by darf

Chapter 1: Quotidian


Our story, like all stories, must have a beginning somewhere. This one in particular is just a bit odd because, rather than beginning, we shall intend to start in the middle. Not in the middle of the story, rather, but right in the middle of things. The thick of it, as it were, surrounded on all sides by beginnings and endings. And the middle of our story, in an abstract sense, but also the beginning.

Here, we have the idyllic town of Ponyville. Quaint and pastoral in a charming sort of way—you’re probably familiar with it. Filled with houses, and businesses, and ponies, and foals, and all manner of commerce, and socializing, and goings on, and the six most important ponies in the history of Equestria including the newly christened Princess Twilight Sparkle, and a nice stand that sells bananas—oh, yes, that other part. You knew that too, didn’t you? Of course you did. You’re a smart cookie, I can tell.

Our story middles today (and begins, furthermore), in the basement of a delightful little abode occupied by the previously mentioned one Twilight Sparkle. In the downstairs of the lovely tree she calls a house, and alongside one other pony you might also be familiar with, who for the purposes of this story will be referred to as ‘Pink’. Twilight we shall call ‘Purple Ponk’, because doesn’t it just sound adorable?

No? Oh fine then.

In any case, here we have Twilight Sparkle, bearing her brand new wings besides, and her friend, that incorrigible young Pinkie Pie. The two of them are sharing a moment together, as it were.

But... what’s this?

They don’t appear to be moving. How odd.

In fact, if we look closer... hm. It’s almost like they’re... frozen.

Not frozen like you might be frozen in a big block of ice, mind. Nor are they frozen in the fashion we’ve come to read about, when lava shall fall from the sky and freeze everyone in a perpetual statue of whatever they were doing last, leading to some embarrassing engravings of mares and stallions sharing too-intimate moments with the rest of the world. Neither here nor there, mind.

No, these two are frozen simply in place. Not unlike the hands on a watch when they stop. And, if I’m not mistaken, we happen to have one of those here too. If you’ll look around for just a moment, this way, please, you’ll see the whole of the basement—the set of stairs leading up; the towers of beakers filled with curious looking liquids; the variety of machines all hooked to each other, whirring mysteriously. And, yes, here is Twilight Sparkle, frozen in mid-air in fact. That’s quite an expression on her face isn’t? Absolute panic, you might call it. And, look—she’s hanging there, unmoving, lunging forward to catch that big watch.

Well, yes, I suppose you could call it a clock if you were so inclined. There’s no need to be pedantic about it.

Pinkie Pie is there next to her. Cheerful, sickeningly adorable Pinkie Pie. She doesn’t look upset at all, does she? There’s that smile she always has on.

So how is it they wound up like this? Well, I’m cheating a bit, you see. They’re not really frozen. No more than the rest of the town is frozen, which they are... but not like this, per se.

Here, let me show you.

Twilight Sparkle stood in front of the table covered in peculiar apparati. Various dials and bobs spun around her, all accompanied by the ticking of the too-large clock she held in her hooves. The clock was hooked up to a variety of wires and lines, and it hummed as it ticked, throbbing in her hooves with a faint, emerald glow.

She stared into its face for a moment, as though expecting to see her reflection.

“Hiya Twilight!”

The sudden noise had a natural effect, which was to startle Twilight—normally a non-issue, though it wasn’t often the case that she was holding a large, fragile clock. As a result of her surprise, her hooves gave out, and sent her falling, and the clock with her.

She scrambled in the air, reaching towards it. Somehow, despite all knowledge of physics telling her that equal motion should present an equal trajectory, the clock seemed just out of reach. Still, she held out her hooves to touch it; to catch it before it hit the floor. Closer, closer to the floor, feeling just the edge of it on her hooves, the slick finish on the outside, until she felt the cold floor on her stomach and then—

Twilight Sparkle stood in front of the table covered in peculiar apparati. Various dials and bobs spun around her, all accompanied by the ticking of the too-large clock she held in her hooves. The clock was hooked up to a variety of wires and lines, and it hummed as it ticked, throbbing in her hooves with a faint, emerald glow.

She stared into its face for a moment, as though expecting to see her reflection.

“Hiya Twilight!”

The sudden noise had a natural effect, which was to startle Twilight—normally a non-issue, though it wasn’t often the case that she was holding a large, fragile clock. As a result of her surprise, her hooves gave out, and sent her falling, and the clock with her.

She scrambled in the air, reaching towards it. Somehow, despite all knowledge of physics telling her that equal motion should present an equal trajectory, the clock seemed just out of reach. Still, she held out her hooves to touch it; to catch it before it hit the floor. Closer, closer to the floor, feeling just the edge of it on her hooves, the slick finish on the outside, until she felt the cold floor on her stomach and then—

Twilight Sparkle stood in front of the table covered in peculiar apparati. Various dials and bobs spun around her, all accompanied by the ticking of the too-large clock she held in her hooves. The clock was hooked up to a variety of wires and lines, and it hummed as it ticked, throbbing in her hooves with a faint, emerald glow.

She stared into its face for a moment, as though expecting to see her reflection.

“Hiya Twilight!”

The sudden noise had a natural effect, which was to startle Twilight—normally a non-issue, though it wasn’t often the case that she was holding a large, fragile clock. As a result of her surprise, her hooves gave out, and sent her falling, and the clock with her.

She scrambled in the air, reaching towards it. Somehow, despite all knowledge of physics telling her that equal motion should present an equal trajectory, the clock seemed just out of reach. Still, she held out her hooves to touch it; to catch it before it hit the floor. Closer, closer to the floor, feeling just the edge of it on her hooves, the slick finish on the outside, until she felt the cold floor on her stomach and then—

Are you starting to get the idea of it?

I just thought it might be a bit disarming to walk right into things. They’re moving almost like they’re on pegs, aren’t they? Like those little puppet shows made of invisible gears and bad punchlines, bopping each other on the head. There goes Pinkie Pie, popping up in the middle of the tables. There goes Twilight, falling forward, dropping her clock, tumbling with that look of desperation in her eyes, until finally—

Smash. We don’t quite get to hear all the breaking glass, of course, but I’m sure you can imagine the rest. ‘Smash’ is such a delightful word, don’t you think? So loud.

Anyway. I’m showing you all this because this is the state Ponyville is in at the moment. It’s sort of tragic in a way—I mean, of course it is, being stuck anywhere. We feel bad for little bunnies when they wedge their heads into fences, and this is more or less the same thing. A pony and a clock, getting her head and everyone else’s stuck in time.

Well, more or less stuck. There are some edge cases that we’ll see in a minute etunim a ni ees ll’ew taht sesac egde emos era ereht.

Oh, goodness. Watch out for those. They seem to be going around at the moment. Ha. In any case.

So, let’s take a bit of a trip, shall we? There are a few places I’d like to show you, though I don’t believe any one of them is more important than the other. We’ll get to that later. Us and us alone. Anyway. Come along.

Our first stop is one that I don’t think you’ll find particularly upsetting. Of course, this whole thing is kind of worrying, in a morose sort of way. All these ponies, trapped forever in the perpetual cycle of their last ten seconds, forced to relive the same instant over and over... well, if you’re going to be Mr. Party Pooper, I suppose there’s no point in me showing you any of this. Go on then. Go listen to some depressing music. Pull your hoodie up as you go.



Right off the bat, let me tell you that because this is magic, things are not always as they seem. In fact, it would be a bit unreasonable to expect an experiment gone wrong to behave exactly according to plan. So, with that in mind, even the first thing I’m going to show you isn’t quite playing by the rules. That’s what makes it so funny. Or sad. Stop that.

Here we have Miss Derpy Hooves, delivering the local mail with a frustrated sort of look on her face. Watch her for a moment and you’ll see she’s putting the same bundle of letters into the slot, over and over again.

Those crossed eyes are just a scream, aren’t they?

Well, look closer before we go though. Does something seem odd to you about what you’re seeing? Aside the obvious, I mean?

Are you noticing it yet?

Here, allow me.

Derpy scratched her head. She’d already delivered the mail. She remembered delivering it because she took it out of her bag, held it in her hoof, and put it in the mailbox. That was how she delivered mail. She did it all the time.

She looked down at the several letters in her hand. She looked at the address. She looked up at the address on the mailbox, which was the same. She scratched her head and put the letters in the box.

But she didn’t see them go in.

Derpy squinted into the mailbox. There weren’t any letters in there. But that’s where she put them. She scratched her head.

Where were they?

Derpy reached into her mailbag again. Maybe there were more letters she forgot about.

Oh, there they were. These were the right letters. She knew because she’d delivered them here before. Except she hadn’t, because they weren’t there. But she was supposed to.

Derpy looked at the letters. She looked at the mailbox. The addresses matched.

Derpy scratched her head and put the letters in the mailbox. The mailbox stayed empty, like the letters went away before they got inside.

Derpy reached into her mailbag and pulled out some letters. Had she delivered these already?

Derpy put the letters in the mailbox—

Hilarious, isn’t it? One of the only ponies in town to be lucky enough not to be set going through the motions, and here she’s doing it anyway! I love you ponies. Nowhere in the world could provide these kind of laughs.

You did think it was funny, didn’t you?

Well, we’ll leave Derpy Hooves and her mail alone for a while. If it’s any consolation, the mail probably doesn’t know enough to be upset about repeating itself. It just wants to be delivered. And Derpy wants to deliver it. They’re a perfect match, don’t you think?

The next stop is one that’s a little less cheerful, though certainly not as gloomy as you’re being. Yes, I saw that look. Cheer up, will you? It’s not every day we get the town in a state like this.

So, this is a scene that should be familiar. Hard-working, dependable Applejack—you know her, don’t you? And, where else is Applejack at home but in a field full of apples?

She’s in prime applebucking position, yes. Reared up, hind legs ready to go.

So why isn’t she going?

Well, look a little closer.

Did you see? Look again.

Just the tiniest bit of movement. Slowly. More minute than a molecule. Yes, she is moving.

Poor Applejack has become stuck in a slow moving part of time, you see. It’s not that she’s moving slowly, although I suppose you could argue that; I’m sure in there, her head’s going just as fast as it needs to. It’s just that, to us, watching her like this, she may as well be a pony made out of molasses.

I say, have they thought of that already? Remind me to write that down later.

So, the interesting thing here is, if we’re seeing Applejack in slow motion, what is she seeing of the outside world? Nevermind that—is it her that’s in slow motion, or everything around here, while we’re just caught up? What could she be thinking, in that ten thousand year applekick?

Well, see for yourself.

One more tree and that’ll be one hundred and fifty three more to go on this side. That’ll be the west side all done, and I’ll start on the east side in a few days. Big Macintosh was gonna do the east side, but he’s tuckered out from grinding half the batch of jelly for that big order last week. Maybe three hundred bits and some changes off it. Half that’s gotta go to buy seeds. Start seedin’ the carrots on Tuesday. Beans on Thursday. Not sure if we should have squash this year. No one ever eats it. Back in my day you ate what you got and were thankful for it. I wonder if I’ll ever get tired of apples. Haven’t so far, and I’ve been eatin’ ‘em for a while. I wonder if Applebloom gets tired of ‘em. It’ll be Rarity’s fault if it’s anyones. Last sleepover, she said Sweetie Belle was tellin’ her that Rarity eats snails sometimes. What kind of a thing is that? I’ve heard they do it in Prance, but I ain’t never thought about doin’ it. Ain’t snails alive, after all? There’s places in the world where they eat other things that are alive. Monsters eat ponies anyway. Wonder if they’d settle for an apple. There’s a lot you can do with an apple. Apple pie apple tart apple crisp apple strudel apple sour apple honey apple pancake apple cake apple jelly caramel apple sweet-orange apple I don’t see how anyone could get tired of apples. I’m gettin’ kinda tired of kickin’ ‘em down, mind. If I do this tree in five minutes, and the next one takes me five minutes, I could be done with ‘em in two days, workin’ six hours a day. Eight hours a day and I’ll have time left to spare. Seems like days are gettin’ shorter. Is that just a thing they say, or is it somethin’ real? I’ll have to ask the Princess next time I see her. Ain’t run into her in a while. Guess the world doesn’t need savin’ that often. How odd is it that we’ve saved the world, what, four times now? Maybe more’n that. I don’t feel like I’ve saved the world. Right now I just wanna get these apples done. I wonder what’s takin’ so long. If I push real hard maybe they’ll all come down in one go and I can—

Well, I think that’s enough of that. Surely you get the idea, yes?

Good old Applejack. She’s got a lot on her mind, hasn’t she? Dependable, hard-working, loyal Applejack, thinking about her family and friends, and always about working to make ends meet. More interest for other ponies than herself. Loyal as can be. No wonder she’s the Element of—

Oh. Almost had a slip of the tongue there.

In the end, I think Applejack might be the best off, you know. That tree might be long gone by the time she finally reaches it, but the end result will be the same. Just as much to her benefit if she spends a thousand years on one tree, rather than one year on a thousand trees. She knows it, and so do you: they’ll just regrow next year, and she’ll be kicking them down until she can’t kick anymore. But it makes her happy. I wonder, is that worth saying something about?

Not at all, in my opinion. Let’s move on to our next stop, shall we?

This one is a bit of a guilty pleasure, I must admit. Somewhat of a detour, really, all the way to Canterlot—

Hmm? Oh, yes, I did say this was all happening in Ponyville, didn’t I? Well, you know. Canterlot, Ponyville... all these horse puns start to blur together after a while. It’s very possible I meant one, rather than another. Of course, we’ve already been to Ponyville, haven’t we? So that explains it.

Oh, shush. Just look.

Though it’s mid-way through the afternoon, Princess Celestia is asleep. She’s nestled in her ornate, imported bed, wrapped in the sheets like they’re a down of feathers, covering her with her eyes closed. She turns in them, rocking from side to side. Sweat from her coat dampens them, and her mane, which leaves a mark on her pillow. Prismatic, iridescent, and wet with her sleeping anxiety.

She goes from turning to thrashing, spastic back and forth under the covers, kicking her legs about, flapping her wings, until finally her body tells her it’s too much and she opens her mouth and sits straight up. Gasp.

She breathes very heavily for a moment, looking around the room.

After a few seconds she gets up from the bed, untangling the sheets from her body and letting them fall tp the floor. She shakes her head a few times too, in an attempt to wring off the residual haze of mid-day nap-time sweat and delirium. She’s a victim to the same incomprehension we all are, with the difference being that she has a whole sky overhead at her behest and no one else’s. If she kept sleeping, would the sun decide to fall?

Celestia makes her way to the window, her face turning gradually from anxiety to the stern expression she always wears. Her hooves clop on the floor of the spacious room. The tile she’s walking on is painted over with magenta and gold swirls, and it matches the tapestries hanging from the walls, as well as the curtains on the canopy bed. Really, it’s a room fit for a princess.

She walks until she reaches the window—the large, pristine glass window, looking out over Canterlot, and Ponyville, and all of Equestria under the sun. She leans towards it, but doesn’t open it. She puts her hoof on the windowsill and looks up through the glass, skyward.

Past the sun, to where a spot of silver lays hidden in the clouds.

A flicker of something shadow flashes across her eyes. She turns her head down. Her face has gone from staunch to sour.

With a tremble in her lip, she looks back to her bed. She unfurls her wings and wipes a hoof across her eye.

When the drop falls from her hoof the ground, she’s back in bed, seconds away from waking up.

Now, I admit, there’s nothing not perverse about my pleasure here. Nevertheless, I fully intend to enjoy it as much as possible. You could tell what she was thinking about, couldn’t you? Here, look up and tell me what you see.

No, not the sun, you... past that. You probably can’t make it out because it’s so bright. Past the clouds, just there. Here, wear these. Lovely shade of blue, aren’t they?

That’s the moon. And further past it, of course, the void of space and stars and endless possibility, and who knows what’s going on out there away from our little corner of the universe, and goodness, isn’t all of life just miniscule and amazing? Blech. Aside from that though, there’s the moon.

Have you ever had to live with something you did for a thousand years?

Celestia could blink her eyes and wake up from her perpetual napping fits, I think. I’m convinced she doesn’t want to. Because, as much as everypony else out here is repeating themselves, she already knows what’s that like. I just don’t think she cares anymore.

Moving right along. This next one is a bit peculiar, which is why I find it so fascinating.

There’s a trail in the air there, do you see that? We picked a heck of a moment to get stuck. This one is just as traditional as the last one, though I think it’s also one of the most peculiar. Watch and listen, and tell me what you see.

The way the air tensed right before. She could feel it, her wings moving so fast on her body she couldn’t feel them anymore. Her legs tickled from the jetstream. Her hair was pushed back like a tornado, which was good, because it meant she was almost there.

And, like every time, there was just one last pull needed. Like she had to reach out and grab it.

She did.

The feeling that came with it was indescribable. The whole world froze, she was sure of it, and she was the only one moving in that second. She felt that way a lot of the time normally, until consequence and other ponies caught up to her. But like this, no one could catch her.

It took a second after her hoof went through for the sound to come.

And it came. The rush. Woosh. No other way to describe it. Like a pop bang zoom everything at once detonating and coming back together.

And she was gone, flying so fast the world disappeared beneath her. The sky was the limit now. Maybe someday she’d soar so fast she’d reach her own trail.

But there was a sparkle of rainbow in the breeze. What was—

So. There’s a bit going on here, which I’ll try to explain, so do your best to keep up.

Here we have the Element of—well, we have Rainbow Dash. Pegasus, fancy mane, very fast, she’s just a dear. In any case, our little snapshot of time seems to have grabbed her at a very particular moment, and I’ll here try to break down why this moment is significant. You’ve heard of her patented ‘Sonic Rainboom’, of course? Don’t let my tone sour you... everyone knows it’s amazing, just the most wonderful thing. Well, if you’re a fan, you’re in luck, because we’re catching the star mid-performance.

So, you’ll see here, right at the point where the sound barrier breaks, and it does do exactly that, which is impressive regardless of what we might say about the spunky little pegasus responsible—here, you can see the light actually bending, and here’s where the rainbow comes out, like a haze, showering everything. And, yes, here is Miss Rainbow Dash, though you’ll only see her for half a second before she’s gone—yes, there she goes. Wave goodbye, would you?

Only... there’s something odd about the way she’s going through. See how this bit moves just a little bit each time?

This is because, while Miss Rainbow Dash is stuck in a cycle, repeating herself, her method of propulsion isn’t—that is to say, her wings are, but her ‘Sonic Rainboom’ isn’t. It’s the thing that’s had her dubbed the fastest flyer in Equestria, yes?

Well, I can tell you that’s not a lie. Rainbow Dash is breaking the sound barrier after all, but she’s breaking a great many other things in the process. Likelihood, for one. And, in doing so, she’s actually going just fast enough that time is failing to keep up with her. Every time through the ring, by a little bit, she’s moving farther across. We could probably follow her for a while, and I think we’d eventually do a full circle around the globe. Not that I have any interest in such a thing. The prices of hotels alone.

I’m not sure if there’s more to say here. It is simply what you see. Rainbow Dash, the pegasus going so fast, she’s outpacing herself. Did you ever think you’d see a thing like that?


Well, fine. If you want to be utterly dreary about it. If we have to play ‘dissect the time vortex’ each time, I suppose we could pretend at some sort of deeper meaning here. How about, ‘Rainbow Dash likes to go fast, so now she’s going really fast’?

Oh fine.

It’s a well-known fact about Rainbow Dash that she always has to be the best. There was, I believe, a bit of a snafu when that Mare-Do-Well business arose. But, what that says furthermore about Miss Rainbow Dash is that she’s always struggling not only to outdo everypony around her, but also herself. In all the world, she’s the only pony she ever needs to keep up with.

And here’s she’s doing exactly that. Do you think that means she’d be happy?

Well, why don’t you stop her and ask her?

Just kidding. I don’t recommend you touch. Of course, we’re playing a bit of a cheat here, walking around in all of this, but I highly suspect some red tape somewhere will catch up with us if we stop to play with the exhibits. Come along, and mind your step with this one, because it’s a bit of a mess ssem a fo tib a s’ti.

Ah, you see what I mean?

And no talking. Let this one speak for itself, if you can bear it.

In the room above Sugarcube Corner, the Cakes have a home. It’s a small living space, possessed of only two bedrooms: one for them, and one for their children. A set of stairs lead up from the main shop, creating a strange juncture between business and personal life. Upstairs, the door to the bedroom is open.

There are three ponies in the bedroom. One of them is Mrs. Cake, first name Cup. Another of them is Mr. Cake, first name Carrot. The third one is not a Cake. He’s a large stallion with a black mane and a blue coat. Right now, he looks distressed.

Mr. Cake has his hoof on the strange stallion. He’s over top of him on the floor, in fact, on the far side of the bed, kneeling down. The look on his face says he’s not very happy. But... strange. He’s helping the stallion up. He’s taking his hooves off him and moving backwards over the bed, and the stallion is moving with him, until he’s all the way there. And Mrs. Cake is in the bed too. She never left, it seems, but her expression has changed a bit, from horrified to something uncertain.

Mr. Cake returns to a spot at this side of the bed, and Mrs. Cake looks confused. The stallion is holding his hooves up, but he lowers them back down to the bed. Slowly, as Mr. Cake walks back out of the room, Mrs. Cake’s face changes from startled to a look that says she’s having a very good day. The stallion’s says the same.

Mr. Cake’s face takes on a smile as he walks backwards out of the room and closes the door behind him. Slowly, whistling the inverse of a tune, sucking the notes out of the air and back between his lips, Mr. Cake exits the bedroom. He walks down the hallway, facing forward as he moves backwards until he reaches the stairs. He goes down them and his smile stays bright, his hooves removing their sound on the steps, and being unmuffled by the disappearing noise of the box-spring upstairs.

As he leaves through the entrance to Sugarcube corner, his mind clears. Thoughts of Mrs. Cake and the stallion leave, and are replaced just by thoughts of his wife. By her smile, her eyes, the sweetness of her laugh. He feels bad about being away from home so often these days, until he thinks about coming home early from his trip to surprise his wife. His contentment with his plan ebbs away until he’s heading out the front door on his way back to the train station, convincing himself it will be a good idea to come home. He’s almost made it a few feet from the store’s entrance until he’s gone again, back upstairs. He’s kneeling over the stallion, and Mrs. Cake is in bed behind him, holding up her hooves, the letters disappearing from the air and being swallowed with help from her tongue.

t   ‘n   o   d   ,e  s  a  e  l  P  .y  r  r  o  s  m  ‘I . . .

Well, I didn’t say it would be all fun and games. Time doesn’t play that way, you know. If you could live the same moment of your life over and over again, maybe the one you had yesterday, when that awful thing happened—

You’re not familiar with cold reading, are you?

—Anyway. There’s someone famous who asked that once. Less famous than me, I’d wager, though I’m sure he’d debate that if he wasn't busy explaining to some omnipotent cloud-monster why he was so crass about the obituary he posted. In any case, moving along. There’s... Well, there’s one more at least that I need to show you, and if it’s all the same I’d rather just get it over with. Then we can take a stop in town square and enjoy ourselves for a bit before I send you on your way. Step lightly, please.

You recognize this part of the woods at least, don’t you? I’m not sure if it’s common knowledge, though that’s as much as saying that any store on a given day in Ponyville might change colour or function or even the ponies in it. Heck, the ponies do it themselves! Sometimes even I can’t make heads or tails of this place.

Anyway. Have a look over there. You recognize that house, don’t you? Rousing lullabies and chicken coops? Everyone knows the story. Well, get on with looking, because I’d like to be out of here sooner rather than later. Go on, hurry up.

Fluttershy is moving like she’s unrestrained by the repetition of motion. In the course of more than ten seconds she’s in several different places, bounding from one patch of grass to the next. It’s evidence enough that she’s not stuck, but her movement seems erratic.

She dashes away from a few different sections of the yard. On closer inspection, there’s nothing notably different about them, save for a few that have patches of very fine, grey dust atop the blades of grass.

As she turns her head with her eyes wide, a chicken clucks at her from a few feet away, and steps closer.

“No,” she says. “Don’t.” She raises her hooves and waves them like a crossing officer shooing away traffic, but the chicken continues on unheeded. Fluttershy’s proclivity for movement suddenly fails her. She stumbles over her hooves as she backs away, and the chicken follows.

As it comes within a few inches, she can’t help but reach out to touch it. It’s a very young chicken, practically newborn.

“Oh,” she says. “You’re so pretty...”

The chicken is egg-laying age now. It clucks at Fluttershy, rubbing its beak against her hoof. She can’t help but rub back, stroking the chicken’s face. It looks up at her, it’s jowl hanging low. The age for eggs has gone by. It’s legs can barely hold it up.

“No,” she says. She pets the chicken on its head a few more times, until the head crumbles and falls off the chicken’s body. The rest of it follows suit, feathers and skin melting away from bone until the bare carcass tumbles to the ground.

Fluttershy’s hoof lingers on the skeleton as it decomposes, turning quickly from something solid to a fine ash, like sand

She stands up and begins to back away again. Turning, a speed of movement starts in her again.

But there’s a squirrel on her other side. It holds an acorn aloft, bouncing on its hindlegs in her direction. Again, she holds her hoof up. Her wings flare on her back for a moment, but quickly settle as the squirrel comes within foreleg’s reach. It holds it acorn out again.

Fluttershy takes the acorn and gently sets it into the ground.

The squirrel hobbles the last few steps to Fluttershy’s feet. At the same time, the acorn to Fluttershy’s right spins and cracks. Tiny tendrils of roots shoot out of it, aching for the ground, but finding only empty air. As the acorn’s body rots into mush, the squirrel rests his head on the ground and falls into pieces, his tiny, articulate digits crumbling as the rest of him does.

Fluttershy holds her hooves to her mouth and begins to cry.

...Well. What do you want me to say? The point of showing you all this... I can’t just step in and change things! That would be simply ridiculous. What kind of a guide would I be then, hmm?

...Yes, it is awful. Fluttershy. She... well, she’s always loved caring for her animals, seeing them grow up. You can feel that in her, I think. A kindness that’s everywhere, everything to her.

Now she gets to see each of them into old age, in a way.

You can be a little miserable, if you want. It’s hardly inappropriate.

I don’t know about you, but I’m in desperate need of something to pick me up after that. We’ll just... I mean, we’ll leave her. It’s fine. A tad cruel, perhaps, but that too is the nature of life.

Oh, stop looking at me like that. Come on, we’re almost done.

I saved the simplest for last. There’s either a great deal to see here, or nothing at all. Let’s take it apart in pieces shall we?

Oh yes, town square, in case you’d forgotten. I’d offer to share my ice cream, but I’ve heard you all have cooties, and I haven’t gotten my shots yet. Watch and listen, as usual. One at a time now.

Over here, at an outdoor dining table for this cafe, a stallion and a mare are seated. The mare is smiling at the stallion, though he looks like he might be young enough to fit ‘colt’ in the poor eyesight of an elderly grandmother. The mare’s coat coat is blue, and her mane is purple, with highlights. The stallions’ coat is light orange, and his mane is brown. He looks very nervous.

He reaches behind his back and pulls out a bouquet of flowers. He holds it out to the mare. She looks surprised.

“Diamond Mint,” he says. The shake in his voice is obvious, as well as his foreleg, which rattles from side to side, shaking petals from his flowers, freshly picked from the look of them, onto the table. “I’ve been wanting to tell you this for a long time, but I... I really like you. Like, a lot.” He swallows, the lump in his throat refusing to remove itself. The mare keeps her look of surprise. The stallion blinks, as though steeling himself, and swallows again.

“And I... I was wondering if you wanted to... to be my... my marefriend.”

His stuttering stops, but the shaking doesn’t. Still, the flowers wobble.

The mare holds a hoof to her chest for a second, then removes it and sets it on the table.

“Oh,” she says. “Caramel, I—”

Awful, isn’t it? I could tell you were on the edge of your seat. Of course it’s not quite as riveting as our last few visits, but there’s something fascinating in the mundane, isn’t there? I imagine that poor boy is waiting to find out the answer to his question as much as were. Maybe it’s better that he doesn’t know? Who’s to say.

Turn this way, please.

With the air the same as the around the table, tempered by movement, a pair walks through the crowd of ponies in the center of the town. A pony and a dragon by her side. Rarity and Spike.

Spike’s arms are full with packages which he’s carrying with some difficulty. A few beads of sweat are collected on his forehead, and he takes a great big breath every few steps, as though moving with the packages is a struggle.

Rarity doesn’t say anything to him, though she hears him going on. She stops for a moment, and he does the same, panting to catch his breath. Overtop of the packages, Rarity looks at him.

He looks back at her.

Overhead, the sun is high and bright. Rarity’s tail flits naturally behind her back, bobbing from side to side.

She looks at him.

He looks back at her.

She looks at him.

He looks back at her.


Ahaha, another one! It’s just absolutely horrible, isn’t it? Still, I think there’s a great deal less to say here than there was in our last visit. At least poor Caramel had the sense to come out and say something, didn’t he? Still, I take it from the local gossip rags that there’s a scarce few pony in town who doesn’t know about this little purple and green casanova-in-training. Who could say no to a squishy little face like that?

Interspecies romantic politics notwithstanding, of course.

Well, are you starting to get a sense for things? I suppose you think there’s a great deal to talk about here as well, don’t you? I’ve been of the opinion since the start that all we need is to see the goings on and let them speak for themselves. What do you think these ponies would say if they knew you were peering at them, hmm? Analyzing their every goings on, imagining what it might be in their heads, compelling them forward. What their relative misfortune says about them as beings?

I imagine they’d have more of a problem with the ‘floating’ and ‘unstuck in time’ bit, but that’s neither here nor there.

One more, and then we’ll call it a day, hmm? This one I feel you’ll have a great deal to say about.

A pony is walking forward with parcels held close to his chest, much like Spike the dragon on the other side of town-square. Unlike Spike, who it’s sensible to believe is carrying parcels of things for the pony he’s following—clothes, trinkets, make-up, sewing supplies and etcetera—this pony is mostly carrying groceries. He’s walking with more bags and weight in them than can be healthy, gritting his teeth the same way we all have when we tell ourselves ‘I can make it, I’m not making more than one trip.’

As he walks by the produce stall, en route to his destination, he fails to see a piece of errant fruit on the ground underneath him.

His hoof touches the yellow peel unsurely, and begins to slip.

And then it does slip, entirely, his leg giving out its strength of position, and the rest of him following suit, until the whole of him is up in the air. His groceries tumble out of his forelegs like too many juggling balls at once, and his whole body floats for a moment, held aloft by the whimsy of gravity amongst gaggles of melons and lettuces and the paper bags that, a moment ago, held them in place.

The banana goes whizzing off faster than he manages to reassert himself. As the banana peel hits the ground, he approaches the halfway point. Melons hover over him as the ground prepares to say ‘welcome’.

The first one thumps into his nose as he lands.


Oh, alright, lighten up. I thought we’d finish things off on a more cheerful note. There’s nothing like physical comedy, I find. If we’d added a whole fruit truck, maybe some cleverly placed bongos, that whole thing could have been just lovely. As is, I could still watch it another few thousand times... but we’re talking degrees of multitude here.


You seem sour now. Surely it wasn’t something I said?

Oh don’t be like that. What more is it you’d like me to show you? Shall we go barging into pony’s houses, knocking on their doors, or simply floating through their walls and seeing what it is that they’re doing with themselves in the precious few seconds they have?

I hope that’s not where you’re bringing this.There will be no unpleasantly philosophical metaphors today. Everything I’ve shown you was just that, what it was; nothing more, and nothing less.

I think we should go back to where we started before you get any crazy ideas in your head. Follow along, and if you touch anything so help me I will leave you stuck there in place of that banana peel.

It’s almost sort of soothing watching her, in a way. Seeing the way her hooves move just so, watching her tumble, knowing that no matter how many times she tries, she’ll never quite reach far enough...

Well, I find it soothing. It’s like the hands of a clock. Going around and around. This time she’s on a ten-second timer, of course, but we can make exceptions for a good analogy.

None of them from you though. You keep your mouth shut.

So that was it, I suppose. I hope you enjoyed yourself. I know I did... certain instances aside. Of course, as I said before, this is life. Not everything can be sunshine and daisies and watermelon ice cream.

Really? You’ve never had it. Well, I confess, it might have been a sorbet, but that’s not the point. Look around some time, you’ll really be doing yourself a favour.

I guess I’m to leave you here now. As a matter of fact, I’m not sure how you wound up here in the first place. Perhaps that means you’re free to wander? For all I know, you’re the reason any of this is here in the first place. This has been your tour, and Twilight’s basement your inscribed gate? Go forth, and witness all that is within! For this has been willed where what is willed must be!

Sorry, bit of a tangent there.

Look around for all I care. Personally, I think you’d be best off watching Twilight Sparkle for a while. Because, as far as I’m convinced, you can’t change anything. You’re very alike in some ways. Twilight knows it, even if she doesn’t know she knows it.

No matter how many times she dives forward, she’ll never catch her falling clock. She’ll keep trying and trying, yes, with as much gusto and fervor as she can muster, and every time have just the edge of it within her grasp, so close she can almost taste salvation. But every time, it will be snatched away, because she’s never done anything to change what will happen. You can’t keep doing the same thing over and over again and expect different results. That’s just madness.

What would you tell her, if you could? Pretend, for a minute, that in her ten seconds, there was enough time for you to say something. She’s already dropped it, you know. Ten seconds is a long time for a clock to fall... but as we’ve learned, time is hardly consistent. Do you think Mr. Cake took backwards marathon in his senior year of high school? Three minutes, at least.

So, what would you tell her? Clock already in the air. Oh, please, Twilight, if you could just move a little to your—and smash. Too late. That lovely word again.

Please. Don’t convince yourself there’s anything to be done. I’ll allow one metaphor here, and one metaphor only, if it will get you to simmer down. These little moments, if you will, are at least like life in the sense that you can’t live anyone’s for them. You can try, and goodness knows we’ve all seen it happen. Advice to friends, telling others the benefit of your experience, thinking you’re to have some hand in guiding them to where they need to go. And really, if that was the case—what would they do when they got there? They’d be just as confused as they were in the first place. No, things happen for a reason. I’m sure of it, and I’m the type who doesn’t even believe in reason on the best of days. It’s there, hiding, most of the time, which has always been a bit of a gripe of mine. But, there you go.

You thought if you let me I’d just keep talking, hm?

Oh, enough. Listen. Things do happen for a reason, this I’m sure of. You can ask as much as you want, what could be the reason? I don’t claim to know! You’re the one in favour of metaphors. This is, and simply is. A bit depressing, yes, but a great many other things are. The sign over the door of life, abandon all hope ye who enter here. There’s another one that got away, which I’m sure you’re pining over tying to something more real now. Honestly, the nerve of some guests.

Yes, it’s all an unintended consequence. You can’t say that we don’t make mistakes. Sometimes the consequences are more abrasive than we’d like them to be. Tell Twilight Sparkle in few seconds that she shouldn’t have put all this together. You will, will you? And what will she say when she hears you?

Well, I don’t think she’d have enjoyed seeing any of this. What was she doing down here in the first place anyway? That’s not the kind of question I want to answer.

Well... hm.

I suppose it’s possible. I’ve been playing around in here, but that’s none of my doing. Still... I’m not sure it would be right. For goodness’ sake, I could have done something earlier, when...

Alright. I’ll play along for a moment. Let’s have another look around, at least, and go from there.

As Twilight’s body hangs in the air, the clock frozen in perpetual descent, the rest of the room comes into focus around her.

There are tables filled with different parts and pieces of the experiment. Beakers and flasks and things mentioned previously, none of which have moved. Aside those, though, there are the notes. There are books filled with scribblings, and blackboards behind those, all of them covered in diagrams and musings and wonderings and calculations and indecipherable manuscript for figuring out what any of all this means. As it’s written, it’s fairly difficult to understand.

But there’s one notebook that has a more readable section. It has a picture taped to the front, like an archetypal blueprint. An unnamed, unshaded pony, an alicorn, standing with their wings and hooves outstretched, centered in a circle around their body.

There are words scrawled around the picture. Numbers, more calculations... but there are names written there. Names of the Princesses. Dates. More calculations.

A large question mark, followed by a series of dark, black dots.

And then a word. A single word, circled over and over.


There’s a picture tucked underneath the notebook. A picture of Twilight and her five friends, hugging and smiling into the camera.

There’s a candle burning above the notebook, held in a metal apparatus, it’s flame forever frozen in an unwavering flicker.

Twilight is falling.


Alright. That could mean anything, really. You, in charge of reading so much into things. I’ve said before; I see only what’s there, or in some cases, what isn’t at all. You’re just taking things and spinning them around, and that’s entirely unbecoming.


She’s beginning to get a bit tiresome in her falling, don’t you think?

I’m not suggesting anything, of course. I could watch this for hours still, years. Millenia.

But... her arrangement isn’t really proper. Don’t you think she’d look better, positioned just a bit? Pinkie Pie can stay of course, she’s barely contributing anything to the scene, her feng shui is all wrong... but Twilight could optimize the whole layout. Maybe if we just... moved her forward a little.

There. Don’t you think that’s better?

Twilight Sparkle stood in front of the table covered in peculiar apparati. Various dials and bobs spun around her, all accompanied by the ticking of the too-large clock she held in her hooves. The clock was hooked up to a variety of wires and lines, and it hummed as it ticked, throbbing in her hooves with a faint, emerald glow.

She stared into its face for a moment, as though expecting to see her reflection.

“Hiya Twilight!”

The sudden noise had a natural effect, which was to startle Twilight—normally a non-issue, though it wasn’t often the case that she was holding a large, fragile clock. As a result of her surprise, her hooves gave out, and sent her falling, and the clock with her.

She scrambled in the air, reaching towards it. Somehow, despite all knowledge of physics telling her that equal motion should present an equal trajectory, the clock seemed just out of reach. Still, she held out her hooves to touch it; to catch it before it hit the floor. Closer, closer to the floor, feeling just the edge of it on her hooves, the slick finish on the outside, until she felt the cold floor on her stomach and then—

The clock in her hooves. Teetering on them, wobbling and threatening to topple.

With a gasp, Twilight threw herself further forward, lurching on the floor. Her stomach chafed, but the clock settled into her hooves, its wobbling ceased.

Twilight let out a loud sigh. She turned her head after a few seconds.

“Pinkie! What on earth are you doing? You startled the heck out of me.”

Pinkie Pie smiled, in the way she always smiled.

“Sorry, Twilight. I just wanted to pop in and say hi.”

Even laid out on the basement floor, Twilight couldn’t keep her eyes from rolling.

She stood up, cradling the clock carefully in her forelegs, and set it down on a nearby table, the top of which was cluttered with various objects so far unused.

“You could at least give me some warning next time, Pinkie.”

Pinkie’s smile sank into a frown.

“I’m sorry, Twilight.”

Twilight looked sideways to the clock again. It was resting on top of one of her notebooks, covered in fountain pen scribbles—and underneath it, the corner of a photograph. She could just make out the six colours in the shadow of the clock’s frame. As it ticked on, steady, sitting on her notebook.

Twilight smiled.

“It’s okay, Pinkie. I’m still happy to see you.”

“Yay! I’m super glad.” Pinkie jumped out from her hiding place between the tables and hugged Twilight with a fierceness. Twilight gasped as the wind was knocked out of her for the second time in as many minutes, but she quickly collected herself and hugged back, smiling.

“So you just came over to say hi, huh?” Twilight asked, pulling herself away from the hug.

Pinkie nodded. “Yep!” But her expression caught suddenly, her eyebrows lowering. “Or, oh, wait! No, there was something I came over to ask.”

Twilight leaned backwards against one of the many tables. Beside her, held by a metal apparatus, a lit candle flickered.

Pinkie waved her hoof as in the air as she spoke. “I needed something, and when I found out I needed it, my nose twitched and I thought about purple, which meant you were the pony to ask.”

Twilight stood up from the table and looked towards Pinkie, who stared forward with earnest shimmer in her eyes.

“What is it, Pinkie? I’m happy to help out with whatever you need.”

Pinkie’s smile grew even wider, and she bounced a little on her hind legs, bobbling from side to side and shaking her head.

“I knew you would be!” Pinkie bounced once more, then turned suddenly, and from somewhere Twilight couldn’t see, pulled a large book which she threw open to a page in the middle. The paper inside was worn, and covered with various splotches and stains that looked worrisome and unfamiliar to Twilight.

“Twilight,” Pinkie said, pointing to a word on a page of the book. “I was trying to make something new from my cookbook, and my Pinkie Sense told me I should ask you for help... do you have some thyme I could borrow?”

Twilight sighed and pressed a hoof to her forehead.

Haha, good show! Alright, it’s possible I enjoyed that a little too much. Still... maybe you were right. There’s not too much harm in setting things on their course. After all, we can at least say that things won’t get boring again any time soon. As soothing as watching Twilight Sparkle fall on her face all day might be, I think I’d get tired of it after another hundred years or so. Though, it might be a fun game to see how many hats we could fit on her each time, before she started over...

Ahem. Anyway. I suppose I haven’t much more to say to you. You can wipe that smirk off your face, by the way. I’ve made a lifelong commitment against learning valuable lessons, friendship related or otherwise, and I intend to adhere to it. Nothing you or anypony else can do is going to change that.

Now. There is the matter of what to do with you. It’s all well and good for me to float around like this, but ponies start to turn their heads if anyone else does it. Plus, this whole ‘unstuck in time’ business is frankly a pain in the neck. It takes more effort to remember to wake up today than it does tomorrow.

I’ll just send you back, if that’s all well and good? Well, back as in... if you’re from around here, you won’t notice the difference. Somehow, you seem like a bit of a tourist to me, but we’ll let eventuality be the judge of that.

Come on now. It’s nothing to be scared of. Surely my monkeying with things has convinced you I know what I’m doing. Honestly, don’t worry. It will be over before you know it. Stay calm, take a deep breath. Think of something soothing. Twinkling lights and the smell of a pretty forest. Now, just like that, very good. We’ll be cheerful about it, if you like. Just as they say.

Give me your hand, if we be friends, and—

Ah, well. That would be spoiling it, wouldn’t it?

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