” Paradise said.

        “Maybe, but I’m also surprised you don’t do anything about this,” Twilight Sparkle said.  “You said you defend the weak against oppressors and exploiters.  There’s oppression and exploitation happening all over this world.”

        “I know,” Paradise said.  “However, this world has a parable.  It’s a about a boy who tried to save a dike from breaching by putting his fingers in the leaks.  He ended up running out of fingers long before he ran out of leaks.”

        “Oh, right,” Twilight Sparkle said.  There were only eight-one ponies here, and they could only do so much.

        “However, even when we numbered in the thousands we didn’t insert ourselves into every conflict that arose,” Paradise said.  “Our ancestors understood people could become dependent on us if we solved all their problems for them.  There’s also the chance we could choose the wrong side and end up empowering evil.  While every news story of something going wrong in the world tugs at our hearts, we must be very deliberate about the conflicts we enter.”

        She looked out the window, but her gaze seemed to look past the storm at something they could not see.  “Take the humans here.  Humans are a resilient species with an innate ability to rise to the occasion.  While their world is full of problems and disasters, they have had their triumphs.  If we intervened, we would only dull that quality in them.”

        Twilight Sparkle mulled this over.  “I guess, but you don’t just sit back completely.”

        “Of course not,” Paradise said.  “We get involved when the abuse of supernatural powers is involved mostly.  We also get involved when we’re actually sought out for help or it impacts us directly.  Though, for the most part, humans prefer we keep a low profile.

        Another loud boom of thunder echoed around the castle.  Twilight Sparkle looked to the window.  The rain was still pouring down in sheets, but the wind had died down.  The rain now fell almost straight down.  “How long do storms like this last?”

        “The worst is over,” Paradise said.  “However, the rain can last for an hour or more.”

        Twilight Sparkle closed the book with her magic.  “Well, I think I’ve read enough about this world.  I’m more interested in you as ponies.  What makes your group in particular tick?”

        “That’s probably something Monsoon can answer,” Paradise said.  “He’s the oldest pony here.  In fact, he’s the only one who was alive before the Fall still in Dream Valley.”

        “I’ll talk to him.”  Twilight Sparkle stood up and took up the book with her magic.  She would return it to its place in the library first.

* * *

        Rainbow Dash watched Fluttershy and Applejack play chess.  She had little else to do.  Back in Equestria, she was usually directing storms.  However, she found herself stuck inside looking for something to do until the storm passed like everypony else.

        Applejack moved her bishop onto a diagonal line with Fluttershy’s king.  “Check.”

        Applejack was a fairly good chess player.  Perhaps it was stereotyping, but Rainbow Dash never pegged the country pony as a chess master.

        “Umm…” Fluttershy trailed off.  She moved her king to the side.

        Applejack sighed.  “I beat you in two moves.”  She looked Fluttershy in the eye.  “You need to be more aggressive in your play.  Chess is a game of opportunity as well as strategy.”

        “I couldn’t do that,” Fluttershy said.

        Rainbow Dash rolled her eyes.  Or, perhaps it was Fluttershy being that awful.

        She fluttered to the balcony around the grand hall.  She looked around.  Most of the ponies were in here, playing board game or watching a box that projected pictures and sounds.  None of it appealed to her.  They had a huge castle, there had to be something interesting to do indoors.

        She noticed a white pegasus mare with neon yellow hair on the ground floor.  She jumped on a nearby couch and looked behind it before walking away.

        “What was that about?”  Rainbow Dash fluttered to the ground floor.  “What are you looking for?”

        “Huh?”  The pegasus turned around.  “I’m on the lookout for Pinkie Pie.”

        “Why?” Rainbow Dash asked.

        “We’re playing a game called Snake in the Grass,” the pegasus said.  “She’s hiding somewhere like in hide ‘n seek only she can come out and scream ‘bitten’ when she touches me if I don’t see her in time.”

        “BITTEN!!!” Pinkie Pie screamed.

        The pegasus spun around.  Rainbow Dash looked behind her to see Pinkie Pie standing there with a big grin on her face.  “I got you!” Pinkie Pie announced.

        “That’s not fair,” the pegasus grumbled.  “I was talking to Rainbow Dash.”

        “You didn’t say anything about being distracted,” Pinkie Pie replied.

        The pegasus open her mouth to say something.  However, she just closed it.

        Pinkie Pie noticed Rainbow Dash.  “Hey, Rainbow Dash.  Meet Surprise.”

        Surprise turned back to Rainbow Dash.  “Hey, how’s it going?”

        “It’s going alright I guess,” Rainbow Dash replied.  “I’m just a little bored being cooped up in here.”

         Surprise suddenly shushed her.  “Don’t use the b-word.  Firefly might hear.”

        “Did somewhere say they’re bored?” a voice asked.

        A pink pegasus with blue hair much like Rainbow Dash’s fluttered down from the balcony to them.  “We can’t have any of that.”

        “This is Firefly, our local daredevil and aerobat,” Surprise said.  “She’s the master of legendary double inside out loop.”

        “Stop.  You’re embarrassing me,” Firefly said.  She acted embarrassed, but it was clearly forced.

        “She’s just faking,” Surprise whispered in Rainbow Dash’s ear.  “She loves to show off.  The only thing she likes more is facing danger.  She lives by the motto ‘danger is my life.’”

        “That must be some life,” Rainbow Dash said.

        “Enough about me, what about you?” Firefly said.  “You’re bored, and we can’t have that.”

        “I just don’t like being cooped up,” Rainbow Dash said.  “It makes my wings claustrophobic.  There’s also nothing that really appeals to me happening.”

        “Hmm.  That’s going to be hard,” Firefly thought out loud.

        “Actually, I’d like to know exactly what’s going on,” Rainbow Dash said.  “Wind Whistler tried to explain, but I didn’t understand any of it.”

        “Wind Whistler can get wordy when she’s excited or not thinking about what’s coming out of her mouth,” Firefly said.  “It seems like she’s throwing up a thesaurus some times.”

        Rainbow Dash chuckled at the thought of Wind Whistler spitting out a giant book.  “She was talking about all these weird things like cold fronts and stuff.”

        “A cold is simple,” Firefly said.  “It’s where colder air pushes warmer air aside.  Storms like this usually form along them.”

        “We don’t have anything like that in Equestria,” Rainbow Dash said.  “We make the clouds and move them into place.”

        She then gulped when everything came together in front of her.  “Are you telling me clouds just form and move around all by themselves here?”

        “Uh…yeah,” Firefly said.  “They do in our old home dimension too.”

        “The animals also take care of themselves here too,” Fluttershy said, walking up to the crowd with Applejack.  “They actually attack you if you try because they think you’re trying to hurt them.”

        “At least the plants need you,” Applejack said.

        “Actually…” a yellow earth pony mare with same colorations as Fluttershy trailed off.  “We raise plants so they suit our needs.  They would grow, even if we weren’t here.”

        “So, the plants grow, the animals care for themselves, and the clouds move all on their own.”  Rainbow Dash knew the description all too well.  “Well, that’s just great.  We’re stuck in one big Everfree Forest.  I bet the whole planet is crawling with monsters.”

        “It’s even worse than that,” Magic Star said ominously as she walked towards the group.

        Fluttershy gulped.  “Worse?”

        “Here, the monsters don’t always snarl and sport claws to tell them they’re monsters,” Magic Star said.  “They look just like the innocent and by the time they reveal their intent, it’s too late.”

* * *

        Smith tapped his finger against the glass plate covering the table and supported his chin on his opposite fist.  He stared at the footage.  He did not concentrate on anything in particular.  He instead watched everything that was happening.

        The tornado materialized out of nowhere and blew away a line of cars.  Foot soldiers ran from the vortex as it tore up everything around them.  All that equipment and technology so easily brushed aside.

        The door behind him creaked open.  “Why do you insist on watching that over and over?” Cooper asked from behind him.  “It’s going to be the same every time you watch it.”

        “That’s where you’re wrong,” Smith replied, not bothering to turn around.  “Every time I watch this, I learn more about these ponies.”

        He pressed a button so the video paused on a blue pony with a horn.  His legs were spread out to brace his body and his head was low so his horn was pointed straight forward.  His eyes were screwed shut and his teeth were tightly clenched.

        Smith swiveled his chair around to face Cooper holding a newspaper in his large hands.  “What does it look like this pony is doing?”

        “Concentrating,” Cooper replied.

        “Exactly,” Smith said.  “I suspect that the unicorns use heightened mental energy to craft their magic.”

        “This is important why?” Cooper asked tiredly.

        “You saw what we did to us,” Smith said.  “If the Order is to have the perfect arsenal, we must have magic.”

        “While I can’t argue with you logic, you have the small problem that humans aren’t unicorns,” Cooper said.  “No matter what we learn about them, that won’t change.”

        “Humans aren’t birds, but we learned how to fly.  Humans aren’t whales, but we learned how to remain underwater longer before coming up for air,” Smith said.  “Well do what humans have done since the dawn of time to address the shortcomings of our limited anatomy.  We’ll study how nature does it and make a device to correct her oversight.”

        He looked back to the screen and the pony.  “They say we only use ten percent of our brain’s potential.  I don’t see why these ponies would be any different.  The unicorns are somehow able to tap more of that potential.  We can mimic this ability with technology.  We just need a unicorn to study how they do it.”

        “Good luck on finding one,” Cooper said.  “They seem to pop in and pop out of places without a trace.  No one knows where they live or where they’ll show up next.”

        He threw the newspaper on the table and slid it towards Smith.  “In the meantime a chemical company in Baton Rouge has developed a prototype for a petroleum-free lubricant.  The perfect arsenal’s going to need upkeep.”

        Smith turned back and picked up the paper with the headline “BREAKTHROUGH” at the top.  He nodded in agreement with Cooper.  “Prepare an assault team.  We’ll go in at local sunset.”

The Snowball Effect

Chapter 6:  Between Storms

        Spike paced around the ground floor of the library.  He impatiently scratched at his lower arm with the talon of his opposite claw.  “Come on, Twilight,” he grumbled.  “Where did you go?  I got a letter from Princess Celestia hours ago asking you and the others to take on an important task, and you’re nowhere to be found.”

        He had seen the two Applejacks.  Twilight and Pinkie Pie ran after the fake along with the real Applejack.  However, Twilight told him to stay behind and mind the library.  He did just that thinking they would be right back.  However, it was like they had fallen off the face of the Earth.

        A knock came at the front door.

        “Finally.”  Spike walked to the door and opened it.  “It’s about time you got back.”

        He looked up to see a light pink pegasus and light blue pegasus behind her.

        “Oh…”  Spike grinned sheepishly.  “Sorry.  I thought you were somepony else.  Can I help you?”

        “We need to talk,” the pink pegasus said.

        “What are you talking about?” Spike asked.  “I don’t even know who you are.”

        “You know us more than you think.”  The pink mare walked into the library and her blue companion came in after her, closing the door behind her.  The two quickly drew all the curtains in the library.

        Spike gulped nervously.  “Who are you?”

        The two ponies looked to him.  They started to glow and change shape.  The pink mare grew much larger and gained a long horn and her hair started to wave as if in a gentle breeze.  Her blue companion changed in shape and also gained a horn.  They reformed into Princess Celestia and Princess Luna only missing their regal wears.

        “Princess Celestia!  Princess Luna!”  Spike bowed graciously.  “How can I serve you?”

        “Has Twilight Sparkle returned?” Princess Celestia asked.

        “No,” Spike answered.

        Princess Celestia bent her mouth into a concerned frown.  Her long horn glowed with a soft, pale pink light.  “I don’t sense her magic.  She’s not in Ponyville or the surrounding area.”

        “Could she have passed through whatever you sensed?” Princess Luna asked.

        “That’s seems to be the case,” Princess Celestia replied.

        “What are you talking about?” Spike asked loudly.  He slapped his claws over his mouth when he realized he had just raised his voice to the two monarchs.

        Princess Celestia looked to him, but with gentleness and understanding.  “I’ve sensed a disruption in the dimensional fabric near here.  I was going to have Twilight Sparkle investigate, but it seems like she might have already gotten closer to it than I planned.”

        “Uhh…right.”  Spike barely understood what Princess Celestia was talking about.  “What are you going to do about it?”

        “We will investigate ourselves,” Princess Luna said.  Her horn glowed her body reformed into her disguise.  “We don’t know what threat this could pose to Ponyville and the rest of the Equestria.”

        “Then take me with you.”  Spike hopped onto Princess Luna’s back.  “I’m Twilight’s loyal assistant.  If something’s happened to her, I should do whatever I can to help her.”

        “I can’t argue against that.”  Princess Celestia shrank into her disguise.  “In these forms we’re called Dawn and Moonbeam, by the way.”

        “Got it,” Spike said.

        Dawn pushed the door open and they stepped out.  Everypony on the streets outside the library continued with their daily lives, not knowing both of the Royal Pony Sisters were in their midst.  After Moonbeam closed the door, they took to the air and flew towards Sweet Apple Acres.

* * *

        Rarity stared at the giant painting in the grand hall.  It was a larger than life portrait of a white unicorn mare with flowing blue hair with a white streak in her mane.  She wore a bright red blanket with white fur along its edges and a simple gold crown sat on her head.  Next to her was a purple, juvenile dragon looking much like both the Spike living here and their Spike.

        “Admiring Queen Majesty?” a voice asked.

        Rarity looked behind her with a start.  “Oh…yes I was.”

        A powder blue unicorn mare stood behind her.  “Hi, I’m Sparkler,” the unicorn said.  “I’m sorry if I startled you.”

        “Rarity,” Rarity replied.  “And it’s alright.”

        She looked back to the painting.

        Sparkler walked up beside her.  “Queen Majesty ruled the Pony Kingdom around a thousand years ago and is one our most storied monarchs.”

        “Who’s the dragon?” Rarity asked.

        “That’s Spike, her faithful companion and friend,” Sparkler said.  “We named our Spike after him because he looks so much like him.”

        The mention of lookalikes made Rarity look at Sparkler.  Aside from being a different coat and the red streak in her curly, purple mane, Sparkler looked a lot like her.  They had similar eyes lined with full body eyelashes.  Although Sparkler’s mane did not curl like Rarity’s perm, it had a similar sheen and texture.  Even Sparkler’s haunch mark was three diamonds like hers.  Perhaps she was her Applejack.

        “Tell me, Sparkler,” Rarity said.  “What do you do around here?”

        “Well…”  Sparkler paused to ponder.  “My favorite hobby is collecting shiny, sparkly, and colorful trinkets and stuff.”

        “Really?” Rarity said excitedly.  “My special talent is finding gems too.”

        “However,” Sparkler said as if not hearing her, “my main talent and life’s passion is explosives.”

        “Explosives?” Rarity asked weakly.

        “Yup,” Sparkler said.  “If you need it to go boom, I’m your pony.  And the bigger the boom the better as far as I’m concerned.”

        Rarity forced a weak laugh.  She should have never asked.  She wanted to picture who was probably her counterpart as being as sophisticated as her.  However, she could not get the image of Sparkler with belts of dynamite strapped to her shoulders and holding a stick in her mouth out of her mouth.  Such a graceful looking pony clad in such crude equipment had to be the poster foal of “Don’t judge a book by its cover.”

        “That’s certainly an interesting talent,” Rarity said, trying to sound as polite as possible.

        “And oh so much fun,” Sparkler said eagerly.  “I just wish I had more opportunities to use it.”  A bright spark appeared on the tip of her horn.  “I mostly use my spark magic to blind and scare enemies.”

        “It’s a real shame.”  Rarity forced a grin and batted her eyes.

        She should not be this concerned with Sparkler’s choice in occupation.  Even if she looked like Rarity, she was not her.  It was just like how the Applejacks were completely different ponies as were Pinkie Pie and Surprise.  However, those two pairs were so similar in personality and talents.  Why would her counterpart not only be completely different from her in personality, but enjoy something as crude as explosives.

        “Are you okay?” Sparkler asked.

        Rarity quickly recovered her composure.  She coughed to clear her throat.  “I was just surprised a unicorn who takes as much care of her image as you would be into that line of work.”

        Sparkler shrugged.  “Yeah.  I got that a lot at first.  However, there’s nothing like seeing a brilliant fireball rise into the sky followed by a satisfying boom.”

        Rarity looked back to the painting.  She tried to think of some other subject matter they could discuss.

        “Hello,” a voice said from above them.  A white unicorn with straight, purple hair and a brilliant blue streak in her mane stood on the balcony above them.  She disappeared in a shower of sparkles and reappeared at ground level.  “What are you doing?”

        “I was just admiring this painting of Queen Majesty,” Rarity said.  “She certainly had a good taste in clothes.”

        A thought then popped into her head.  “That gives me an idea.  How about I make some dress designs for you?”

        “Dress designs?” Sparkler asked.

        “Certainly,” Rarity said.  “I am recognized as one of the best designers in Equestria.  My designs have been featured in magazines and worn by top celebrities.  However, I’m still a simple dressmaker at heart and always will to share my talent.  After seeing what you have for clothing, I feel it is my duty to show you true fashion.”

        “Right…” Sparkler said halfheartedly.

        “I like the idea,” the white unicorn said with a slight drawl.  “I’m Glory, by the way.”

        “Pleased to meet you, Glory,” Rarity replied.  “Let’s go to the wardrobe room and I’ll show you the magic I can craft.”

        “I might just come along too just to see this,” Sparkler said.

        The three walked towards the door.  Rarity slung her front legs over the two on either side of her.  “Prepare to be amazed, girls.  Prepare to be amazed.”

* * *

        Firefly stretched her legs and wings.  She inhaled the air which was noticeably cooler and drier.  All that remained of the storms was the tattered backside of the cloud deck departing to the southeast across Lake Michigan.  The cold front pushing them forward had passed too, leaving them in the refreshing atmosphere behind it.

        “There’s nothing like a cold front passing by,” she said.  She beat her wings and leapt into the air.  “The cooler drier air gives you more lift.”

        “But it also reduces your speed,” Rainbow Dash said.

        “I have to admit I’m not much for speed,” Firefly said.  “I’m more for aerobatic tricks, and this kind of atmosphere is perfect for it.”

        She flew high into the air.  She then turned and tucked her legs in to perform her signature double inside out loop.  She made two tight loops with her legs on the inside.  She came out of it and shot towards the ground as if she had been fired out of a cannon.  She opened her wings to brake and reduce the speed she gained in the loops.  She fluttered to a stop and gently planted her hooves on the ground.

        “That was pretty impressive,” Rainbow Dash said.  “It’s got to be hard to maintain a loop with your legs inward let alone two.”

        “If it ain’t hard, I’m not interested,” Firefly declared.  “It took me years to perfect it and I think I crashed into just about every pony living in Dream Valley practicing.  However, it’s the go to move to ditch something after you.”

        “I’ve dabbled in tricks some,” Rainbow Dash said.  “My dream has been to fly as part of the Wonderbolts, a famous stunt team in Equestria.  Though, I’m more of a racer than an aerobat.”

        “Do you race for a living?” Firefly asked.

        Rainbow Dash frowned and glanced away from Firefly.  “No.  I’m just the weather manager for Ponyville.”

        “What’s a weather manager exactly?” Firefly asked.

        “We move the clouds in to make rainstorms or get rid of them when it’s supposed to sunny,” Rainbow Dash said with clear disinterest.  “It’s an occupation that would never exist here.”

        “You don’t sound too proud of it,” Firefly said.

        “It’s how they get ‘unruly’ pegasi out of Cloudsdale,” Rainbow Dash said, stressing her disdain when saying the word “unruly.”  “They dump them on a small terrestrial town and make them a weather manager.  ‘Failed in Cloudsdale, Try Ponyville’ is a common saying for it.  That’s why I want to become part of the Wonderbolts.  Then I could return to living in Cloudsdale.”

        “I see,” Firefly said.  “What caused you to get kicked out?”

        “I felt squeezed in by all the rules and didn’t have the patience for the plodding pace of flight schools,” Rainbow Dash said.  She spread her wings and hovered just over the ground.  “I taught myself much of what I know through trial and error well before it ever got covered in school.  They just didn’t recognize me for being gifted and talented.”

        “Firefly,” Medley called out.  The greenish-aqua pegasus landed next to them.  “Cherries Jubilee wants the pegasi to do a quick flyover of the valley to check for damage to the fruit trees.”

        “I’ll get right on it,” Firefly replied.  She looked back to Rainbow Dash and then Medley.  “Medley, I want you to meet Rainbow Dash.”

        “Hey,” Rainbow Dash said.

        “I hope Firefly isn’t being a bad influence on you,” Medley said with that joking smirk she had when she feigned condescension to Firefly.

        “Har.  Har,” Firefly said, acting wounded.  She returned her attention to Rainbow Dash.  “Anyway, let’s talk about this while we do tree patrol.”

        “Okay,” Rainbow Dash replied.

        Firefly took to the air and Medley and Rainbow Dash followed her towards a cluster of apple trees.

        “As I was saying, I was bored out of my skull at flight school and ended up acting out,” Rainbow Dash said.  “I got kicked out of just about every class.  Then they shipped me to the ground when I was old enough.  They figured I could be Ponyville’s problem.”

        “What are you talking about?” Medley asked.

        “Rainbow Dash was telling me about how she ended up as Ponyville’s weather manager,” Firefly answered.  “I’m surprised they would make such a vital job a punishment.”

        “What do you mean a vital job?” Rainbow Dash asked.

        “It seems like Ponyville depends on you for rain,” Firefly said.  “You’re indispensible.”

        Rainbow Dash stopped.  “I never thought of it that way.”

        “Maybe they realized you needed to get out of Cloudsdale because it wasn’t the place for you,” Firefly said.

        “Besides, aren’t the others friends you met because you ended up in Ponyville?” Medley asked.

        “I guess,” Rainbow Dash thought out loud.  “I somehow feel better about my place in life.”

        “Then our mission is complete,” Medley said.

        “Now let’s look at those fruit trees.”  Firefly descended to the cluster.

        She looked at the trees.  No branches of any significant size were on the ground and nothing looked snapped or broken.  There were several twigs and leaves scattered about, but they could easily be raked up.

        “This cluster looks good,” Firefly said.  “I guess the wind wasn’t as strong as it looked.”

        “There’s still plenty of valley to inspect,” Medley said, still hovering above them.  She looked to the sun sinking towards the western horizon and the golden developing in the sky.  “And little daylight left!  Let’s get going.”

* * *

        Twilight Sparkle saw the mint green pegasus with teal hair sitting by the lake near Dream Castle.  Monsoon was certainty older than the others.  The corners of his mouth were a bit wrinkled and his eyes seemed a little tired.  Though, e was by no means ancient, but more just over the hill.

        “Monsoon,” she said as she walked up to him.

        Monsoon turned to her.  “Oh, hello, Twilight Sparkle.”

        “You can call me Twilight,” Twilight Sparkle replied.

        “Paradise probably informed you that could cause a bit of confusion,” Monsoon said.

        “Oh, right.”  Twilight Sparkle remembered there had been a pony named Twilight here.  “What were you doing here?”

        “I was thinking our friends, the sea ponies,” Monsoon said.  “They live in a coral reef near where Dream Valley was in our home dimension.  A few mares and fillies even came up river to play with the land ponies in this lake.  I often wonder if they’re worried about us.”

        “Oh.”  Twilight Sparkle had read about ponies who lived in the sea.  They were supposedly a myth as no encounters could be verified.  She then remembered why she wanted to talk about them.  “Anyway, I was wondering if you could tell me about your group seeing as you’ve been here since the destruction of your kingdom.  Why did you stay behind, and why did others leave?”

        Monsoon paused to think.  “Paradise told how our kingdom was destroyed, right?”

        “She said it was destroyed by a group of witches,” Twilight Sparkle said.  “You were almost wiped out completely and most left for your homeland.”

        Monsoon nodded.  “Out of the several hundred survivors, only fifty or so stayed behind.  Those who left feared the witches would try to finish the job if we stayed behind or simply wanted to get away from our ruined civilization and memories of their shattered lives.  Those of us who stayed thought we could beat off the witches and then repair our valley and rebuild our civilization here.”

        He smiled, but it seemed to not originate from a happy thought.  It looked like it was forced to hide a frown or born out of scorn for misplaced pride.  “Unfortunately we didn’t do so well on the last one.  The witches almost completely wiped themselves out and retreated to whatever dark corner of the world they had come from.  We also brought our valley back to life with some help.  However, civilizations aren’t so easy to rebuild.”

        “That’s why more left,” Twilight Sparkle said.

        Monsoon nodded and let the frown he had been hiding bend the covers of his mouth down.  “I got good news and bad news.  The good news is a pony hasn’t died in Ponyland since the Fall.  The bad news is because they’ve all left instead.  Over the decades most left along the trail of the original exodus in the hopes those who left had had better luck wherever they ended up.  Even my mate, the previous mistress, got so discouraged she left without me.”

        “I’m sorry for bringing it up,” Twilight Sparkle said in a soft voice.  His wife abandoning him had to be an old wound for Monsoon.

        “Don’t be,” Monsoon said warmly.  “At least they could still be alive somewhere in our home dimension.  They might have found our brethren and the civilization they’ve built.  It’s also possible they’re all vulture picked carcasses in the desert, but I prefer to believe the former.  When you’ve lived as long as I have and seen what I’ve seen, tend to want to believe in the best case scenario.  It helps keep you sane.”

        Twilight Sparkle smiled.  Monsoon reminded her Princess Celestia a little.  Both were wise and yet not too serious about their place in life.  She could see the two walking along casually talking about their enormous lives.  Though, Princess Celestia would have far more to tell.  Even at over a century old, Monsoon had only been alive less than a tenth as long as Princess Celestia.

        Twilight Sparkle then thought of friendship and how these ponies approached it.  “I see you all get along fairly well.”

        “You haven’t been here long enough,” Monsoon said.  “There are plenty of clashing personalities here.  However, when you have to live close together and work together, you learn to tolerate each other’s foibles.  If nothing else, our more belligerent ponies have at least a begrudging respect for each other.”

        “I can attest to that.”  Twilight Sparkle remembered her first sleepover and the near disaster it turned out to be because of Rarity and Applejack’s clashing personalities.  “After you brought your valley back to life, what did you do?”

        “We’ve actually ended up fighting for much of the past century,” Monsoon said.  “Old enemies returned hoping to gain power now that we were no longer the force we were.  Even one of the surviving witches set up shop in their old base near Dream Valley and tried to destroy us by whatever means she could think of.”

        “Paradise told me she was the one who sent you here to this dimension,” Twilight Sparkle said.

        “She probably did us the biggest favor ever,” Monsoon said.  “Back in our home dimension, we were looking for our place in the universe.  We were no longer what we were, but we did not know what we should become.  Here, with the rainbow and support from the humans and others, we’re a force for good again.”

        Monsoon stood up and strolled along the edge of the lake.  He beckoned Twilight Sparkle to walk with him.  “But enough about us.  Why don’t you tell me about you and your world?  What is it like there?”

        “Well, it’s nothing like here or your home dimension,” Twilight Sparkle said.  “We have no enemies because ponies run everything, and by everything I mean everything.”  She looked to the sinking sun and the golden sky in the west.  It probably did this on its own like the storms earlier.  “Even the sun and the moon are raised and lowered by ponies.  We don’t have storms like the one that just blasted through.  We’ve made the world into a paradise we can happily live our lives in and pursue our special talents.  There are other kinds of intelligent creatures like griffons and dragons, but they look to us to keep the world running.”

        “An interesting position to find yourself,” Monsoon said.

        “Though, there is the Everfree Forest where disasters do happen and all kinds of pony-eating monsters live,” Twilight Sparkle said.  “It’s like it’s there to remind us what the world could like if we weren’t there.  Though, it sounds like that’s normal for you.”

        “Normalcy is the eye of the beholder,” Monsoon replied.  “What about you and your friends?  How did such a diverse group of young mares come to be so close?”

        “Oh boy, is that a story to tell?”  Twilight Sparkle rolled her eyes.

        “I’m all ears,” Monsoon replied.

        “It all started when I learned of Nightmare Moon’s return,” Twilight Sparkle started to tell to Monsoon who listened intently while they walked.

* * *

        Fluttershy looked around for the tree she saw the robins in.  Its trunk and branches were very thin.  The storm could have easily snapped it.

        She found the tree and bush in question.  She gasped when she saw the branch that held the nest had broken completely off the tree and the nest lying upside down in the grass.

        She landed and immediately looked in the bush.  To her relief the baby robin was huddled under it.  It suddenly started chirping greedily for food.  One of the robins flew in and shoved an earthworm in its wide open beak.

        Fluttershy backed away.  “At least you’re safe,” she said softly to them.

        She then realized it was a good thing she did not have the chance to put the baby back in the nest.  If she had, it might have died in the storm.

        “I should’ve known you’d come out here,” Gator said from behind her.

        Fluttershy turned around to see him standing there.

        “How are our feathered friends doing?” Gator asked.

        “They’re doing just fine,” Fluttershy said.  “However, they might not have been if I had put their baby back in the next.  The storm broke the branch off.  They could have been killed.”

        “However, they weren’t,” Gator replied.

        Fluttershy smiled.  “I guess you’re right.”  A thought then occurred to her.  “The Bushwoolies said I looked a lot like a pony named Posey.  I was wondering if I could meet her.”

        “Sure,” Gator said.  “She’s probably in her garden making sure everything is fine.  Come on.”

* * *

        “That’s when we used the Elements of Harmony to free Princess Luna from her Nightmare Moon persona.  After that, I decided to live in Ponyville with my new found friends and learn more about friendship,” Twilight Sparkle finished her story.  Even though she gave him the short version of it, the sun was touching the hills to the west and the sky was turning dark in the east.  It had to have taken an hour at least.

        “That’s quite a tale,” Monsoon said, genuinely impressed.

        “What’s really strange is we later learned we had a connection going much further back,” Twilight Sparkle said.  “The same event led to all our cutie marks.  Perhaps it was fate that we would meet.”

        “Perhaps,” Monsoon said.  “You’re story actually reminds me of something and makes me think you should see something.  Come with me.”

* * *

        Twilight Sparkle followed Monsoon into a room.  It was large and open with no furniture.  Colorful tapestries were draped on the walls depicting ponies in all kinds of dashing poses.

        Monsoon walked up to a red, heart-shaped locket hanging on a peg.  “This is our ultimate weapon.”  He touched the locket with his hoof.  The locket popped open and a brilliant rainbow streamed out of it.  The ribbon of light and color snaked around them.  Twilight Sparkle felt a gentle warmth from it as it passed near her.

        “We call it the Rainbow of Light,” Monsoon said.  “Queen Majesty discovered it and it’s protected us ever since.”

        “It must not have been much good against the witches,” Twilight Sparkle said.

        “It’s actually the reason they took such drastic action,” Monsoon said.  “They had nothing that could match it.  However, not even it could stop two cubic miles of water.”

        Twilight Sparkle watched the Rainbow of Light slither around near the high ceiling.  “I can see why my story made you think of it.  The Elements of Harmony summoned an attack much like it.  Perhaps they are somehow related or dimensional parallels like the two Applejacks.”

        “Maybe.”  Monsoon tapped the locket.  “Okay.  Time to go back.”

        The Rainbow of Light flew back into its locket.  The locket closed once all of the ribbon of color had disappeared inside it.

        “I have so much to write to Princess Celestia when I get back.”  A thought suddenly occurred to Twilight Sparkle.  “Actually, I wonder if I should.  Before today, I didn’t even believe other dimensions existed.  I don’t know how Princess Celestia would react to learning all this.”

        “How do you know she doesn’t know already?” Monsoon asked.

        Twilight Sparkle thought about that possibility.  Although Princess Celestia’s special talent was raising the sun, she was very knowledgeable about many things.  She might know there are other dimensions.  She also knew a lot about magic and knew many spells.  She might have even sensed the connection between dimensions when they happened.

* * *

        Dawn landed on the dirt road leading to Sweet Apple Acres.  This was where she had sensed the disturbance.  She looked around to make sure they were alone.  There was nopony to be seen anywhere.

        She released her disguise spell and her body retook her normal form as Princess Celestia.  Spike hopped off Moonbeam’s back so she could transform back into her little sister.

        “You’ve never shown this magic to Twilight,” Spike said.

        “There are many things I haven’t shown to Twilight yet,” Celestia replied.

        “Is this the place?” Luna asked, bringing them back to the task at hand.

        Celestia scanned the area with her magic.  She could feel the aftereffects of whatever happened.  “Yes.”

        She concentrated to get a more precise location.  There was still a weakness to the dimensional fabric.  She detected it exactly above the road ahead of them.  It felt like when someone pushed their hoof through ice just enough to form a spider web of tiny cracks without breaking through.  Whatever the event was had closed, but the anomaly hadn’t completely disappeared.

        “It’s there.”  She pointed to the invisible weakness.  It looked like everything was normal, but her magic told her otherwise.

        “If Twilight and the others passed through something here,” Spike said, “how are we supposed to get them back?”

        “I must go to the other side of this thing and retrieve them,” Celestia said.


        “Big Sister!”

        “You can’t go!” Spike insisted.  “You have no idea what could be on the other side.”

        “He’s right,” Luna said.  “I should go.”

        “You’re still recovering your powers,” Celestia said, using a tone as stern as she had used in centuries.  “Besides, evening is almost here and you have your duties to perform.”

        Luna paused.  She frowned but nodded.  “You’re right, Big Sister.”

        “I’ll go with you,” Spike said.

        Celestia shook her head.  “No.  I will go alone.”  She smiled.  “Don’t forget how powerful I am.  I’ll be fine no matter what lies beyond.”

        “But, how will you get there?” Luna asked.  “Whatever caused the disturbance is gone.”

        Celestia looked to where the disturbance was.  “Over the centuries, I’ve learned many things.  One of them is the possibility of other dimension and means by which to travel to them.  There is a spell that could supposedly bridge dimensions, but not knowing the destination made it impossible to use.  Perhaps with the path already laid out, I can form a bridge of my own.”

        Celestia pointed her horn at the disturbance.  She concentrated and her horn glowed with a pale pink aura.  She concentrated hard and the aura grew in size and intensity.  It was almost blinding.

        She kept her eyes open, even though the impulse to close them was strong.  She needed to see what was happening to make sure she did this right.

        Her horn prickled with energy.  The aura had taken on several layers of light.  She had to brace herself against the magical forces swirling around her.

        Finally, she saw something happen.  A circle in front of them started to distort.  It looked like the center compressed inward while the edges stretched.  Her magic was pressing the very fabric of space and time.

        The fabric fought back.  It pushed against her, not wanting to be punctured again.  She pushed on and shoved her magic deeper into the pucker.

        Finally, like a needle pushing through tough cloth, it broke through all at once.  The circle opened and her magic went straight through.

        Celestia had to steady herself on all four hooves to keep from falling over.  She drew in deep breaths to refill her lungs.  After several seconds she had recovered enough to breathe normally.

        She looked at her hoofiwork.  A perfect circle sat before them.  It was the portal she could pass through and gave them a glimpse of what she would arrive into.  It was a swamp with trees sitting in water and moss hanging from their branches.

        Spike gulped.  “Twilight is there?”

        “If my suspicions are correct, then yes,” Celestia said.

        She stepped towards the portal.  She raised a hoof and passed it through the circle like it was a doorway.  She looked back to Spike and Luna staring at her worriedly.  She smiled as well as she could, though she did share a little in their concern.  “I’ll be back in time for sunrise.”

        “Good luck, Big Sister,” Luna said.

        Celestia hopped through the portal into the other dimension.

        She land in slimy, ankle-deep water and her hoof sank into the soft mud under it.  She usually wore slippers, but she had discarded them along with her other regal wears for her disguise.  She regretted that decision now as her bare hooves felt the mushy texture of the mud all too well.

        She tried to pull her left front hoof out of the water.  The mud seemed to pull back, keeping her stuck.  It made a disgusting sound as she slowly pulled her hoof free.  Finally, it came out like a cork from a bottle.  She looked at the greenish-brown gunk cleaning to her white hoof and stuck her tongue out in disgust.  She pulled her other hooves out and hopped onto a mound of grass that was thankfully solid.

                She took one last glance at the portal as it closed up like an iris on a camera lens.  Both Luna and Spike watched worriedly until that disappeared completely.

        She looked around her new surroundings.  They were like what she had seen in the portal.  Trees grew out of the water and grassy areas rose out of it.  The sounds of strange creatures echoed around her.  The air was hot and sticky with humidity and held the pungent odor of a swamp.

        She heard a low groan.  She looked behind her to see a giant alligator flowing through the water towards her.  She spread her large wings and flew into the air.  The large reptile climbed out of the water under her and snapped its long, toothy jaws at her.

        Paying attention to the waters around her, Celestia saw several alligators in the water and lying on land.  Wary of landing again, she flew up through the canopy.

        She flew and looked around from the vantage point of the air.  All around her were clumps of trees, murky lakes, and muddy rivers.  There were roads that appeared to be made of strange, black dirt with yellow and white markings running down them.  There were also some clusters of buildings.

        She looked to the hazy sky.  Evening was already well underway here.  The orange sun was sinking towards the horizon.

        She wondered where Twilight Sparkle could be.  If she was close by, she could sense her magic.  Celestia concentrated on her detection spell.  However, nothing came back.  Not only was she not detecting Twilight Sparkle’s unique magic, but no magic period.  This world seemed devoid of it.

        That could not be right.  She must have done the spell wrong.  There had to be magic.  Nature itself had magical properties.  However, even making sure she was using the spell properly, she was greeted by a desert of magic.

        She then detected something.  It was several hundred miles to the north and a little east.  It was magic, a fair bit of it clustered together.  It was not just magic, but the distinct magic of unicorns.

        That might have been where Twilight Sparkle was.  However, how did she get all the way up there?  Perhaps that was where she arrived and Celestia’s spell ended up poking through in a different location.  Either way, it was the best place to start looking.

        She flapped her mighty wings and flew towards the magical signature.  It would take many hours to reach it traveling through this alien world devoid of magic otherwise.  Celestia could not help but wonder what kind of intelligent creature could call it home.

The Snowball Effect

Chapter 7:  Sunset

        Rarity hummed a catchy tune she had heard somewhere at some point as she sketched on her note pad.  She had made a basic sketch of Glory ready to be covered in her design.  She lowered the pad and looked at the model.

        “It might be based a little in conceit, but I love the look of a dark purple mane on a white pony,” Rarity said.  “The contrast is stunning while pleasing.  However, the streak of brilliant blue you have brings a whole new dimension to it.  If I wasn’t dead set against hair dying, I would get one myself.”

        “You’re too kind,” Glory replied, grinning at the compliment.

        Rarity picked up the note pad again.  “That contrast as well as your fetching cutie…I mean…haunch mark are what should really set the tone for a dress designed specifically for you.  I personally believe the attire should extenuate the pony wearing it, not hide her.”

        She looked at the sketch and thought.  “I’ll go with the basic dome skirt here.  You can never go wrong with them.  I don’t know your tastes all that well, so I’ll play it safe.  The main body will be dark purple with a bright blue, ruffled fringe.  A sleeveless, silver bodice will add a bit of flare along with a few silver star sequins on the skirt.”

        Glory giggled.  “It sounds lovely.”

        “Where would you wear it?” Sparkler asked.

        “It’s too bad Magic Star doesn’t want you to come to Equestria,” Rarity said.  “I know things were rocky with your Applejack, but it’s really a nice place if you give it a chance.  You should really lobby her to change her mind.”

        “Usually when Magic Star has made up her mind, you need a darn good reason for her to change it,” Glory said.  “She very wise and takes every decision very seriously.  That’s why she was tapped as Mistress when Sprinkles left.”

        “She also tends to look at the bigger picture,” Sparkler said.  “If we started traveling between dimensions, others from your dimension would want to come here too.  It could be dangerous.”

        “Dangerous?” Rarity scoffed.  “Your world is beautiful and you’re such a nice group.”

        “You’ve only seen a very small portion of this world,” Sparkler said.  “In fact, it’s not even part of this world when you think about it.  This valley was brought here with us.  There is a big world out there with many wonders but also many horrors.  Just feel lucky you ended up here with us.”

* * *

        Smith stared out the windshield.  Sunset was moments away.  He looked at the road below his helicopter.  The strip of pavement snaked through the bayou.  The single, black S.U.V. with a silver, capital omega painted on the roof cruised down it.  He returned his attention to the sky ahead and the facility off the road.

        The Order needed to make sure they had the best technology on Earth to build their perfect arsenal.  That was the only thing that would guarantee their dominance in the new age.  To accomplish this, they needed to not only have the best technology out there, but they needed to make sure no one else did.  That meant they needed to take any technology in development during testing before it could go into production whether it was a new kind of lubricant or a new weapons system.

        Raiding civilians was very different from raiding the military.  The military tended to build a prototype in one place and test it in another.  The transportation phase was when it was at its most vulnerable if you knew the route and schedule.  Civilians tended to build and test their prototypes in the same facility or nearby facilities.  That meant they had to actually raid the facility at the right time.

        Size and type were also an issue.  A prototype of a large, complicated piece of hardware cost millions and took months if not years to build.  Getting the blueprints and destroying the other side’s was not as much of an issue.  They could learn how it worked through deconstructing and reverse engineering it.  The loss of the prototype would also cripple the project enough.  However, something small and especially non-mechanical like lubricant could be remade in no time.  In fact, the data was more valuable as it was more of a help in developing more and its loss would be more catastrophic to the project.

        His thoughts shifted to this particular target and the story in the paper.  The lubricant was a prime target.  It was ready for final testing.  That meant most of the groundwork was done, but it was not going into production in the immediate future, a perfect time to steal it.  The lead scientist was also crowing how it was not just any lubricant, but would change the face of the lubricant industry and the contract with the United States military they already had.

        He turned to the pilot.  “Activate the jammer.”

        The pilot bushed a button on the panel in front of them.

* * *

        Cooper watched as they approached the front gate of the lab.  Rock music blared over the radio.  He did not pay attention to the audio garbage.  He was waiting for something else to come from the speakers.  He heard it as the noise was replaced with static meaning the jammer was up and running.

        “Punch it!” Cooper barked.

        The driver slammed the accelerator to the floor.  The S.U.V. accelerated towards the gate.  A security guard jumped in front of the gate and tried to wave them off.  He jumped out of the way when he must have realized they were not stopping.  The soldier pressed a button and the laser cannon on the side of the S.U.V. fired.  An intense red dot appeared on the steel gate and melted the metal it touched.  It cut the bar and it dropped off its hinge.  They ran over it and the spikes in the road that failed to puncture their armored tires.

        They drove across the parking lot and up the steps to the front of the building.  The glass of the front entrance shattered as they drove right through it.  People in the lobby scattered as their vehicle screeched to a stop at the front desk.

        “Everybody out!”  Cooper opened his door and grabbed his rifle.  Buzzers and flashing lights greeted him as the alarms sounded.  However, they were falling on deaf ears while the jammer was working.  Aside from building security, they could do their work in peace.

        A foot soldier got out and hopped over the front desk.  He stuck a flash drive into the computer and quickly clacked the keys.  The buzzing and flashing lights abruptly stopped.  “All the security measures are now down.”

        Cooper looked down the two hallways.  Both were long corridors of white walls and white tiled ceilings with long fluorescent lights filling them with uniform light.  There were random tables, chairs, and potted plants along the walls to break up the monotony and black plaques next to each door probably with their number.

        “Where are they developing the lubricant?” Cooper asked.

        “Second floor, section two hundred, suite eighteen,” the soldier said.

        “Then let’s get it and get out,” Cooper said.

        He noticed some security guards running towards them.  “Stop,” one of them shouted and pointed a pistol their way.

        Cooper responded by firing a flurry of bullets from his rifle in their direction.  The guards ducked behind a corner as bullets blasted chunks out of the walls and beige tiled floor.  Civilian facilities were so easy to raid.

        He pointed to two foot soldiers and then to a door near the lobby with a stairway symbol on it.  He opened the door for the two soldiers to run in and he entered the stairwell after them.  They quickly ascended the stairs to the second floor.  Cooper kicked the door in and ran into the hall.  The two soldiers fired wildly in both directions to scare everyone in the hall into rooms and corners.

        Cooper took note that all the rooms were numbed in the twenty-five hundreds.  They were three sections away from the target.  The numbers descended to their left.  “That way.”  He pointed in the direction of the descending numbers.

        He ran down the hall with the two soldiers flanking him.  Everyone in the hall ducked into rooms.  They probably pushed the alarms as frantically as they could, but no one would hear it.

        They ran through section 400 and 300.  They came into the numbers in the twenty-two hundreds and suite twenty-two eighteen.  He blasted the handle with bullets until it blew off completely.  He then kicked the door in and entered.

        He made a quick survey of the room.  Several men and women in white coats huddled in the corner.  There were several desktop computers along one wall and fume hoods along another.  In the middle of the room were tables with beakers, flasks, and test tubes in trays filled with an assortment of chemicals.

        One of the foot soldiers trained his rifle on the people.  The other plugged a flash drive in a computer.

        “Take all the information on the lubricant and then wipe every byte from their mainframe,” Cooper said.

        He turned to the table and chemicals.  All the test tubes were labeled.  Most held commonly used acids and chemicals.  However, one tray had test tubes all filled with a brownish-yellow liquid and labeled by the names of Greek letters.  “The experimental lubricant I presume.”

        “The files say the lubricant’s dark yellow in color and samples are labeled by Greek letters,” the soldier said.

        Cooper grabbed the test tubes and stashed them in the large pockets of his olive green vest.

        “You don’t know what you’re dealing with,” a scientist said.  “We’ve only begun final testing.”

        “We’ll take care of the testing,” Cooper replied.  “Let’s go!”

        The soldier pulled his flash drive out of the computer.  He and his companion filled their pockets with CD’s, flash drives, and external hard drives.  “We got everything and they got nothing.”

        “What?” a scientist shrieked.  “You can’t do that!  It took years of research to reach this point.”

        Cooper glared at him and trained his rifle on the scientist.  The man backed up into the group with his hands up to his shoulders.  “The Order thanks you for your contribution to the perfect arsenal.”

* * *

        Smith watched the facility.  People ran out of the front of the building into the parking lot.  Many scurried into their cars and drove off; probably to get to a point their cell phones could work.  However, the authorities would arrive too late to stop them or even catch them.

        The S.U.V. backed out of the building.  Cooper waved his hand out of the passenger side window: the signal the mission was complete.

        “Head to the rendezvous point,” Smith said.  “We’ll deactivate the jammer there and call headquarters for our ticket home.”

        “What’s that?” the pilot asked.

        Smith looked out the windshield.  He noticed something white against the darkening sky flying by in the distance.  It was too far away to tell what it was.  He put his binoculars to his eyes and focused in on it.  It was a pony.  It appeared to be larger than most comparing its head to the rest of its body.  Its legs were longer and its wings were larger too.  It also had a long horn protruding from its forehead.

        Smith smirked and lowered his binoculars from his eyes.  “Well, well, well.  It seems serendipity is smiling on us this evening.”

        Smith turned to the pilot.  “After it.”  He then looked to the black missiles in groups of four on the hard points of the helicopter.  “I’ve looking for an excuse to try out these new live capture rockets.”

* * *

        Celestia heard an odd sound getting louder from behind her.  It sounded like the buzzing of an insect, only much larger.  She wondered if it was a creature in this world.

        She looked behind her and saw the noise was not coming from an insect.  It was a black vehicle of some kind suspended under long, rapidly spinning blades.  A silver symbol shaped like a horseshoe was painted on its nose under its wide windshield.  The windshield was tinted black, making it impossible see inside.  Bars on the sides held large rockets pointed forward.  She had never seen such a craft before.

        She stopped and the machine stopped and hovered several hundred feet away from her.  She did not know what to make of this contraption.  One of the rockets suddenly fell off the bar holding it and blasted towards her.  She barely flitted out of the way before it split into four rockets with a net between them as they fell into the swamp below.

        Celestia dashed away from the machine without a second thought.  She heard its blades chop the air behind her as it gave chase.  She flew as fast as she could, but her wings were built more for grace than speed.  The droning slowly got louder.

        Her mind raced as she thought about the machine.  Why was it after her?  Its operators could not know she was coming.  Did they constantly patrol for ponies and catch them?  Could that be what the symbol meant?  What could they want with them?  Her mind swam in a sea of questions and confusion as her body fled.

        The droning drew nearer.  Celestia did not need to look behind her to know it was gaining on her.

        A thought then occurred to her.  She was the princess of the sun.  She could use the sun against them.  A shower of energized particles should put the machine out of commission.

        She concentrated and tried to gain control of the sun.  It had already set, so she would have to raise it again.  However, there was nothing.

        She tried to take control of the sun again, but there was nothing to control.  This sun was nothing like Equestria’s sun.  It was almost a million miles across and millions of miles away.  It was also stationary with the planet moving around it.  Day and night did not come from the sun moving, but the planet spinning.  Even her attempts to control the activity on it were in vein.

        A sense of terror filled her.  For the first time in her life, she was powerless.  Here, under this alien sun, her special talent and magic was useless.  The vast majority of her power came from the sun, Equestria’s sun, her sun.  She knew some minor, benign spells that did not need the sun and her longevity was by virtue of the fact she was a winged unicorn.  However, anything she could use to stop her pursuers needed control of the sun.

        The droning became so loud it drowned out her thoughts.  She looked back to see the machine almost on top of her.  It fired another rocket.  This time it spread its net right behind her and snagged her.  The four rockets closed together to trap her.

        Celstia’s wings were folded in by the mesh.  She kicked and flailed against it, but the mesh was too strong.  She plummeted towards the swamp, but suddenly stopped.  A cable from the machine had grabbed her net with a hook.

        The rockets suddenly started to hiss and belch out invisible gas.  She could tell it was there as it made her cough.  Her eyesight blurred and her senses dulled.  Her body felt heavy and she had a harder and harder time staying awake.  She tried to fight it, but lost consciousness.

* * *

        Smith looked over the edge at the pony in the net below them.  He chuckled at the sight.  “Ask and thou shall receive, big time.”

        He sat back down in his seat.  “To the rendezvous point,” he barked to the pilot.

* * *

        Luna slowly exhaled as she hovered above Canterlot.  This would be the first time she handled evening all by herself.  Typically, Celestia would lower the sun and then she would raise the moon.  In the morning, their roles would be reversed as she would lower the moon and Celstia would raise the sun.

        Both of them could move both celestial bodies.  Celestia handled both mornings and evening during Luna’s thousand year imprisonment.  However, they had more control of their own.  Luna was also still recovering her powers, even after all this time.  She was still not strong enough to lift the sun quite yet.  Fortunately, lowering was easier because she could push the sun or moon instead of pull it.

        Luna looked down at the streets of Canterlot.  Something that brought her comfort in the modern era was ponies seemed more active at night.  Back then, ponies would be shutting themselves in for the night.  However, the streets were still active and would be for a few hours more.  Some ponies were even active all night long and slept during the day.  She was happy to know all her effort into making beautiful nights was enjoyed.

        Many had gathered to watch her start the night.  They probably wondered where her sister was this evening.

        Luna inhaled and exhaled again.  She looked to the eastern horizon.  She was as ready as she would ever be.

        She decided to raise the moon first.  It would take more effort and she wanted to give Equestria the rare sight of seeing the moon and sun in the sky at the same time.

        She gently grasped the moon with her magic.  She relaxed and let her senses dull.  She closed her eyes and slowly pulled her head back.  The moon came towards her.  She opened her eyes so she could see the white, luminescent orb rise above the horizon.  It rose into the sky so that it was well above the horizon.  It would drift across the sky over the course of the night before needing to be lowered in the morning.

        She heard cheers and clacking from the streets.  The residents of Canterlot always loved the show of transition.  She and Celestia would usually embellish it a bit together, but she decided to keep it simple since it was only her.  Still, the crowd seemed to love it.

        The moon seemed odd in the golden light of the evening.  It was dimmer and almost seemed ghostly as it had a golden tint along with the rest of the sky.  The sun was the ultimate source of light and drowned out everything else.  The stars were not even visible when the sun was up because it was so bright and filled the sky with light.

        That would soon change.  Luna turned her attention to the sun sitting near the western horizon.  It just needed that little push to be sent to the other side of the world.  Luna again focused her magic.  This time, she did not grasp the sun, but merely pushed on it.  It sank towards the horizon and disappeared behind it.

        Evening was always the more fantastic transition, at least Luna thought so.  The sky grew dark in the east and spread towards the west.  The golden glow of the evening shrank, transitioning to green and then blue and then dark purple and finally to pitch black with the stars twinkling against it.  The gold shrank away to nothing and then finally the other colors did.  The sky was a black canvas speckled with tiny points of light.  Night had begun.  The crowd cheered and clacked some more before returning to their evening business.

        Luna heaved a sigh.  She smiled at her hoofiwork.  “I did it, Big Sister.  I actually handled the evening all by myself.  I wish you could have seen it.”

        Thinking of her sister, Luna flapped her wings and flew towards Ponyville.  Now that the night was underway, she could wait for her and the others at the sight of the portal with Spike.

* * *

        Celestia slowly opened her eyes.  All she saw was a blurry darkness.  Her body felt heavy as she pushed herself up.  She tried to walk, but her leg stopped suddenly and felt something pulling on it to keep it from going forward.  She looked down to see a shackle around her ankle and her other three.

        A harsh light suddenly shined down on her.  She flinched at the sudden increase in light and shut her eyes.  She opened them again and her vision got clearer.

        Standing around her were strange creatures.  They stood upright on their two hind legs.  Their two arms ended in hands with four fingers and a thumb.  Their faces were strange with the eyes mounted directly forward and no snout to speak of.  Their noses did protrude from their head, but not with their mouths.  They were mostly hairless except for a thick patch on the top and back of their head and their body from the base of the neck down was completely covered by clothing except for their hands.  Many wore long, white coats while others wore black and olive green clothing all brandishing that silver horseshoe symbol.  The ones in olive green also held long devices with holes in one end.

        “I see you’re awake, pony,” a male voice said.

        Celestia looked to the source of the voice.  It was one of the creatures dressed in olive green.  Judging from the sharper edges of its face and its voice, it was a male.  He had wiry, white hair and subtle wrinkles around his eyes and mouth suggesting he was a bit on the old side.  However his frame looked to be very muscular compared to the others.  His ice blue eyes stared at her and his mouth bent to one side in a smirk.  Celestia felt a chill go down her spine seeing him.

        “Who are you?” Celestia asked weakly.  “What are you?”

        The creature’s smirk grew more lopsided.  “You don’t know about humans?  So, you ponies really do come from another world.”

        “You act like you know of us,” Celestia said.  “Why?”

        “Let’s just say we’ve had our encounters with your kind in the past,” the human said.  “We are the Order, and I am Smith.”

        “Please, let me go,” Celestia pleaded.  “I’ve done nothing to you.  If you want a ransom, I will make sure it will be paid.”

        Smith chuckled.  “You misunderstand our intentions.”  He reached up and touched the end of her horn.  Celestia pulled it back to try to get it out of his reach.  “We didn’t capture you for ransom.  We have no need for riches.  We captured you because we want to study your magic.  We want to learn how it works and how we can use it for ourselves.”

        “You’ll find my magic useless in this world,” Celestia stated.  “You would have never caught me if I could have inflicted my power on you.”

        Smith frowned.  “How disappointing.”

        A heavyset human in olive green with bushy, red hair that extended down his cheeks to encircle his mouth broke into a loud laugh and clapped his hands loudly.  “Nice going, Smith.  You’ve managed to catch the one magical pony whose magic you can’t use.”

        Smith glared at the other human.  However, that smirk returned as he looked to Celestia again.  It was an expression Celestia had never seen before.  Not even Nightmare Moon seemed as sinister as this human creature.

        “We might not be able to use her magic,” Smith said, “but when one door closes, another opens.”

        Smith started stroll around Celestia, his heavy footwear clunking against the floor.  “Something tells me you’re a very important pony where you come from.  You said they’d pay my ransom, right?”

        “That’s right,” Celestia said.

        Smith gave a quiet, cruel chuckle.  “Good.  Because I think I can get what I really want with you.”

        Celestia gulped.  “I thought you didn’t want money.”

        “We don’t,” Smith said.  “We want unicorns for study.  Perhaps some will give themselves up for your safe return.  The more we can get the better of course.  The research we need to conduct is the kind where you simply can’t start over on the same subject if you mess up or miss something.”

        Celestia gasped when she realized what he meant.  She hid her horror behind anger and glared at him.  “How could you suggest something so cruel?  Don’t you have any sense of decency?”

        Smith stopped in front of her and turned on his heel to face her.  His mouth bent into a scornfully frown.  “Decency will be nothing but a quaint notion in the new era.  All that will matter is power.  The Order must have the perfect arsenal to ensure our dominance, and that arsenal must include magic.  If a few unicorns have to die for us to get it, so be it.”

        Celestia bit her lip as her anger dimmed to disbelief.  These humans seemed totally unreasonable.  Nothing she could say could change their mind.

        “Now, if you’ll excuse me,” Smith said, “I need to make a phone call.”

        Smith walked towards a door with the horseshoe symbol in the far wall.  He stopped when he came near a human in a white lab coat.  “Start your preparations for surgery.  If the ponies won’t deal, we’ll just have to settle for her for now.  Just don’t harm her…”  He looked back to Celestia with that same, chilling smirk.  “…yet.”

        Smith walked out of the door that slid into its frame to let him pass and then slid closed behind him.

* * *

        Fluttershy looked up at the sky.  The sun had set, but there was still a glow to the sky in the west.  “I’ve never seen evening twilight last this long.”

        Gator looked up at the sky.  “We’re near the forty-fifth parallel of this planet’s northern hemisphere.  Twilights can be quite long.”

        “Well, in our world, when the sun is lowered, it’s lowered until its light disappears completely,” Fluttershy said.

        Gator stopped.  “Wait.  Are telling me even the sun is controlled by ponies in your world.”

        Fluttershy stopped and looked at him.  “Of course.  Though, yours probably moves on its own like everything else.”

        “Actually, the opposite is true,” Gator said.  “Here, the sun is stationary and the planet moves around it which gives us years.  The planet also spins like a top which gives us days and nights.”

        Fluttershy cocked her head curiously.  “What a strange world this is.  The more I learn about, the more unusual it gets.”

        “That’s how it’s worked in the two dimensions I’ve been in,” Gator said.  “So, to me it’s usual.”

        Flutter thought about that.  Maybe Equestria’s world was the odd one.  Of the three dimensions she had heard of, only hers behaved like it.

        “Come on.”  Gator nodded his head forward and started walking.  “Posey is sun-powered.  She usually gets up when it rises and hits the hay when it sets.”

        Fluttershy followed Gator.  She returned her attention to the sky.  Something else out of place was the lack of something.  “Where’s the moon?”

        “It’s in its waning gibbous phase.  It won’t be up for another couple of hours,” Gator said.  “The moon does revolve around the earth in roughly a month.  As it does, it goes through a cycle of phases in which different parts of the moon are lit and it rises at different times of the day.”

        “Why would different parts be lit?” Fluttershy asked.

        “Moonlight is really just reflected sunlight,” Gator said.  “The closer the moon is to the sun in its orbit, the less we see because the sunlit side is facing more away from us.  During the new moon, the moon is roughly between the earth and the sun and appears invisible because its sunlit side is facing completely away.  If the moon is directly between the earth and the sun, we even have a solar eclipse.”

        “What’s an eclipse?” Fluttershy asked.

        “It’s when the moon’s shadow falls on the earth.  It looks like the sun is covered by a dark disk and it gets almost as dark as night,” Gator said.  “However, it’s only over a very small area of the earth.  We also have lunar eclipses where the moon passes into the earth’s shadow when it’s full.  The whole night time side of the planet gets to see it turn dark or even red if there’s volcanic ash in the atmosphere.”

        “Wish I could see these eclipses,” Fluttershy said.  “They sound fascinating.”

        “They’re unfortunately very rare, especially solar eclipses” Gator said.  “However, there is a unicorn here named Eclipse and his haunch mark is what a solar eclipse looks like at its climax.”

        They came to a white picket fence.  Gator threw his front legs over the top of them and Fluttershy did the same.  Beyond it was a garden filled with rows of plants, vines, and flowers.

        Among them was a pony who looked like an earth pony version of Fluttershy.  She had the same yellow coat and straight, pale pink hair even though hers was not as long as Fluttershy’s.  Nestled elegantly in her mane was a flower with long, white petals and a bright yellow center.

        “Hey, Posey, isn’t it a bit late?” Gator said.  “The sun is already down.”

        Posey looked up.  “I know.  Making sure everything in my garden is okay took longer than I thought it would.  I’m almost done though.”

        “Fluttershy said she wanted to meet you,” Gator said, motioning to Fluttershy.

        “Really?”  Posey cantered up to the fence.  “I wanted to talk to you in the meeting hall.  However, you seemed really shy and I didn’t want to make you feel uncomfortable.”

        They might have looked similar, but Posey was far more outgoing than Fluttershy.  “It’s okay.  Thanks for thinking about my feelings,” Fluttershy said.

        “We really do look like,” Posey said.  “Not quite as alike as the two Applejacks, but really similar.”

        “If it wasn’t for my wings, we would,” Fluttershy replied softly.

        She looked to the garden for a subject to converse about.  Everything was well kept.  The planets were in neat lines and seemed to be the very definition of health.  There was not a weed to be found too.  “It looks like you take really good care of your garden.”

        Posey looked back at her garden and smiled.  “I sure do.  I grow our vegetables and flowers here.  It’s a lot of work, but plants are my passion.  I’m glad nothing was damaged in the storm.  Everything got a good drink without something being pushed over or snapped.”

        She looked back to Fluttershy.  “You seem to be spending a lot of time with Gator.  Are you an animal enthusiast too?”

        “Animals are my special talent,” Fluttershy said.  “Back home, I can communicate with them like nopony else can.  I take care of them, but it seems like they take care of themselves here.”

         “Most do,” Posey said.  “Though there are some species that are raised and cared for by humans.  They’re kind of like plants.  The plants in my garden need caring for because they would never make it in the wild.”

        “How very strange,” Fluttershy said.  “There are animals and plants that take care of themselves while others need to be cared for.  This world is just so different from the one I live in.”

        A shower of sparkles suddenly appeared and faded to reveal a pink unicorn with iridescent eyes.

        Posey looked to her.  “What are you doing here, Galaxy?”

        “I was looking for Fluttershy,” Galaxy said.  She turned to her.  “Are you alright?”

        “Of course I am,” Fluttershy answered.  “Why?”

        “I have this feeling something is wrong and it has something to do with you and your friends,” Galaxy said.

        “A feeling?” Fluttershy asked.

        “Galaxy’s magic is a kind of E.S.P.” Gator said.  “It gives her an innate intuition of what’s happening.  She can usually tell something’s wrong before anyone else.”

        “However, all six of you seem fine,” Galaxy said.  “Even Twilight Sparkle didn’t have a clue about what could be wrong.”

        “Maybe you were mistaken?” Fluttershy asked.

        “Galaxy’s intuition is never wrong,” Posey said.  “However, what she’s feeling isn’t always obvious at first.  It might have something to do with you that you might not know about.”

        “I’ll talk to Magic Star about this,” Galaxy said.  Her horn flashed and she vanished in a shower of sparkles.

The Snowball Effect

Chapter 8:  The Order of Things

        Ezekiel White stepped out of his car and slammed the door shut.  He made a quick survey of the main lab building.  It was your typical commercial building, a giant box with floor to ceiling windows in every floor, all lit now that night had fallen.  Large letters spelling “Post Petroleum” shined red between the ground and second floors.  The rest of the complex was behind the building which was a collection of warehouses, spherical containers, probably generator buildings, and whatever else the facility needed.

         He turned his attention to the damage done to the building to go with the sliced gate at the perimeter.  The floor to ceiling windows of the ground floor had been shattered and the frames for the doors had been twisted inward.  There were no skid marks in the asphalt, but none would be expected from armored tires.

        When he heard the Order had attacked this lab, White was expecting something more subtle.  However, their approach to civilian facilities was apparently more violent that military transports.  Terror was more important than precision.

        He walked into the lobby, shards of glass crunching under his shoes.  The halls were filled with more of the Order’s handiwork.  Chunks of wall and floor had been blown away.  They were definitely more violent towards civilians.

        “This happened because you couldn’t keep your big mouth shut!” someone shouted.  “End of story!”

        White looked behind him at a black man wearing a green military uniform with black hair cut very short and completely shaved from the sides and a white man with graying hair wearing a long, white lab coat.  The two were walking towards the lobby and apparently deep in a heated argument.  He figured it was the soldier who had made the outburst.

        The man in the lab coat stopped and turned to the soldier.  He was a good head and shoulders shorter than him and frail looking compared to the muscular man in uniform.  “Like it or not, the product was at a point where we begin making press releases as our normal operating procedure,” he stated firmly.  “This was meant for general use, not just the military.”

        The soldier stopped and turned on his heals to look down at the man.  His back was turned to White, so he could not see his expression.  Though, the man in the lab coat seemed to not be fazed by it as he continued to glare at him.  “Well, now no one can use your product except the Order,” the solider said.

        “We might have not been robbed so easily if your contract had come with at least a token protection force for our facility,” the man shot back.

        “Secrecy should have been protection enough,” the soldier replied plainly.

        “And that’s why military intelligence is an oxymoron!” the man shouted.

        “Enjoying the show?” a male voice asked from behind White.

        White turned around to see a man dressed in a black business suit standing there.  He immediately noticed the tall, fairly thin man was very tan with deep creases in his skin making his almost white hair standout even more.  “Special Agent Aaron Johnson out of New Orleans,” the man said.  His accent along with his tan suggested he was Florida born and raised.

        “Special agent Ezekiel White out of Chicago,” White replied.

        “They dragged you from quite a ways for this,” Johnson said.

        “I’ve been tracking the Order’s activities for a few months now,” White said.  “They thought I should look into this.”  He looked to the two men still arguing, though not as loudly as before.  “Who are our two combatants?”

        “The one in the coat is Charles Dockings, the lead scientist on the lubricant prototype that was stolen,” Johnson said.  “The one in the uniform is Army Colonel Alec Pence.  He was made the military’s liaison to the company when they signed a contract for the stuff.”

        Dockings turned to them.  “Are you two with the Department of Intranational Affairs?”

        “We are,” Johnson said.  “I’m Agent Johnson and this is Agent White.”

        “I would like to know why a band of heavily armed terrorists barged into our facility and ransacked it,” Dockings fumed.

        “The Order takes technology at certain stages in its development,” White replied.  “They usually go after military tech, but they’ve been known to go after civilian research from time to time.”

        “Which is why you should have kept your mouth shut,” Colonel Pence said.  He walked up to White and Johnson and saluted stiffly.  “My men have done a search of the area.  However, whoever did this has vanished without a trace.”

        “They also erased everything they didn’t take,” Dockings said with a slight growl to his voice.  “The data has been wiped so thoroughly I don’t think we’d ever get anything usable back.  We’re asking everyone if they have private copies of the research, but if they don’t we’ve been set back years.”

        “What exactly was stolen?” White asked.  “I was told it was a kind of lubricant.”

        “It’s not just any kind of lubricant,” Dockings huffed.  “This lubricant was going to change the face of the industry.  It sets a new standard for friction reduction and contamination prevention.  However, it is also not based on oil and once we have the formula down should cost only a little more that its petroleum-based competitors.  It was going to put Post Petroleum on the map, but now this disgrace has.”

        “There’s absolutely no clue as to where the Order came from and disappeared to?” White asked.

        Pence shook his head.  “It was like they vanished into the night.”

        White rubbed his temples as they suddenly felt tight.  “I’ve heard that all too often regarding them.”

        “I guess they brought you down here for no reason, White,” Johnson said.  “The Order got away Scott free this time.”

        “We don’t even have security footage because they took the security network down,” Dockings said.

        “I guess there’s always next time.”  White turned away and walked towards where the door had been.

        He walked out of the building and towards the parking lot.  When they called him in, he took a fighter jet down here.  Something told him his superiors would not be pleased they used a fighter jet to get a man from Illinois to Louisiana just for him to talk for a couple minutes.

        There was not much he could do.  This was clearly the work of the Order based on eyewitness accounts and what evidence there was.  However, there was no trail to pick up on as usual.  Unlike most circumstances where he had crossed the Order, he was too late to really do anything except file a report and wait for the next.  Hopefully, it would not be another civilian facility getting attacked.

        His phone rang.  He took the rectangular device out of his pocket and pressed the accept button.  A white-haired man appeared on the screen taking up almost the entire body of the phone.  White did not recognize him at first until he said “Good evening, Special Agent White,” in a voice he was all too familiar with.

        “Smith,” White replied in a quiet, irritated voice.

        “That I am,” Smith said.

        White slid his finger towards a tracking option on his phone.

        “Don’t bother trying to track me,” Smith said.  “We could talk for hours and you would still not make it through my network.”

        White scowled at Smith.  He said this with an arrogant smirk on his face like he was enjoying this.  Smith must have called to taunt him since he could not stop him this time.  However, White smirked himself when something came mind.  “What’s the matter, Smith?  Is military hardware getting so hard to steal the Order has lowered itself to smash and grabs on civilian facilities?”

        “Perfection takes a holistic approach,” Smith said.  “What good is having the best guns if you don’t have the best materials to maintain them?  Even something as simple as lubricant can mean the difference between victory and defeat.”

        “You’re crazy,” White said.

        “Most prophets and visionaries are seen that way by the ignorant masses until they’re proven right,” Smith boasted.  “However, I didn’t call to shoot the breeze about our latest acquisition.  I’m calling you because I’d like to get in touch with our mutual friends, the ponies.  I have something that will interest them.”

* * *

        Twilight Sparkle glanced over to Rainbow Dash practically inhaling her salad from its bowl.  She shoved her snout in and grabbed so much food her cheeks bulged.  She fortunately chewed with her mouth closed before swallowing.

        Rainbow Dash licked her lips.  “The grass here tastes great.  What are the long leaves in it?”

        “Dandelion,” Cupcake said.  “It’s a common flower in both our home dimension and here.  Most consider it a weed but the whole thing is edible and quite good.”

        “Maybe we should bring some home to Equestria,” Rainbow Dash said.

        “That’s probably not such a good idea,” Moondancer said.  “They’re still weeds, and quite prolific ones at that.  You could cover your entire country with them if you’re not careful.”

        Twilight Sparkle looked around the dining hall.  It was nothing too special with brick walls and no windows as it was deep in the main building.  Lights hanging from the ceiling provided illumination instead.  She had never seen a common dining area of this size.  Even the castle in Canterlot had many smaller ones instead of one big cafeteria like this.

        The room was filled with conversation.  The ponies had clumped into groups and were discussing whatever was on their minds.  Twilight Sparkle could not make any particular conversation out and did not want to eavesdrop.

        Everyone stopped what they were doing and turned to the main doors as they swung open.  The three stallions Magic Star sent to fix their transport machine walked in.  “It’s fixed,” Four-Speed said.

        Twilight Sparkle jumped to her hooves.  “Really?”  She galloped to them.  “Can we go home right now?”

        “Not right now this minute, the rainbow is rebuilding power,” Four-Speed said.  “However, we’ll be ready in an hour.”

        “Ah yeah,” Rainbow Dash said, pumping her hoof in the air.  “I’ll get to sleep in my own bed.”

        “I’ll also be able to tuck in all my little animal friends.”  Fluttershy paused and then suddenly said, “Be right back.”  She galloped out of the cafeteria.

        “Thank you so much for getting your machinery working so soon,” Twilight Sparkle said.

        “The part that needed replacing was easy enough to make a replica of and replace,” Steamer replied.  “We believe we’ve even fixed the extended time in the vortex.  It was probably because the thing wasn’t properly calibrated, but it is now.”

        “That’s a lot of work for something you’ll use once to send us home and never touch again,” Rarity said, though with a tone like she was hinting at something.

        Everyone looked to Magic Star.  She looked around her and rolled her eyes.  “I’ll reconsider travel between Dream Valley and Equestria.”

        Everyone cheered.

        “That doesn’t mean I’ve agreed to it yet,” Magic Star stated.  “I’ve give you my decision in the morning.”

* * *

        That hour passed like nothing.  Twilight Sparkle walked into the elevator with everypony else.  Literally everypony else was there.  The elevator took them down to the chamber with the mysterious machine where some were already on the massive controls and getting things ready.  The group dispersed as they filed out of the elevator.

        Twilight Sparkle noticed Fluttershy had bulging saddlebags strapped over her back.  “Fluttershy,” she scolded.

        Fluttershy sighed.  She turned to the bags to her sides.  “Sorry, guys.”

        The bags opened and several bushwoolies climbed out.  They all groaned in disappointment.

        Twilight Sparkle rolled her eyes.  However, she could not help but smile.  She would have to admit there were some books and stories she would like to take home with her.

        “Everything’s ready to go,” Gingerbread announced from the controls.

        “Can I say something before you start your machine up?” Twilight Sparkle asked Magic Star.

        Rainbow Dash rolled her eyes.  “Here we go.”

        Twilight Sparkle shot an irritated glance towards Rainbow Dash.

        “I don’t see why not,” Magic Star said.

        Twilight Sparkle turned to the group.  She thought back to when she first came to Ponyville.  She reacted to suddenly finding herself in a crowd like this with irritation.  However, she felt happy to have met all these ponies.  Perhaps that was an important lesson in friendship: once it has entered your heart, you will be more open to more.

        “I want to thank you for your hospitality while my friends and I were here,” she said.  “We came through your portal by accident you had every right to be angry with our intrusion.  However, you for the most part greeted us like guests and I think we’ve all learned from each other.  I sincerely hope you will allow travel between here and Equestria because I think there is so much we can show each other and make new friendships.”

        “Yadda, yadda, yadda,” Rainbow Dash interrupted her.  “Let’s just fire up this bad colt and go home.”

        Twilight Sparkle glanced at Rainbow Dash irritably again.  However, she could only heave a capitulatory sigh.  “Fine.”

        A chirping came from the control panel.

        Rainbow Dash growled.  “Now what?”

        “We’ve got a call from Special Agent White,” Gingerbread said.

        “I wonder what he could want at this hour,” Magic Star said.

        A device floated down from the control panel.  It projected a rectangular image in midair in front of it.  The image was that of an older human male with pale skin like Megan though duller in color and with slight creases in the face.  His hair was dark gray in color and kept much shorter than Megan’s.

        “To what do I owe the pleasure, Agent White?” Magic Star asked.

        “The Order,” White answered.

        Whispers arose from the crowd.  Twilight Sparkle had no idea what he was talking about, but immediately got the sense it meant something here.  Judging from the hushed tone, it did not mean something good.

        “The Order?” Magic Star repeated.  “What would they want with us?”

        “You can ask them,” White said.  “I’m playing piggyback for their message to you.”

        The image divided in half and White moved to the side.  A human with white hair appeared in the other half.  A harsh light shined on him, made more brilliant by the blackness behind him.  “Greetings, ponies,” the man said.

        Magic Star lowered her brow.  “Smith,” she said in a low, menacing tone.

        “Ah, the illustrious Magic Star, we finally meet face to face sort of.”  Smith smiled and seemed unfazed by Magic Star’s cold greeting.  “Forgive my surprise now that I get to see you.  After seeing what your unicorns and pegasi are capable of, I didn’t think they’d be taking orders from a mundane.”

        “We prefer the term earthling,” Magic Star said sternly.  “And let’s drop the pleasantries.  What do you want with us?  I thought you were only interested in advanced technology.”

        “We were initially,” Smith said with a cold quality to his voice that sent a chill through Twilight Sparkle.  Everything about him gave off a sinister energy like she had never felt.  “However, your arrival has caused a paradigm shift on this world.  I highly doubt it is mere coincidence our seemingly normal world has gotten less normal since you arrived.  You’ve introduced magic into the balance of power.”

        “Your point?” Magic Star asked with a cold quality to her own voice.

        Smith’s mouth bent into a lopsided grin.  “My point is the Order must be the most powerful force on this planet in the coming new era.  While having the best technology was good enough before, we must now have magic.”

        “You want pony magic,” Magic Star gasped, her stern expression melting into one of shock.

        Smith’s grin became even more lopsided.  He gave a slight nod.  “Yes.  However, that’s not why I called.  You see, we’ve picked up a not so little lost lamp of yours.”

        The image of Smith moved to put him off to the side.  A light came on to reveal Princess Celestia with shackles on all her angles.

        “Princess Celestia!” Twilight Sparkle gasped.  How could Princess Celestia be here and captured by these humans?

        “A princess?” Smith repeated mockingly.  “Well, we seemed to have hit paydirt.”

        “Release her, Smith,” Magic Star demanded.

        “Of course,” Smith said, stepping back into the center of the image.  “However, I want something in exchange.  You see, in order to figure out how to use a technology, we need to study it and learn how it works and how it’s built etc.  Magic should be no different, so I need subjects to study.  I’d say ten unicorns would be enough.”

        “You’re sick,” Magic Star stated.

        Smith frowned.  “I’ll take that as a no.  Though, they say a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.  We’ll just have to settle on experimenting on the pony we have.”

        “You can’t!” Twilight Sparkle shouted, getting into better view of the image.

        “That’s right!”  Rainbow Dash pushed Twilight Sparkle to the side.

        Smith grinned again.  “It seems there’s some dissention in your ranks, Magic Star.  Why don’t I let you talk over this for, say, ten minutes?  However, I’ll take no answer as a no we’ll begin our testing.”

        Magic Star turned to Gingerbread.  “Cut the audio.”

        Gingerbread nodded.

        “Everyone out of view of the camera.”  Magic Star walked away from the device.  Everyone gathered around her.

        “How did Princess Celestia end up here?” Fluttershy asked.

        “She might have followed us,” Applejack said.  “She does know a lot of magic.”

        “I think it’s somehow a trick,” Rainbow Dash said.  “There’s no way these humans could have captured Princess Celestia.  She’s way too powerful.”

        “I don’t think so,” Twilight Sparkle said in a quiet voice.  It pained her to think of it, but it was the only logical answer.  “While Princess Celestia is the most powerful pony in Equestria, it’s because of our sun.  The vast majority of her magic is tied to our sun.  Because the sun here behaves differently, she doesn’t have that power.  In that case, her magic is no better than your average unicorn.”

        “We’ve got to save her then!”  Rainbow Dash darted to the control panel.  “Open that thing up to their base.”

        “We don’t know here their base is,” Gingerbread said.

        “You’re not doing this alone anyway,” Magic Star said.  “The Order is our problem.  They captured Princess Celestia and intend to experiment on her because they have witnessed our magic.  We also know this world and humanity far better than you do.”

        “But, she’s not your princess.  Why would you put yourself at such risk?” Twilight Sparkle asked.

        “Because evil only triumphs when good does nothing,” Magic Star replied.

        “I also already have a plan devised,” Wind Whistler said.

        Rainbow Dash darted back to the group.  “What is it?”

        “We are going to surrender,” Wind Whistler stated.

        There was a long, awkward silence.

        “Run that past me again?” Rainbow Dash said quizzically.

* * *

        Celestia looked up as the door slid open.  Smith walked in with his arms behind his back.  “You ponies are apparently not all that loyal.”

        “Refusing to make a trade in lives is hardly a test of loyalty,” Celestia said sternly.  “Besides, I don’t know what ponies you were talking to, but they are not from my country.”

        “A couple seemed to know you,” Smith said.

        Celestia remained silent.  Twilight Sparkle and her friends must have been with the ponies in this world.  If only she had been so lucky.

        “Regardless, we’ll just have to settle with you for the time being,” Smith said.  “I should tell you we took the liberty to make what we call a magnetic resonance image of your head to see what it looks like on the inside.  A very interesting picture to say the least.  However, we need a closer look to see how exactly everything works.”

        Celestia gulped.  “You don’t mean…”

        “Opening up your skull and prodding your brain the trunk of nerves in your horn?  Of course,” Smith said.

        One of the humans wearing a white coat picked up a tool with a circular saw blade.  The blade started spinning and the machine screamed a piercing, high-pitched whine.

        Princess Celestia felt a cold sweat spread over her body.  She had never seen such a tool, but she knew exactly what it was for.  It was meant to cut bone, her skull to be exact.

        “I’m afraid you will likely perish from the procedures we must conduct,” Smith said, sounding remorseful and looking away.  “However, we are not completely heartless.  We will put you under and spare you the pain.”

        Celestia noticed something out of the corner of her eye.  A human in a white coat plunged a large syringe in a vile and pulled back the plunger to draw a clear liquid into it.  He pulled the long needle out and pushed the plunger in to squirt a small amount of the liquid out.  “You’ll go to sleep and not feel a thing.”

        Celestia tried to back away from him, but the shackles kept her in place.  There was no escape.  She might be able to fight, but she suspected the long objects the humans in olive green carried were some kind of weapon.  They could incapacitate her or kill her if she tried anything.  Even she could not face these numbers without the sun.

        The sun was what really worried her.  Although old age would never take her life, she knew she would eventually expire.  A disease or injury would end her temporal life someday.  However, if she died now with the sun tied to her, would it survive?  Could her death mean the death for all of Equestria?  She had been alive long enough to accept the inevitable, but she could not bear the thought of the slow, cold death in darkness her subjects would face without the sun.

        The human stepped towards her.  He aimed the needle towards her side.

        “The ponies want to talk,” someone announced.

        “Everyone hold off!” Smith shouted.

        The human with the syringe took a step back and placed it on the table next to him.

        A monitor came on with the image of a yellow mare with green hair.  She frowned and glared forward.  “Over my objections, ten unicorns have agreed to your terms.  However, if Princess Celestia has been harmed in any way, the deal’s off.”

        “I assure you she is in the peak of health,” Smith said.  “Trust me, we checked.”

        Celestia shuddered.  She was not sure what the thing they did to her head was, and she did not want to think of what else these humans might have done to her body while she was unconscious.

        “Then name a time and place for the exchange,” the mare said.

        “Death Valley salt flats in hour,” Smith said.

        “We’ll be there,” the mare replied.  The monitor went black.

The Snowball Effect

Chapter 9:  Get out of Dodge

        Twilight Sparkle watched the pegasi land in the group.  “There’s no sign of the Order,” Firefly said.

        “They’ll be here soon,” Magic Star said.

        Twilight Sparkle found her eyes wander across the bleak landscape.  Even for a desert, this place was deserted.  They stood on a plain encrusted with white salt.  There were mountains in the distance as well as dunes and other plains.  However, life, even plant life, was sparse and appeared dead or least dormant.  Death Valley was an all too fitting name for it.

        ‘The hottest place on the continent,’ Wind Whistler had said when they prepared to leave.  It was the lowest point in what humans called North America, below even the level of the sea.  Since air warms when it sinks, the heat here was often oppressive.  Even in the waning hours of daylight, Twilight Sparkle was sweating in the heat both in the air and radiating from the ground.

        It was also incredibly dry.  She took a generous gulp of cool, fresh water from her canteen which was almost empty already.  Hopefully the Order would show up soon.  She did not know how much more of the parched heat she could take.

        She suddenly felt a gentle, cool breeze wash over her.  She looked to its source and saw that Ice Crystal and Gusty had combined their powers to cool everyone off.  “Thanks, you two,” Magic Star said.  “That feels great.”

        The sun kissed the horizon and started to disappear behind the mountains in the distance.  It had long since set in Dream Valley, but they were a couple thousand miles west from there/  Because the sun moved on its own…or rather the planet spun like a giant top and the sun stayed in one place, sunrise and sunset was occurring constantly somewhere on the planet.  

        It made her uneasy.  This world was so alien to the one she knew.  It had strange geographic features like freshwater seas and deserts almost completely devoid of life.  It was also almost completely devoid of magic.  She had thought magic was required for life.  Even the Everfree Forest had magic though chaotic.  However, this world somehow lived without it.

        However, perhaps what disturbed her most was that Smith person.  The air of cruelty to him was chilling.  She had faced Nightmare Moon and other evil and malicious forces.  However, the coldness, depravity, and conviction he displayed put them to shame.  He thought he was right and deserved to do whatever he wanted because of it.  She hoped most humans were like Megan and not him.

        She turned to Magic Star, “Can you tell me about the Order?  Why would they do this?”

        Magic Star sighed and looked down as she appeared to be collecting her thoughts.  “The Order is a group of fanatical humans.  They believe this world’s civilization will end soon a new era will emerge where the most powerful faction will rule supreme.  They intent to be that faction and steal advanced technology while sabotaging others’ research to make sure they are.”

        Twilight Sparkle shuddered.  “How could anyone look forward to the destruction of their own civilization let alone do such terrible things in preparation for it?”

        “It’s an odd human behavior,” Magic Star said.  “However, the Order is exceptional even for them.”

        “There’s also a personal aspect to this.  Although Magic Star wants us to stay out of human affairs, many of us believe we should make an exception here,” Fireball said.  “Groups like the Order tend to make sure their future comes true.  We liken them to the witches who believed in the same philosophy of might makes right.  Having lived in such a world, we wouldn’t wish it on anyone.  The Order must be stopped before they can do to humanity what the witches did to us.”

        “Now that they’ve taken interest in us, I can’t really argue against,” Magic Star said.  “Whether I like it or not, they’re our problem.”

        “Wow.  That’s deep,” Rainbow Dash said.  “I have to admit, when I first saw your pink castle, I thought all you did was tea parties and boring stuff like that.  Now I realize you put so much on the line for everyone.”

        “We only wish could more sometimes,” Lightning replied.

        The faint glow around Glory’s horn brightened.  “I’m picking up movement out of the west.  There’s a lot of it, moving in fast, and moving in our direction.”

        Gusty and Ice Crystal stopped their breeze, letting the heat surround them again.  Everyone stood their silently and looked to Magic Star.

        “Everyone understand the plan?” Magic Star asked.

        Everypony nodded.

        Magic Star sighed and relaxed her body.  She then tightened it again and took on a stern composure.

        Twilight Sparkle squinted as she looked west into the setting sun.  A large dust cloud emerged over the curvature of the horizon.  It remained low to the ground, but it was wide.  She soon saw odd flying machines suspended under wide, rapidly spinning rotors.  On the ground were several strange land vehicles.  The odd sounds they made reached her ears.  This was actually the first time Twilight Sparkle had gotten up close and personal to the technology of this world, and like everything else it was bizarre to say the least.

        “They’re too early,” Ice Crystal whispered to Magic Star.  “The rainbow is still rebuilding power.”

        “I’m well aware of that,” Magic Star replied calmly.

        “I count five helicopters, a dozen S.U.V.’s and one tractor-trailer,” Hurricane said.  “We’re talking sixty guys at least.”

        “Against all of us?” Tornado scoffed.  “They shouldn’t be so cocky.”

        “Don’t forget they have the bargaining chip,” Ribbon scolded.

        “I’m guessing they have the princess in that crate the lead helicopter is carrying,” Fireball said.  “Though, if they brought the truck, I wonder why they’d go to the trouble.”

        “We’ll soon find out,” Magic Star said coolly.

        The vehicles stooped about a hundred feet away.  The massive cloud of dust they kicked up kept coming towards them.  Twilight Sparkle shut her eyes and turned her head away in preparation for the hot, dry, and probably salty dust to spread over them.  However, she heard a blowing sound.  She opened her eyes looked forward.  Gusty’s wind magic cut through the cloud of dust and blew it off to the sides.

        The flying vehicles landed behind the land vehicles except for the one in the center.  It carefully lowered the dark gray container it held and landed behind it and in front of the line of vehicles.

        A human male hopped out of the lead flying vehicle.  Twilight Sparkle recognized his face as that of Smith’s.  He was huge with a powerful build even though he looked older.  He walked past the container towards them.  Other humans wearing olive green clothing got out of the rest of the vehicles carrying strange, long devices of some kind.

        Twilight Sparkle gulped has a shiver worked through her.  This was the man and organization who captured Princess Celestia, feat she would have thought impossible before coming to this alien dimension.

        “You’re early,” Magic Star said.

        “So are you,” Smith replied.  “How do you get from place to place?”

        “I could ask you the same thing,” Magic Star replied.  “However, we’re not here to trade notes.  Where’s Princess Celestia?”

        “She’s right here.”  Smith pulled a device from a large pocket on his vest.  He pressed a button on it, and it made a small beep.  The cable attaching the container to the flying vehicle blew off with a spark, and the walls and top fell to the sides to reveal Princess Celestia shackled to the bottom.

        Ribbon glanced to Magic Star and nodded.

        “What was that?” Smith asked abruptly.

        “Ribbon is a telepath,” Magic Star said.  “She was confirming this was Princess Celestia and not some kind of trick.”

        “Fascinating,” Smith said quietly.  “What we’re going to do here is simple,” he said more clearly.  “The unicorns will board our tractor-trailer.”

        The giant land vehicle with a long box behind it backed up with long-winded beeps.  It turned around so the back of it box faced them and backed up towards them.  It stopped with a strange hiss, and a couple of humans opened the back door and pulled out a ramp.

        Smith took a key from another of the many pockets on his vest.  “I’ll then leave you the key to unlock the princess’ shackles and you will be on your free to go on your merry way.”

        “How do I know you won’t turn around and kill us?” Magic Star asked.

        Smith laughed loudly.  “Please.  Contrary to what you might believe about us, we don’t go around killing people or ponies without reason.  You and your flying friends are of no use to us, so you can go.”

        He turned to Twilight Sparkle and the other unicorns.  “Get in the truck.”

        Blinding flash suddenly lit up the area and just as quickly vanished.  The humans looked around confusedly.  Smith turned to the container and did a double take.  Princess Celestia was gone.

        “Where did…” Smith started to say.

        “She’s up there,” someone shouted and pointed to Twilight Sparkle’s left.

        Everyone looked in the direction he was pointing.  Princess Celestia stood on the crest of a nearby rise.

        “But, how?”  Smith frowned and bared his teeth.  “It doesn’t matter.”  He turned to the humans and pointed to two of them.  “You and you, come with me.  Everyone else stay here.  If the ponies try anything, shoot them.”

        Smith and the two humans he pointed out ran towards the rise.  The others trained their devices on Twilight Sparkle on the others.  Twilight Sparkle felt her skin pickle with sweat.  She knew what they were holding were ranged weapons of sorts.  Anything could bring a hail of projectiles their way.

        Smith trained his device on Princess Celestia.  “Don’t think you can double-cross me pony.”

        A bright ball of electric blue light shot from the device at Princess Celestia.  The ball went right through her.  Smith and the two flanking him stopped.  Everyone looked to her standing there, not even reacting to being shot.

        Celestia disappeared off the rise and suddenly reappeared shackled to the platform as before with Stargazer, Eclipse, and Sparkler next to her.  Sparkler had her horn pointed at a shackle with white sparks flying from it.  The three other shackles had been burned in half and lay on the platform.

        “Nice job,” Eclipse said mockingly.

        “How was I supposed to know he’d take a shot at my illusion?” Stargazer shot back.

        “He’s a human with a gun, it’s almost a foregone conclusion,” Eclipse said.

        “I thought he wanted her alive,” Stargazer said.

        “You do realize they can see us, right?” Sparkler asked, not taking her sparking horn from the shackle.

        Stargazer and Eclipse turned to the crowd staring at them.  “Oh for the love of…”  Stargazer’s horn suddenly began to glow.  A small device floated out of its holder on the one of the humans’ belts.  They all stepped back as it hovered in front of them.  A pin in it flew out.

        “Grenade!” one of the humans shouted.  They all ran away from it.  Twilight Sparkle did not know why until it exploded with a deafening boom and filled the area around it with a fiery blast.

        The shackle fell off Princess Celestia’s leg.  Sparkler’s horn dimmed and she picked up her head.  “She’s free.”

        The four jumped off the platform and ran towards the group.

        A blue ball shot towards the main group.  Hurricane jumped out of the way to avoid being struck.  The ball faded as soon as it hit the ground to reveal it was a piece of metal.

        Twilight Sparkle turned to where the projectile came from.  Smith and the other two were bounding down rise towards them.  The other humans had also recovered and were training their weapons.  Barricade’s horn lit up and blue dome of energy surrounded them just in time to block the onslaught of projectiles fired at them.

        “A little piece of rainbow would be good right now,” Stargazer said.

        Magic Star placed her hoof on the small device in her ear.  “Bow-Tie, we have the princess, but things have gone south.  We need the rainbow five seconds ago.”

        “We’re still rebuilding power,” Bow-Tie’s voice said from the device.  “We can open it in two minutes.”

        A loud explosion thundered over them.  The ground quaked and Barricade winced.  Cracks formed and spread a little on the dome where smoke rose in a column.  “I can’t stave off this kind of a hammering for two minutes,” Barricade said with a strained voice.

        “Tear down that shield and then switch to tazer darts,” Smith shouted over the onslaught.  “I want them alive.”

        A human shot something out of a larger device at them.  The projectile shout flame out to its rear and exploded on the shield.  Barricade set his teeth on edge as more cracks formed on his shield.

        “What about Agent White’s men?” Wind Whistler asked.

        Magic Star again touched her ear device.  “Agent White, they’re here.  We need assistance.”

        “We’ll be there in five minutes,” White’s voice said.

        “We’ll have the rainbow before they can get here,” Tornado complained.

        “If we can’t hold them back, then let’s blow them back.”  Gusty leapt out of the shield.  She blasted a cloud of dust in Smith’s direction.  He and the two humans with him flew off their feet and slammed into the rise.

        The shield collapsed into a square in front of them and rushed forward.  It knocked several humans down before dissipating.

        Sparkler formed a bright spark on the end of her horn.  The spark flew forward and ignited like a flare in a group, forcing them to cover their eyes to keep from being blinded.

        Everything descended into chaos as the unicorns unleashed their magic.  Ice, fire, lightning, and tornadoes tore into the crowd, sending them in random directions to get away from the hazards.  A human got one of the larger projectile launching devices, but it was surrounded by a pink aura and flew out of his hands.  Smith got to his feet in time to be blown down by Gusty again.

        The flying machines started to spin their rotors.  The slowly lifted off the ground with that strange sound they made.  Magic Star turned to Rainbow Dash and the others.  “It looks like it’s your turn.”

        Wind Whistler, Firefly, and Hurricane took to the air.  Rainbow Dash followed them, but Twilight Sparkle could tell she was not sure what they were supposed to do.  There were flying machines remotely like them in Equestria, but nothing as powerful as these things.

        Wind Whistler grabbed a sizeable branch off a dead tree.  She flung it into the rotor on the tail.  Sparks flew out of it as the wood splintered.  The flying machine spun around and bounced off the ground.  The two humans inside it jumped out of it before it tipped over on its side, breaking off the blades of the main rotor.

        “The tail rotors are their weakness,” Wind Whistler said.

        One of the remaining flying machines fired a rocket in Firefly’s direction.  She made two tight loops with her legs on the inside.  The rocket tried to follow, but spun out of control and tumbled away before exploding harmlessly in midair.

        Twilight Sparkle stood there and watched the battle unfold.  “A very interesting place you have found, my faithful student,” Princess Celestia said to her.

        Twilight Sparkle looked up to her.  She felt a pit form in her stomach.  “I’m sorry for getting you into this.”

        “Perhaps you should help get us out of it,” Princess Celestia suggested.

        “Incoming!” Chief shouted.

        Everyone ducked as a rocket split to spread a net.  They jumped out of the way and it snagged nothing but the desert floor.

        Twilight Sparkle realized the flying machines were the biggest threat.  She remembered what Wind Whistler had said about their tail rotors.  She focused and her magic built up.  She thought about the tails of the flying machines.  Her magic reached its peak and she inflicted it on her targets.  The tails on all the remaining flying machines were surrounded by a pink light.  They bent and twisted into unrecognizable shapes.  The four machines all spun down out of the sky.  Their occupants jumped out just before they hit the ground rolled out of the way before the blades fractured on the ground.

        Twilight Sparkle exhaled as she let her magic subside.  “How was that?” she asked, still panting.  Bending metal was harder than it looked.

        “Very good, my student,” Princess Celestia said.

        With the air threat gone, the pegasi began diving at humans.  They kicked them back and threw them into each other.  Along with the magic attacks from the unicorns, they did not have the opportunity to use their weapons.

        A land vehicle raced towards them.  However, it smashed into an energy barrier, smashing in its front.  Fireball toasted another with fire and Lightning fried another with electricity.  The smell of burning oil and chemicals filled the air as columns of thick, black smoke rose from the destroyed machines.

        Twilight Sparkle turned to Magic Star.  “Does this happen often?”

        “Often enough,” Magic Star answered.  “You get use to it after awhile.”

        “I think I’ll just stick to learning about friendship, it’s much safer,” Twilight Sparkle said.  “Assuming we get out of this.”

        A flash lit up the salt flats and colorful light shined from behind them.  Twilight Sparkle looked back and saw the vortex of the rainbow.  She never thought she would be so glad to see the swirling funnel of light.

        “Everyone into the rainbow!” Magic Star shouted.  “Fireball, hold them at bay.”

        “You got it!”  Fireball shot a stream of flame from his horn.  He lit a line on fire between them and the humans.  The humans backed away from the wall of yellow flames that made even the heat of the desert more intense.

        Everyone ran towards the rainbow.  Princess Celestia was first into the rainbow with Truly and Chief close behind.  The pegasi flew into it and everyone else jumped in.

        Twilight Sparkle was ready to jump in when she heard an engine roaring.  One of the land vehicles jumped over the wall of flames and barreled towards them.  She thought fast and with her magic brought a pillar of stone up through the desert floor in its path.  The vehicle swerved to avoid it, but grazed it and fell over its side.  It slid to a stop, kicking up a huge cloud of dust.

        “Quick thinking,” Magic Star said.  “Now let’s get out of here.”

        Twilight Sparkle followed her into the vortex.  A burst of warm light surrounded Twilight Sparkle and she was in the underground chamber in Dream Valley, thousands of miles away from the desert and those humans.  The vortex faded meaning they could not follow either.  She heaved a sigh relief.

* * *

        Smith climbed out his overturned S.U.V.  He watched the strange phenomenon the ponies had disappeared into collapse in on itself and vanish.  He pounded his fist on the door.  However, he suddenly felt the urge to laugh.

        “Good show, ponies.”  He chuckled.  “You’re far more devious than I gave you credit for.”  He bent his mouth out of the smile it had formed into.  “I’ll remember that the next time we meet.”

        He looked to the scattered men and destroyed equipment.  He should be angry they took such a lopsided beating.  However, it only increased his desire to obtain magic.  Then they could inflict this kind of damage themselves.

        “Sir,” one of the soldiers shouted.  “There are a large number of helicopters headed this way.”

        “It’s probably White and his people,” Smith grumbled.  He took out his radio.  “This is Smith.  Pick us up.”

* * *

        Celestia looked at everything around her.  The odd tunnel they appeared in led out into a large chamber.  Dozens of ponies were gathered at the opening, looking at them.  Pinky Pie, Fluttershy, Rarity, and two Applejacks were among them.

        “Princess Celestia,” Twilight said, “I want you to meet the ponies of Dream Valley.”

        The others that had come to the desert joined the group and bowed to Celestia.  “I am Magic Star, the Mistress of Dream Castle,” the yellow earth pony with green hair said.  “On behalf of our group, I welcome you to our home.”

        Celestia smiled.  “Thank you, Mistress Magic Star.  I am glad to see you took good care of my student and her friends.”

        “It will be an hour before we can open a portal to your world,” Magic Star said.  “If you want, we could give you a short tour and explain some things about this world.”

        “I would like that very much,” Princess Celestia said.  She looked at the chamber and the bizarre machinery around it.  “From what I’ve seen, there’s a lot to explain.”

* * *

        Agent White looked down at the salt flats below them.  In moments they would be over where the ponies had called from.  They crested a hill and flew over a valley.  That was the location, but it was empty.  There were scorch marks, but nothing remained.  It was like no one had been there.

        “Not again,” White grumbled.  “How could they have gotten away so quickly?”

        He turned to his pilot.  “Head back to base.”

        The pilot nodded and turned them back the way they came.

        White took one last look at the valley.  The battle had to have been fierce with plenty of wreckage.  They could not have driven away in such a short time and cleaned up so thoroughly.  He knew the ponies had some kind of machinery that let them reach any place on earth which is why were gone.  Apparently the Order did too which would make his job that much harder.

* * *

        Luna blinked her eyes open to a flash.  A swirling vortex of light and color formed in front of her.  She nudged Spike lying against her side.

        “What?” Spike said groggily.

        Luna slid herself out from under Spike and stood up.  She examined the thing in front of her.  It was like nothing she had ever seen, but it was exactly where Celestia had broken through to the other dimension.

        Her older sister then appeared in it along with Twilight and her friends.  She ran into the vortex, ignoring what dangers it might pose to nuzzle her sister’s side.  “You’re back.”

        “And it’s definitely good to be back,” Celestia replied, nuzzling Luna in return.  “You wouldn’t believe what’s on the other side.”

        Luna looked up and saw three other ponies behind Twilight and the others.  “Who are you?”

        “We’re ponies from Dream Valley in the other dimension,” the white unicorn said.  “I’m Gusty and these are Wind Whistler and Magic Star.”

        “Ponies from another dimension?” Luna asked.

        “It’s a very long story,” Twilight said.  She then yawned.  “We can talk about it tomorrow.  I’m ready for bed.”

        Her friends grumbled their agreement.

        Celestia turned back to the earthling, Magic Star.  “Will you be forbidding interdimensional travel?”

        “You saw how dangerous our world is,” Magic Star said.  “That was just the Order who we thought was none of our concern.  There are harpies, penguins, and all other kinds of dangers like nothing your kingdom has ever seen.  I’m afraid anyone coming to our world would be putting themselves in danger, or worse someone from our world could learn of yours.”

        “However, we live in a world of risk,” Celestia said.  “If we tried to avoid all risk, we would never improve.  I think it would do your ponies good to be able to come to Equestria.  You have been on your own for so long, knowing there are those like you and being able to interact would be good for you.  In fact, how would you like to be a part of Equestria?”

        “Why would you want us to be a part of your country?” Gusty asked.

        “You’re ponies like us,” Celestia said.  “You might not be exactly like us, but that doesn’t matter.  You’re also protecting a very powerful force in the rainbow from evil forces.  I would be honored to know such valiant ponies were a part of my land.”

        “Come on, Magic Star,” Gusty said.

        Magic Star paused.  She heaved a sigh and smiled.  “Why not?  However, don’t expect regular visits.”

        “I hope you can spend more time in Equestria and have a better visit than your first,” Twilight said.  “I promise things are usually less hectic here.”

        “They’re a lot more fun too,” Pinkie Pie added.

        “As well as more refined,” Rarity said.

        “We will look forward to it.  We will also see if there is a way to communicate between dimensions,” Wind Whistler said.  “In the meantime we should get back to our world and let you get back to yours.”

        Everyone said their goodbyes and the three ponies disappeared back into the vortex and that collapsed into nothing.

        “Can some explain what just happened?” Luna asked.

        “We were just saying good-bye to some new friends,” Twilight said.

        “Speaking of friendship,” Celestia said, “did you learn something new?”

        Twilight nodded.  “I learned that no matter how far you travel and how strange the places you visit, you’ll always find friends if you look hard enough.”  She stopped and looked at where the vortex had been.  “However, I think I’ve learned what it means to be a hero too.  Those ponies put their lives on the line to help others with no glory or reward waiting for them.  They do it because they know it’s the right thing to do.  Even if we would never meet them again, they did all that for us.”

        Applejack looked around.  “Speaking of ‘heroes,’ where are the Cutie Mark Crusaders?”

* * *

        Magic Star walked down the ramp to the opening of the tunnel with Wind Whistler and Gusty flanking her.  “Part of the reason I agreed is because we’re unfortunately going to have to take a low profile here.  Now that the Order is after us specifically, we cannot leave anyone exposed.  We’re protected here under the field that conceals Dream Valley.  However, in the outside world we’re a constant target.  That unfortunately means keeping our relationship with Megan’s family a secret.”

        “Sundance will be heartbroken to hear that,” Wind Whistler said.  “However, I have to agree.  They would be in danger if the Order learned about them.”

        “What about the harpies?” Gusty asked.  “They know about our connection to Megan and her family.  What if they tell the Order?”

        “Considering their dispositions,” Wind Whistler said, “I find it highly unlikely the Order and the harpies would ever cooperate.  We should also consider finding ways to hide our identity while out in public.”

        “You mean like ponies in disguise?” Gusty asked.

        “Possibly,” Wind Whistler replied.

        Magic Star sighed.  “Yet another enemy to worry about.  This world is starting to look like our old one.”

        “At least everyone from Equestria has safely returned to their own world,” Wind Whistler said.

        “Hey, Magic Star!” Applebloom said as she, Sweetie Belle, and Scootaloo trotted up to them.

        “Wait…you were supposed…why aren’t you back in Equestria?” Magic Star asked angrily.

        “We stayed behind and hoped no one would notice,” Scootaloo said.  “There’s still way too much to see and do in this world.  Our special talents might still be out there.”

        “We could pilot one of those flying thingies,” Applebloom said giddily.

        “Helicopters?” Magic Star asked dully.

        “Yeah those,” Applebloom said.

        “Cutie Mark Crusader Helicopter Pilots, yay!”  The three smacked their hooves together.

        Magic Star scowled at nothing in particular.  She was just scowling at it being late and at her nearly getting killed or captured and at just when she thought it was all over it was not.  “How long before we can bridge to Equestria again?”

        “One…” Wind Whistler started to say.

        “Too long!” Magic Star cut her off.

* * *

        “The pony we captured escaped and we weren’t able to capture any others,” Smith said into the microphone to the recorder.  “However, the night was not completely fruitless.  The remote E.K.G. scans we took during the battle validated my theory.  While using their magic, the neural activity of the unicorns increased far beyond that needed for cognitive thought.  How they can safely raise their neural activity and manifest it as magical powers remain a mystery requiring more in-depth study of unicorn physiology, but the Order has taken an important first step to adding magic to our perfect arsenal.”

        He stood up and walked to the windows covered by blinds.  He pulled one set open and stared at the Matter Assembler Scatter Send Device.  The ponies had something similar.  Along with magic, he wondered what else they might have.