by Sharp Quill

First published

Magic is bleeding out of Equestria and into another realm, a realm where magic does not exist. Twilight must stop the flow of magic before disaster strikes. Can the natives of this realm be of help? What's this about a cartoon?

Magic is bleeding out of Equestria and into another realm, a realm where magic does not exist. Twilight must stop the flow of magic before disaster strikes. Can the natives of this realm be of help? How do sapient beings function without magic anyway? What's this about a cartoon?

Takes place shortly after season four.

1. Reflections on Anomalies

As Twilight walked towards the back of the Crystal Ballroom, her lit horn gradually dimmed. Was that the anomaly? Princess Celestia was quite vague as to what she was to investigate, only declaring that it was to be her top priority. Cadance was no more forthcoming. They didn’t want her to have any preconceived notions.

She tried compensating by upping her magical exertion. That worked. She turned around and walked back towards the entrance, from where the others were watching her and Spike; as she half-expected, her horn brightened again. She resumed walking towards the far end. Sunlight striking the exterior wall refracted and reflected throughout all the walls, the escaping prismatic light competing with the interior lighting. As before, her horn got increasingly dimmer the closer to the back she got.

“The anomaly appears to weaken my unicorn magic,” she said, her voice reverberating in the large, empty ballroom. “The further I go in this direction, the worse it gets.” Spike dutifully wrote that down. Back at the hallway, Rainbow Dash and Applejack exchanged uneasy looks; Princess Cadance had no visible reaction. “Compensation is possible via increased magical exertion.”

Time for a different experiment. The alicorn tried lifting her saddlebags with her magic and found it surprisingly difficult, as if they had gained a lot of weight. “Telekinesis is similarly affected.”

They reached the back wall. “To maintain light output here, I need ten times the normal exertion level.” Her number one assistant continued writing down her observations. The two walked along the back wall, searching for the point at which magic seemed the weakest.

They found it in front of a modest door, probably leading to a storage area. It was locked, both magically and physically, but that was easy enough to take care of—not quite as easy as it would have been if her magic was at full strength—but soon enough the door opened, indeed revealing a storage area with empty, shelf-lined walls.

But what immediately caught the alicorn’s eye was a mirror reflecting her lit horn. The glare made it difficult to see anything else, so she dimmed her horn. The only other light was from the ballroom behind her. Her eyes quickly adjusted revealing a familiar object. Why had it been moved here? Once she had passed through it to a strange realm, one populated by bipedal “humans.” It was at least another year before it opened again, so for now it ought to be “just” a mirror.

Twilight slowly crossed the dozen or so feet to the mirror, with each step her horn requiring additional exertion to maintain its brightness. The sound of her clopping hooves revealed the absence of reverberation, lending the room a claustrophobic vibe. By the time she had reached the mirror, it was taking unsustainable effort to maintain even a dim glow. “It sure looks like the mirror is the problem,” she told Spike.

The lavender alicorn in the reflection stared back at her. Might as well see what happens. She raised a hoof to touch the mirror’s surface. As expected, it met a solid surface—my horn went dark! In shock she jumped back; to her relief her horn resumed its dim glow.

“You okay?” Spike nervously asked.

“I-I’m fine,” Twilight assured him, her pounding heart calming down. “Just surprised, that’s all.” She touched the surface again, and again dark her horn went. This time she maintained contact and tried levitating her saddlebags. Nothing. She tried levitating her tail. Nothing.

Spike pointed apprehensively at her cutie mark. “Twilight…”

She saw the baby dragon’s reflection in the mirror and rotated so that she could see her reflected cutie mark. It was slowly fading. “That can’t be good,” she said, as she quickly broke contact with the mirror. Her horn resumed its dim glow and her cutie mark stopped fading; it actually began to darken, though more slowly than it faded. That makes perfect sense. A cutie mark is a magical projection onto the coat. Without magic to sustain it, it would have to fade. There’s barely enough magic here to restore the projection.

Twilight unlit her horn and again tried levitating her tail. This time it lifted, but her tail felt impossibly heavy to her telekinesis. She relayed all these observations to Spike, who wrote them all down.

“Let’s tell the others.” They started walking back. Her cutie mark continued to darken, returning to normal shortly after re-entering the ballroom. Twilight pondered what this all meant, with little success. The portal was closed, but it appeared to be suppressing her unicorn magic; this hadn’t happened even when it was open. In order to figure out what was going on, she needed a hypothesis to test. By the time she and Spike reached the entrance, an experiment had been devised.

The two found the other ponies just inside the hallway, waiting for their findings. Twilight got down to business. “The storage room back there has The Mirror,” she declared. “The one that Sunset Shimmer used to leave Equestria. It’s the source of the anomaly, isn’t it?” Twilight waited for Cadance to answer.

“Yes,” she confirmed. “I had it moved there to keep it out of the way.”

“What exactly is the anomaly doing?” asked Applejack.

“It’s suppressing magic. When I touched it, my magic completely vanished.”

“But only while you touched it, right?” Rainbow Dash anxiously asked.

“Only while I touched it,” she assured her. “I’m perfectly fine now.” Was that a foolish thing to do? What if it hadn’t been temporary?

Applejack didn’t look assured. “The mirror never did this before?”

“No,” Cadance replied. “Nopony knows where the mirror came from or how old it is, but nothing like this has ever happened during Celestia’s reign.” Her face became deadly serious. “Twilight, the affected area is growing. Slowly for now…”

Though she knew there could only be one answer, Twilight nonetheless had to ask the question. “My brother could not contain it?” Obviously not, or he’d be here containing it and not on a train to Canterlot. And he didn’t volunteer any information about this anomaly either, she now realized.

“He tried. His shield worked, but only temporarily. The smaller the volume contained, the faster it collapsed.” Of course. Shining Armor used unicorn magic. The shield was being eroded from the inside.

“There’s an experiment I need to perform,” Twilight stated. “Let’s go to the balcony.”

The ballroom opened up to a broad balcony. Twilight led the group outside into the late morning sun. The sounds of crystal ponies going about their lives drifted upwards from far below. Getting as far away from the anomaly as possible, she walked all the way to the railing. As the others joined her, she told them, “Leave this area in front of me clear.”

Twilight conjured a small cloud a foot off the ground, big enough to hold a single pony, from the humidity of the surrounding air. She was far enough away that her magic was unimpeded, as she had hoped. The cloud was positioned so that it had a straight line to the mirror. Faking a grin, she mockingly looked around and said, “I need the services of a pegasus. Any volunteers?”

The only pegasus present responded with forced enthusiasm. “‘Danger’ is my middle name!” With somewhat less enthusiasm, she asked, “What’cha got in mind?”

Twilight went serious; science wasn’t to be taken lightly. “Hop onto this cloud.” Rainbow Dash complied. “I want you to remain standing on this cloud while you use your wings to slowly push yourself all the way to the mirror.”

“What d’ya expect to happen?” she asked with a hint of trepidation. Known dangers are easier to pony up for than unknown dangers, figured Twilight.

“I can’t tell you; it could negatively impact the quality of the generated data.”

Rainbow Dash digested that for a moment and got indigestion. “Eggheads…” she quietly muttered under her breath.

Twilight pulled a device out of her saddlebag and gave it to Spike. It was rod-shaped, with a flattened rectangular head that possessed several knobs and a meter. “Take and record readings as we go,” she instructed. I won’t be able to use it once we get too close.

Spike grabbed it, turned it on and took his first reading. “99.9%, basically normal.” He wrote it down.

“Ah reckon that’s one of your scientific devices?”

“Sure is, Applejack. It’s a probe that measures the strength of the ambient magical field.” Her attention switched to the perched pegasus. “Okay, Rainbow Dash, let’s go.”

Rainbow Dash began to gently push herself forward with her wings, heading towards the mirror. Twilight exchanged a glance with Princess Cadance. Yeah, she probably shares my suspicions on what is about to happen.

Twilight, accompanied by Spike, started to follow Rainbow Dash and her cloud, remaining a few feet behind. Everypony else likewise followed Twilight. Spike took readings every so often and noted that the field strength was decreasing, slowly at first, but at an accelerating rate. It appeared to be proportional to the inverse square of the remaining distance to the mirror.

For over a hundred feet nothing in particular happened, but at some point Rainbow Dash started shifting her weight from hoof to hoof. “This cloud is starting to feel a bit funny.”

“Funny how?” asked Twilight.

“Well, it’s getting sorta, I don’t know, soggy.” Twilight was giving her one of those looks. “Yeah, I know it’s made of water, but—I dunno know… how to describe it… it’s like it’s starting to fall apart and, well, I don’t want it to fall apart, but it’s ignoring me.” Her weight shifting grew more aggressive as her footing became increasingly precarious. “And it’s getting harder to push with my wings.” Spike wrote it all down along with the probe’s reading of 3%. They were about 15 feet from the mirror. Twilight was all but certain as to what was about to happen.

The cloud was now visibly losing its cohesion as they entered the storage area, and Rainbow Dash was struggling to stay on top. She was also pumping her wings way too hard given her forward progress. 9 feet, 1%.

A few seconds later, the pegasus fell through the cloud, dissipating what was left of it. She instinctively tried to hover but to no avail; she fell to the floor. Fortunately it was only a few feet and she was shaken but unharmed. 6 feet, 0.5%.

“I can’t fly!”

“Nor stand on clouds or even keep a small cloud intact,” Twilight observed. She shook her head. “This is bad, very very bad.”

Rainbow Dash kept trying to take off but could do no more than hop a few inches off the ground, her flapping wings nearly useless. Twilight knew neither she nor Cadance would do any better.

Applejack couldn’t believe her eyes. “What about us earth ponies?”

Twilight was sure of the answer, but what experiment could she perform? There was no apple tree for Applejack to buck, and she certainly couldn’t conjure up one here—but then she had it. “Spike, put your quill down in front of Applejack.”

He did so.

“Now, Applejack, pick it up with your hoof.”

She tried, but she couldn’t lift it off the floor. “It’s just like when Tirek took our magic.”

Rainbow Dash walked over and tried to pick it up, also without success. “Yeah… remember how hard it was to turn those keys with our hooves?”

Spike tried his fire breath, but little more than sparks came out.

“I reckon none of us are immune,” Applejack concluded.

“Spike, go to the mirror and take a reading,” Twilight instructed. “Then touch it with the probe and take another reading.”

“On it.” Possessing actual claws, the absence of magic could not prevent him from picking up a quill or using the magic probe. “At one foot the field barely registers, under point zero one per cent.” He touched the probe to the mirror. “Zero.” He turned a knob, increasing sensitivity to maximum, and touched the probe to the mirror again. “Still zero.”

Twilight was satisfied; the experiment was over. “Let’s walk back. We’ll all return to normal once we get far enough away.”

Every few feet Rainbow Dash tried to take off, each time her wings providing more thrust; eventually she was able, with difficulty, to stay airborne. About fifty feet from the mirror, Twilight stopped and retrieved a different instrument from her saddlebag, this one a flattened box shape containing two meters, a compass-like pointer, and the usual collection of knobs.

“What’s that one do?” asked Applejack.

Twilight turned it on and set it on the floor. “The magical field behaves like a viscous gas. This device measures the flow and viscosity of the field. Levitating it messes up the readings, which is why I put it on the floor.” She waited a bit longer for the readings to settle down. “There’s no question about it,” she began. “Magic is flowing towards the mirror and the field viscosity is below normal.” Spike recorded the data off the device.

“I should take another reading closer to the mirror.” Twilight picked up the device, trotted a dozen feet closer to the mirror, with Spike tagging along, then set it down again. A half-minute later the readings had settled, showing that the flow was faster and the viscosity lower. The two rejoined the others, then all of them continued on to the balcony. Outside, the magic flow was minimal and the viscosity was normal.

Twilight walked over to the railing and leaned against it, staring off into the distance, letting it all sink in. Somehow the magic of their world was bleeding out; worse, the viscosity changes showed that something else was happening too—but what? How will she solve this one? Am I being tested yet again?

Applejack came up alongside her.

Twilight said, quietly, “You’d think I’d be used to it by now, but it doesn’t get any easier.” She continued to stare at infinity.

“We’re all here to help ya, doncha forget that.” She too stared into the distance.

Rainbow Dash drifted down in front of them, on the far side of the railing, forelegs crossed in defiance. “Why do I need magic to fly?!” she demanded. “Birds do it all the time and they aren’t magical.” She quickly added, “Most of them.”

Twilight looked at the pegasus in disbelief. “Wasn’t this covered in flight school?”

“Uh…” she sheepishly said, rubbing a hoof through her mane.

Twilight rolled her eyes. Probably too busy daydreaming about the Wonderbolts to pay attention. “Pegasus wings are too small,” she explained. “Wings of any size cannot provide both the raw speed and agility all pegasi have, never mind a pegasus like you.”

Rainbow Dash considered that for a moment. “I guess that makes sense. I always did wonder why birds had to work their wings so hard.”

Cadance joined them. “What now? Do you want to try your Rainbow Powers?”

Twilight looked down at the streets far below. She watched the crystal ponies going about their business, oblivious to the danger. Not that any purpose would be served by informing them at this time, other than to cause panic. Hopefully they will never need to know.

“Not yet,” she said with a sigh. “What worries me is that our magic will just follow the ambient magic to who knows where. I don’t think magic can reach the physical mirror itself.” She turned away from the railing to look at her fellow ponies. “If the ‘hole’ through which magic is draining is growing larger on its own, then using the Elements on it, forcing more magic through it, might only make it grow faster.”

“We do have some time,” Cadance said. “Assuming it continues to worsen at the current rate, it will be months before it seriously threatens the Crystal Heart.”

“Why not move it out to the middle of nowhere where it can’t bother anypony?” asked Applejack.

Cadance slowly shook her head. “I’m afraid it may be too late for that. Any ponies who attempt to move it will have to do so without using magic of any kind. It’s a long way down to the ground floor and the Crystal Heart is right outside.”

“Move the Crystal Heart?” Spike suggested.

“The affect that would have on the crystal ponies would be nearly as bad.”

“It wouldn’t be a permanent solution anyway,” added Twilight. “Given enough time it would bleed all the magic out of Equestria and beyond.” She didn’t add that the chances were good that at some point something would give, like a dam collapsing, increasing the flow exponentially.

“So let’s take care of it now!” insisted Rainbow Dash. “That way, we don’t have to worry about moving it.”

Twilight looked at the pegasus. You make it sound so easy. “Why don’t you go fetch the others.” It was time to get them involved. There had been no need for them to hang around as Twilight conducted her initial investigation, so Rarity was out shopping for fabrics, Pinkie Pie was shopping for a party, and Fluttershy was helping Pinkie Pie.

“On it!” Rainbow Dash vanished into the distance, leaving behind her rainbow contrail.

2. Chaotic Enlightenment

It didn’t take long for Rainbow Dash to find everypony. Rarity, obviously, was in the fashion district. As for Pinkie Pie… she had a way of standing out. Poor Fluttershy was with her, carrying all of the purchased party supplies. Will she ever stop being a doormat?

After touching bases with them, she flew ahead and waited for them at the castle. Rarity arrived first, with various bolts of fabric floating above her. After she had set them down, Rainbow Dash pointed a hoof at the grand staircase. “They’re at the top of the stairs.”

Rarity balked, whining, “You simply cannot expect me to climb all the way to the top!” Like most unicorns she didn’t know how to self-levitate or teleport, and naturally she lacked earth pony—or crystal pony—stamina.

You could use the exercise, the pegasus thought but didn’t say. Rainbow considered her options. I could carry her up, but I’d have to listen to her complain about what it was doing to her mane. That settled it. Let Twilight deal with it; she could teleport her or something. She was about to fetch the alicorn when Pinkie Pie and Fluttershy arrived.

Fluttershy was about ready to collapse from her load. This took priority. “Let’s get this stuff off you,” Rainbow Dash said as she hovered above Fluttershy and started removing the party supplies off Fluttershy’s back. Rarity quickly joined in using her telekinesis. Pinkie was happy to just stand there and observe her friends feeling good about helping another friend.

Between the two of them, it didn’t take long to finish unloading Fluttershy. Now to deal with Rarity. “I’ll fetch Twilight so she can teleport you to the balcony,” she told her. Turning her attention to the Pinkie, she said, “meet us at the top of the stairs.” Pinkie immediately pronked away. Being an earth pony, Rainbow knew it wouldn’t be a problem for her. Being Pinkie Pie…

Rainbow Dash grabbed Fluttershy by the hoof and launched in the direction of the door, heading outside. “Come on Fluttershy, we gotta get to the top before Pinkie Pie!” The balcony was many hundreds of feet above the ground. There was no way Pinkie could get there first!

Once outside, Dash got behind Fluttershy and started pushing her up with all her might. “I didn’t know we were racing her,” Fluttershy apologized, as she started flapping her wings, but Rainbow was too focused on winning to explain.

In mere seconds they reached the balcony, where Rainbow Dash found Twilight, Applejack, Pinkie Pie, Princess Cadance, and Spike. Wait, what? Pinkie wasn’t even breathing hard, as if she’d been standing there for some time. Dash gritted her teeth as Pinkie innocently smiled back at her. How does she do that? It was pointless to ask; if even Twilight could not figure that out, what chance did she have?

She felt she was forgetting something. Oh yeah… Rarity. “Hey, Twilight, could you give Rarity a helping hoof? She’s at the foot of the stairs.” Twilight gave her a blank look. For such a smart pony, you can be incredibly dense sometimes. “You know… can’t fly, can’t teleport, not an earth pony?”

Understanding dawned on her. “Oh… sure… be right back.” Twilight teleported away and a few seconds later came back with Rarity.

“Much obliged,” the fashionista said, her mane totally not messed up.

Now that they were all together, Twilight summarized her findings. Rainbow Dash anticipated their predictable reactions.

“This will not do. We cannot allow Equestria to lose its magic.” Rarity, check.

“We must do something, for the sake of the magical critters.” Fluttershy, check.

They all looked expectantly at Pinkie Pie, wondering how she will put a positive, random spin on it.

“I’ve got nothing!” she chirped.

After a brief eye roll, Twilight continued. “We know so little about that mirror. It was already an ancient mystery when Princess Celestia’s reign began.”

“Why not ask someone just as ancient?” chirped Pinkie Pie.

Rainbow Dash glared at her. “Got anypony in mind?”

“How about Discord?” They all stared at Fluttershy.

Rainbow Dash rolled her eyes. “Even if he does know, can we trust him?”

Fluttershy said, “He depends on magic more than we do. It’s in his interest to help us solve this.”

Rainbow Dash thought about how she couldn’t fly or even pick up a quill, but at least equine bodies were… rational. Nonetheless, Fluttershy had a good point—if he could be believed. If. “Then why doesn’t he fix it himself?” Working herself up, she shouted, “What if this is all his doing?!”

Fluttershy replied, calmly, “I know he sometimes can’t help himself, but even you have to admit this isn’t chaotic enough for his tastes.”

Rainbow Dash looked away. As much as she hated to admit it, nothing particularly chaotic was going on here. But why did Princess Celestia ask Twilight to look into this, but not Discord?

“Assumin’ he can’t fix it himself, why didn’t he say somethin’ or ask for help?” Good for you, Applejack!

“Because he knew you would all act this way!” Fluttershy said, not quite so calmly.

Everypony was silent.

Discord had been on his best behavior since the Tirek incident. He even did penance by undoing all the damage that occurred during Twilight’s battle with Tirek. But while the princesses and Fluttershy were willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, the others still held reservations—Rainbow Dash most of all.

Twilight finally spoke. “We are not going to figure out Discord’s intentions by arguing amongst ourselves. Even if this anomaly is one of his games—and I think that unlikely—the only way to end it is to play along and see what he’s really after. I will ask him about The Mirror.”

“A wise choice!” Discord was suddenly floating in the air above them.

Rainbow Dash wondered how long he’d been there, invisible, listening in.

Twilight didn’t waste any time. “I’m asking.”

“And I shall answer: The mirror is my creation.”

You could hear a pin drop.

“Best. Revelation. Ever. Party!” Confetti fell and balloons rose as Pinkie blew a party horn.

“How does she do that?” Discord mused, thoughtfully rubbing his chin.

Oh, the way Twilight was looking at him. Dash knew that somewhere a line was being added to a checklist. Come on, Twilight, he’s just yanking your chain.

“Why is it sucking magic out of our realm?” the alicorn asked, by all appearances ignoring his last utterance.

A hammock came into existence, suspended in mid-air, and the draconequus casually settled into it. A tropical looking alcoholic beverage appeared in a paw, along with oversized sunglasses on his face, and he was now wearing a rather loud, colorful shirt. Rarity briefly grimaced at the horror.

“Because you damaged it when you used your Element of Harmony while on the other side.” He took a nonchalant sip. “You brought magic into that realm through your Element’s connection to the other Elements.”

“Surely you’re not blaming this on Twilight?”

“I’m merely stating the facts,” he replied to Rarity, taking yet another sip.

He sure seems unconcerned, considering the stakes, Rainbow Dash thought. Not exactly evidence this isn’t one of his games.

“I was not the reason the Element of Magic went through the mirror,” Twilight said, defending herself. “I had no idea this would happen when I used it and I had good reason to use it at the time.”

“None of which alters the fact that you did use it and thus caused damage.” He had started on his second drink, his head now resting on a pillow that wasn’t there before.

“Fine, I won’t dispute it.” Discord briefly lifted his sunglasses and shot her a quick smile. “What’s important is that we fix it. It would help if we knew more about it. For example, what was the point of a portal to a realm populated by bipedal versions of the ponies I know here?”

“None.” He took a long, contented sip. “That realm is not what you think it is.”

“Enlighten me,” she droned.

Discord casually finished off his drink. He then discarded all his old props in favor of a professorial outfit, wearing a black cape and tasseled square hat and standing in front of a lectern that floated in the air in front of him. “The realm you entered was nothing but a reflection of this realm,” he lectured. “It has no independent existence of its own. In some sense it doesn’t exist at all unless somepony goes through the mirror to observe it.”

“Sunset Shimmer,” said Twilight stating the obvious. “Why wasn’t there a reflection of me?”

“You became your own reflection. You, too, Spike.”

“So we all coulda gone through the mirror with Twilight and become our own reflections,” deduced Applejack.

“It certainly would have made my task easier,” Twilight pointed out. “I guess Princess Celestia was too cautious, but she did say she didn’t know much about it.”

Rainbow Dash took a few steps towards the draconequus. “When do you get to the part where you tell us how to fix it?” she demanded.

He gave her a professorial glare. “First you must understand what it is you are fixing.”

“Nnngh.” He’s just being difficult. But Twilight took his words at face value. That egghead would.

Twilight asked, “What kind of reflection turns ponies into bipedal creatures with hands?”

“And dragons into dogs!” Spike added.

“I believe you are smart enough to figure that out for yourself,” Discord replied, in a way that was not a smirk. Twilight sat on her haunches, closed her eyes, and thought. She had obviously accepted the challenge. Do you hafta indulge him?

“The reflection is distorted… physical form is different, though other attributes stay the same, such as personality, skin and hair color, cutie marks… What would be the cause of such distortion…” Twilight opened her eyes and looked at Discord. “If that realm is a reflection of ours, then what is it reflecting off of?”

“Bravo!” he cheered, as he placed a gold star over and down Twilight’s horn. “That is what got damaged and the other side of that is where the magic is going.”

The annoyed alicorn’s eyes went cross-eyed trying to look at the gold star. Her horn glowed as she pulled off the star, crumbled it, and tossed it. Having dealt with that, she then said, “What you really created was a barrier to keep magic from leaking out of Equestria.”

“Close enough,” he confirmed. “It thoroughly isolates this realm from the other.”

“And the mirror was simply a means of accessing the inner workings of the barrier.”

“Go on…” Discord was clapping his paws in excitement.

“And even though it’s not due to open for many moons, I bet you can snap your talons and let us in so we can fix it.”

His excitement melted away. “If only that were true. There is no magic in the vicinity of the mirror therefore I have no power over it.”

“And our Rainbow Powers?”

“At best, they would be useless for the same reason. At worst… remember it was the use of the Elements of Harmony that damaged it in the first place. That realm was a magic-free zone for a reason.”

Twilight’s tone hardened. “Are you saying it can’t be fixed?”

“From this side of the barrier, no,” he reluctantly confirmed. “It may be possible to fix it from the other side.” All his props vanished, leaving him naked in every sense. “I cannot exist there. You ponies can.”

That sunk in.

Applejack said, “You can get us there and back?”

“I believe so, but not this close to the mirror. You need to go back to Ponyville. When you are ready to visit that realm, I’ll be ready with the means.” Discard started to fade away.

“Wait! One last question.”

Discord unfaded and looked at Rainbow Dash.

“You obviously knew about it before Princess Celestia,” she accused. “Why didn’t you tell anypony?”

“How do you think she found out?” He faded to nothing once more, this time without interruption.

For the next few hours the ponies went their separate ways. Twilight stayed at the castle, writing a report of her findings to Princess Celestia. She doubted her former mentor would be reading anything she didn’t already know. Discord would have known what was going on as soon as it started happening, and he had already informed Celestia.

She put into the cover letter a request for guidance on what to do next. After packaging the report up for delivery, she gave it to Spike. She didn’t have to wait long for a reply. Quickly scanning past the pleasantries, she found her answer: I have full confidence in your judgement and abilities. Do what you feel is necessary. It felt like yet another test, only this one she did not have the luxury of failing.

It was a terrible burden of responsibility. She wondered if she would have been better off if she had failed her entrance exam to Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns, as she almost did. She would never have been discovered by the Princess, never have been her personal student. She would have been just another ordinary unicorn, unburdened by the fate of Equestria.

But the alicorn princess knew it was pointless speculation, for it was her destiny that had brought her here.

Twilight contemplated her cutie mark. The large central star was on the Tree of Harmony itself, above the Sun and the Moon. It was surrounded by five small stars, six altogether, one for each Element of Harmony, with Magic, her Element, taking center stage, their destinies linked the day their cutie marks all appeared at the same time, years before they first met. Celestia must have known something when she saw hers appear after she had passed her entrance exam—not that she had ever asked her.

Where will my destiny take me?

Pinkie Pie held her party in an effort to boost morale. She reminded them of their previous successes, that at least this time there was no terrible monster or villain, and that they might even get to explore a strange new world. Think of the adventure! (That sure pushed Rainbow Dash’s button.) Exotic critters and fashions! (Ditto Fluttershy and Rarity.) Maybe even exotic apple orchards!

Twilight decided she would not have been better off, because then she would not have ponies like these for friends.

Later, on the train ride back to Ponyville, Twilight tried to come up with a plan for their mission to the other realm. There was so little to go on. She didn’t even know if they could cross over only once or as many times as they liked, and once there how would they find the hole? How would they plug it? She wished Pinkie Pie would just blurt out the knowledge she could not possibly have, as she has done before, that would answer these questions. Her wish was in vain. Why can’t she do that when it’d be useful?

Upon arriving in Ponyville, Twilight told the others to gather at her castle the following morning. They will find out what Discord has for them and take it from there.

“Fluttershy, why don’t you do the honors?” They were all present in her private library and Twilight was ready to get down to business.

“Discord?” she called out. “We’re ready for you.”

He popped into existence looking like a respectable scientist or inventor, wearing a lab coat and nerdy glasses, and holding a clipboard. No, nothing mad or crazy here, Twilight cynically thought. Addressing the group, he said, “I can get you to the other realm, and—” looking at Rainbow Dash “—yes, I can get you back.”

The pegasus stared back but said nothing in return.

“I am trying here,” he complained. Her stare softened, but not by much.

Twilight wanted to get things back on track. “What do you know about this other realm?”

“It’s a stickler for rules,” he said disdainfully, “and those rules do not recognize the existence of a magical field. Our magic can exist there, temporarily, but it must ‘bargain’”—he air quoted—”with those rules to get anything accomplished—and some things are non-negotiable.”

No magic. Stickler for rules. No wonder Discord can’t exist there. Won’t be fun for us either. “So we won’t have magic until we find the other end of the hole,” she said with a lack of enthusiasm. “I hope you can put us right on top of it.”

“There’s good news and there’s bad news,” he clichédly said.

Applejack adjusted her Stetson. “Start with the bad news.”

“I can only put you within fifty miles of the hole, almost certainly too far to get usable magic from it.”

“And how will we find it?” the orange mare continued.

Twilight answered that. “I have equipment that should be able to do that.” At least I figured that much out.

“In our realm this ‘hole’ looks like The Mirror. What will it look like over there?” asked Rarity.

“I don’t know,” replied Discord simply.

I guess we’ll find out soon enough.

When it became clear there were no further questions, Discord conjured what looked like a candy dispensing machine. Inside its glass container were cylindrical plaid pills, a combination of yellow and red matching the draconequus’ eyes.

“Now the good news,” he began. “One of these pills shall provide all of your inter-realm travel needs. It will take you there. It will get you back here. It will provide you with a supply of magic. And last but not least, it will make you invisible and inaudible to the locals so they’ll leave you alone.”

Twilight was quite impressed. “We simply swallow one?” The pills were on the large side, but not too big to swallow. If they did in fact hold a supply of magic, large was good.

Discord nodded. “One for each round trip. Each pill holds enough magic to last most of a day if used sparingly. When you’re about to run out, you’ll automatically return.”

Good. Don’t want to get stuck there without magic. “How do we return sooner?”

“You click your rear hooves three times—” he demonstrated with his own feet “—and think ‘there’s no place like home.’ Upon returning, any remaining magic in the pill is released back into the environment. You may take another pill immediately.”

He’s really thought this through. I didn’t know he had it in him. “When we go back there, how do we control where we end up?”

“You can return to any spot you’ve been to before. Just clearly think of your destination as you swallow the pill. To be placed in the area of the hole, avoid thinking of any destination.”

That seemed to cover all the bases. Twilight’s attention turned to the magic that has left Equestria. “What happened to the magic that has flowed into that realm?” she asked. “Is there any way to bring it back to our realm?”

Discord tapped his chin a few times in thought. “Unlikely,” he decided. “The magic would spread out to infinity and eventually decay into forms of energy permitted in that realm.”

The scientist within her was fascinated by a realm so different from her own, but she needed to focus on plugging that hole. Every day that passed meant that much more magic being lost from an ever increasing volume. It was an open question how fast the affected volume will recover—or even if it would. She could indulge herself on the physics of a non-magical realm once this was resolved.

Rarity said, “What you have come up with is quite impressive.”

Discord bowed slightly to the fashionista. “Thank you, my dear, but I am quite motivated. It is not in my interest for you to fail, even if you weren’t all my friends.”

Quite true, but still… That left the questions of when to make the first trip and who was to accompany her. Twilight considered her options.

“No time like the present,” she declared. She levitated the pill dispenser to herself and studied it. Nothing mysterious about it, just turn the knob and a pill should come out. It wasn’t even possible to insert a coin. That’d be silly, but with Discord one never knows.

“For this first trip I think it’s best that only Rainbow Dash accompany me.” That did not sit well with the others, not that she expected differently. She raised a hoof to preempt their objections. “I want to be airborne the entire time and get the lay of the land. I only plan on being there ten minutes at most.” Fluttershy could fly, obviously, but she wouldn’t object to being left out of the action. Assuming flying magic isn’t one of those non-negotiable items.

The other pegasus present could barely contain her excitement. “This is gonna be so awesome! I’m gonna be wingpony to a princess!”

The princess rolled her eyes as she levitated her saddlebags onto her back. Her magic probe was still in there from her trip to the Crystal Empire. It ought to be able to pick up the escaping magic dozens of miles away. If so, she can follow the increasing gradient to the source. If not… well, she’ll worry about it if it came to that.

She turned the knob on the pill dispenser two times and retrieved the two plaid pills. Before she could send them to their respective mouths, Discord had one last thing to say. “So that you cross over together, you both need to have a pill in your mouth before either of you swallow. Only one of you can select a destination—or, in this case, neither of you.” Looking at Rainbow Dash, he added, “Don’t chew.”

While the pegasus glared back, Twilight moved the pills into position, taking one into her mouth. It somehow tasted plaid and felt unpleasantly slimy, not that it was dissolving. You just couldn’t help yourself, could you? At least she wouldn’t need water to wash it down. Hopefully the taste won’t linger. She didn’t want to think about what the stuff inside would taste like if she did chew it.

Rainbow Dash had one in her mouth too and was clearly no happier with the taste and mouth feel. Discord got another glare from her as he put on his best “what did I do?” face. Enough already. She waved a hoof in front of the pegasus’ face to get her attention. Once she had it, she said “now.”

They both swallowed. It felt just as slimy going down—

3. Strangers in a Strange Land

—plunging to her death. Twilight found herself high in the sky with nothing but water far, far below. Her heart pounded as panic set in. Hooves desperately flailed in response to sudden weightlessness. Some small part of her mind was trying to make itself heard above the roar of the air racing past her. Wings. Suddenly remembering she could fly, her wings shot out. The air howling past tried to rip them off but only succeeded in slowing her fall.

The alicorn struggled to level out, angling her wings. After what felt like minutes, but was probably only seconds, she was flying horizontally through the air. Flying magic works, she noted with relief. Calming down, Twilight looked around for Rainbow Dash and found her by her side. She sighed. No doubt she recovered instantly. She slowed down and came to a halt, hovering over what she could now see was an ocean.

“Did you forget you had wings or something?” the pegasus asked.

Twilight cringed. How embarrassing. “Surprisingly easy to do when you weren’t born with them,” she dryly responded.

“I was about to grab you.”

I really need to fly more, a lot more. It wasn’t as if Rainbow Dash hadn’t been willing to teach her. There were simply too many other things she’d rather be doing with her free time. Pushing that out of her mind for now, she looked around, taking her first good look at their new surroundings. A few miles away was a coastline, with brownish, low mountains that almost but not quite reached the ocean. The sky above them was solid cloud cover, thick enough to appear gray. Rainbow Dash was climbing towards them and Twilight decided to follow. They came to a stop just beneath them.

“I don’t know, Twilight,” the pegasus said, inspecting the underside of the cloud. “These seem different somehow. Can we even stand on them?”

“They are unusually low for clouds,” Twilight pointed out. “Looks more like an elevated fog bank. And they certainly aren’t being managed by pegasi.” But water mist was still water mist. “Only one way to find out.” She disappeared into the cloud with Rainbow Dash right behind her.

The cloud was surprisingly thick, but before long they were hovering above the cloud top. “Here goes nothing,” said Rainbow Dash as she attempted to perch on the cloud—successfully.

Twilight joined her. “At least our pegasus magic seems to work here.” The sun was low in the sky over the distant mountains, shining brightly. It didn’t really look or feel any different than Celestia’s sun. “I wonder how it moves across the sky without magic?”

“Maybe it doesn’t move.”

Twilight figured they’d find out one way or the other soon enough. Time to find out if unicorn magic works. She used it to take the magic probe out of a saddlebag. So far, so good. She took a reading as Rainbow Dash watched. “This isn’t good.”

“It doesn’t work here?”

“Oh, it’s working. It’s just that it’s obviously reading the magical field generated by the pill.” The field couldn’t have extended very far, but she realized she had another problem. “If I move the probe far enough way to measure the ambient field…”

“You levitation magic fails and it falls into the ocean below.”

“Right,” she confirmed. “I need to do something about that, maybe put it on a long pole.”

“So? Use your magic to extend the handle of the probe.”

Why didn’t I think of that? She cast a morphing spell as she idly wondered if there was something about this realm making her dumber and Rainbow Dash smarter—and nothing happened. She tried again. Nothing happened. She put the probe away. “I can’t,” she said. “I wonder if this is what Discord meant.” But how could such a simple spell fail to work? What rule of this realm could possibly forbid it? “Our ten minutes is about up. Don’t want to worry the others.”

“Sure, we can come right back anyway.” They invoked the return spell and found themselves back where they started, in Twilight’s private library within her castle.

“Where’s Discord?” His absence was the first thing Twilight noticed. She frowned as she realized her questions about the magical field generated by those pills will have to go unanswered. At least that dispenser was still here.

Fluttershy said, “He felt he was no longer needed so he left.”

Pinkie Pie excitedly added, “But he knew you loved books so he left one behind for you!”

Twilight wondered what that was about but decided she didn’t have time for it now.

Rainbow Dash recounted their trip to everypony, as Twilight tried again to extend the probe’s handle—successfully this time. She made the handle as long as possible and still have it fit in her saddlebag, allowing the head of the device to poke out.

Applejack said, “Reckon ya made the right call to take only Rainbow Dash with you.”

Rarity added, “Imagine, our unicorn magic not working properly.”

“It’s better than not working at all, trust me.” Twilight walked over to the dispenser. “Ready to go back?” Rainbow Dash nodded. Twilight dispensed two more pills. “We’ll return to the exact spot we left.” Addressing everypony else, she said, “This time I expect we’ll be there a few hours.” They both swallowed their pills. The taste definitely needs improvement.

Both ponies were once again on top of that cloud. Rainbow Dash went airborne and looked around a bit, not that there was much to see here, while Twilight got down to business with her magic probe.

How far did the pill’s magic field extend? The devil was always in the details. Slowly, she moved the probe away from her. Once it got far enough away, the probe’s head would no longer be supported by her magic and will try to fall, creating a torque she will sense. And that’s exactly what happened when it was about two feet in front of her eyes.

She moved the probe around her body, looking for the boundary on all sides. The boundary appeared to form a bubble around her that loosely followed her form. A bubble is likely what it is; something needs to keep the magical field from spreading out to infinity. But it had to have a limited lifespan, otherwise Discord could have used it to encase The Mirror. Probably one of the reasons the pill’s magic supply couldn’t last very long.

She repositioned it so that its head was in front of her eyes just outside the bubble. Good, I can still read the display. No magic was registering. Not so good. She brought it back inside so that she could increase its sensitivity by turning a knob, then out again for another reading. Still nothing. She repeated several more times until, finally, something registered—extremely weak, almost undetectable, but definitely there. They had their work cut out for them.

“Rainbow Dash!” she shouted. “I got something!” As the pegasus swiftly returned to her side, Twilight noted that her rainbow contrail vanished a few feet behind her tail, right at the boundary of her bubble.

“It’s detecting magic, but it’s extremely weak,” she told her. “Let’s go to the coast over there for another reading.” The tops of the low mountains were poking above the clouds.

“Lead the way!”

Twilight first dived through the clouds so they could see the shoreline. It took only a few minutes to cross the miles of water separating them from land. The mountains abutting the shore were sparsely covered with vegetation, suggesting limited rainfall. Looking down she saw a road hugging the coast with tiny, shiny objects of some sort moving along it. Considering their altitude, they sure must be moving fast.

“Let’s go down.” Twilight started her descent to the road. Along the way, they crossed paths with some birds. They seemed much like the birds of home; they even flew the same way. Most birds do not use flying magic, she remembered. If only Fluttershy were here to talk to them—if she could talk to them. But they could walk on clouds, so who could say?

They were now low enough to make out the moving objects. Twilight recognized them. She pointed out one of the cars to Rainbow Dash and headed towards it. As fast as it was going, it was nothing for pegasi. They came up along one side of it and Twilight looked inside. She saw two of those bipedal creatures (people, humans), similar to but not quite the same as what she saw—and became—in that mirror realm. One of them was clearly operating the car. Neither of them noticed their presence.

Rainbow Dash was mystified. “How’s this thing moving? Nothing is pulling or pushing it! You sure there’s no magic?”

“It’s called a ‘car.’ I saw them in the mirror realm. I’m not sure how it works, but it doesn’t use magic. Look at the occupants inside.”

The pegasus lowered her head and looked through the window. “Whoa! Is that what you were?”

“Yep. Not quite like this, but then they’re not reflections of ponies.” Twilight wanted to take another reading. Pointing, she said, “Let’s land on that beach up ahead.”

It was a small beach but they had it all to themselves. If humans frequented beaches, they apparently preferred to do so when it was warmer and sunnier. Twilight got out the probe and took another reading. “It’s definitely stronger, though still very weak.” She put the probe away, as she said, “We should continue in the same direction.”

Rainbow Dash was at the water’s edge, staring off into the distance, as small, incoming waves lapped at her hooves. Twilight joined her as an incoming breeze ruffled their manes. The water was cold, though not unbearably so.

“How long would it take to fly to the other side?”

Twilight had no answer to give her. “We should get going.”

They took off and headed inland, leaving the ocean behind, following what appeared to be a river valley, though no water was currently flowing. After a mile the vegetation started to get thicker, with numerous small trees. Occasionally they saw a well-maintained dirt trail. To keep going in a reasonably straight line they eventually had to climb over a thousand feet.

After about ten miles, they encountered a valley where the trees were much larger, some over two hundred feet tall. There were also buildings, roads, cars, and plenty of people walking about. Twilight decided it was as good a spot as any to take another reading. They landed on the roof of a building.

First things first. Twilight got out the probe and took a reading. “We’re definitely going in the right direction. Still have ways to go though.”

“Why do you think the trees are so much bigger here?” asked Rainbow Dash. “Can’t be a coincidence these buildings are here. Could it be a farm of some sort?”

Twilight looked around. “Doesn’t look like a farm. I don’t see any fruit on these trees.” She walked over to the edge of the roof and looked down. “And these humans don’t seem to be working a farm.” They didn’t appear to be doing anything other than to walk around for no discernible reason.

Now that she saw a large number of them, Twilight noted patterns about their appearance that differentiated them from the mirror realm inhabitants. Most obvious was skin and hair color. The clothing seemed different too, in the sense that almost none bore anything that looked like a cutie mark. On the one hoof, without magic there shouldn’t be any cutie marks; but on the other hoof, the mirror realm people had them on their clothing despite the lack of magic. Come to think of it, that doesn’t really make sense, but then it was just a reflection of Equestria according to Discord.

Rainbow Dash had joined her. “They’re just walking around the trees on those dirt paths.” The paths were roped off from the trees. For some reason they weren’t allowed to get too close to the trees. “Let’s see where they’re going.”

“Wait a minute.” There were voices from the people below. Twilight tried to focus on one of the conversations, her ears swiveling to best extract it from the background noise. They were speaking Equestrian! Rainbow Dash obviously heard it too, her mouth agape. The two ponies looked at each other in disbelief.

“Am I imagining things?”

“No, I hear it too,” the alicorn assured her. The implications were mind-boggling. There’s no way this is a coincidence, but how is it possible? “Okay, let’s follow one of the paths.”

They took wing and flew over a path, high enough to avoid the humans. There didn’t seem to be much point to it. It was just a forest of really big trees. All the humans seemed to be doing was admiring the trees, but why?

“There’s a sign in front of that really big tree,” Rainbow Dash said, pointing it out. There were humans currently standing in front of it, so they hovered at a safe distance waiting for them to leave. Once they did, they landed in front of it.

Twilight gazed at the sign, making out letters, numbers, and words that were all too familiar. They can write Equestrian too? The sign stated that the tree was the “father of the forest,” 16 feet 10 inches in diameter and 250 feet high.

“I guess this is the biggest tree here?” said Rainbow Dash, as more humans approached. They went airborne before the humans could walk into them.

Twilight had many questions that lacked answers. “Do they come here just to visit these trees?” They circled the tree, spiraling higher and higher, examining it from all angles. “It certainly is a magnificent tree. I’m not sure if this species exists in Equestria.”

They hovered once they reached the top of the tree. Twilight wondered why the trees were so much bigger in this valley than the others. So many mysteries; if only they could ask the humans below. But even if they could turn off their invisibility—can we?—who knows how they’d react? “Let’s be on our way.”

The mountain range continued for another fifteen miles or so. An enormous valley opened up in front of them, jam-packed with civilization. The clouds did not penetrate this far inland; the sun was shining, clearly higher than it was earlier. They now knew it was late morning, that they had been heading east (presumably), and that in this realm the sun actually did rise without magic—somehow.

Far to the north they could see a large body of water surrounded by civilization on both sides as far as they could see. It was so much larger than any Equestrian city, including Manehattan. There was even a modest collection of skyscrapers, though nothing as tall as in Manehattan.

Twilight selected a building on which to land and take another reading. Like all the buildings here it was surrounded by paved roads on which cars travelled. Twilight observed how the cars took turns crossing an intersection. Somehow they knew when to go through without stopping and when they needed to stop. She regretted not having had the opportunity to be in a car in the mirror realm. They landed and she took another reading. “It’s still getting stronger.”

“What’s that!” Twilight became aware of a distant noise as Rainbow Dash pointed at what resembled a gigantic bird. It was descending towards where those tall buildings were, moving quite fast even by pegasi standards, and it was getting louder and louder.

“Is it made of metal?” asked Twilight. It looked shiny. “I think that’s a machine.”

“No magic, huh? It’s not even moving its wings.”

“Just one more mystery, I guess.” Maybe it was gliding in to a landing, but what’s causing that dreadful noise? Twilight folded her ears to muffle it, but the humans around them were simply ignoring it. “Let’s stay focused,” she verbally reminded herself. “We can explore this realm once we take care of the hole.”

They continued flying east across the valley, amazed at the sheer number of buildings, cars and people. Their passage went unnoticed, as expected, even when they flew near the ground to get a good look at the inhabitants and buildings. A metal bird flew noisily overhead every few minutes, almost always on the same path.

Every so often, they landed on top of a building to take another reading. In time, the magical field started getting weaker. They first back tracked, then tried going north. They were rewarded with stronger readings.

They flew past the spot where the metal birds were landing, staying a safe distance away. The machines landed at high speed on wheels before slowing to a crawl. Others were accelerating to take off, always heading north. How they accelerated was a complete mystery, though it certainly involved a lot of noise, as was how they left the ground and rapidly climbed without ever moving their wings. However it was done, humans presumably traveled great distances this way.

With ever more frequent changes in direction, they closed in on the hole. Once the magical field strength got high enough, she decided it was time to use the flow meter. She got it out of her saddlebag and set it down on the roof they had landed on. “Stand back,” she told Rainbow Dash. It had to stay outside of their bubbles. That made it hard to read the meters, but the compass-like needle was large enough to see clearly from several feet away. It was pointing away from a large, two-story apartment complex. After the device was put away, the two flew off in the indicated direction.

Hovering in front of building, Twilight once again used her magic probe. “We’re definitely getting close.” So close, they almost didn’t need their bubbles anymore. The flow meter couldn’t point up or down—I need to fix that—so she relied on the probe to determine where on the wall the field strength was at a maximum. That was in front of a second floor window. It was quite large, being sized for humans. The two ponies hovered in front of it, looking in through the open curtains. It was an office of some sort, currently unoccupied.

“It appears to be inside.” Twilight put away the probe. “I’ll teleport us in.”

Once inside they looked around. Twilight examined a desk, way too big for a pony, with a mechanically elaborate chair that was clearly designed for humans. On the desk Twilight recognized a computer, having used one in the mirror realm. Could they be made in Equestria? Would they even work in Equestria? They were rather useful.

“No. Way.”

Twilight was startled out of her train of thought. She turned and saw Rainbow Dash hovering in front of a bookshelf (books!) looking at—that’s not possible. She flew up to join the pegasus and get a closer look. There was no mistake. It was a doll of a gray pegasus, wings flared, with a blonde mane and tail. The eyes and cutie mark were unmistakable. Derpy.

“No. Way.”

They both turned to the source of that exclamation to discover it came from a female human standing in the doorway. She was staring at them in disbelief, mouth hanging open, a hand fidgeting behind her head.

Twilight briefly stopped flapping her wings. “You can see us?”

After a second or two, the female weakly replied, “And hear you, T-Twilight.”

What happened to their invisibility! How long have they been visible? What trick did Discord pull on them? Wait. “You know my name?

For some reason the human didn’t know how to answer that simple question. Twilight tried to interpret her body language. Assuming there was any similarity to pony body language, and her experiences in the mirror realm showed that there should be, she would have to conclude that the human was shocked at seeing them—and obviously not because she had no idea what they were.

“Might as well,” the human said, seemingly granting herself permission to tentatively accept the reality of what she was seeing. “Yes, I know your name, Princess Twilight Sparkle.” She paused for a second, scrutinizing the lavender pony. “Yep, alicorn, definitely princess.” Looking at the pegasus, she said, “Yours too, Rainbow Dash.”

Twilight found the presence of mind to start a checklist of mysteries to solve. (1) How could she possibly know this much about us, anything about us? That was quickly followed by (2) Given that she does, why does she act like she’s seeing the impossible? Speaking of names… “May I ask what your name is?” she asked politely.

The female—woman, she recalled—in front of her again seemed torn between possible answers. Twilight used those seconds to study her further. Compared to the other women she had observed so far, this one appeared to be average in height and build, with light skin tone and brownish hair that was long enough to reach past the shoulders. There was no hint of anything resembling a cutie mark on her clothing. (3) Do they have cutie marks at all? Lacking magic, it was unlikely, but maybe there was a non-magical equivalent.

The sudden sound of running water jolted the woman to a decision. “Fair enough, I suppose,” she said in a hurry. “My name’s Meg. I’ll be back in a second.” She quickly left the room.

“What just happened?” asked Rainbow Dash.

“Wish I knew,” Twilight shrugged. One thing seemed certain: this ‘Meg’ was going to return with another human. And there was still the hole to find, apparently somewhere in their home. They needed to get past the introductions and get their assistance. It should help if they already knew who they were. Could the magical field somehow have given them knowledge of the ponies? Absurd as that sounded, what other explanation was there?

Twilight’s musings were interrupted by approaching voices. “Just tell me what you see…” Meg’s voice insisted. This time a man appeared in the doorway. Upon seeing them, he, too, stood there in wide-eyed disbelief. “Well?”

“D-do I have t-to?” he stammered.


Again, Twilight wondered how they could simultaneously know who they were yet refuse to believe their senses.

The human male sighed in resignation. “I see Twilight Sparkle and Rainbow Dash hovering in our office.” He turned away from them. “This can’t be happening.”

This seemed as good an opportunity as any to address her checklist items. “Why can’t this be happening?”

“Great,” the man said. “You also sound like Twilight.”

(1a) How could they possibly know what we sound like? She noticed that her fellow pony was too stunned herself to say anything. Just as well; this situation called for her diplomatic training. How would Celestia handle this?

His apparent mate slipped past him to enter the room, holding—oh, great, as if it weren’t weird enough already—a Pinkie Pie doll. “Because you are fictional characters created for the purpose of selling dolls like this to little girls,” she declared, as if that would be sufficient to banish them from reality.

Rainbow Dash broke out in laughter. Pointing a hoof to her chest, she proclaimed, “I’m too awesome to be fictional!”

Twilight face-hoofed. Not what Celestia would do. She became aware of what she was doing. She wouldn’t face-hoof either. The newest princess stopped face-hoofing and put on her best diplomatic face. “For now, could you accept that we are happening and hold a conversation with us?” She looked at them expectantly.

Meg sighed. “Why not.” She leaned back against a wall. “We can’t both be crazy,” she muttered.

Her mate also entered the room and stood beside her. Twilight noted he was several inches taller, had short black hair with slightly darker skin, and was also average looking, based on her limited experience with humans. “Don’t take this the wrong way,” the man said. I need to get his name. “I mean, it’s a fantasy-come-true to actually meet you, but why are you trespassing in our home?”

(4)—no, make that (1b)—a fantasy-come-true to meet us?

She didn’t like being accused of trespassing, not that she could blame them for feeling that way. Of course, they should never have been aware they were there in the first place, but, well… she will deal with Discord later.

So she explained to them, as they attentively listened, that magic was pouring out of her realm into theirs and that the exit point was somewhere in their home. They were there to find the precise location of the hole and, somehow, plug it. Any assistance they could offer would be appreciated. Would they want anything in return? So long as it was within reason…

“Wow… sounds like a two-part season finale.”

“Whaa?” (4) What’s a season finale? (4a) Why would it have parts?

“I guess it’s my turn now.” The man walked over to the desk, after first motioning the ponies to move out of his way. He sat down, woke up the computer and started typing with those hands and also moving—what was that?—oh, right, a mouse. He turned the monitor so the ponies would have an unobstructed view.

Twilight saw a drawing of a crowd of ponies in front of the snow-covered Town Hall, with Mayor Mare up front addressing them. They were all caricatures, with oversized heads, shortened barrels and ludicrously large eyes, but nonetheless she could identify many of the ponies. Oddly enough, they were all wearing the winter wrap-up uniforms from a few years back—her first winter wrap-up in Ponyville if she wasn’t mistaken. But where are all the stallions?

“This is sort of like a movie,” he explained, “though technically it’s called a cartoon. I’m about to play my favorite musical number.”

Musical number? No music was played during winter wrap-up activities, nor has a bridleway musical ever been written about it—as if those Manehattanites could care enough about a small rural town to write one. This should be interesting. Rainbow Dash looked skeptical, but Twilight was somewhat aware of what these computers could do.

Twilight heard a click and everything in the drawing started to move; there was also sound. The mayor started her motivational speech, then there was a cut to the crowd and she saw herself jumping high trying to catch the mayor’s attention. Wait. What?! She watched as she saw herself worrying about which team to join, and there was Rainbow Dash and Applejack leading their respective teams. That happened. Maybe some of the details were off, but nothing important.

The screen went dark. A spotlight revealed Rainbow Dash, who started to sing. Three months of winter—Me, singing? I can’t sing!”

A few seconds later, Twilight had the same reaction. “Me neither!”

“Besides, nopony breaks out into song like that in real life.”

“Season 4, episode 8, Rarity Takes Manehattan,” the man said reflexively.

Rainbow Dash gave him a blank stare. “Say what now?”

He paused the video. “You said something like that in that episode, after you got tickets to the Bridleway show Hinny of the Hills and right before Rarity broke out in song.”

The pegasus was silent for a few seconds. “I remember the tickets and saying something like that,” she said, “but Rarity did not sing. I mean, she can sing, she’s in the Ponytones, but not then. That’s absurd. Right, Twilight?”

“That’s how I remember it.” This was surreal. She then realized that the ponies in the cartoon sounded exactly like them. That takes care of (1) and (1a). (1b) also, now that I think about it. Oh, and (2) as well. She felt like she was forgetting something… oh right. “I’m sorry, but I didn’t get your name.”

“Steve, and this is my wife, Meg,” he replied. Twilight gave back a practiced smile. “Getting back to this, are you saying winter wrap-up isn’t real?”

Rainbow Dash reacted as if someone just claimed rainbow waterfalls didn’t exist. “Of course it’s real! The southern birds don’t fly back all by themselves! But we don’t make a musical out of it!” Getting that out of her system, she reconsidered. “Though I have to admit it was a catchy tune and I was awesome singing it—even if it never happened.”

“I’m sorry if that sounded like a stupid question,” he explained, “but we don’t know how much these cartoons reflect your reality. You can hardly blame us for taking advantage of this opportunity.”

Twilight could hardly fault them. “I wouldn’t mind finding out either, for obvious reasons.”

Steve resumed the video. They came to the part where Applejack was singing about farming. Rainbow Dash found something else to jump on. “Everyone ain’t a word.”

The remainder of the musical played without interruption. In a following scene, Twilight offered to help Rainbow Dash clear out the clouds The pegasus flapped her wings to point out that the unicorn lacked them. “Sorry, Twilight,” said the onscreen Rainbow Dash, then off she flew.

The two friends looked at each other. That did happen, and Twilight knew that the next scene, in which she attempted to help Rarity make bird nests, also (embarrassingly) happened. “That’s enough.” It was a lot to take in. It was also a distraction from their mission, though perhaps a necessary one. “Apart from the musical, it’s disturbingly accurate.”

“There’s one more scene I want your opinion on.” Steve turned the screen back to himself, typed and clicked some more, then turned the screen back to the ponies.

They watched as Twilight rewrote the unfinished masterpiece of Star Swirl the Bearded, then cast it. Beams of light erupted from the Elements of Harmony and converged on Twilight, who vanished to the shock of the others. The present Twilight’s eyes went wide as she watched her encounter with Princess Celestia in the starry realm. Being told it was time for her to fulfill her destiny. Her transformation into an alicorn. Celestia informing everypony she was now a princess. “STOP!”

Never had she shared what happened up there, not even with her friends, nor did they expect her to. It was a deeply personal memory. Shock was turning to anger. How could they possibly have this? What else did they have? What do I tell Princess Celestia?

The human stopped the video.

Rainbow Dash looked at her friend, surprised at the anger on her face. She cautiously asked, “Did that actually happen? Apart from the singing…”

Trying hard to keep her voice level, Twilight replied, “Even the singing. Celestia wanted to show me how much it meant to her.”

“I had no idea this would upset you, please believe me.” He, too, saw the anger on her face, and it was starting to scare him.

Twilight struggled to get her emotions under control. She told herself that these two humans were not responsible for this; don’t take it out on them. They could even be of help. It wouldn’t hurt to have locals aiding them. Remember why they were here. What would Celestia do?

She said, finally, “You are not to blame.” Looking into their eyes, she added, “Having said that, you must understand we do not live our lives for your entertainment.”

Meg glanced at the doll she was holding, looking as if she was about to say something, but she remained silent.

“Now, if you don’t mind, we have a mission to accomplish.” Twilight got the magic flow meter out of her saddlebag. Steve and Meg stared at the lavender glow of her horn and the glow surrounding the manipulated object. Surely they’ve seen this countless times in that cartoon? But then they’re seeing something right in front of them that’s supposed to be impossible in their realm.

Twilight switched it on, set it on the floor, and stepped back. As she waited for the measurements to settle, she collected her thoughts. She should not have nearly lost control like that. The humans were actually becoming scared of what she might do to them, and she was willing to bet they knew what an alicorn could do. Her mentor would not approve. She had to do better.

It was pointing towards the window. In the opposite direction was Meg. Probably on the other side of the wall. Twilight put the flow meter back, took out the magic probe and looked for the boundary of her bubble. That’s odd, I can’t seem to find it. She examined the readings more closely. So that’s why we’re visible: the bubble’s gone. She didn’t notice because of all the magic from the hole. Discord had some explaining to do. At least she didn’t have to worry about conserving her magic.

Twilight followed the probe as she moved it towards Meg, following the increasing gradient. The humans had been watching quietly, fascinated, but eventually Meg noticed where the probe was heading. Somewhat nervously, she asked, “May I ask what you’re doing?”

The alicorn put her measurements on hold. “Of course you may,” she assured her. Here was an opportunity to repair any damage. She took a deep breath. “I apologize for nearly losing it a few minutes ago, but… well… the implications of what you showed us were… troubling.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Meg quickly said. “We didn’t think about how you’d react. It could have been handled better.”

Twilight had no reply to that. It wasn’t clear how one would sugar-coat the fact that the most private moments of her life were considered entertainment here. But it wasn’t productive to dwell on it right now. Answering Meg’s question, she said, “I’m measuring the strength of the magical field looking for the hole. It seems to be near you.”

Meg was still holding the Pinkie Pie doll. What are the odds? Silly question. The probe moved close to the doll as Meg held it away from her body. Twilight moved the probe all around it, from top to bottom, front to back, side to side. All around it, the field was many times normal strength. With resignation, she said, “The doll is the exit point.”

Rainbow Dash flew to the doll, hovering for a close view. “She’s not even here and she’s still being Pinkie Pie!”

“Our doll?” Meg said, staring at the pegasus hovering so close to her. “How is that possible?”

Twilight thought: you mean you didn’t watch my scientific investigation of Pinkie Sense? What she said was: “I haven’t a clue. The more important question is how to stop the flow of magic.”

“Is there anything we can do to help?” asked Meg.

Was there anything they could do to help? Twilight put the magic probe away as she pondered that. Hold on to the doll, obviously. Where else would she take it? She couldn’t bring it back to Equestria; the hole would almost certainly stay behind and become unanchored, freely floating about. What if it went deep underground? She couldn’t simply destroy the doll for the same reason. Even teleporting with the doll may be unwise. Any information they could provide about this realm would be useful too.

Well, she thought, I guess I’m stuck with them for a while. But how far could she trust them? And what would they want in return?

“I’d appreciate any help you can offer, but I do have a few conditions.” They patiently waited for her to continue. “First, you will not mention our presence to anypo—anyone else.” They nodded agreement, though Rainbow Dash shot her a mystified look upon hearing “anyone.”

“Second, you will not say anything about the magic flowing out of that doll, or about the significance of that doll in general.” They nodded to that too.

“Third, you will keep an eye out for anything unusual. Your home now has a strong magical field, something that’s not supposed to exist in this realm. I don’t know if anything unusual will happen, but any observations would be useful data.”

“You mean like talking cartoon ponies suddenly showing up?” Steve deadpanned.

Touché. “Uh, sure…” But then the hidden assumption behind that statement dawned on the alicorn. Wait, ponies don’t talk here? She quickly shook her head to clear that thought. Never mind, later…Finally, you will Pinkie Promise to these three conditions.” They ought to know what that means; their reaction should be most informative.

“If we don’t?” asked Meg quietly.

“I’ll take possession of the doll and move it elsewhere,” Twilight flatly stated. “You shall have no further involvement.” The list of conditions was perfectly reasonable, in Twilight’s opinion, so their hesitation was evidence that they did know what a Pinkie Promise was and took it seriously.

The two humans looked at each other, came to an unspoken agreement, then started in unison. “Cross my hear—”

Twilight interrupted them. “Not to me, to Pinkie Pie herself.”

“You mean this doll?” asked Meg dubiously.

Rainbow Dash flew over to Twilight and gave her the are-you-crazy look. Twilight ignored her; she’ll explain later.

“When I come back, I’ll have Pinkie Pie with me. You do know the consequences of breaking a Pinkie Promise?”

They nodded. Meg spoke for both of them. “Okay, we’ll do it.”

Rainbow Dash looked at them and rolled her eyes. Twilight couldn’t help but notice that the humans were amused by her antics, though they tried to hide it. They expect this sort of behavior from Rainbow Dash. She followed that line of thought to its logical conclusion: They know what to expect from me.

“I think we’re about done here. Before we leave, would you mind if I take a look at your books and possibly borrow one or two? I’d like to learn more about this realm. It may help in figuring out a solution.”

“Loan a book to Princess Twilight Sparkle?” he said tongue-in-cheek. “It would be an honor! I know just the one.” Steve picked out a book and handed it to her. Twilight accepted it with her magic as she grimaced ever so slightly. At least they weren’t bowing to her, even in jest. The book was too big to fit in her saddlebag; it was human-sized like everything else here.

Meg hesitantly asked, “May I ask a favor in return?”

“I’m listening.” So long as it’s within reason…

“Could you bring Derpy here for us to meet?” Twilight didn’t expect that!

Rainbow Dash snorted. “That featherbrain?” She flew over to the doll and stared at it. “I mean, don’t get me wrong, she’s nice and all, but, really?”

Meg didn’t seem surprised by that reaction. “You may be surprised how popular she is over here.”

Popular? This realm is full of surprises. What to do? Twilight couldn’t just say “yes” and if necessary force Derpy to come. Even if she was willing, was it the right thing to do? But it didn’t seem constructive to just flat out refuse either. Twilight decided to give a non-answer for now. “I can’t make any promises, but I’ll consider it.”

Rainbow Dash gave her another are-you-crazy look.

“So Daring Do is out of the question?”

Twilight’s mouth hung open, too flabbergasted to respond, but Rainbow Dash, thank Celestia, was not. “Daring Do doesn’t like meeting her fans—and leave it at that.”

Thank Luna too, they seemed to accept that at face value, as if they knew what that tomb raiding, treasure hunting pegasus was like. For hay’s sake, they seemed to know she wasn’t just a fictional character. That wasn’t common knowledge and “A. K. Yearling” wanted it that way. More of those cartoons? Whatever, I’ve had enough for one day. “We’ll be back here tomorrow, same time. Okay?”

Meg and Steve briefly consulted with each other. “Works for us.”

Twilight laid the book on her back and held it there magically, then she looked at Rainbow Dash. She’s had enough too. “Let’s go.” They both clicked their rear hooves three times, and thought, there’s no place like home.

4. Realities

Spike was in the kitchen upstairs making daffodil sandwiches, with pickles just the way Twilight liked it. The baby dragon figured they would be hungry when they got back from all that adventuring. Everypony else had left a few hours ago, shortly after Twilight and Rainbow Dash had departed.

“Pinkie Pie? Derpy?

They’re back! What about Pinkie and Derpy? As Spike listened in to the argument downstairs, he fetched his pre-written note and breathed green fire on it, sending it on its way. He then made his way to the curved stairway along the wall.

“We can use their help and indulging them will help us get it,” Twilight patiently explained. “Where would I even keep that doll? I can’t risk bringing it here or destroying it. Besides, a Pinkie Promise is a good insurance policy if you ask me.”

“You don’t even know she can enforce it there!”

“They don’t know she can’t,” she said, as she walked over to her desk, with the pegasus hovering right behind her. “It’s enough they think I believe she can.”

That was evidently a little too complicated for Rainbow Dash to parse. “Well… what about Derpy? She did drop a piano on you once, in case you forgot.”

“You know I was investigating Pinkie Sense at the time.” She levitated the human book onto her desk. “I already had a shield up by then, so no harm done. Being chased by that hydra was much worse.” By now, her saddlebags were also on her desk. “Besides, that’s all ancient history,” she concluded.

Rainbow Dash had run out of objections, and in the silence that followed Twilight’s anxiety resurfaced. “What do I tell Celestia about all this?”

“Uh, Twilight?” The two ponies looked up at Spike, who was halfway down the stairs. “She’s on her way now.”

“What!?” Sheer terror gripped the alicorn’s face.

“After you left, she sent me a note asking me to inform her when you returned.”

Twilight was really starting to freak out, nervously hopping on her hooves. She’s so good at it, Spike thought, what with all the practice she’s had. “Did you accidentally make the hole bigger or something?” he speculated.

That caught Twilight off guard, interrupting her anxiety attack. She stopped her nervous hopping and took a breath. “No… no, nothing like that. We actually made a little progress on that front.”

At that moment, Princess Celestia teleported into the library.

Everypony bowed to the Solar Diarch. “Princess Twilight Sparkle, you should know by now you do not need to bow before me,” she kindly reminded her.

“Sorry…” she sheepishly said as she stood up. “It’s just that I wasn’t expecting you to check up on me so soon. You wrote that you trusted my judgement.”

“And I do trust your judgement,” she assured her, “but this isn’t one of my tests. With the future of Equestria at stake, I am obligated to stay on top of the situation and offer what guidance I can.”

“Yes, of course.”

“Discord informed me of the assistance he provided.” She pointed to the dispenser, now on a top shelf. Spike figured it would be best if it was out of the way. “Those are the pills?”

“Yes,” Twilight replied with some bitterness. “They worked, though Discord couldn’t restrain himself from pulling a prank on us.”

Celestia was surprised by that. “Are you certain?”

“Our invisibility went away, making us visible to two of the inhabitants of that realm while inside their home.”

“Would that happen to be where you found the hole?”

Twilight’s mane was getting quite frazzled by now. Clearly, she had already had one too many surprises that day. What had happened in that other realm to do this to her?

“How did you guess?” she weakly said.

“It was my understanding that the pill could not generate a contained magical field in the presence of a sufficiently strong ambient magical field. Didn’t you read the instruction manual? It was uncharacteristically orderly of him to—” Twilight face-hoofed. “…is something wrong?”

“I didn’t know that was an instruction manual.”

Celestia changed the subject. “Tell me about your contact with the natives. Unplanned it may have been, but I hope it was fruitful.”

“We did learn much from them and they are willing to help us.” Twilight gave her report. Spike was amazed at what he heard. Dolls of Equestrian ponies? Cartoons that accurately showed what happened here? But with musicals? Hard restrictions on unicorn magic? Similarities but also differences to the mirror realm? The popularity of Derpy? Spike wondered if he was popular there, too. Maybe I’ll get to go there and find out!

Celestia took it all in without interrupting, barely reacting only when Twilight described watching her ascension in that cartoon.

Having concluded her report, Twilight now sought guidance. “Do you think it’s a good idea to bring Pinkie Pie or Derpy there?”

Rainbow Dash did not, if her scowl was any indication. Celestia took a moment to compose her response. “I think you are practicing the art of diplomacy, as a princess should. It has its risks and rewards; the rewards ought to outweigh the risks.”

“I think that’s true for Pinkie Pie, but I’m not sure about Derpy. It’s a lot to ask of her and I’m not sure she’s up to it.”

Rainbow Dash added, “Let’s just say she’s not the brightest pony around.”

“Perhaps she would benefit from rising up to the challenge? She did participate in the Equestria Games, if I recall.”

“I suppose. It certainly would be nice to know why she’s so popular there. I’ll sleep on it.” Twilight lifted a huge book. “This is the book Steve loaned me.” She flipped through the pages. “It describes the physics of their realm.” She quickly scanned a page at random. “I definitely must read this. I’d sure like to know how their Sun moves without your magic—any magic!”

“I could sleep in late if it could be applied here,” joked the Princess of the Sun, but her demeanor then became serious. “There is a possibility these humans may wish to come here.”

Twilight looked up at her mentor. “If they do, is the correct answer to allow it?”

“As I said, this isn’t a test,” Celestia said in a sympathetic tone. “There is no right or wrong answer, just difficult choices. All things being equal, I’d prefer they stay in their realm; but having said that, I leave it up to you.”

Celestia bowed to Twilight, emphasizing the point; the others quickly followed suit. She then teleported away as Twilight nervously shifted her weight from hoof to hoof. Spike felt sympathy for her. She hates it when Celestia does that.

“I’m sure glad I don’t have to make those decisions,” said Rainbow Dash.

Nor I, thought Spike. Clearly Princess Celestia wants Twilight to take the next step in being a princess.

Twilight decided to change the subject. “Spike, by any chance do you have something for us to eat? I could use some food right now.”

“You know I do!”

“Did that just happen?” Meg blankly stared at the spot just occupied by two ponies.

“Uh… well…” Shifting his eyes to the bookshelf, her husband observed, “The physics book I loaned her is still gone.”

There was silence for several seconds. Meg put the doll on the desk and walked over to where the ponies had been. “I guess we can’t both hallucinate the same thing,” she said with a lack of conviction. She got on her hands and knees and started to carefully examine the off-white carpet.

“What do you expect to find?”

“I dunno. Maybe they’d shed a feather or some fur,” she said as she continued her search. Cyan and lavender hairs ought to stand out. After fruitlessly inspecting several square feet, she said, “We should’ve taken a picture.”

“Not that that would convince anyone,” Steve said. “We’d simply be praised for the photorealistic CGI skills we’d suddenly acquired.” He then added, as an afterthought, “And criticized for giving them realistic proportions.”

“Yeah, well, if they really had eyes that big, there’d be no room left in their skulls for their brains,” she said as she continued searching. “Anyway, the pictures would be for us. It’d be some kind of proof we’re not crazy.” She got up off the floor. “I can’t find anything.” Unnecessarily dusting herself off, she said, “Besides, sharing those pictures would break our upcoming Pinkie Promise.”

“There you go,” he said. “We’ll have our proof when they show up tomorrow.”

There was silence as that sank in. “Wow. Pinkie Pie will be here.” Meg stared at the doll. “Could she possibly be as she’s portrayed in the show?”

“The evidence suggests it,” Steve reasoned, folding his arms. “Twilight and Rainbow Dash are as portrayed. There’s such a thing as a Pinkie Promise. They refer to Derpy and Daring Do in ways that are consistent with the show. We know that Winter Wrap-up is real, that Twilight’s ascension happened more or less as depicted.” He took a breath. “And don’t forget their reaction to discovering that the doll was the other side of their ‘hole.’”

Meg said, trying to mimic Rainbow Dash, “She’s not even here and she’s still being Pinkie Pie!” She started slowly pacing back and forth across the room, trying to digest it all. “It’s all real. It’s a brony dream come true. But why our doll, out of all the dolls in the world? Why any doll, never mind a Pinkie Pie doll?”

There was no answer to that; it was obvious the ponies had no answer to that. Steve watched his wife pace for a few moments in silence. “Would you go there if you could?”

She stopped pacing and looked at him. “To Equestria, you mean?”


“Sure,” she said, stating the obvious. “Too bad Twilight wasn’t handing out visa applications.”

Steve went over and picked up the doll, holding it out. “Luckily we’re in possession of a Pinkie Pie doll that is spewing out magic like there’s no tomorrow,” he said half-seriously. “Maybe there’ll be a random cosmic accident that mysteriously transports us to the Everfree Forest. We’ll be attacked by timberwolves, or maybe manticores, and just in the nick of time the Mane Six will show up to save us and become our instant best friends, dedicated to making our Equestrian fantasies come true!”

“Really?” she retorted.

“Who knows?” he said with a straight face. “There’s enough fan fiction that follows that formula. Maybe there’s something to it.”

Meg wasn’t interested in playing that game. “One small problem… we’ve already met two of them and the self-proclaimed Princess of Friendship did not become our friend, ‘instant’ or ‘best’ or otherwise.”

“Isn’t that a little unfair?”

“Is it? I think the whole Pinkie Promise business says it all. She sees us as a nuisance, to be tolerated only out of necessity. You weren’t there, but her first words made it clear she thought she was invisible. They never intended to deal with us natives.”

Steve mulled that over. “Maybe so, but she’s still willing to make lemonade out of lemons. She is asking for our help.” He shrugged. “Perhaps season four didn’t happen yet?”

“Sure, why not?” she said mockingly. “Plenty of fan fiction ignores the later seasons, after all. Twilight’s an alicorn, so at least season three happened.” She resumed pacing, reconsidering. “Seriously, though. What if that was true? How do we even find out without potentially altering the future? We can’t just ask, ‘Have you fought Tirek yet?’”

Steve went up to her and held her. “Let’s just take it one step at a time and see what happens tomorrow, okay? If we’re lucky, we can even put fan-fiction-consensus to the test.”


“The consensus is that Derpy is a mailmare. Maybe we’ll get to ask her ourselves.”

The hours flew by as Twilight buried herself in the borrowed physics book. It focused on breadth rather than depth, including, amongst many others, topics such as particle dynamics, conservation laws, fluid mechanics, kinetic theory of gasses, thermodynamics, electromagnetism, and optics. Most of it was already familiar to her, allowing her to breeze right through the chapters. She noted that they had mathematical notation in common too; the equations were just as comprehensible as the words.

There were only two notable differences between this book and an Equestrian equivalent. The first was that they frequently used names that were similar to but different from the ones she was familiar with. It’s like they were parodying them, replacing syllables such as “mare” or “neigh” or “oats” and the like with apparently arbitrary sequences of letters. “Newton” instead of “Neighton?” What sort of cosmic joke was being played here?

The second was the assumption that the equations provided described reality unconditionally, no exceptions even being conceivable. An Equestrian physics book would devote much attention to how magic could modify those equations—or make them irrelevant. This was a book on physics for a realm that had no magic.

But the final chapters blew her mind. Twilight had never encountered anything resembling Relativity and Quantum Mechanics before. The structure of reality implied at absurdly small or absurdly large scales was just… hard to swallow. Did any of it apply here? Was it a consequence of the absence of magic? Did ponydom’s understandable preoccupation with magic blind them to other avenues of research? Was this how their machines could do stuff impossible to even the most powerful magic?

It was getting late. Only Owlowiscious kept her silent company, Spike having gone to bed a while ago. “I should call it a night,” she told him. “I have a full day tomorrow.” The owl blinked in reply.

Twilight took one last look at her collection of notes and checklists she wrote up earlier, making sure she hadn’t forgotten to write down anything. Satisfied she had not, she extinguished the light and walked towards the stairway.

As she climbed the stairs to her bedroom, she thought about the humans. I didn’t exactly live up to being the Princess of Friendship, but what could I’ve realistically done differently? This was territory as uncharted as it gets and the stakes were too high. Could friendship be magic where magic doesn’t even exist? Regardless, she needed at least a working relationship with the humans for the foreseeable future. But once the hole has been plugged, then what?

The newest princess climbed into bed and slipped under the covers. As she drifted off to sleep, she felt slightly envious of a certain pegasus’ inability to overthink problems—but just slightly.

Twilight saw Sugarcube Corner in the distance and began her descent. Rainbow Dash had told her there was a good chance she’d find Derpy there most mornings. Pinkie Pie would be there too, obviously, as she lived and worked there.

Not yet skilled at multitasking while flying, Twilight had to choose between looking for Derpy or landing. It made her aware, again, of her need to get in lots of flying time—but then, that’s why she wasn’t walking to Sugarcube Corner. She choose landing.

Once on the ground, she quickly determined the pegasus wasn’t outside. She went inside and found Derpy ordering something from Pinkie Pie at the counter. Pinkie immediately noticed her.

“Hi, Twilight!” said Pinkie as she bounced and beamed. “When do we meet our biggest fans?”

How did she… never mind, that way lies madness, she groaned internally. Derpy turned around and saw her.

“Princess!” she said, as she quickly bowed.

Twilight still wasn’t used to that. At least it didn’t happen much in Ponyville, where everypony remembers when she was just a pony like everypony else. That castle, though, was starting to have an effect.

“Hi, Derpy,” she greeted her cheerfully. “I’m here to talk to you, actually, and this concerns you, too, Pinkie Pie,”—her voice acquiring a slight edge—”though you seem to already know that… somehow.” She looked Pinkie in the eye, but of course that didn’t faze her.

“Just a hunch,” she chirped with a big smile.

Sigh… “Derpy, why don’t you finish ordering first. It’s on me.”

After she got a blueberry muffin, they all went into the back party room so they could talk in private. Mrs. Cake was quite understanding after Twilight explained she needed Pinkie’s services.

Although Derpy regularly delivered mail to her at the castle, Twilight had never before really held a conversation with the gray pegasus. She started off with small talk, asking Derpy about her job delivering mail and her participation in the Equestria Games. She did her best, as usual, not to pay too much attention to the pegasus’ eyes; it didn’t seem much of an impediment anyway. Derpy’s personality was as bubbly as her cutie mark.

But they weren’t there just for the smalltalk and Derpy was clearly getting nervous over the other horseshoe yet to drop; she wasn’t an idiot, despite what some might think. It was time to get down to business.

“About why I want to talk to you…” Twilight began. How am I going to explain this to her? “Before I say anything, I want to make it crystal clear you don’t have to do what I’m about to ask of you.”

“Okay?” Derpy said, her eyes slowly drifting apart.

“It involves traveling to an… exotic place. You’ll be there for a few hours, preferably this morning.” Pinkie started bouncing with excitement, but Derpy…

“Today?!” she exclaimed, the shock causing her eyes to suddenly realign. “I don’t think I can take the day off on such short notice.”

“Tomorrow is fine, too,” Twilight quickly assured her. “Regardless, I’ll take care of that. The mail service will be informed you are on royal business.” Spike already had the letter written and ready to go.

That impressed the gray pegasus, at first, but then common sense kicked in. “Why do you need me?”

Twilight could no longer beat around the bush. She looked briefly at Pinkie to let her know she needed to pay attention too. “We are going to another realm. The inhabitants there are not ponies; they’re not like anything we have here. We need their help with a serious problem. Two of them are willing to help and have agreed to Pinkie Promise to a set of conditions.” Looking at Pinkie, she said, “That’s why I need you to come along.”

At hearing the words “Pinkie Promise” the pink pony’s smile vanished. “They do know I take Pinkie Promises very seriously?”

“They do,” Twilight confirmed.

“Okay!” Pinkie said as her smile returned and her bouncing resumed.

Derpy was no less perplexed. “I still don’t get why you need me.”

Twilight was starting to regret ever getting the pegasus involved with this, but then Celestia’s words came back to her. She should have the opportunity to rise up to the challenge. “The two who agreed to help us have asked for a favor in return.” No turning back now… “They would like to meet you.”

Derpy blinked. “Meet me?” she asked hesitantly. “Why? How could they even know I exist?”

Twilight sighed. “They do. They know about all of us, myself included. I don’t really understand how it’s possible either. Just accept that it is. They’re such big fans, they even have dolls of each of you.”

“They have a Pinkie Pie doll?!” Pinkie practically exploded. “Does it talk? I’d love to have one that talks then I’ll always have somepony to talk to. But once I made many copies of myself and my copies could talk and that was no fun at all—”

Twilight stuck her hoof in her mouth. “Pinkie, please.” Derpy merely gave a small laugh at Pinkie being Pinkie.

“Sorry,” the pink pony giggled, “I got carried away. I do that sometimes!”

You think? Twilight looked at Derpy. “It’s your choice. You don’t have to do this.” She waited patiently for her answer.

“Let me get this straight…” That did not sound promising. “There are these mysterious ponies who really like me even though they’ve never met me and they want to meet me now and they aren’t in Equestria—they actually have a doll of me?”

“I know it sounds crazy—believe me, I know.” They weren’t ponies, but she didn’t bother correcting her. It was not looking good at all, not the way Derpy was looking creeped out. Not that I can blame her. Do they also have dolls of me?

“Where would they even get a doll of me?” she demanded.

Given her understanding of the situation, Twilight’s guess would be that they simply bought it at a store. Somehow, she doubted that would be a productive response to her question. “I don’t really know.” It technically was an honest answer.

Derpy slowly shook her head. “I’m sorry, Princess. My answer is ‘no.’”

Twilight waited as Pinkie Pie packed her saddlebags with various confections. Whether the humans will enjoy them—can even eat them—was an open question, one that would be answered soon enough. Regardless, she had advised Pinkie to avoid anything with hay or flowers.

The two went on hoof back to the castle. Once inside, they went straight to Twilight’s private library. Spike was there but not Rainbow Dash. Her absence was annoying; she was supposed to be there. Pinkie was fairly certain Dashie had to be in the castle somewhere, and on her hunch they first checked throne room. Sure enough, there she was, sitting smugly on her throne, insufferably pleased with herself.

“I can’t get enough of this awesomeness!” she said as they approached her.

Really, Rainbow Dash? thought Twilight with some irritation. That isn’t what these thrones are for.

“Do you think they have dolls of you too?” Pinkie Pie asked the smug pegasus.

Rainbow Dash was unprepared for that question. After giving it some thought, she said, “Why not? I’d make an awesome doll! I bet there’s a Twilight doll too.”

“Unicorn or alicorn?” asked Pinkie.

“Argh… let’s get going,” Twilight said, rolling her eyes, as she led them back to the library.

“What about a Spike doll?” Spike asked a little too casually.

“How about a castle play set?” suggested Pinkie.

Once in the library, Twilight lost no time in preparing for the trip. She put on her saddlebags, and into that Discord’s instruction manual. Yesterday, she had read it after dinner and was pleasantly surprised to find that it was actually quite thorough and organized. He really did make an effort to keep his chaotic nature under control. We ought to find some way to harmlessly indulge his chaos, she had thought as she put it into a saddlebag. Turns out those bubbles had some interesting features. The invisibility can be turned on and off, and the size of the bubble was adjustable too.

Twilight took four pills out of the dispenser and set them aside. She reminded Pinkie and Spike how the pills worked—and warned them about the taste. Twilight had everypony stand in a circle and for Spike to get on her back. A pill was levitated into the open mouth of each traveler. Once that was done, she thought of their destination and gave word for everypony to swallow their pill.

They were in the office in the home of the humans. Spike checked himself to see if he was a dragon or a dog, was satisfied he was still a dragon and hopped to the floor.

“I look so happy!” Pinkie Pie chirped. “Does it talk?”

The party pony happened to be facing her doll. Both dolls were left on the edge of a chair, evidently put there for their return. Twilight levitated them to the floor, got out her magic probe and checked the doll. “It’s still the exit point of the hole.”

“What are the odds it’d be my doll?” Pinkie innocently asked. A pin drop could be heard as they all stared at her. “Does it at least listen?”

“And there you are… again.” Meg was standing in the doorway, with her husband off to the side and behind her, still not quite believing her eyes. “I see you brought Pinkie Pie and also your number one assistant.”

Spike stood that much taller upon hearing his reputation preceded him. “She’d be lost without me!”

Twilight noticed that Steve was focusing his attention on something rectangular he was holding in his hand. He apparently touched it on the side she couldn’t see, and it made some kind of chirping sound in response. He then put it into a pocket. Did he just take a picture? Not that it matters if they go through with the Pinkie Promise. Maybe they just wanted proof they weren’t going crazy. She found she could actually empathize with their situation. Was it really that different when she herself discovered that Daring Do wasn’t fictional? But at least that pegasus wasn’t an impossible creature from a different realm.

“We’re still real,” Twilight tried to say flippantly. Might as well address the ursa minor in the room. “You’ve probably noticed Derpy isn’t with us. I did ask her, but I’m sorry to say she declined.”

Meg looked disappointed. “Oh.” She shrugged, saying, “Well, at least you tried.” She turned to Steve then back again. “Should we get the Pinkie Promise out of the way?”

That was her cue; Pinkie Pie was all business. The pink pony hopped on to a chair then on to the desk, the better to look them in the eyes. “Go for it, Twilight.”

Twilight adopted her best regal stance, flaring her wings, but decided against practicing her Royal Canterlot Voice, so as to not disturb the neighbors. “Do you, Meg and Steve, Pinkie Promise, first, that you have not already revealed our presence or our mission or the significance of that doll to other inhabitants of this realm, nor shall you do so; and, second, to not hinder our mission to stop the flow of magic into your realm?” Pinkie Pie’s stare was fixated on them now. To their credit, the humans stared right back at her, though not without some visible trepidation.

“We do,” they said in unison. “Cross my heart, hope to fly, stick a cupcake in my eye.”

“Awesome! Pinkie Promise party!” she yelled, leaping for joy.

But oddly enough, Twilight noticed, there were no balloons or streamers—and no party cannon. Whatever the hay kind of magic Pinkie had, like unicorn magic it, too, was being impaired. Not that she seemed to notice or care. She emptied her saddlebag onto the desk, revealing various confections and one baby alligator.

“Gummy!” Pinkie scolded. “I said you couldn’t come!” But she just couldn’t stay mad at her pet baby alligator for long and gave him a hug. “But since you’re here, go enjoy yourself!” she said as she released him. Gummy stood there on his short, stubby legs, blinking first one eye then the other.

Steve carefully avoided Gummy as he reached for a chocolate cupcake. It seemed a bit small in his hand, having been made for ponies. He gave it a sniff, and satisfied that it smelled quite edible, took a small bite. “This really is delicious,” he said after savoring the taste. “From Sugarcube Corner, right?”

“That’s right!” beamed Pinkie Pie. “I made them myself.” She picked up a blueberry muffin and hoofed it to Meg. “By the way, this is Derpy’s favorite. I gave her one from this same batch like an hour ago.”

“Now that I gotta try!” But Meg didn’t take the muffin right away, instead scrutinizing how Pinkie was holding the muffin with her hoof. Lacking magic, Twilight contemplated, humans would find that curious.

After having satisfied her curiosity, Meg carefully grasped the muffin with finger and thumb and brought it to her mouth. She took a large bite. “Mmmmm.” For several seconds she masticated before finally swallowing. “I can see why.” The rest of the muffin quickly followed.

Having finished off the blueberry muffin, Meg looked over the remaining confections. “Ooooo.” Her hand reached out to pick up a cupcake with vanilla frosting with several—Twilight’s pupils shrank to pinpoints as she realized what they were.

“Don’t eat that!” she warned her. Meg looked at her questioningly. “That has gems in it.” That got Spike’s attention. He held out a hand, giving his best puppy dog eyes impression. It took only seconds for Meg to crumble.

“Okay, but only if you’ll show us how you send letters to Princess Celestia.” Spike eagerly nodded his head, and soon the sounds of crunching gems filled the room. Meg watched in fascination; the baby dragon was too focused on the cupcake to notice the attention.

Twilight gave Pinkie a harsh look. Pinkie shrugged. “You said no hay or flowers,” the pink pony said. “You didn’t say anything about gems!” There was no point in pointing out that ponies don’t eat gems either.

“You actually have cupcakes and muffins made with hay and flowers?” asked Steve.

“Well, duh!” Pinkie replied. “They add nice, savory flavors.”

“I’ll take your word for it. We humans can’t eat those things.”

Pinkie put a hoof to her chin. “Hmm… that must be why Twilight told me to not to bring those.”

Steve gave the alicorn a penetrating look. “Interesting. I wonder how you would know that.”

Twilight could not help feeling that he knew exactly how she would know that, but she had so far avoided mentioning The Mirror and its connection to the current situation, and she didn’t care to mention it now. “I have my ways,” she merely said.

Looking to quickly change the subject, Twilight remembered what Spike had agreed to in exchange for the cupcake. Could he do that here? That would be something worth finding out. Spike had finished the cupcake, so Twilight took out a sheet of paper and a quill and sent it over to the baby dragon. “Now it’s your turn to keep up your end of the agreement.”

After Spike grabbed the floating items out of the air, Twilight started dictating. “Princess Celestia, I am writing to you from the other realm, in Steve and Meg’s home, to see if it’s possible. They have Pinkie Promised as planned. Derpy decided not to come. Princess Twilight Sparkle.” The humans seemed impressed that she had talked to Celestia about them, which is what she was rather hoping for. I might be getting the hang of diplomacy.

Spike made a show out of rolling up the sheet of paper, holding it in the air and breathing his green flame onto it. The turned-to-smoke letter wandered aimlessly. It didn’t look promising. But then it settled on a direction, heading towards the Pinkie Pie doll, and upon reaching it, the smoke went into the doll and vanished.

“That looks promising,” Twilight commented. They all stared at the doll, as if waiting for it to come to life.

“Uh, should we be expecting an immediate response?” All heads turned to Twilight for an answer.

“It’s hard to say, Meg.” She could be tied up in some meeting.

“Well, while we’re waiting, could you answer a question about Derpy, since she couldn’t be here?”

Twilight quickly glanced at Pinkie Pie and Rainbow Dash. Either of them would be better able to answer questions about her; neither seemed unwilling to do so. It would be interesting to find out what they wanted to know. “We can certainly try.”

Meg pulled up a chair in front of the ponies and sat down. “What’s her job?”

“She works for the Royal Equestrian Mail as a mailmare,” Twilight replied. A knowing smile blossomed on the woman’s face. She apparently expected that answer; why ask the question? “Her occupation was shown in the cartoon?”

“Not exactly… there was one episode where she was shown working for a pegasus delivery service but she dropped—uh… well she was never shown to be a mailmare.”

“Let me guess,” said Rainbow Dash as she gave Twilight as self-satisfied look. “A piano?”

“Among other things, yeah,” Meg confirmed. “Quite honestly, it looked rather fatal. How did you survive?”

Looked fatal? Huh? The former unicorn recounted what happened. “After a potted plant fell a few feet from me, I looked up, saw what was coming, and immediately raised a shield. Other than a minor bruise from a piece of that shattered pot, I was unharmed.” Oh, yeah… better make that point, too. “I don’t blame Derpy for what happened. I was investigating Pinkie Sense at the time.”

“She sure was!” confirmed Pinkie Pie. “We even got chased by a hydra!” Rainbow Dash just snickered.

“That’s interesting… in the show you made no attempt to shield yourself or even get out of the way.”

Twilight’s jaw went slack for several seconds. “I’m glad I’m smarter than that in real life.”

Meg responded with a quick, nervous smile. “Uh, speaking of the hydra, when you came to a chasm, and the hydra destroyed what sorta passed for a bridge, why didn’t you simply teleport across?”

“Uh… I did teleport.” It was farther than she had ever teleported before, and she was terrified to attempt it, and she hesitated until the last possible second, but she did teleport. Jumping would have been suicide. “What do you think I did?” she asked. That cartoon appears to be less than perfectly accurate.

“Well… you jumped, fell to the bottom, bounced off a giant mud bubble that happened to just form, and wound up on the other side.”

Twilight blinked. “Bounced off a giant mud bubble,” she droned.

“The bubble did burst after you bounced off it,” Meg sheepishly added. She looked at Pinkie Pie and Spike, knowing they witnessed the event, but they also blankly looked at her like she was spouting nonsense.

The alicorn slightly tilted her head. “That’s the silliest thing I’ve ever heard.”

“I’m sure I’ve said sillier things!” protested Pinkie Pie.

Twilight had to suppress a chuckle as she looked at the offended earth pony. “Yes,” she sighed. “Yes, you certainly have.”

“We can show you the scene…”

Should I watch it? There was no reason to think they were making this up. Who could possibly make up stuff like this? It was bizarre how that cartoon could both be so accurate and yet… take poetic license with certain events. “No, that won’t be necessary.”

Nopony spoke. The silence was becoming awkward. I might as well explore this a little further. “Any other misconceptions I can clear up?” she tried to ask cheerfully.

The two humans looked at each other and, by some unspoken agreement, Steve went next. “What was the most recent major event to have happened in Equestria? Before this ‘hole,’ of course.”

Twilight pondered the purpose of that question. Obviously they wanted to determine how close the most recent cartoon is to the present. But why not just state the most recent event they know of? There’s no reason to keep that a secret; on the contrary, they’d want to know what has transpired since. Or—her eyes widened—they’re afraid they know our future! Is that even possible? Only one way to find out. “That would be the defeat of Tirek about two months ago.”

He let out a sigh of relief. “That was the most recent episode. It aired a month ago.”

That kept things uncomplicated; Twilight hated time loops. She had to give them credit, though, for considering that. Bad as it was that they knew so much about their past, it’d be even worse if they knew their future! Twilight thought it prudent to gather more data points. “Anything else?”

“Well…” began Meg, “in the episode about the recent Equestria Games there seems to be a huge plot hole…”

Rainbow Dash said, “What do you mean?”

“The unicorn magic disabling spell…”

“To prevent cheating. What of it?”

“Surely Celestia did not have her magic disabled.”

“Duh, princesses were exempt, right, Twilight?”

“I did cast the spell to light the—” She looked at Spike.

“I’m past that,” he dismissed with a nonchalant wave of his claw. But then he began fidgeting with those claws. He must be realizing his faking of the Cloudsdale anthem was seen by many more than just the entire stadium. That was far more embarrassing. Terribly, painfully, soul-crushingly embarrassing. Oh, Spike…

Meg continued. “Then when that cloud was hit by an ice arrow, why did no princess do anything about it?”

“You honestly don’t know?” asked Twilight, genuinely surprised. That was hardly an insignificant detail…

“As it was shown, it never occurred to you or any other princess to do something about it. Nor do we know if Derpy placed or not in—what was it?—air sprinting?”

That made Rainbow Dash’s day. “Nopony tell them, got that?” she ordered. “It’s nice to know we got some secrets!”

“That includes you, Gummy,” warned Pinkie Pie, wagging her hoof at the baby alligator. Gummy stood there on his short, stubby legs, blinking first one eye then the other.

Eh, why not? They’re not entitled to know everything. “Let’s just say us princesses aren’t morons,” smirked Twilight. Nonetheless it gave her food for thought. That was an odd omission. It did make them look like idiots if that’s how it was portrayed.

“I guess you get to have some secrets,” Steve conceded half-jokingly.

Spike burped up a letter. He caught it and started reading it aloud. “Princess Twilight Sparkle. Apparently, we can communicate between realms. Give my regards to Meg and Steve. Princess Celestia.”

Twilight levitated it over to Steve. “You may keep this as a souvenir. You shouldn’t show it to others, though I suspect nopony would believe you if you did.”

“No, you’re quite right,” he mused, as he took hold of it. “Our sanity would be questioned if we claimed it was real.”

Rainbow Dash flew to the window and looked outside. “This trip down memory lane is nice and all, but I think I’m gonna fly around for a bit and see what’s out there. Twilight, could you teleport me outside?”

“Before you go…” The pegasus turned her head towards Steve. “Stay away from airplanes—flying machines. I’m serious.”

“Yeah, we saw those. Really noisy. How do they fly without magic? They don’t even flap their wings!”

“It’d take too long to explain. Just… stay away from them. Their engines—the noisy bits—can suck you in and kill you.” Rainbow Dash grimaced in response.

I hope she keeps her recklessness under control, even if “danger” is her middle name. The alicorn quietly sighed. Oh, who am I kidding…

“They leave behind a lot of air turbulence too.”

“Okay, sheesh, I get the message.” She looked out the window again. “Looks like the coast is clear. Twilight?”

“Coming,” she said as she flew over. They hovered, facing each other, front hooves touching. Her horn flashed brightly and they were on the other side of the window. Rainbow Dash broke contact, turned to face upwards and outwards, and with one powerful flap of her wings vanished, leaving behind a rainbow contrail—that ended after a few dozen feet, the point at which the magical field got too diluted to sustain it. Twilight teleported back inside.

The humans stood with their mouths open, not believing what they just saw.

“You two just broke so many laws of physics,” Steve said. “I can’t believe the universe let you get away with that.”

Twilight mulled that over for a moment. “We need to talk about that. There are some things I can’t do and I don’t understand why.”

5. Physics Kindergarten

Rainbow Dash flew east. Only a short distance she flew, until she reached that large, inland body of water. Her curiosity easily satisfied, she then headed south. Those big flying machines needed a closer look, and who better qualified than Equestria’s best flyer to do the looking? Without Twilight to slow her down, it would take but a few minutes to reach the spot where those “airplanes” arrived and departed.

She stayed within a few hundred feet of the ground, having noticed that those flying machines stayed far off the ground when not landing or taking off. Her keen eyesight spotted a few much smaller—and much quieter—flying machines, going off in various directions. But they were too slow; her interest was in big, fast ones.

Upon arriving the pegasus instantly noticed the long, thin roads the airplanes used. Soon it became apparent that they only appeared thin due to their length. Are they that big? At the far end, one of those machines was turning a corner onto that road. She quickly flew towards it, but stayed well off to the side, heeding Steve’s warning.

It really was that big. Equestrian airships may be that long, but they were mostly giant bags of gas. The most sophisticated and expensive used some levitation magic, but even those relied partially on lighter-than-air gasses. That long line of windows revealed that this machine was all passenger-carrying space. How could something so massive get off the ground? Yeah, it had wings, but there was a reason non-magical birds didn’t get very large. This thing was bigger than many adult dragons!

Once it had completed the turn, the airplane came to a complete halt and just sat there. What’s it waiting for? Rainbow Dash decided to get a close look. She headed towards the windows just above one of the wings to get a look inside. Those “noisy bits” weren’t very noisy at the moment, and since they were under the wing she figured she would be safe enough being above the wing.

There was no longer any doubt it was machine made of metal. As she passed over the wing, she could see the seams between the metal sheets comprising it. The whole structure had a precise curvature to it, but there were no joints, no way for the wing to flap.

After reaching the long, cylindrical body of the airplane, she peered inside a window. Humans were tightly packed together in closely spaced rows of seats. They didn’t look very comfortable. The flight must last a very short time for them to tolerate it. Rainbow Dash was glad she would never need to tolerate this.

Her ears flattened as they were assaulted by an ear-splitting noise. She then noticed the airplane was beginning to move, quite slowly at first, but steadily accelerating. As the wing passed under her, an intense heat radiated against her underside, forcing her to reflexively leap dozens of feet upwards. She looked down to see a superheated stream of air leaving that “noisy bit.” Steve wasn’t joking. It must be pushing the machine forward, as hard as it was to imagine something so massive being moved by merely blowing air out the back.

She moved far off to the side, if only to lessen the noise, but matched its speed. It wasn’t hard to do. Still, considering its size, it was impressive. And it was still accelerating. She looked down the road, eyeing the barrier at the end. It wouldn’t take long to reach if it kept speeding up like this. It had to be airborne by then. Her adrenaline started pumping. Let’s see just how fast and high these things can go.

The acceleration continued. It was now going what many pegasi would consider fast, yet it remained solidly on the ground. The barrier was seconds away. The increase in speed was relentless; it was committed. Suddenly the nose lifted up and it started to climb, rapidly, still gaining speed. Now it gets interesting. She followed as the airplane climbed several thousand feet, then started to bear left. It must have been going at least two hundred miles-per-hour, and it was still accelerating. Not many pegasi could do that, but Rainbow Dash was just getting warmed up.

A few minutes later they were over the ocean, at least a mile high and still climbing and still accelerating. The pegasus continued following. Presumably it was going to cross this ocean. How far did it have to go?

Still higher the machine climbed, gaining ever more speed. Nothing she couldn’t match—except for some reason it was becoming difficult to keep up. The air pushed back at her with increasing ferocity. Her wings pumped harder to compensate, but they became less effective with each beat. The airplane moved ahead, leaving her behind. She was slowing down! It was like—I’m running out of magic!

Panicking, the pegasus did her best to come to a halt as fast as possible. It would be suicide to return to the library while traveling at these speeds. Too late she realized that was a mistake, that she was rapidly using up what little magic she had left. The fail-safe triggered, putting her back in the library on a collision course with way too many books.

But she now had magic! Her wings produced thrust, bringing her to a halt just in time. She wiped her brow, exhaling. That was too close. Twilight would have killed her if she had gone splat against her books. Her wings exhausted, the pegasus set down on the floor, only to discover her legs had turned to rubber. Her belly was unceremoniously dumped onto the floor.

Rainbow Dash looked up at the pill dispenser, eyes full of contempt. Those plaid pills couldn’t match her awesomeness. She would never find out how high or fast or far those machines could go. She placed her head on the floor.

“This sucks.”

Twilight followed Steve into the kitchen. “Care for some tea?” he asked, as he filled an electric kettle with water.

“I would like that.” But then he probably already knew she would. Nonetheless, it would be interesting to see what their tea was like.

He put the kettle on its stand and switched it on. It appeared to run on electricity. Using electric power as a source of heat was common, but putting a dedicated heating element into a kettle? That seemed unnecessarily extravagant. Celestia, of course, had long ago taught her how to heat water to the optimal temperature using magic. Not coincidentally, it also taught her precise control over high magical exertion—high for a young filly, anyway.

Steve opened a cupboard, grabbed several small boxes out of it, and presented them for her inspection. “Which one do you want to try?”

Twilight had half-expected the tea varieties to be familiar and she wasn’t disappointed. Some were in fact familiar, like Chamomile, but not all. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a tea made from ginger before; I give that a try.” He removed two bags from the box and set them aside, returning the boxes to the cupboard. Pre-measured, with integral filtering. Interesting. She could already smell the aroma.

As Steve fetched a pair of cups from another cupboard, he asked, “Could you give me an example of something your magic couldn’t do?”

She got the magic probe out of her saddlebag. “One of the first things I tried to do, on arriving in this realm, was to extend the length of this handle so I could poke it through my magic containment bubble.”

“Magic containment bubble?”

Oh, right. She had never mention that. “It allows us to bring some magic with us and not have it dissipate into the environment. It also makes us invisible and inaudible.”

“Which is why you were shocked we could see and hear you.” He put a bag into each cup. Each bag was attached to a string with a small paperish handle on the other end. It was quite convenient, no doubt, but seemed more trouble than it was worth to make. “What happened?”

“The magical field from the hole caused them to shutoff,” she explained. “I suppose it all worked out for the best.” The probe positioned itself in front of Steve. “Anyway, I couldn’t extend this handle. When I got back home, it extended just fine. It’s such a simple morphing spell I can’t understand how it could fail.”

Steve stared at the probe for a while. “When you extended the handle, did it keep the same cross-section?”

“Changing both length and cross-section is more complicated and not worth the trouble,” she explained. “Why would I want to?” Twilight couldn’t imagine what he was getting at.

The water had began to boil and Twilight noticed the kettle had shut off automatically in response. How was that done? Steve poured water into the cups. “One of the fundamental physical laws of our universe is the conservation of mass and energy. You were trying to create mass out of nothing, which is impossible.”

Twilight blinked. Impossible? “I’m familiar with conservation laws, but magic, back home anyway, has no trouble overriding them.” So, theoretically, if she had reduced the cross-section to exactly compensate for the increase in length, it would have worked? But it would have had to be exact and that wasn’t realistic. “What makes the conservation laws magic-proof here?”

“I could just as well ask what makes them not magic-proof there.” He tugged on the little paper handles, stirring up the water in each cup. “All I can do is try to explain why the conservation laws are fundamental here. Fortunately, being a post-doc in physics, I can do that.”

Her ears went fully erect, facing him. “I’m listening.” She hadn’t felt like this since she was a young filly trying to absorb everything she could about magic. A “post-doc” sounded like some kind of scientist—just what she needed.

He continued swirling the tea bags as he began lecturing. “Conservation laws are implied by the mathematical symmetries describing physical systems. Conservation of energy is implied by the symmetry of time invariance, which basically means that the laws of physics do not change over time. Magic here evidently does not have the power to change the laws of physics, even temporarily, so it cannot create or destroy mass and energy. Magic must have that power in Equestria.”

Of course it does. Magic can override just about all physical laws. Discord has proven that often enough. “You said Rainbow Dash and I broke your physical laws. How do you explain that?”

Steve avoided answering at first, suddenly preoccupied with the steeping bags of tea. “Rainbow Dash, I cannot. Even if I assume her incredible acceleration was fueled by the magical energy you brought with you, she still violated the conservation of momentum; there was no equal and opposite reaction. That’s just as impossible, yet I saw it with my own eyes.

“Your teleportation is as hard to explain. Best I can come up with is some sort of quantum mechanical tunneling, but that’s probabilistic and impossible to control, and the probability of it happening would be indistinguishable from zero anyway.

“But there must be a logical explanation consistent with our physical laws, because if you could change them you could also violate conservation of energy.”

That would logically follow, Twilight thought, and Discord did say this realm was a stickler for rules.

The tea was ready. Steve used those convenient paper handles to pull the bags out of the cups and dispose of them. After taking hold of both cups, he walked into the other room and set them down on a small table in front of a sofa, next to the Pinkie Pie doll and some confections they also brought with them from the office. Meg was still in the office, enjoying the company of the earth pony, her pet baby alligator, and one baby dragon.

While waiting for the tea to cool a bit, Twilight decided it would be a good time to do some more measurements on the magical field emanating from the doll. As Steve watched with interest, she got the flow meter out of her saddlebag and placed it on the floor. A lavender glow surrounded the doll as it joined the device on the floor, positioned a foot away. Finally, she retrieved a quill and notepad, and set them down on the table so as not to contaminate the measurements with their levitation.

“That’s a different device,” Steve observed.

Twilight walked over to said device and waited for the needles to settle down. “This one measures the velocity and viscosity of the magic flow,” she explained. “At the other end, the flow velocity is high, the viscosity is low, and the field is very weak; but here the velocity is low, the viscosity is high, and the field is much stronger than normal.”

“I guess that says something about the geometry of the hole?” he asked, as Twilight levitated the quill and pad just long enough to write down the numbers.

“I would assume so,” she concurred, as she moved the device a few feet away from the doll. “There must be a bottleneck that compresses the flow.” While waiting for the needles to settle again, she looked at the doll, contemplating Pinkie’s signature. She had insisted on signing the doll before allowing Twilight to take it—just in case it somehow got into a box full of other, otherwise identical, Pinkie Pie dolls.

“Not much difference,” she said as she again levitated quill and pad to write down the numbers. “Just a bit faster and a bit less viscous. I know from the measurement I took outside that the magic does lose its viscosity and speed away once it thins out enough.”

“What happens to it eventually?”

“Magic is inherently unstable here. My understanding is that it will eventually break down into some non-magical form of energy consistent with your physical laws.”

Steve sat down on the sofa and took one of the cups of tea, carefully taking a sip. Satisfied it had sufficiently cooled, he took a longer sip. “You asked us to keep an eye out for anything unusual,” he said.

Twilight remained on the other side of the table, as she took the other cup with her magic. “And?” Waiting for the answer, she took a sip. The ginger taste was quite pronounced, with vanilla in the background. She wondered if she could take some back with her, confident that Celestia would be quite intrigued by this tea.

“There has been some unexplained interference with UHF digital TV broadcasts. Not in an actively used channel, but close enough to one to attract attention. It’s being investigated, but so far the source of the interference cannot be tracked down. That’s highly unusual. It also seems to be getting worse over time.”

There were several words just used she did not know, but Twilight got the gist of it. “You think it may have something to do with the breakdown of the magic into another form of energy.”

“Yes,” Steve said, nodding. “If this breakdown is occurring throughout a very large volume, that would explain why the source cannot be tracked down.”

“And getting worse over time, as the hole gets larger,” Twilight said, connecting the dots. “But this is all just speculation for now.”

They both drank their tea in silence.

“Is there any chance the authorities here could locate that doll, the way you did?”

It hadn’t occurred to Twilight that might be a concern. After pondering the matter for a moment, she delivered her conclusion. “I don’t see how. My probe measures the effect of the magical field, or lack thereof, on a substance that can only be created magically. The substance is relatively stable in a strong field, but the weaker the field the faster it decays. A substance like that cannot exist naturally here, and I don’t see how you could make it.”

“I hope you’re right.”

“Me too,” she sighed. I have no idea what their technology is capable of.

They drank in silence some more.

“I apologize in advance if I’m out of line for asking this,” Steve hesitantly said, “but have you tried fixing this with the Elements of Harmony or your Rainbow Powers yet?”

Twilight wasn’t sure how to answer that. It was obvious, of course, that either she had tried and it failed, or she had a good reason not to try—but she still didn’t care to mention The Mirror. “You shouldn’t be afraid to ask me anything,” she began, smiling. “No, we haven’t, because we have good reason to believe it won’t help—it might even make it worse.”

“Have you considered using them here, on this side of the hole?”

Actually, she hadn’t. There was certainly plenty of magic, and magic can definitely affect that doll. Her ability to levitate it proves that. But what would be the consequences of using the Elements in a realm that’s alien to magic? It was her use of the Elements in that mirror realm that caused this problem in the first place. It was far too risky to even consider except as a last resort.

Her eyes went wide as she realized that three of the Elements were here, right now, in this realm. She, herself, was now the embodiment of the Element of Magic. It was true that nothing of consequence had occurred as a result—at least nothing obvious. But that hole wasn’t obvious at first either; she needed to be sure.

Twilight closed her eyes and focused inward, sensing the Element within her. It did not seem to be troubled being in this realm. It didn’t seem to be aware of it at all, if that made any sense, but it was aware of the disharmonies of that hole through which Equestria’s magic drained. Maybe it was possible, but at what cost? What would the Elements do to this realm if they became aware of it upon being activated? Or, she grimly considered, remembering that Discord could not exist here, what this realm might do to the activated Elements.


She opened her eyes. Steve was looking at her, a worried look on his face. “I’m fine,” she quickly said. “I just realized the Element of Magic is in this realm with me and I was checking on it. It’s fine, too, and behaving itself.” He was about to ask the all too obvious question and she saved him the trouble. “I don’t know if it’s a good idea to use the Elements here. It’s not my first choice.”

“Gummy, no!” Pinkie Pie shouted in the other room.

Twilight sighed. “Don’t ask. I don’t know what she sees in that alligator. She’s just being Pinkie Pie.” More as a distraction than anything else, she moved the flow meter a few more feet away from the doll and took another measurement. Steve took this as an opportunity to help himself to another muffin.

Once he finished it, he tried to change the subject. “Can you help me understand what magic is?” he asked. “Is it even really possible for a non-magical creature living in a non-magical universe to understand it?”

Twilight put the flow meter back into her saddlebag as she thought about it. He knew literally nothing about magic, apart from what he may have seen in that cartoon, and that didn’t really count. Even a unicorn foal just starting magic kindergarten would know more, would have at least experienced magic and most likely have used some trivial magic.

However, neither was she explaining magic to a foal, but to another scientist—even if he was an unbelievably ignorant scientist by Equestrian standards.

“We don’t really know what magic is. It’s an energy dense field that permeates our realm, but we don’t know where it comes from, how it replenishes itself, or why it even exists. Our magic science focuses, mainly, on how to use it.” Twilight was a bit concerned that left a less than favorable impression.

“Nice to see we have that in common, too,” Steve said. “I could easily say something similar about aspects of our universe.” That made Twilight feel better and she smiled in relief. “So how do you use magic?”

“Only a living being can use magic; inanimate objects cannot use magic, though such objects through advanced techniques can be magically charged by a living being to perform some task.”

“Why does, say, a unicorn use magic differently than a pegasus?”

“The short answer is that different body plans have different magical abilities, different ways of utilizing the magical field. The long answer requires terminology and knowledge you don’t have.”

“Fair enough, but doesn’t this all just beg the question? Living beings are made of the same atoms as inanimate objects. Why is one collection of atoms considered animate and able to use magic and another collection is not?”

“One has conscious self awareness and the other does not. A deceased pony can’t use magic either.” Which on occasion has led to awkward situations involving pegasi in Cloudsdale. In any case, that was an oversimplification and she hoped she wouldn’t be called out on it. Some plants, such as poison joke, were also magical, powerfully so, though one could argue they were conscious in some sense too, despite lacking a nervous system.

“But how do you define conscious self awareness?”

Twilight’s ears sagged. “We can’t, other than we all self-evidently possess it.”

“Same for us,” Steve admitted. He helped himself to another cupcake. “So what allows a living being to tap into the magical field?” He took a bite as he waited for the answer.

“The two are coupled. Normally, the coupling occurs at conception and remains unchanged throughout life, though truly powerful magic can alter it.”

“Like how Tirek took all your magic and the Elements restored it.”

“Yes,” her voice having a distant quality to it. That cartoon again. But it did have its advantages too, she had to admit. She didn’t have to explain everything to him. She finished off her tea as Steve finished the cupcake.

“How do cutie marks tie into this? You ponies lost them when you lost your coupling to the magical field.”

You wouldn’t be saying that so casually if you knew what it was like to lose your cutie mark. Twilight gazed longingly at the muffins and cupcakes. It was getting close to lunchtime. She resisted temptation and answered the question.

“The magical field gives destinies to us ponies, which manifest as cutie marks magically projected onto the coat. A destiny may also come with a special talent. It’s a deep and fundamental form of magic, almost immune to manipulation by other magic. Most ponies have mundane destinies. The princesses, or my friends and I, on the other hoof…”

“I can imagine it must be a burden at times. We have the concept of destiny, but I couldn’t say it actually exists for us.”

Twilight thought about that for a moment, as she gave in and selected a muffin, taking a bite out of it. “I honestly don’t know whether to be happy or sad for you. When I got mine it was the happiest day of my life, but I had no clue what was in store for me.” She saw the look on his face. “Don’t tell me you saw that too,” she sighed.

“All six of you, your destinies linked when you all got your cutie marks at the same time, when Rainbow Dash did her first sonic rainboom. They were shown as flashbacks as the Cutie Mark Crusaders asked each of you for your cutie mark story.”

They saw me turn my parents into potted plants? For the nth time Twilight wondered why this was happening, how could it be happening. “Sounds about right.” Steve was about to apologize but she cut him off. “No, don’t. I need to just accept it as a fact of life and move on.”

Before Steve could reply, Pinkie Pie, Spike, and Meg entered the room. Pinkie was her usual joyful, carefree, untroubled self, as one would expect of the Element of Laughter. Meg looked a little overwhelmed. Be glad you met her here where her magic is constrained!

“Twilight, I’m heading back,” Pinkie informed her. “Meg, Steve, I’ll throw you a proper Pinkie Pie party when you visit Ponyville!” Gummy poked his head out of the earth pony’s saddlebag, blinking first one eye then the other. Pinkie Pie invoked the return spell and vanished.

Oh, Pinkie, why did you have to say that? Twilight thought as she face-hoofed.

“I take it she wasn’t supposed to say that. Should we just pretend she didn’t?”

Twilight looked at Steve. The offer seemed genuine, but it would only put off the inevitable. Maybe Pinkie did me a favor. “I believe I mentioned something about us princesses not being morons,” she said with a wry smile. “The possibility already occurred to us. May I assumed you’re interested in visiting Equestria?”

“Of course,” Steve replied, “but we’re not morons either. It’s apparent you’d rather we didn’t.” It was a simple statement of fact.

“The truth is I haven’t decided yet.” She paused before continuing. “I do have the authority to grant you entry and the ability to bring you across.”

The humans were holding their breaths, waiting for the inevitable but.

She sighed. “I know you’re excited at the chance to visit what you thought was a fantasy. I understand, honest I do. You know about Daring Do, right?”

They nodded.

“I’m a huge fan of her books; I’ve read every one of them. I thought she was fictional too, until one day my friends and I actually met her.”

“Season four, episode four, Daring Don’t,” said Steve.

Twilight couldn’t help a small laugh. “Cute play on her name… anyway… Rainbow Dash felt much like you do now, and she learned the hard way there was a difference between fantasy and reality.” And for Daring Do to learn that some things ought to be brought to royal attention before they got out of control. After all, who would have been called upon to clean up the mess had Ahuizotl succeeded?

“Point taken,” he conceded. “You’re concerned we’ll cause trouble, even if unintentionally, and you don’t need that right now.”

“That’s part of it.” There was also Celestia’s preference, and she couldn’t have humans walking the streets of Ponyville, never mind doing so while talking about that cartoon. “But I do appreciate the help you’re providing.”

Meg sat down in the chair adjacent to the sofa. “Thanks for being upfront about it,” she said. “Why don’t we change the subject?”

Good idea, Twilight thought with relief. Continuing that subject would be counterproductive. “Let’s,” she concurred. Getting back to physics would be productive.

“I’ve gone through the physics book you lent me.” She had meant to return it but it’d slipped her mind. Next time… “Much of it was familiar to me, but there were two topics that weren’t.”

Steve raised his eyebrows in curiosity. “And?”

“Relativity and Quantum Mechanics,” she stated. “I don’t know why those are unknown to Equestrian science. It could be because they don’t apply to our realm, or simply because we never had reason to suspect their existence.”

He leaned back. “I can’t know for sure, of course, but I’d be surprised if they didn’t apply. The fact that you can come here and remain in one piece, never mind alive, says that. If QM didn’t apply, then whatever material substance you’re made of couldn’t possibly exist here in any recognizable form. If Relativity didn’t apply, then it’s not clear how you could cross over into our universe; I’d assume it was some kind of connecting wormhole.”

“I see.” It had never occurred to her that their very physical forms might have been incompatible with this realm. Or that they might not have been able to so much as breath its air. Did Discord know that wasn’t a problem, or were they just lucky? But then, what are the odds they could share a spoken and written language but not physics?

It seemed all but certain their physics did apply, but that did not exactly please her. “I have to admit that I find… QM… bizarre. How could anypony come up with it, much less know it actually described reality?”

“That is a perfectly sane reaction,” he assured her. “Nonetheless, for nearly a century, countless experiments have been performed and not once has either theory been falsified. I see no reason why those experiments couldn’t be conducted in Equestria.”

I shall do that, if only to discover how magic interacts with Quantum Mechanics and Relativity. No physics book here was going to address that. Star Swirl’s work on time and space related spells would be a good starting point for the magic aspect. “It’s already on my to-do list,” she chirped.

“I bet it is,” he said knowingly. “I have a few books specifically on those subjects you can take home with you.”

“I’d appreciate that.” Wait, wasn’t he a scientist of some sort? “You said you were a post-doc in physics. Could you elaborate?”

Steve leaned forward, welcoming the invitation to talk about his research. “My area of research is gravitational waves, something predicted by General Relativity. I’m helping to design a next generation detector that hopefully will be sensitive enough to detect them.”

“I work on the simulation software for the project,” added Meg. “It’s how we met.”

Software what now? Later… “It sounds like these waves have never been detected. Isn’t that a problem for the theory?”

“Not yet. We know our existing detectors aren’t sensitive enough unless we got lucky. Plus there’s indirect astronomical evidence they exist.”

“There’s no way to artificially generate them?”

“Generating them is trivial. The problem is generating waves powerful enough to measure. That requires literally astronomical masses and accelerations.”

Whatever that means. Based on her knowledge of Equestria’s realm, that didn’t really make any sense. So much to learn.

Spike got her attention. “We need to head back.”

Right, lunch with Applejack and Rarity. “I’m sorry, but I have other commitments right now,” she apologized. She put away her quill and notepad.

“Sure, no problem, but before you go…” Steve quickly ran to the kitchen and returned with the box of ginger tea. “You can have this,” he said, handing it to her.

Twilight accepted the gift with her magic and put it in a saddlebag. “Thank you.”

They went back into the office, where Steve gave her two more books. Twilight told them not to expect Rainbow Dash to return; the adventurous pegasus would probably keep on flying until she ran out of magic and was forced to return home. Soon she was back home herself.

“Do you think we have a chance?” Meg asked as she looked once more for shed feathers or fur. At least this time they had a photo, a letter from Celestia, and Sugarcube Corner packaging.

“A chance, yes,” Steve said, as he watched her search in vain. “I dunno… We should keep being helpful and avoid giving her the notion we’re loose cannons.” She checked the sofa. “Still nothing?”

“Nada.” She stood up, but continued staring at the sofa. “I guess if they brushed their coat and mane every morning, there wouldn’t be much to shed during the day.”

“Funny how cartoon ponies don’t seem to worry much about personal hygiene.”

“Yeah… the disadvantages of being real.” She looked at her husband. “Too bad we can’t show that picture to my brother.”

“Trying to pass off a photoshopped picture as real? You know he’ll only see it as further evidence you have an unhealthy obsession with ponies.”

She looked off to the side, averting his gaze. “Why does CGI have to be so damn good now,” she complained. “Even bronies wouldn’t believe those pictures.”

“Twilight could personally appear at a convention, sitting next to and having a conversation with Tara Strong, and most of the audience would still be convinced it was somehow faked.”

“You’re probably right,” Meg sighed. “Not as if we have the option of booking Her Royal Highness anyway.” If it’s even a good idea to have her in the same room with the people behind the cartoon, she thought, being still fresh in her mind Twilight’s reaction to her ascension in Magical Mystery Cure.

“We did find out Derpy was a mailmare,” she remembered. “Fan fiction consensus was right about that. That was never in the cartoon.”

“Then we better avoid Lyra like the plague,” Steve joked, “if we do visit Equestria.”

That would be a nice problem to have, she thought. “Let’s get lunch.”

“So you’re ruling out the Elements for now.” Applejack took a sip of her apple juice.

“I have to consider it a last resort.”

Rarity subtly tossed her mane. “I quite agree. It wouldn’t be proper to put their realm at unnecessary risk.”

Twilight took a bite out of her sandwich, focusing on how the pickles complemented the daffodils. After washing it down with her lemonade, she continued. “I still hope I can figure out a way to plug that hole once I learn enough about their realm’s physics.” She stared at the sandwich. “It’s just so different. It’s like being in magic kindergarten all over again.”

Rarity gave her a considered look. “I should think all that learning would make you happy, darling.”

Twilight looked back at her sheepishly. “Ordinarily, yes. I’m just not used to being so… clueless, and to make it worse there might not be any difference between their physics and ours, apart from us having magic.” She helped herself to the shared plate of hay fries.

“Does it matter?” asked Applejack.

“It does, a lot,” she replied. “First, it would be a huge advancement in Equestrian science.” Not that it meant as much to them as it did to her. “Second, it would mean their technology would work here. They are far advanced compared to us.”

“I suppose, lacking magic, they would have good motivation to pursue alternatives, “ observed Rarity.

“But we do have magic,” Applejack pointed out.

“They have machines that can do things we can’t even imagine doing with magic.”

Applejack rolled her eyes. “Rainbow Dash did spin quite a tale about a flyin’ machine.”

So, despite Steve’s warning, she went and did that anyway. At least she got back in one piece. “I don’t know what she told you, but I doubt she had to exaggerate much.”

Green eyes peered into lavender eyes. “Yer wonderin’ what to do once that hole is fixed.”

No point denying it to the Element of Honesty. “Yes,” she admitted. “We could simply forget they exist, but there’s so much we could learn from them.” Her ears flattened. “If only they didn’t know so impossibly, embarrassingly much about us.”

“Kinda gives ’em an unfair advantage, don’t it?”

“Then we find a way to turn it to our advantage, darling.”

“It is why they’re willing to help us,” said Twilight, before finishing off her sandwich.

“And they want nothin’ in return?”

“They did ask to meet Derpy”—the other two mares reacted with raised eyebrows—”but she wouldn’t do it. Can’t say I blame her. No doubt many ponies would have felt the same way.” She munched on a hay fry before continuing.

“They also had questions about certain events here. It turns out that show takes liberties with the facts occasionally.” Her voice dropped to a mutter. “…sometimes in a less than flattering way.” She munched on another hay fry.

“Yer holdin’ somethin’ back.” Applejack was glaring at her.

The alicorn sighed. She again checked on the spell keeping their conversation private in the busy restaurant. “They’ve expressed an interest in coming here.”

“You’re seriously considering it, aren’t you?”

“Yes, Rarity, I am.” Looking her in the eye, she then droned, “But remembering how everypony reacted to Zecora…”

“Yes, well, indeed,” she blushed, “but everypony has learned their lesson…”

Regardless, we’ve decided not to reveal their existence until we’ve decided to establish relations with them.” The other mares, of course, knew who she meant by we.

“So how will ya learn enough about ’em to make that decision?”

Twilight drank some more lemonade before replying. “I’m not sure. We’re only directly interacting with the two we’ve already met. It’s unwise for us to simply mingle with the natives, all things considered, and observing while invisible leaves a lot to be desired.”

“Why not simply turn ourselves into humans, like we did into breezies?” the fashionista suggested.

“I did consider that. The problem is, humans are not magical. I don’t know what would happen if an embodiment of an Element became non-magical. That wouldn’t have been a problem a few months ago, but we are what we now are.”

“I reckon that would be an unacceptable risk.”

“Another problem is that we know next to nothing about their realm. Even my experience with the mirror realm is of limited help. Mostly it lets me know how much I don’t know. We’d be at the mercy of those two humans, with no magic at our disposal.”

“Then the solution is obvious, darling!” The other two mares looked questioningly at Rarity. “Bring them here and turn them into ponies. They know all about us, so they’d fit right in!”

“That sounds like a mighty fine idea. It’d give us all a chance to see what they’re made of.”

Twilight looked back and forth between the two. “It’s an option,” she said hesitantly. It was an option not without a serious flaw. “They might not care to be turned into ponies.”

6. Unexpected Circumstances

A large, white van was parked on the side of the road, a few dozen feet past the entrance to the apartment’s parking lot. As Meg signaled to turn, a rear door of the van opened from the inside, revealing an interior full of electronic gear and several persons. While she made the turn, a man wearing a suit and tie left the van, closed the door, and walked towards the front of the van. This can’t be good.

Meg continued driving towards her assigned parking spot. She turned her head to get a side view of the van and saw that it had no markings. The man was walking purposefully towards a nondescript sedan parked in front of the van, on top of which she could now see various antennas. She lost sight of them after making another right turn.

She parked the car and shut it off, but stayed inside. The odds were good Twilight was inside their home. Since the ponies first visited last weekend, Twilight had been coming back every day, both to take measurements on that doll and to learn more about humanity. What should she say about that van?

They had been assured that the doll could not be located via non-magical technology, yet that van was parked there. Meg was willing to bet that she would find federal license plates on both the van and that car.

But if she told Twilight, she might go out there to… do something. Meg could not imagine anything good coming from such an encounter. It could be just a coincidence. If they were tracking that doll, and they’ve already come this close, then why weren’t they knocking on her door? How do I know they aren’t?

She couldn’t stay in the car forever. She took a deep breath to calm her nerves, opened the door, and got out. There didn’t seem to be anyone around, much less someone interested in talking to her. A quick walk from out under the carport and she could see her front door. Everything looked normal.

She chanced a walk down the driveway to get another look at that van. Her heart was pounding by the time she reached the intersection. Steeling herself, she walked as nonchalantly as possible across the driveway while looking towards the street. The van was gone, as was the car in front of it. Even if that van was investigating the mysterious interference, it and others like it would have been driving all over the place gathering data. It was not that unlikely one of them would have come close to them. And as Twilight had predicted, they apparently didn’t notice they were practically on top of the source of the magic flow.

Now relieved there was nothing to worry about, Meg walked back to the apartment. Upon letting herself in, she went straight to the office. As she half-expected, Twilight was there, reading a book, but a new pony was there, too, also reading a book.


Both mares looked up at Meg. Applejack put her book down and got up onto her hooves. Adjusting her Stetson, she said, “You must be Meg. Pleased ta meet ya!”

“Uh, hi,” Meg awkwardly replied. “I wasn’t expecting you.” She also hadn’t expected to find her reading a book, but just because the cartoon always showed Twilight doing the reading didn’t mean other ponies couldn’t read. Meg took a quick glance at the book. It was the promotional travel guide, full of glossy pictures, that she and Steve had bought a few months ago to plan their recent trip to Hawaii. How could Applejack hold it and turn the pages without a unicorn’s telekinesis?

“I didn’t think you’d mind,” apologized Twilight, disrupting Meg’s thoughts.

“It’s okay,” Meg hastily assured them.

“Where’s Steve?”

“He’s stuck in meetings tonight with visiting scientists from… very far away.” If she mentioned Europe, she’d be spending the next half-hour answering questions about that. Meg had learned it was best not to give the inquisitive pony any unnecessary excuses to seek additional knowledge.

Meg looked at the earth pony. Why was Applejack here? Did she want to see the cartoon herself? That seemed improbable; by some unspoken agreement none of them had mentioned it since last weekend. “What brings you here?”

“Ah’ve heard so much about you and yer fancy machines, and Ah wanted to see for mahself.”

Okay, didn’t see that coming. “Uh, sure, no problem.”

A hard smile graced the orange mare’s face. “Ah also figured Ah’d do somethin’ that Rainbow Dash couldn’t do: find out how high and fast those flyin’ machines of yers can go.”

Rainbow Dash tried to follow a jumbo jet? Silly question. “What went wrong?” She didn’t get hurt, did she?

“She ran out of magic and was forced to return to Equestria,” Twilight replied.

“Eeyup, really upset her too.”

Because the same thing would happen if she tried again, Meg realized. It was a competition Rainbow Dash could never win. That would upset her. But this just begged the question. “So how do you intend to find out? I hate to point out the obvious, but you don’t have wings.”

Applejack gave her an evil grin. “Ah don’t need wings ta ask ya how fast and high those things can fly.”

Meg slowly broke out in a big smile as it dawned on her what Applejack was getting at. Nothing had stopped Rainbow Dash from asking her first—other than her pride. Twilight already had a quill and notepad out, ready to write down her answer.

“Ahem,” Meg said, clearing her throat. “The big airplanes fly five to seven miles above the ground at a speed of five to six hundred miles an hour. They can go thousands of miles before needing to land.”

Twilight wasn’t writing. She stared at Meg with wide eyes. “Isn’t the air too thin to breath that high up?”

I take it pegasi can’t fly that high. “The cabin is pressurized,” Meg explained. “Planes fly that high because the air is so thin. It cuts way down on air friction.” She decided not to mention supersonic aircraft or spaceships.

“I see.” Twilight began furiously writing.

“Hah!” Applejack said, as she stamped a hoof. “Wait till I tell Dash!” Twilight smirked as she continued writing.

I wish I could be there to see that. As Meg waited for Twilight to finish writing her notes, she took a look at the book she was reading. You’ve got to be kidding me. It wasn’t one of her husband’s physics books, but one of her own programming books, one covering the latest version of C++. How could she even begin to comprehend that?

One Twilight had finished jotting down her notes, Meg asked her. “Does that book make any sense to you?”

The alicorn looked up at her, a small frown on her face. “Not really,” she confessed. “I get that this is how you tell a computer how to do something, but I don’t see how you would use this to get a computer to do the things I’ve seen them do. Nor can I figure out how a machine could interpret this stuff, so that it would do those things.”

So Twilight’s genius was not infinite. Somehow that made Meg feel better. “It involves many, many layers of abstraction, taking years to master. I happen to be reasonably talented at it; I guess it would be my cutie mark if humans had cutie marks.”

“Humans ain’t got cutie marks at all?” asked Applejack, that last statement having caught her interest.

“Nope, not in any form whatsoever.” Meg tried to keep it a simple statement of fact, knowing the importance ponies attach to cutie marks. Applejack seemed to accept it as no more than a curious fact.

Twilight was eager to get the conversation back on topic. “Could you show me a simple example of a program?”

Meg sat down at the desk and woke the computer up. “This is rather clichéd, but it does the job.” Twilight went airborne so she could watch over Meg’s shoulder as she launched a text editor, typed in a “hello world!” program, saved it to a file, switched to a command line, compiled it, then ran it. The program outputted “hello world!” and terminated. She ran the program a few more times, each time with the same result. “It doesn’t get much simpler than that.”

After a few seconds of silence, Meg turned around to look at Twilight. She found the alicorn staring intently at the screen, a hoof tapping her chin. The nearby flapping wings did little more than stir the air. Behind them, Applejack was back to reading the travel guide, turing a page with a hoof. Yes, it was magic, but giving a name to something you can’t understand doesn’t make it understood.

At least they were so cute doing it; but then, ponies were cute doing pretty much anything. If the adults were this cute…

“That may be simple,” Twilight said, after pondering what she saw, “but I bet everything happening behind the scenes to let you enter and run that program is anything but simple.”

Meg thought that was quite insightful of her. “Yeah, it’s hideously complicated. Tens of millions of lines of code written by thousands of people over many years.” Then there’s the hardware, but Meg didn’t want to spend all night explaining stuff. She knew where this was going to go, and she was already thinking of ways to narrow the scope.

Twilight stopped tapping her chin when she heard those numbers. She turned to look at Meg. “Could you show me what you’re working on?”

“Sure, just a sec.” What she had on this computer was a bit out of date, but it wasn’t worth the trouble to update it—or explain how she did it. She launched the simulation program.

“It’s incomplete, but the purpose is to predict what the detector will see when it encounters gravitational waves from various possible astronomical sources. That way, the design can be optimized before it’s built, and once it’s operational we can determine what it’s ‘seeing’—assuming, of course, that the simulation and the physics it’s based on were accurate.”

Meg entered the parameters for a simulation and started it. “This is one possible scenario: two black holes in close orbit around each other.” On the screen was displayed a dense grid distorted by two large masses circling each other, with waves propagating away from them towards infinity. “The kinetic energy and angular momentum of their orbits are radiating away, causing them to decay until…” A few seconds later the two masses merged into one, producing exceptionally powerful waves.

She turned around to look at Twilight again. “Just so you understand the process of developing software, I didn’t actually write most of this. I’m reusing code written by others, putting them together in new ways with additional code I wrote.”

Twilight gave her a smile. “That doesn’t sound all that different from how complicated spells are created.”

Magic as a kind of software? I guess that sorta makes sense. Maybe. What “hardware” does it run on?

“Do you think this can be adapted to do magical fields?”

Meg blinked. “Excuse me?”

Twilight tried to rephrase the question. “Is it possible for a magical field to be simulated like this? On a computer?”

Meg didn’t have the faintest idea if that was possible. What the heck was a magical field and how could it be simulated, even in principle? All she could do was tell Twilight what she needed to know to answer that herself.

“Anything can be simulated on a computer, so long as it can be described by mathematical equations.”

In response to that, Twilight drifted backwards away from Meg, then lazily did circles around the room. Meg found it interesting that she didn’t get a simple “yes” or “no” immediately. What was there to think about? Either it was described by equations or it wasn’t.

After a minute of pondering, Twilight stopped her circling and faced Meg, a joyless look on her face. “It is, but they’re quite complicated with non-linear interactions. The calculations required for even a simple simulation would probably overwhelm your computer.”

Did Twilight really know how powerful computers were? Meg had her doubts. “You think a billion numerical calculations a second is nowhere near fast enough?”

The alicorn stopped flapping for a split second. “A b-billion?” Applejack looked up, even her curiosity being piqued.

Meg shrugged. “This isn’t a very fast computer,” she deadpanned.

“I, uh… I see.” Twilight briefly looked at Applejack, who nodded in return. “That should be fast enough, I think.”

Meg had the unshakable feeling she was just subjected to a lie detector test. Is that why Applejack was really here? That wasn’t the reason she gave, and she can’t lie to save her life—supposedly—but then the given reason wasn’t false, just incomplete. Or maybe it was Twilight’s reason for her being here.

The next hour was spent giving Twilight a crash course in finite element analysis and simulation, helping her understand the forms the equations needed to have and the various ways the computed values could be insightfully displayed. She absorbed the knowledge like the proverbial sponge. Meg could easily see how she became—and remained—Celestia’s personal student.

Tomorrow was Saturday. Twilight wanted to visit for most of the day, but Meg had to veto that because she would be babysitting her niece. The ponies could come by in the evening.

The doorbell rang. Meg walked over to the front door and look through the peephole. Seeing her brother Matt and sister-in-law Lori, she opened the door, and her niece Susie, an eight-year-old girl, ran in.

“We’ll be back around four to pick her up,” Matt said. They turned to leave and Meg closed the door. Susie was already on the sofa, waiting for her to turn on the TV.

“I wanna see the one where they all get their cutie marks,” Susie declared.

Matt didn’t have a problem with his daughter watching the cartoon; she was its intended audience. He just couldn’t understand why an adult, like his sister, would be infatuated with it.

“That would be season one, episode twenty three, The Cutie Mark Chronicles.” Meg proceeded to turn everything on, get things set up, and start the episode playing.

She sat down on the sofa next to Susie and watched with her as the Crusaders attempted to earn their cutie marks zip-lining. Everything went wrong when the line broke, sending them all plunging to the ground.

“No way!” said Scootaloo.

Huh? Meg felt something wasn’t quite right.

“This ain’t possible!” said Apple Bloom.

Oh Celestia, anything but that!

“I think they heard us,” said Sweetie Belle.

Meg looked at where those voices were coming from, which wasn’t the TV, and saw three fillies standing there on the floor next to the sofa. She hit the pause button and face palmed. Why are they here? There’s no way Twilight sanctioned this. How did they even— She’s seen enough episodes to know better. Susie was going to notice them any second now. It was inevitable.

Meg removed her palm from her face and addressed them. “I really don’t understand why you three haven’t got your cutie marks yet for getting into trouble, because you all certainly have a talent for it.”

“That’s not the first time we’ve heard that, you know,” retorted Sweetie Belle.

Susie was on the floor staring at them, inching closer. The Crusaders inched backwards. “Susie, leave them alone.”

“How can they be real?” she protested.

“Long story, honey.” This was going to be a long day. “Go sit down.” Reluctantly, the little girl did so.

“Look on the bright side,” Meg told the fillies. “At least you’re not covered in tree sap.” That didn’t cheer them up. It was dawning on them they might be in over their heads, and it was a safe bet nopony else knew they were here.

“You should return home right now, before anypony notices you’re missing. I won’t tell anypony if you leave now.”

They just stood there for a few seconds, uneasily looking at each other. “How do we do that?” asked Sweetie Bell, looking up at her with weapons-grade puppy eyes.

Are you kidding me?! “I’m… not sure. I’ve seen the others click their rear hooves three times. Try that.”

Susie exploded with excitement. “Others? Who else was here!”

“Not now, Susie,” Meg scolded, to her instant regret. Why today?

The ponies all did as she suggested, but nothing happens. Of course not. “I guess you’re all stuck here for now.”

“Doncha mean forever?” said Apple Bloom resignedly, her impossibly cute pink bow sagging in sympathy.

Meg dreaded what she was about to say, but she had no choice. “Twilight will be here tonight; she’ll know what to do.”

Susie went ballistic. “Twilight’s coming? Can I stay and see her? Please!

How am I going to fix this? “I’m sorry, but you can’t stay that late.” Susie sulked, folding her arms.

The Crusaders were ambivalent about hearing Twilight’s name. It meant they would get home, but it also meant this adventure of theirs won’t remain their secret.

Apple Bloom trotted over to the TV. “Ah remember all that. It happened a few years ago.” She turned to Meg, pointing at the screen. “How?” she demanded to know.

Meg turned the TV off. “We don’t know.”

Sweetie Belle joined her fellow Crusader. “Does Twilight know about this?”

“Believe me, she does.” The unicorn filly continued glaring at her. “No, she doesn’t know how either.”

Here it comes…

Scootaloo walked up to the other two. “We should try to solve it ourselves! Maybe we’ll earn our cutie marks!”

“Yeah!” said Sweetie Belle enthusiastically.

Yep, so predictable. If only there was some way to contact Twilight or even Rainbow Dash or Applejack. Hell, she’d take Pinkie Pie. Hello! Pinkie Pie! Can you hear me?! Who knew what that pony could do.

“Can we see more?” Apple Bloom asked, referring to the TV.

Ugh… what will Twilight think of all this? Not that it’s my fault they got here somehow.

“I don’t think the other ponies would approve. You can talk to Twilight about that.”

Apple Bloom tried to persuade her with cuteness, staring at her with puppy eyes. Too bad I know that trick. “Sorry.”

“I can’t watch it either?” asked Susie.

“Not while they’re here.”

“Why not? They know what’s gonna happen. They’re in it!”

The Crusaders were getting their hopes up again.

Meg sighed. “It’s not that simple. Trust me. I have reason to believe Twilight will be unhappy with me if I let them watch it, and you don’t want that to happen, now do you?”


She addressed the Crusaders once again. “Quite honestly, I think Twilight will be unhappy that you know it exists, that you are even here, but she can deal with that later.” She leaned her head back on the sofa and closed her eyes. “We need to pass the time somehow. Any suggestions?”

“Could you tell us your cutie mark story?” Scootaloo asked.

Shoulda seen that coming. At least she didn’t ask to see it. “Believe it or not, we don’t have cutie marks.”

Their eyes went wide. “Then how do you know when you’ve found your special talent?” asked Sweetie Belle.

Did they really need a cutie mark to tell them what they’re good at? They should know because they’re good at it! “Do you think Rainbow Dash needed a cutie mark to know her special talent was flying? Or Twilight that hers was magic?”

Sweetie Belle was pouting. “At least they know what their talent is.”

Apple Bloom added, “We’ve tried so hard ta find ours.”

“I wish I had some advice to give you, honest, but I don’t,” Meg said. “I guess you just have to be patient and keep looking.” Their cutie mark issues weren’t going to be solved here and now. “How about a different subject?”

The yellow filly cautiously approached her. “Could we look at yer… whatever you got instead of hooves?”


They leaped onto the sofa and she held out her hands for their inspection. Susie, fortunately, stayed on her side of the sofa. It felt odd to have her fingers manipulated by hooves, as they clearly weren’t doing it by pure physical contact alone. Must be the magic that let’s them do stuff like turning the pages of a book.

“Is this what Twilight had when she went through that mirror?” asked Scootaloo.

Does this mean Equestria Girls happened too? It would explain Twilight’s partial familiarity with the human world. Is the mirror how they came here? But then why were they still ponies? “I guess so, but you’d have to ask her. Is it okay if I touch you with my hands?”

But before any of them could answer, Rainbow Dash flew in from the office. “You three have a lot of explaining to do. Go home right now!” She hovered, glaring at them.

Needless to say, they didn’t. They were also too afraid to admit they didn’t know how. Their silence wasn’t improving Rainbow Dash’s mood. Then the hovering pegasus noticed Susie gawking at her. “Oh hay.”

“Come with me into the office,” Meg calmly said, as she stood up. “We need to talk.”

They went to the office, and once inside Meg closed the door. Rainbow was hovering so they were face to face. “Don’t over-react to what I’m about to say, but they don’t know how to go home.” Rainbow Dash did start to over-react but quickly got herself under control. “You can tell them how, right?”

“Yes,” she said. “It’s quite simple: click your rear hooves three times while thinking there’s no place like home.”

Meg blinked. It was so obvious in hindsight. And who in Equestria could possibly be that familiar with human culture? Only one of them could create a spell. “Let me guess. Discord came up with that.”

Now Rainbow Dash blinked. “Uh… yeah. What tipped you off?”

“We can discuss that later. First let’s deal with the Crusaders. I didn’t know they were here until it was too late. I’m babysitting my niece and she saw them, obviously, but it’s worse…” Oh, how will she react? Why couldn’t it have been Twilight? “They saw a few minutes of the cartoon”—angrily, but she quickly tried to reassure her—”nothing they didn’t already know, they just saw themselves, but the point is they know it exists.”

“Nnngh…” She then sighed, slouching in mid-air. “It’s not your fault they’re here. But I want to see what they saw.”

A perfectly reasonable request. “Of course.”

Meg opened the door and they returned to the living room.

“Apple Bloom, Sweetie Belle, Scootaloo, follow me.” They nervously followed Rainbow Dash back into the office.

“Are they in trouble?” asked Susie, fearing for them.

“Yes, they weren’t supposed to come here. They’re going back to Equestria now.”

“Have you been to Equestria?”

Meg sat down next to her. “No, I haven’t.”

“But it’s real?”

“It’s real, all of it. But you must keep it a secret.”

Rainbow Dash flew back from the office. “They’re gone. They’ve Pinkie Promised not to tell anypony what they saw here.” She looked awkwardly at Susie. “I guess introductions are in order…”

“I’m Susie. You’re Rainbow Dash!”

“The one and only!” she said, slightly forced.

“Why don’t you take a seat and I’ll replay the episode.” Meg turned the TV back on, revealing the playback still paused on the opening theme song.

The pegasus landed on the sofa on the other side of Susie and got comfortable, laying down on her belly.

Meg resumed playback from the beginning and Rainbow Dash watched as the Crusaders tried zip-lining, failed, then decided to seek out her cutie mark story. She chuckled as Scootaloo tried to hint at who she had in mind while the other two kept getting it wrong. The opening theme played and Meg paused it again.

“That’s what they saw. It’s apparently accurate; at least, they didn’t point out any inaccuracies.”

“No surprise there,” she sighed. “Seems harmless enough. I did tell them my cutie mark story. Is that in this episode?”

“Yes, all six of you. It actually shows you getting your cutie mark.”

“Really? I’d like to see the rest of it.”

Rainbow Dash watched the remainder of the episode with interest, especially as she wasn’t present in most of the scenes. She snickered when Twilight turned her parents into potted plants. Meg got the impression Twilight never mentioned that, if she even remembered it. Rainbow paid the most attention to her own cutie mark story flashback. For the most part, she remained silent until it was over.

“Heh. I forgot she used to write those letters on friendship to Princess Celestia. It’s been a while now.” She suddenly leaped into the air. “That’s not cool!” she exclaimed indignantly.

What just happened? Meg looked in their direction and saw the pegasus hovering, glaring at Susie, and Susie pulling back her hand.

“I’m sorry,” the little girl said.

It didn’t take a genius to figure out what happened. “You can’t pet Rainbow Dash,” Meg told her. “Promise?”

“Her mane is so beautiful.”

Meg looked at the pegasus, who stopped glaring but remained hovering. “Yes, but petting it makes her less cool, and that makes her less awesome, and you wouldn’t want Rainbow Dash to be less awesome, do you?” The owner of that mane rolled her eyes.

Susie thought about it. “I promise,” she said unhappily.

“Don’t be sad,” Meg consoled her. “You just watched Rainbow Dash’s cutie mark story with Rainbow Dash herself!”

The pegasus landed on the sofa—a little bit further away from the girl. “That all happened,” she told Susie, trying to make amends. “Wasn’t I awesome?”

Her frown turned into a smile. “Uh huh.”

“I need to talk to Rainbow Dash privately for a minute. We’ll be right back.” Meg started off to the office. The pegasus went airborne and followed. Once inside she closed the door.

Rainbow Dash got down to business. “Okay, so what tipped you off?”

Meg began explaining. “That spell came from a very famous movie that was made over seventy years ago. I can show it to you if you want. From the cartoon it’s obvious that Discord has quite a bit of knowledge about our world. This is just another example.”

“That’s interesting, considering he claims he can’t exist here.” Something else was gnawing at her. “Sure, I’d like to see it, but why would you know of spells like that if you don’t have magic?”

An interesting question, actually. “We may not have actual magic, but we do have the concept of magic and it’s present in some of our fictional works.” Like a certain cartoon. Meg opened the door. “I’ll start the movie.”

They went back to the living room. Meg got out their 70th anniversary Emerald Edition The Wizard of Oz blu-ray and put it into the player. “The relevant scene is at the end, but if you have a few hours to spare you can watch the whole movie.”

Rainbow Dash considered her options. “I was gonna explore outside for a while, but this looks more important. Let’s watch it all.” She landed on the sofa and got comfortable.

“We’re going to watch The Wizard of Oz with Rainbow Dash,” she told Susie.

Rainbow Dash saw her first human movie. Much like many Equestrian movies, it resembled a Bridleway play. Everything obviously took place on sets with many painted backdrops. It even had people breaking out into song for no reason, but at least they were good songs; one was about rainbows. That tornado showed how important pegasi were; that could never happen on her watch. Their notions of magic were absurd—using a broom to fly?—but they didn’t know any better, so that could be forgiven. A pony version of this story would do quite well in Equestria, she thought.

And she saw the no place like home scene.

The similarity was undeniable, but what did it mean? It was hardly evidence that Discord had betrayed them yet again, or that he intended to. It wasn’t exactly a secret that he knew something about this realm. It might even explain his bizarre sense of humor.

“I’ll let Twilight know. She might want to see it herself. I dunno what to make of it.” Rainbow Dash went airborne. “It’s time for me to go home.” She was about to use the spell first used by Dorothy when Meg stopped her.

“Before you go, there’s a question I’d like to ask.” She led her back to the office. Once inside, she said, “It’s about Scootaloo. I’ll understand if you don’t want to answer it.”

Rainbow Dash looked hesitant, but said, “Go on.”

“In the show, it’s never revealed who her parents or siblings are. There’s a lot of speculation about that in our world. What’s her situation?”

Rainbow Dash scowled at her as she took her time uncharacteristically thinking about what to say before she said it. Meg suddenly realized Rainbow Dash was the last pony she should have asked about Scootaloo.

“Please don’t take this the wrong way, but it’s none of your business.” Rainbow Dash had said it with a level voice, but that only seemed to make it worse. Before she could say anything, Rainbow Dash was gone.

7. Transitions, part one

“Rainbow Dash, I’ve made my decision,” Twilight struggled to say over her hard breathing. She perched on a cloud, resting her weary wings. It had been a vigorous workout.

The pegasus hovered in front of her, defiantly crossing her forelimbs. “But they’ll stick their muzzles where they don’t belong!”

This was getting irritating. Celestia had been easier to persuade, and Rainbow Dash wouldn’t dare question her decisions. Twilight was tempted to play the princess card, but that would have been counterproductive; the Element of Loyalty needed to be onboard. Some concessions could be made. “I don’t have a problem setting some boundaries.”

“They know too much about us already.”

“I know; I was there, remember? Really, Dash, did you ever consider that a future episode of that cartoon might reveal all about Scootaloo?”

The pegasus silently glared at her. Maybe that wasn’t the best approach.

“Regardless, it’s not their fault. Don’t take it out on them. I’ve made my peace with it, and you should too. The others don’t have a problem with it.”

Rainbow Dash smirked. “You turned your parents into potted plants.”

Twilight recoiled in shock. “I never told—”

“It was in that cartoon,” Rainbow Dash said, interrupting, “the one the Crusaders saw the beginning of.”

Great. So the humans do know. The alicorn sighed as she walked over to the cloud’s edge and looked down at the orchards north of Ponyville. “It doesn’t change anything.”

She looked back at Rainbow Dash. “No, it supports my case,” she said with growing conviction. “They don’t even need to come here; Scootaloo went to them. Nothing stopped Meg from asking Scootaloo herself—” she paused for effect “—and she didn’t.”


Twilight resumed gazing at the ground below. “Not that those three should have gone there in the first place. I still don’t understand why they didn’t fall to their deaths over some random spot in that realm.”

Rainbow Dash cringed. The Crusaders didn’t know how to use the pills; that should have been the inevitable result. “Fine. You made your point.”

Twilight had debriefed them, of course. At the farm, Apple Bloom had first overheard Rainbow Dash telling Applejack about that airplane. All three of them then did their best to overhear careless mentions, and eventually they thought they had it all figured out. They waited until Twilight went to Canterlot before making their move. Rainbow Dash had noticed the scooter and wagon in front of the castle and investigated. The pill dispenser was now magically protected, as it ought to have been in hindsight.

Twilight turned around and walked back to the pegasus, who was still hovering above the cloud. It was now or never. “I need to use the Element of Magic to properly turn them into ponies, and I can’t do that without you.”

“Huh? Why? You turned us all into breezies by yourself just fine!”

That was the only time, up till now, that Twilight had used the inter-species isomorphic mapping spell. “Humans aren’t magical,” she explained. “Turning them into ponies doesn’t by itself give them magic. I need the Elements to make them magical.” Research was one of the reasons she had gone to Canterlot that day. The spell required alicorn-level magic, which meant only an experienced alicorn could offer advice on its use.

“Okay, whatever,” Rainbow Dash said unenthusiastically. “Better than using our Rainbow Powers to remodel your castle.”

Really, Rainbow Dash? Her new castle was, after all, an offshoot of the Tree of Harmony. Ordinary construction techniques weren’t particularly effective on it. Granted, it wasn’t as “awesome” as defeating archvillains, but Rarity certainly enjoyed herself.

Putting her annoyance aside, Twilight dropped the other horseshoe. “You’ll also need to guide them if either of them turns out to be a pegasus.”


Rainbow Dash drifted over to the edge of the cloud closest to Ponyville, signaling the end of the rest period. “At least I’d be able to keep a close eye on them.”

“That’s the idea,” Twilight said, as she went airborne. She flew as fast as she could back to Ponyville. Rainbow Dash effortlessly flew by her side.

Twilight took her usual set of measurements around the Pinkie Pie doll. The magic flow was a little bit worse than the day before, as was always the case. A monitoring regime had been set up at The Mirror as well, with daily reports being sent to her. It told the same tale of a slowly growing magic-free zone. They had two months, tops, before that zone encompassed the Crystal Heart.

She returned the equipment to a saddlebag. There was one task left to do before leaving, but it had to wait until the humans were back home. She passed the time by browsing books at random.

It was an hour later that she heard the front door open. She put back the book she was reading and faced the door, assuming the royal posture, wings flared, waiting for them to check if she was there. The alicorn princess did not have to wait long.

The two humans entered the room but then stopped, speechless, processing what they saw. Meg spoke first. “You’re wearing your crown.”

More than just her crown, Twilight was wearing her full regalia. It had seemed appropriate. She gave them a warm smile. “Today, I am here as a Royal Princess of Equestria. Under the authority given to me by Princess Celestia, I hereby grant you passage to Equestria as my guest.”

“R-right now?” stuttered Meg.

Twilight giggled. “Not right this second, no. I was thinking this weekend, bright and early Saturday morning.” And there were several matters to discuss first.

Steve walked over to the desk, put down his notebook computer and plugged something into it. He said, cautiously, “Any strings or conditions we should be aware of?”

Nope, no morons here. Let’s get this over with. “Yes,” she admitted. “First, you cannot mention the cartoon to anypony who isn’t already aware of it. I think you can understand why it’s a sensitive subject for us.”

“How could I forget your first reaction?” he facetiously said, as he walked back to join his wife.

“Uh, yes, exactly.”

Meg got down on her knees, to bring her eyes closer to the alicorn’s. “We’d like to make a request,” she tentatively said. “It’s not a condition or anything, but it would make this visit a lot more meaningful to us, and it might even make things easier for you.”

Given that Twilight was going to ask them to become ponies, it seemed only fair to keep an open mind. “I’ll grant any reasonable request.”

“Well… I don’t know if it’s reasonable, but…” Meg worked up the nerve to say it. “Could you turn us into ponies?”

Wait. How did they even know I could turn—that cartoon, obviously. Regardless, it sure made things easier.

Twilight refocused her eyes on Meg. “Believe it or not, that was the second condition—at least if you want to go out in public. You see, we haven’t announced the existence of your realm or of your species to Equestria, nor do we currently have any plans to do so.

“And that leads to the third and final condition: you cannot tell anypony about the existence of humans or of this realm.”

Meg got back on her feet.

After some thought, Steve said, “The last two are connected to the first, aren’t they.”

“It does… complicate matters.”

He put an arm round his wife. As they looked into each other’s eyes, they broke out in a smile. “We accept those conditions,” he said.

Twilight was pleased how smoothly that went. There were just a few more details to take care of. “I’d like you to stay overnight in one of my guest rooms. It would help you acclimate to being a pony by getting a good night sleep as one.”

“You mean, in your castle?” asked Meg.

“That’s right!”

Steve walked backed to the desk and picked up his laptop computer. “May I bring this along? I have no idea if it would work over there, but it would be useful if it does.”

Twilight had to suppress a squee. I’d very much like to know if it would work too. “You may take it with you,” she composedly said.

She noticed it was plugged into an outlet in the wall. An unused outlet right below it looked like a standard Equestrian power outlet. What’s one more huge coincidence? she cynically thought. “Those power outlets,” she said, pointing a hoof in their direction. “They wouldn’t happen to provide 120 volt alternating current at 60 hertz?”

Stunned silence.

“I don’t know which shocks me more,” Steve said, “the fact Equestria chose the same way to distribute electricity, or that you use the exact same terminology to describe it.”

Twilight sighed, shaking her head. “Tell me about it,” she droned, “in a language we happen to share.”

“Uh, yeah, good point. Changing the subject… do we get to choose what type of pony we become?”

She shook her head. “No, that’s not how it works,” she explained. “You’ll become what you would have been if you were conceived and born a pony. You don’t even get a choice of mane color.”

Twilight lifted off the floor, in preparation for using the return spell. It was easier to click her rear hooves when she wasn’t standing on them. “Anyway, I need to get going so I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Wait,” said Meg. Twilight paused. “Rainbow Dash didn’t leave on the best of terms with me because of a question I asked her. Is that going to be a problem?”

“About Scootaloo?” asked Twilight. Meg nodded. “Don’t worry about it; you pushed one of her buttons, unfortunately, that’s all. I’ve already talked to her about it. Just don’t bring it up again.”

“No problem.”

It shouldn’t be a problem. And with that, Twilight returned home. She wasted no time in taking off her regalia.

Bright and early Saturday morning, everypony had gathered in the throne room. Even Rainbow Dash managed to be there on time.

Discord was also present, at Twilight’s request. His magic would be put to use, and not just to ensure nothing bad happened to the humans if she screwed up somehow.

Twilight was also curious how he would interact with the humans. Fluttershy felt he was quite eager to meet them, undoubtably because his sense of humor, as they all recently learned, used human culture as inspiration. There hadn’t been the chance to inform Meg and Steve that he’d be here, as it was just arranged, but they knew about Tirek so they ought to know about Discord and his current status in Equestria.

At the appointed time, Twilight hopped off her throne onto the floor and trotted out of the circle of thrones. Discord followed her, having turned into a pretentious maître d’ holding a silver plate, upon which was a strangely out of place plaid pill and an exquisite crystal goblet full of water. Once Twilight stopped, he bowed, lowering the plate. While the water was a nice gesture, it wasn’t needed. She took the pill and swallowed it.

She found the humans anxiously waiting for her arrival, both wearing… the human version of saddlebags, she guessed, on their backs. Presumably one of them held that computer. First up was an explanation of what was about to happen.

“I’ll be grabbing you with my magic, so that you’ll be pulled into Equestria with me. You might feel a slight tingling sensation or brief disorientation. The transition is sudden; it might be easier if you closed your eyes.”

Twilight flapped her wings and approached the humans as she began concentrating. A lavender glow emanated from her horn, encompassing both humans, magically binding them to her. As she clicked her rear hooves three times and thought there’s no place like home, she could not help noticing that they both kept their eyes open.

They were in her throne room. All thrones except hers were occupied, with Discord standing off to one side. Twilight released the humans and took her throne, the one with her cutie mark. “Welcome to my home!” she proclaimed.

The humans took in their new surroundings, slowly turning about. They paid extra attention to the two ponies they had yet to meet, Fluttershy and Rarity—and then their eyes fell on Discord. The draconequus, smiling, meekly waved his lion paw at them. It was almost cute.

“We’re really here, in your throne room, just outside Ponyville,” said Meg, not quite believing her eyes.

Pinkie Pie bounced on her throne. “Yupperoni!” she chirped.

Rarity was giving the humans a good once-over, probably with the intention of getting into human fashions, or so Twilight was willing to bet, while Fluttershy… The poor mare couldn’t seem to decide if they were animals to embrace or ponies to hide from. At least that decision was about to become much easier.

Applejack was the next to speak. “Before we go any further, I’d just like to apologize for my little sis. Apple Bloom had no business crossin’ over like that, and Ah appreciate how ya handled it. I’m sure Ah speak for the others as well.”

“Indeed,” confirmed Rarity.

“What they did wasn’t cool,” Rainbow Dash hastily added.

“That’s okay,” Meg assured them. “They are welcome to come over anytime—with adult supervision, of course.” Looking upwards at nothing in particular, she then muttered, “I just hope my niece can keep a secret.” As incentive, Twilight agreed to meet her the next time she came over.

Discord decided this was the time for him to make his introductions, causally floating over to the humans. This should be interesting, Twilight thought. Neither of them flinched or backed away, confirming Twilight’s suspicions; they just stood there wondering what the Spirit of Chaos was about to do. Join the club.

The draconequus drifted to a halt in front of the humans and began to speak, paw and talon clasped in excitement. “I am thrilled to finally meet representatives of humanity. May you find Equestria to be everything you hope it to be.”

Discord gazed at the enthroned ponies. “Your presence will certainly make this a less boooring place.” He pulled a bouquet of brown stems out of nowhere and handed them to Meg. “May our friendship blossom”—the stems turned green and roses blossomed—”over the many years to come,” he said.

“Thanks… I guess,” she said, as she hesitantly accepted the roses. “I must confess I didn’t expect you to be here.”

Twilight rolled her eyes. What was that all about? Was he planning something to keep things “interesting?” Did he just wink at her? Still, she couldn’t really complain. It was infinitely preferable to having the old Discord around. Anyway, the humans knew what he was and what to expect from him and they weren’t idiots.

“Of course you didn’t expect me!” he smirked as he drifted away. “What kind of a Spirit of Chaos would I be if I only appeared when expected?”

Let’s get back on track here. “I’m sure you’re eager to leave this castle,” Twilight said, “so let’s get started on your transformations.” Meg and Steve turned their attention back to the alicorn.

“If there’s anything in your clothing you want access to, please take it out and put it aside. Your clothes will go away as part of the transformation, but you’ll get them back when you become human again.”

Looking at the assembled, naked ponies, Steve said, “Yeah, when in Rome… not as if they’d fit anyway.”

Twilight continued explaining. “Normally I could do the transformation by myself, but because you are not magical creatures, I shall need to use the Elements of Harmony to couple you to the magical field.”

“I imagine it’d be no fun being a pony without magic,” said Steve.

“You got that right,” said Rainbow Dash.

“That is why we are all here,” added Rarity.

While that exchange was going on, Twilight started having second thoughts. Did the humans really know what they were getting themselves into? Yes, they knew all about her realm, but that’s not the same as being a part of it. She needed to make it absolutely clear.

“Please pay attention,” she said. She waited until she had it. “Once you are coupled to the magical field, you shall acquire a destiny like any other pony. Do not take this lightly.”

“Just look at us,” added Applejack with deadly seriousness.

“Not that we would have it any other way,” said Rarity with total conviction.

“Will you be happy having a destiny?” asked Pinkie Pie with intent quizzicalness.

There was silence.

Steve asked, “We will get cutie marks?”

The enthroned ponies nodded their heads.

“But not when we’re return to human form, correct?”

“No, without magic there can be no cutie mark,” Twilight answered. “Destiny can work in mysterious ways, nonetheless.” She added, uncertainly, “Perhaps it already has.”

Twilight closed her eyes and focused. No longer did they need the gems embodying the Elements of Harmony; they were the embodiment of the Elements. That was the gift bestowed upon them by the Tree of Harmony, after they had unlocked its chest with their hard-earned keys. She reached towards the Element of Magic within her and awakened it, triggering their transformation into their Rainbow Power forms.

Now one with her Element, Twilight perceived the harmonies and disharmonies around her. The castle was full of harmony, not surprising given its origin. Discord… was a work in progress. The Spirit of Chaos will never be harmonious, but chaos and harmony are like light and dark, or hot and cold; one cannot exist without the other, and that in itself forms an even deeper harmony—or chaos, depending on your point of view—one that Discord has finally begun to appreciate, and that appreciation is one of the things that makes their friendship possible.

Turning her attention to the two humans, she sensed… nothing. They were in this realm but not part of it, not in harmony nor in disharmony; they just… are. It was time to change that.

She opened her eyes. The humans were staring at her extra colorful form with open mouths. There was no substitute for seeing it with your own eyes, she guessed. “I have some experience with destiny, as you can see,” she smiled, slightly. “You can still back out.” Was she being overly melodramatic? Their destinies could be quite pedestrian, after all. Oh yeah? Then why were they here.

Meg said, forcing it out, “Do me first.”

As you wish, the alicorn sighed to herself. “Stand on the central star.”

Meg complied. The ponies levitated from their thrones to form a radiant sphere above her. From the sphere emitted streams of color converging on the human, engulfing her. She became hidden by the glow.

This part was relatively easy. Twilight had turned herself and her friends into breezies and back again all by herself. Now that Meg was magically charged, she could impose an isomorphic mapping from human to pony and did so. The glowing region morphed from vaguely human to vaguely pony. The exact form she had taken was for now hidden from view.

Now came the challenging part. Meg was a pony without magic, disturbingly disharmonious. Twilight wouldn’t wish that on anypony. Breezies were magical; the coupling adjusted automatically to the change in species (though in her case she retained her alicorn magic, as it was not tied to her species). Here she had to create a coupling where none had ever existed. The Element of Magic needed the other Elements, together in harmony, to do this.

It was done; harmony replaced disharmony. Neither had Discord intervened, another good sign. Twilight broke the sphere and all six returned to the floor surrounding a pegasus where once a human stood.

Twilight examined her work. Meg’s coat was orchid colored, her mane was medium violet red, and her eyes turquoise. Her mane and tail were long and full-bodied, with bangs not unlike her human hair style. Interestingly enough, her new pony face had a strong resemblance to her original human face. She also had a blank flank.

Meg was just standing there as if she was still waiting to be transformed. Given the nature of spell, she probably was, in fact, as yet unaware anything had changed. Before Twilight could ask her how she was feeling, her husband got down on his knees in front of her, startling her.

Steve looked into his wife’s now pony eyes. “You really are a pony, so colorful, so cute. Is your voice the same? Say something!”

She didn’t answer immediately, as she processed the fact she had, in fact, changed. “You’re so big now!” she giggled.

Her voice seemed the same to Twilight. “Do you feel okay?” she asked her.

Meg’s ear swiveled towards Twilight, and she looked into the alicorn’s. “And you don’t look so small anymore,” she observed. “I’m fine. I feel completely normal, like I was born this way.” She flared her wings. “I’m a pegasus!” she shouted, as if just realizing it.

Twilight was starting to feel relieved, but she wasn’t there quite yet. “Let’s see if you have pegasus magic. Will you do the honors, Rainbow Dash?”

“On it.” She hoped off her throne and walked in front of Meg, as Steve hurriedly got out of the way. “We’ll start by introducing you to your wings. I’m going to go through all the muscles controlling my wings and I want you to mimic me. You already know how to use these muscles, you just don’t know it yet.”

Twilight had previously worked with Rainbow Dash on this brief tutorial in the advent one of them was a pegasus; likewise, she helped Applejack come up with a quick tutorial for a new earth pony; naturally, she herself would handle a new unicorn.

It only took a minute to go through all the motions. Meg had no problem instantly repeating everything she saw Rainbow Dash do. That was just as expected; as she had adult level control over her human form, so should she have over her new pegasus form.

Rainbow Dash was ready to move on to the next phase. “Now we’ll do flapping.” The cyan pegasus began flapping as if hovering, but remained on the floor. “Don’t try to consciously control each individual flap, just the overall pattern. Just like you don’t consciously control the movement of each individual leg when you walk—uh, assuming it works that way for humans too.”

“It does,” Meg confirmed, as she tried to copy the flapping pattern she was seeing.

But it was proving a bit difficult for her to stop directly controlling her wing muscles. Twilight could sympathize. That was a stumbling block she also encountered in her own efforts to master flight. The fact that Meg acquired wings via an isomorphic mapping should make it easier, however, and indeed she soon figured out how to replicate Rainbow’s flapping pattern. Like her tutor, she was still stuck to the floor.

“Now let go of the floor.” Rainbow Dash gently lifted a few feet then hovered.

Now we see if she has magic. But Twilight couldn’t help noticing that Meg still had no cutie mark. It was virtually unheard of for an adult pony to lack one, but then Meg was not a typical adult pony. If it didn’t appear soon, it could lead to awkward questions once they went into town. How ironic, after making such a big deal about it.

“I don’t understand,” Meg said. In her confusion she had stopped flapping. “I’m not ‘holding’ the floor; I’m just standing.”

“You’re as bad as Twilight,” Dash said in exasperation. Twilight didn’t appreciate that, even if she couldn’t deny it was true. “Don’t think about it; just do it.”

Meg silently pondered that for a few seconds before replying. “Gravity is what’s holding me down, so what am I supposed to do, just ignore it?”

Without waiting for an answer, she resumed flapping and this time she started to rise. “Look at me, I’m actually flying!” she squeed.

She has pegasus magic, check.

“Now we’re going to land.” Rainbow Dash altered the beating of her wings and slowly descended to the floor. Meg did the same, though nowhere near as gracefully.

“Really, you did good for a first effort. It takes lots of practice to be as awesome as me! You shoulda seen Twilight’s first attempts at flight.”

“We did, actually.”

That struck a nerve. “Oh, right, those cartoons,” Rainbow Dash scowled. Twilight glared at her. “I know, Twilight…”

Meg looked around her wing to see her flank. “What about my cutie mark? When will it appear?”

Good question. Twilight had been speculating about possible reasons for the delay. “Most likely your destinies are linked, so Steve must become a pony first.”

Twilight briefly glanced over at the draconequus by the wall. Discord was reclining in a chair that wasn’t there before, munching on popcorn. Nice to know we’re not boring you. Then she noticed Pinkie was munching on popcorn too. Sigh…

“I’m ready; let’s do it.” Steve got up and walked onto the central star as everypony else got out of his way.

They repeated the process with Steve. He became a light brown unicorn with a deep blue mane and tail, and teal eyes. The Elements returned to the floor and reverted to their normal, less colorful forms.

Twilight inspected Steve. “And how do you feel?”

“Did I change?” He looked at himself. “I guess so. Definitely not a pegasus. And a blank flank.” He faced Twilight again. “To answer your question, I feel fine.”

Meg approached him, a big grin on her face. “You look good as a unicorn, too.”

“A unicorn, am I?” He reached up with a hoof to gently touch his horn. “Indeed I am. I actually felt that.”

Twilight bore an anticipatory smile as she got in front of him. “You remember our discussion on how magic works?”

“I do, and I bet you’re about to give me a test.”

Twilight lit up her horn, turning it into a source of light. “Try to do that.”

“And I’ve never been so happy to take a test in my life.” He closed his eyes and tried to will his horn to do the same. Nothing happened at first, but after a few seconds something fell into place and it lit up.

He has unicorn magic, check. “You pass,” she congratulated. “For extra credit, now do this.” She extinguished her horn.

He extinguished his own horn immediately.

“You should give priority to mastering telekinesis. Like Meg and her wings, it’s a matter of you not knowing you already know how to do it. I’ll then help you with casting other spells.”

Twilight addressed Discord. “I take it everything went smoothly as far as you could tell?” He and his chair vanished, then he reappeared in front of Twilight.

“I couldn’t have done it better myself,” he mumbled with a mouth full of popcorn. “By the way, take a look.” He pointed to the just-appeared cutie marks.

“Now what in tarnation is that! Ah never seen anythin’ like it before.”

Meg’s cutie mark was two intersecting circles, with a star in the common area.

“Nor I that.” Rarity pointed at Steve’s cutie mark, which was a grid with ripples emanating from its center.

“Could it be related to your special talents?” suggested Fluttershy, curiosity defeating her shyness.

“I have no idea what mine means,” said Meg, staring at her cutie mark.

Twilight walked around the two new ponies, contemplating their cutie marks. She found it quite bizarre Meg had no idea what hers meant, but again they did not acquire cutie marks the way ponies typically did, by discovering their special talent or purpose while still a foal.

Steve, on the other hoof, had no such doubts. “Mine reminds me of my talent as a researcher into gravity waves. It’s a gravitational wave rippling through the fabric of the space-time continuum.”

“Didn’t understand a word you said,” complained Applejack. “Gravity has waves?”

“Well, in my world. Theoretically. Don’t know about yours.”

Steve walked over to his strange, human saddlebag. Twilight noted with satisfaction that he seemed unaware he was walking as a quadruped; he simply did it as if he always had. He reached out to it with his hoof, then stopped.

Presumably he wants to open it. What will he do?

He put his hoof back down and his horn began to glow teal. Good. The zipper began to glow also, but instead of it opening he only succeeded in pulling the entire saddlebag.

Lacks sufficient control, not surprisingly.

He tried a few more times, but eventually gave up. “Twilight, could you help?” he sighed. “I’m already missing my hands.”

“I understand,” she said as she walked over. “I found it hard to adjust to having hands instead of magic when I became human.” After effortlessly unzipping it, she noticed the laptop inside and pulled that out, and for good measure opened the lid. The screen lit up. It works! She kept her excitement to herself. “You’ll get used to using your horn soon enough. At least your computer seems to work here.”

He put a hoof on the trackpad, making sure the fleshy frog part made contact, and moved it around. The cursor followed his movements. “That says much about the commonality of physics between our two worlds, even if there are also great differences.”

Indeed it does; fascinating! Twilight’s eyes were glued to the keyboard and screen.

He tried to type. It was possible to hit the correct key, but only with great difficulty. He wasn’t used to using hooves to hit something so small. “The ergonomics suck for ponies. Be nice if we could come up with an external, pony friendly keyboard.”

Twilight looked away from the computer to offer him encouragement. “Give it some practice and you’ll be able to type, but it will be even easier with telekinesis.”

He closed the lid. “Should conserve the battery until I can find a place to plug it in.”

Twilight considered what a pony-friendly computer keyboard would look like. Ponies had typewriters, of course, but they had only two large circular keys plus a space bar. It required a skill few ponies bothered to master: a pony needed to clearly think of the letter to type as she hits the key, the correct mechanical linkage being selected by magic emanating from the hoof. But there’s no mechanical linkage between an external keyboard and a computer, if she correctly recalled, so how could that work?

There was so much she didn’t know about their science and technology, and Twilight didn’t like not knowing. That it was evidently applicable here in her own realm only made it worse—much worse.

Now seemed as good a time as any for Discord to play his part. Twilight gave the prearranged signal. “Ready to visit Ponyville?” she asked the former humans.

Discord didn’t give them a chance to answer. “Before you go, I have some gifts for you,” he said, as a padded red suit with white trim, a red pointy hat, and a large white beard and mustache suddenly appeared on him, and in his eagle talon appeared a large, red, full bag with white trim.

What in Equestria is that supposed to be, Twilight wondered. The gifts might have been prearranged, but not the means by which they were to be delivered.

He reached into the bag and pulled out a wrapped present, levitating it over to Meg, then immediately pulled out another and levitated that one over to Steve. The presents unwrapped themselves in front of their eyes, revealing saddlebags already adorned with their respective cutie marks. The saddlebags then floated above the new ponies and came to a rest on their backs.

“Thanks,” said Meg. “Uh… Santa?”

They know what he’s supposed to be, as Twilight had suspected.

Discord smiled at the recognition. “I have one more gift.” He pulled another wrapped present out of the bag. It was way too long to fit, but out of the bag it came nonetheless. Once out, the bag looked just as full as ever. This present also floated over to the two former humans and unwrapped itself, but this time revealing empty space. “You will now change between human and pony when you cross between realms.” He bowed, then vanished in a poof of snowflakes.

That was what Twilight really wanted. It made things far more convenient. The Elements only needed to be used once. Their coupling to the magical field would be “remembered” when they became ponies again. The saddlebags were still a nice touch, though.

Meg managed to be a bit disappointed. “I wouldn’t mind showing these off back home,” she said as she flexed her wings.

Pinkie Pie was before her, muzzle to muzzle, glaring at her.

“Sorry, I take that back!” Meg hurriedly said.

The apology was immediately accepted. “Okie dokie lokie! I’m going back to organize a welcome-to-Equestria-and-becoming-ponies party for you. La, la la la, la la…” she sang as she happily pranced out of the throne room.

“I didn’t even see her move!”

Obviously, Twilight thought, seeing it in a cartoon and experiencing it in real life are two different things.

Everypony else looked at Meg sympathetically.

Twilight merely said, “Welcome to my world.”

8. Transitions, part two

“Do me first,” Meg said, forcing it out. Before I change my mind.

Twilight had a distant look in her eyes. “Stand on the central star,” she said.

Meg complied, walking into the center of the circle of thrones, her pulse pounding in her ears. Second thoughts came flooding in. Losing her hands? Having to walk on all four limbs? What if something went wrong?

She watched the ponies levitate from their thrones, disappearing above her, as she re-assured herself. It wasn’t permanent. This was Twilight Sparkle. Nothing was going to go wrong.

Streams of color converged on her, engulfing her in the prismatic glow of pure harmony. Even as the colors swirled and mixed together, they remained distinct to her vision, refusing to blend into white.

The harmonic energy suffused every cell of her being, and Meg’s perception of time ceased. It could have lasted a mere second or a thousand years, it would have been the same. She felt embraced by harmony, accepted by harmony; she perceived a timeless connection to harmony; harmony gave her a purpose, a destiny.

The glow faded, and time, once again, was perceived. Well, that was interesting. It had been also calming, almost meditative. She felt serene; her pulse had returned to normal. But when will I become a pony?

Not that distracting Twilight would have been wise, but would it not be reasonable to know how long she would have to stand there? Meg was about to ask that when Steve suddenly plopped down in front of her. Gah!

Something was wrong. Why is he so big? There was also something odd about him, something she couldn’t quite put a hoof on, as if he was obscured somehow, even though she could see him quite clearly.

“You really are a pony, so colorful, so cute. Is your voice the same? Say something!” he exclaimed.

The words sunk in. Seriously?! How could I not notice changing species? She focused her attention inwards, towards her feet—no, definitely hooves, four of them. She clearly felt them pressing against the floor, and was surprised at just how normal it felt. She had thought she’d be overwhelmed with alien sensations; instead there was nothing not normal to draw attention to itself, however different it might be—and having ankles and wrists where knees and elbows were supposed to be, well off the ground, sure qualified as different. I am a pony! It also explained why her husband looked so much bigger; she was now a lot smaller. “You’re so big now!” she giggled out of elation.

“Do you feel okay?” asked Twilight.

Her left ear swiveled to lock on to her voice. My ear swiveled. She looked into Twilight’s eyes, which were now slightly above her own. It was as if she was seeing her truly for the first time, that before now she had been looking at an imperfect facsimile. Of course! I’m now seeing her with a pony brain, so I’m picking up all the pony body language cues.

“And you don’t look so small anymore,” Meg said. That sounded lame but that’s what first came to her mind. “I’m fine. I feel completely normal, like I was born this way.” But what kind of pony am I?

She tried focusing her attention on the obvious body parts and became aware of her wings. The excitement of her discovery caused them to flare, leaving no doubt in her mind. “I’m a pegasus!” she shouted. She then realized she had just experienced her first wing-boner. So that’s a real thing. What if it happens while flying? Wait… I’m gonna fly! …right?

“Let’s see if you have pegasus magic. Will you do the honors, Rainbow Dash?”

“On it.” As Rainbow Dash walked in front of her, Meg had the same feeling of truly seeing her for the first time. Dash’s body language made her lack of enthusiasm clear enough; though she was trying to hide it, the slight sagging of her ears gave it away.

“We’ll start by introducing you to your wings. I’m going to go through all the muscles controlling my wings and I want you to mimic me. You already know how to use these muscles, you just don’t know it yet.”

Is Rainbow Dash really going to give me flying lessons? I better get on her good side, somehow.

She spent the next minute introducing the new pegasus to all the muscles controlling her wings. Meg had watched her fly before, but it was different now. She now understood what she was doing with her wings and could effortlessly copy her actions. She wasn’t just seeing her with a pony brain, but with a pegasus pony brain. Dash was right: she did already know how to use those muscles, she just didn’t know it yet. She knew now.

“Now we’ll do flapping.” She began flapping as if hovering, though she remained on the floor. Meg tried to copy her actions, but it was too much happening too fast. It took all of her concentration. Something was wrong; pegasi obviously did not pay this much attention to the act of flying, when they were paying any attention at all. How much longer before I get off the ground? How long does it take for a foal to learn how to fly anyway?

“Don’t try to consciously control each individual flap, just the overall pattern. Just like you don’t consciously control the movement of each individual leg when you walk—uh, assuming it works that way for humans too.”

“It does.” That was a big help, though it still took her a few tries to get the hang of it, but soon she figured out how to put the flapping on autopilot, so to speak. She had successfully replicated Rainbow’s flapping, and like her was also stuck to the ground. This is what she does when she hovers, so why aren’t we hovering? Her hooves were pressing against the floor just as much as before. But then, according to the laws of physics, their wings couldn’t possibly be moving enough air to make much of a difference.

“Now let go of the floor.” Rainbow Dash gently lifted a few feet then hovered.

Huh? “I don’t understand,” Meg said. In her confusion she had stopped flapping. “I’m not ‘holding’ the floor; I’m just standing.”

“You’re as bad as Twilight,” she said in exasperation. “Don’t think about it; just do it.”

Meg didn’t know whether to be insulted or praised for being like Twilight, though it was clear enough what Rainbow Dash had intended. She decided she needed to understand what was going on. If that made her just like Twilight, she could live with it.

“Gravity is what’s holding me down, so what am I supposed to do, just ignore it?” And how am I supposed to ignore gravity?

Duh, magic.

And how do I use magic?

She decided her pegasus body would know what to do, just like her human body knew how to stand without tipping over. She resumed flapping and this time she started to rise. “Look at me, I’m actually flying!” she squeed. Apparently wing-boners can’t happen while flying.

“Now we’re going to land.” Rainbow Dash altered the beating of her wings and slowly descended to the floor. Meg did the same, though nowhere near as gracefully.

“Really, you did good for a first effort. It takes lots of practice to be as awesome as me! You shoulda seen Twilight’s first attempts at flight.”

“We did, actually,” Meg replied without thinking.

That struck a nerve. “Oh, right, those cartoons,” Rainbow Dash scowled. Twilight glared at her. “I know, Twilight…”

Oops. Meg had forgotten that was a sore point with her. She really needed to stay on good terms with what she could only hope would be her flight instructor. The contriteness Rainbow was displaying gave her hope she didn’t make too big of a mistake. Twilight did say she had talked to her about that.

Meg suddenly realized she ought to have a cutie mark. She looked back around her wing, becoming aware of her long neck in the process, and gazed upon her coat and tail, letting her new colors sink in, but to her surprise there was no cutie mark. The memory was a bit fuzzy now, but she was sure she had sensed something about a destiny. “What about my cutie mark? When will it appear?”

“Most likely your destinies are linked, so Steve must become a pony first,” Twilight speculated.

Meg hoped that was the case. I’m beginning to understand how the Cutie Mark Crusaders feel. Maybe I could join them? She really hoped it wouldn’t come to that. Would an adult pony without a cutie mark draw a lot of attention?

She heard munching behind her, and she shifted her gaze to its source. Where did Pinkie Pie get that popcorn from? Then she noticed Discord munching away as well. Well, what exactly did I expect?

“I’m ready; let’s do it,” Steve said, bringing her attention back to the circle of thrones.

The process was repeated, this time with Meg being an observer. There was nothing timeless about it from the outside. In a few seconds it was done.

Meg inspected her unicorn husband, becoming aware of certain parts of her anatomy as a side effect. So, big surprise, mares have those. It sure felt weird being interested in an equine stallion. Quickly she focused her attention elsewhere, and to her relief found that surprisingly easy to do.

For the first time, it sunk in that she was technically naked, yet she didn’t feel naked, nor did she perceive the other ponies as being naked. Maybe it was all the fur. This must be why the ponies’ pervasive lack of clothing doesn’t cause civilization to collapse.

Nonetheless, she was now aware that the Mane Six were mares, each clearly attractive in her own way. Yep, definitely have the brain of a pony. Again, she got her thoughts under control, thoughts she could not imagine having as a human. She was determined not to create an embarrassing situation. The new pegasus approached her husband, and said in as much of an non-suggestive voice as possible, “You look good as a unicorn, too.”

She watched as Twilight took Steve on his first baby steps towards using unicorn magic. Whatever the other mares thought of the stallion now before them, they were doing a darn good job of keeping it to themselves; Meg doubted they were thinking much about that at all, accustomed as they were to the lack of clothing.

“…By the way, take a look.”

Her thoughts were interrupted by Discord pointing out the appearance of their cutie marks.

“Now what in tarnation is that! Ah never seen anythin’ like it before.”

Meg turned her head once more to look at her rear, and after first raising her wings out of the way, she saw her new cutie mark: two intersecting circles, with a star in the common area. She stared at it blankly. Wasn’t there supposed to be some epiphany about her special talent or purpose? But then she was also supposed to get it while still a filly. “I have no idea what mine means,” she said in response to Fluttershy’s half-heard question.

She barely paid attention to what was going on around her as she wondered what it all meant. At least she wouldn’t have to join the CMC, but how will they react when they find out? She and her husband were blank flanks for less than an hour. And she didn’t even know what she’s supposed to be good at?

Steve walked over to his backpack, as if he’d been a quadruped his entire life. I bet the secret is to not think about it, just do it. He tried to use telekinesis to open it, but failed. I seemed to have better luck with my wings.

“Twilight, could you help?” he sighed. “I’m already missing my hands.”

Oddly enough, losing her hands was not bothering Meg. True, she wasn’t trying to do something that required hands, but it wasn’t as if she felt her fingers were amputated or anything. What was there, according to her newly equine brain, was what was supposed to be there.

“I understand,” Twilight said as she walked over. “I found it hard to adjust to having hands instead of magic when I became human.”

Wait. Is she admitting the whole Equestria Girls thing happened? Maybe it was an unintentional slip of the tongue. Not that it really mattered; it was kind of an open secret anyway.

After some expert telekinesis by the alicorn, the laptop was out and operating. Twilight was so obviously trying to hide her excitement that it worked in her world. Curious that she would feel the need to do that. Was human technology partially why she agreed to bring them here?

After playing with it for a little bit, Steve closed the lid. “Should conserve the battery until I can find a place to plug it in.”

Then, finally, Twilight said the magic words they’d been waiting to hear. “Ready to visit Ponyville?”

But before Meg could scream “yes,” Discord got their attention. He was in full Santa Clause gear, complete with a large bag of presents. She watched as he pulled a pair of wrapped presents out of the bag. One of them levitated over to her and unwrapped itself in front of her eyes, revealing saddlebags already adorned with her cutie mark—my cutie mark. The saddlebags floated above her and came to a rest on her back.

“Thanks,” she said. “Uh… Santa?” How does he know this stuff about us? Yes, he showed such knowledge in the cartoon, but that could easily be attributed to artistic license by the writers. They’ve shown such license in other respects, as she now knew.

Discord smiled, apparently pleased at the recognition. He expected us to know.

“I have one more gift.” He pulled another wrapped present out of the bag. It was way too long to fit, but out of the bag it came nonetheless. Once out, the bag looked just as full as ever. This present also floated over to them and unwrapped itself, but this time revealing empty space. “You will now change between human and pony when you cross between realms.” He bowed, then vanished in a poof of snowflakes.

Seeing it in a cartoon is not the same as seeing it for real. It wouldn’t be the last time she’d make that observation, she suspected. While she appreciated the gesture—and she certainly was glad she wasn’t meeting the old Discord—she couldn’t help feeling a bit disappointed at that second gift. “I wouldn’t mind showing these off”—she flexed her wings—”to my friends.”

Pinkie Pie was before her, muzzle to muzzle, glaring at her.

How did she do that! “Sorry, I take that back!” she hurriedly said, as she realized that doing that would break her Pinkie Promise. As if I’d have the guts to do it anyway.

The apology was immediately accepted. “Okie dokie lokie! I’m going back to organize a welcome-to-Equestria-and-becoming-ponies party for you. La, la la la, la la…” she sang as she happily pranced out of the throne room.

“I didn’t even see her move!” she protested. Note to self: do not mess around with Pinkie Promises! Not that she didn’t know that already. She noticed the other ponies looking at her sympathetically.

Twilight merely said, “Welcome to my world.”

They really don’t know how Pinkie does it. It looked like the cartoon was correct about that.

Steve walked over to her. “Are you finding it… I don’t know… natural being a pony?” he said in a half-whisper. The other ponies were close enough to hear him anyway.

Before Meg could answer, Twilight offered an explanation. “That’s to be expected. It’s a property of the isomorphic mapping spell that was cast on you. Neither of you noticed the transformation taking place, correct?”

They both nodded yes.

Apparently satisfied they understood what had happened to them, the alicorn began walking towards the entrance. “I’m sure you’re impatient to see Ponyville, so let’s be on our way!” Everypony else followed Twilight, with Meg and Steve taking up the rear.

Ponyville, here we come!

However, not every pony walked. Meg couldn’t help but notice that Rainbow Dash and even Fluttershy were flying above the others. That surprised her a bit, as the cartoon gave the impression Fluttershy preferred to stay on the ground. It was a mystery she could solve later. She had observed how the two pegasi took off and flew slowly. It seemed obvious enough how they were doing it, and it felt right that she should be in the air with them.

Steve must have noticed the longing in her eyes, for he leaned over and whispered in her ears, “Go for it.”

Meg moved a few feet to the side, to give her wings some space, and mimicked what the other two pegasi had done. She managed to get airborne and move forwards, but it was nowhere near as effortless as the natives made it look. The other ponies either did not notice her attempt at flight, or didn’t consider it noteworthy.

The line of ponies reached the entrance to the throne room at an angle; they had to bear left to enter the hallway. Meg copied the maneuvering performed by the two pegasi ahead of her, but something was wrong. Her path barely budged. She continued approaching the wall at a grazing angle. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea. The wall got closer and closer. Her direction insisted on shifting gradually.

A pillar approached on a collision course with her wing. She instinctively pulled it in at the last second, then pushed against the pillar. Wing-up exercises don’t seem so silly anymore.

But now she was heading for the opposite wall at a not-so-grazing angle. Panicking, she pulled in her wings. Meg wanted to get back on the ground now. Then she remembered she was six feet off the ground, as gravity rapidly resumed its grip on her. She started flapping again and managed to sufficiently slow her fall to avoid injury, landing on all four hooves with a loud thud.

Everypony stopped and turned around.

“Did you hurt yourself?” Fluttershy was hovering above her, a concerned look on her face.

Rainbow Dash was hovering next to her, scoffing at her concern. “C’mon Fluttershy! You know I wouldn’t let her get hurt.”

“I’m okay, I guess, just shook up,” Meg said, looking up at them, “but how did you know? You weren’t looking behind you.”

“Pffsh… you were flapping your wings so hard I could’ve heard them a mile away,” Rainbow replied.

“You knew I was in trouble and you did nothing to help?” Was Rainbow Dash that unhappy with her?

“You weren’t going to get hurt, so I figured it’d be a valuable lesson.”

“What, don’t fly without proper training first?”

“No,” she declared, “stuff happens and you need to be ready to deal with it.”

Not a bad answer, she had to admit. “I don’t even understand what went wrong,” she said, disheartened. “I did what you did.”

Twilight had joined them. “You don’t have proper use of your pegasus magic yet,” she explained gently. “That’s why your flight training with Rainbow Dash won’t start until late this afternoon.”

Flight training. With Rainbow Dash. And Twilight was going to mentor Steve in spell casting. It almost seemed too good to be true. Somehow, gratitude for their help didn’t seem sufficient justification for this investment of their time. But on the other hoof, it’d be cruel for them to become ponies who could not function as ponies.

Regardless, she now had wings that she couldn’t yet use. That sucked. “So I should stay grounded until then?” she said with resignation.

“You’re feeling it, aren’t you,” the cyan pegasus said, grinning as she did a 360-degree roll. “The need to be in the air.”

Yes, she was feeling it. A pegasus was a creature of the air, not of the ground.

Rainbow was studying her face. “Yeah, you’re feeling it alright,” she smirked.

“Flight training this afternoon?” She looked hopefully at the pegasus who would provide the training.

“Yep, on top of the clouds covering Ponyville. The rain won’t start until tonight.”

“I can begin your unicorn magic training then too,” Twilight told Steve.

They resumed walking and flying to the castle entrance. The hallway was lined with crystalline pillars, supporting arches, and between most pairs of pillars was a narrow, cathedral-style, green shaded, stained glass window with patterns of branches and leaves. From the vaulted ceiling far above hung sets of colored jewels reflecting the ambient light, similar to what hung off the branches of the Tree of Harmony itself.

Meg had only briefly seen this in the season four finale. What the cartoon had shown was a pale imitation of the real thing, and also not quite accurate, for there were doors on both sides of the hallway. One of them was open, revealing a large library full of books. Yet the stained glass windows were lit up as if exposed to outside daylight, even though the other side had to be one of those rooms.

It wasn’t long before they reached the entrance. The tall doors glowed lavender and opened, revealing Ponyville basking in sunshine, not a cloud in the sky. Colorful thatched buildings lined the far side of the river in front of them and covered the rolling hills. Even more colorful ponies could be seen enjoying themselves in the parks alongside the river.

Meg was about to point out the clearly incorrect evening forecast for rain, but caught herself in time. Pegasi manage the weather here. As she gazed at the clear blue sky, she wondered whether she would learn how to do that too. And walk on clouds… what’s it like to walk on a cloud?

They stepped outside and found themselves under Celestia’s Sun. It didn’t seem any different than the sun of her own world. Meg chalked it up to being yet another unexplained similarity. A half-dozen steps later and they were walking down the road to the town. She turned to look behind her, and on the now closed doors saw two large pink hearts. Better get used to seeing those everywhere.

It wasn’t far to the river bordering the east side of Ponyville, but it gave Meg sufficient time to ponder the fact she was walking as a quadruped, and doing so without any difficulty, her tail bobbing along in sync with her gait behind her. Like so many other aspects of being a pony, it was so natural it didn’t draw attention to itself.

She felt the sun shining on her coat, warming it, and a cool breeze brushing against her fur and ruffling her mane. Her ears were full of the sound of softly clopping hooves and flapping wings. She noted that her vision and hearing didn’t seem any different; she certainly did not have the limited color vision that most mammals, including equines, possessed back home.

They reached a modest footbridge crossing the river. Passing over it, they entered Ponyville and turned left onto a road following the river. The buildings look pretty much as Meg expected them to look, given that they were three dimensional and made out of wood and glass and other real substances. They even had plenty of pink hearts as decorative touches. What’s up with that?

Meg decided to find out. Applejack was closest, so she caught up to her and asked. “Hey, Applejack.”

The orange mare turned her head. “What can I do fer ya, Meg?”

“Could you tell me why pink hearts are such a common decoration here?”

“Ah dunno. Tradition, Ah guess.” She turned to the alabaster unicorn. “Do you know, Rarity?”

“Yes, darling, I certainly do. They represent Princess Celestia’s love for her little ponies.” After a brief silence, Rarity gave a small titter. “Oh, silly me… Princess Luna’s love too, now, of course.”

That actually made sense. “Thanks for answering my question.”

“Sure thing, sugar.”

“Not at all.”

Wait a minute… could all those decorative hearts be required by some royal decree? It didn’t sound like something Princess Celestia would do. Meg decided she didn’t have the nerve to find out.

One of the numerous parks alongside the river was to their side. Numerous ponies, foals and adults alike, were enjoying the start of the weekend. Meg recognized a few of them as recurring background ponies in the show, or at least she thought she did. It was a bit difficult to tell, because ponies in real life did not follow a handful of templates, but she assumed that if a pony’s cutie mark, colors, and mane styles matched, then it probably was that pony.

The one pony she hoped to see had a gray coat, blonde mane, and bubbles for a cutie mark, but Derpy was nowhere to be seen. Well, it’s not as if it’s her job to be Waldo for a hypothetical camera.

A apricot mare was lying down on the lawn, nursing a young lime colored foal. What a cute foal. Meg found it all to easy imagine herself in the mare’s place, as if she needed more evidence she was no longer thinking with a human brain. Wait. She’s nursing in public. Nopony cared, not other mares, not foals, not even stallions.

A minute later they were walking past a quite tall building, practically a skyscraper by Ponyville standards. Steve leaned in to her, and said in a whisper, “That must be the building that was under construction in The Mysterious Mare Do Well.”

Yeah, don’t need to remind them of that, she thought, as she looked at the five of the Mane Six still in their presence. Applejack, the closest to them, apparently heard Steve anyway. She glanced up at the colorful pegasus flying above them and snorted.

Eventually they came upon the Town Hall. They left the river behind, passing in front of the seat of government, and went deeper into town. Was it really damaged by Derpy in The Last Roundup? Rainbow Dash would certainly know, but Meg didn’t think it was worth the risk of asking her.

Two ponies at a fruit stand up ahead caught her attention, one a mint green unicorn and the other a beige earth pony. Could they be Lyra and Bon Bon? Soon there was no doubt. Lyra had noticed them and was trotting towards them.

Don’t freak out, Meg told herself, as her heart started pounding. She can’t possibly know we’re really human—if she’s even obsessed with that. Lyra’s alleged human obsession was based on a single scene in which she sat on a bench like a human. The actual Ponyville benches she’d seen lacked a backrest, no doubt because ponies can’t even sit that way—at least not without discomfort.

And yet that was the fanon consensus, more or less, and the consensus was right about Derpy being a mailmare.

“Rarity!” Lyra called out.

Everypony gradually came to a stop as she approached. Meg moved close to Steve and felt a strong urge to lean against him for comfort. She’s not interested in us, she told herself. The unicorn’s cutie mark of a lyre was now easily seen, on both her flank and her saddlebags.

Rarity casually greeted her. “Yes, darling?”

“About that dress for my upcoming concert… I have to leave for Canterlot two days sooner than I expected. Will that be a problem?”

“No problem at all,” the fashionista assured her.

“That’s good to hear,” Lyra said, relieved.

But instead of returning back to Bon Bon, she turned her attention to Meg and Steve, looking straight at them. Oh come on… At least she had a friendly smile on her face. The unicorn didn’t look like she was eager to lock them up in a basement and study their hands. Not that Twilight would permit that, Meg assured herself.

“You must be from out of town?” the musician chirped.

Meg couldn’t find any words to say. We should have come up with a cover story…

Rarity swooped in to save them. “Indeed they are, Lyra, my dear. We would love to make acquaintances but we simply must be on our way. I’m sure you understand.”

“Uh, yes, of course.” She started to turn around. “Maybe some other time,” she said, with a distinct lack of certainty.

Meg watched as Lyra trotted back to Bon Bon. At least she wasn’t wearing a stone-gray hoodie. She was glad that wasn’t real.

“You must forgive her,” Rarity quietly said. “Like everypony else, she was noticing that you two are VIPs, you know, Very Important Ponies.”

And looking around, Meg did notice that some ponies were in fact discreetly checking them out. Duh… we are in the company of Princess Twilight Sparkle and her circle of close friends.

One of those ponies was a light brown earth pony with an hourglass for a cutie mark and wearing a green tie. No, no, no, not going there. Besides, the one time he spoke he didn’t even have a British accent—er, Trottingham… whatever.

Continuing down the street, they came upon a plaza with a fountain. They turned left and passed by Flowers and Snacks. Meg reflected on the name. Ponies don’t make much of a distinction, do they? The fragrant and appetizing smell of flowers filled the air. Wait. Appetizing?

Sugarcube Corner emerged ahead. That must be their destination. It did indeed look like a gingerbread house, practically edible. Meg was a bit surprised at how big it was, bigger than it appeared in the cartoon. There was outdoor seating, mostly empty, as it was too late for the morning crowd and a little early for the lunch crowd. Meg looked around, hoping to see Derpy enjoying a muffin. She had to be somewhere, right? But not here, apparently.

Meg suddenly realized she ought to be able to see the library—or what was left of it—from the other side of the plaza. “Wait a minute,” she said, “I want to check something out.” She quickly trotted across the plaza, and upon reaching the far side looked to her right. There it was, a few hundred feet away, the bottom half partially obscured by other buildings. It was clearly intact. Didn’t Tirek destroy it?

“Yes, he destroyed it.”

Meg turned her head to find that Twilight, as well as Steve, had joined her. “How was it restored?” she asked.

Twilight gave her a smirk. “You’ll just have to wait until the next season to find out.”

Meg gave her a dumbfounded look. This too?

She dropped the smirk. “Sorry, couldn’t resist,” she said, smiling. “Discord undid the damage as part of his penance, not just to the library but all the destruction caused by my battle with Tirek.”

“And you did save Owlowiscious, right?”

A big smile graced the alicorn’s face. “Yes, I saved Owlowiscious.”

Meg looked back at the restored Golden Oak Library. It happened here. Twilight was in that tree, looking through that telescope, when Tirek tried to blast her; and she was actually here, standing next to the target of that attack.

She turned her head to look at the former target, who was wistfully gazing at the tree. They have that kind of power. At least Twilight seemed immune to the corruptive effects of possessing such power. Would I be immune?

Twilight looked back at Meg, noticing her stare. Feeling the need to say something, Meg said, “We’d like to visit it sometime…”

“It’d be my pleasure to give you a tour of my old home,” the former librarian said, clearly wishing it was still her current home.

“But I guess we shouldn’t keep Pinkie Pie waiting,” Meg said. “She’s going to surprise us with a party, right?” I’d love to see her party cannon in action!

They started walking back across the plaza. The others had already gone inside.

“Why would you think that?” Twilight said teasingly. “Just don’t get the hot sauce confused with something else.”

9. Guests in a Familiar Land

Twilight led Meg and Steve into Sugarcube Corner. The others were waiting in the back room she had booked for this occasion, but first she gave the ex-humans a chance to walk around the main store, examining the cakes, muffins, cupcakes, pies, danishes, and cookies on display.

Mrs. Cake was behind the counter, serving somepony else. Twilight had told her she’d be accompanied by two out-of-town ponies, so she knew they were with her. Nonetheless, she occasionally looked their way every now and then, ready to answer any questions they might have. After all, they might want to get something on their way out.

While they satisfied their curiosity, Twilight mulled over what she had observed up till now. There hadn’t been any real surprises so far. They had adapted to their new forms quite readily; their control over their magic was a work in progress, but that was to be expected. Their familiarity with Ponyville and its inhabitants was also to be expected, yet still impressive—and a bit unnerving—nonetheless.

Three incidents had caught her attention. The first was when they passed the tallest building in Ponyville. They knew about the “Mysterious Mare Do Well” incident that took place there during its construction. Interestingly enough, they whispered that name, not intending them to overhear it. That led her to two conclusions. First, human hearing must not be as good as pony hearing and they haven’t picked up on that yet. Second, they knew it had been a source of conflict between Rainbow Dash and the rest of them; most importantly, they didn’t want to cause trouble by potentially open old wounds. They were long past that, of course, but it was probably for the best Rainbow Dash didn’t hear them, if Applejack’s snort was any indication.

Then there was the Golden Oak Library. Meg clearly knew where it was in relation to Sugarcube Corner, even though she had no opportunity to see it on their way over. She also clearly expected it to be in ruins.

But what Twilight found most inexplicable was their reaction to Lyra Heartstrings. Why did she make them so nervous? They had taken Discord in stride, for Celestia’s sake, and they know what he’s capable of! Lyra’s just an ordinary unicorn with a special talent for music. What could that cartoon have possibly revealed to make them react like that?

To her chagrin, that incident also pointed out an omission in her planning. She failed to include in her checklist the creation of a cover story. She hated it when that happened. She’ll have to thank Rarity for her quick thinking.

Yet the biggest mystery of all was Meg’s cutie mark. Twilight had never heard of a pony who had acquired a cutie mark and had no idea what it meant. The discovery of one’s special talent or destiny, after all, was what triggered its appearance; but then, that discovery normally happened during childhood. Surely it was only a matter of time until the meaning of her cutie mark became known, and she was willing to bet it would be something important.

Steve came up to her. “So where’s the party being held?” he asked, after having searched around a bit.

There are some things they don’t know. The entrance to the back room was bit hidden, granted, but evidently it was never shown in the cartoon. “Back here.” She led them towards the back, passing the kitchen and the restrooms, and around a corner. After they walked through the open door into the large and festively decorated room, big enough to comfortably accommodate two dozen ponies, the door glowed lavender and closed behind them. Just to be on the safe side, Twilight cast a spell to prevent anypony outside from eavesdropping on them.

“This is a party?” Meg said with disbelief. While catering had provided oatburgers and hay fries, with Sugarcube Corner itself providing cake and cupcakes and various beverages, besides the food there was nothing. Other than the gingerbread house theme, it was just a room with some tables and cushions to sit on.

Pinkie Pie trotted over to them. “Of course not, silly!” she chirped. “I can’t throw a surprise party when you’re expecting one. It wouldn’t be a surprise!”

Meg’s ears sagged from disappointment. “I guess that makes sense,” she said tentatively.

“Don’t you fret,” Rarity consoled her. “You shall have your surprise welcome-to-Ponyville party, just not right this second.” Using her telekinesis, she grabbed two plates, precisely placed an oatburger and some hay fries on each, and levitated them over to a table near them.

“It’s still a special occasion. Y’all having your first meals as ponies.” Applejack took a bite out of her own oatburger, holding it with her front hooves. The new ponies carefully watched how Applejack was doing that.

Wasn’t it obvious? The evidence suggested it wasn’t to humans.

Fluttershy joined them at their table. “Is this the type of food you normally eat?” she asked, her professional interest getting the better of her shyness.

“It’s similar to something we have,” Steve replied, “but the ingredients are different. Our fries, for example, are made from potatoes. We can’t eat hay.”

“Heh… you can now!” pointed out Rainbow Dash, as she stuffed some hay fries into her mouth.

“Gosh, I wonder why nopony ever thought of using potatoes before?” Fluttershy wondered. “What about oatburgers?”

“Well…” he tentatively started, as if treading on egg shells. “Humans might be able to eat those. We can’t eat raw oats, I don’t think, but we do eat cooked oats. The bun, lettuce, pickles, tomatoes, they’re fine.”

“If not oats, then what kind of burger?”

Neither replied at first as they struggled with an answer. Twilight could take a good guess as to what the problem was, but she was more interested in how they would handle it.

“That’s… a bit difficult to explain…” he finally offered, plainly scared of offending them.

Twilight decided that was enough; they ought to be enjoying this visit. “You’re not going to offend us by admitting you’re omnivores,” she assured them. “I’ve had state dinners with griffons, and they’re mostly carnivores.”

“And I once had a friend who was a griffon,” added Rainbow Dash.

“And I’ve cared for many animals that ate meat,” offered Fluttershy.

“Okay, that’s enough, we get it,” said a relieved Steve. “Yes, humans are omnivores, and our burgers usually—but not always—involve some type of meat.” He picked up his oatburger with his magic, methodically moved it to his mouth, and dug in.

“But Rainbow Dash is right,” Meg said. “We’re ponies now, so I’m gonna try the hay fries.” She brought up a hoof to grab some fries, but hesitated. She instead closely inspected her hoof.

“Is something wrong?” asked Fluttershy.

She didn’t answer immediately, struggling to find the proper words, as she continued to inspect her hoof. “I’m sorry if this comes across as a stupid question, but we’re new at this.”

“No question is stupid,” Twilight assured her. They know they can pick stuff up; what could it be?

“We walk on these,” Meg said, waving her hoof around. “Is it hygienic to handle our food with them?”

Ah, interesting what we take for granted. “That is a perceptive question,” Twilight said. “It’s perfectly safe. The same magic that allows you to pick something up also repels dirt and other contaminants. With a little attention paid as to where you step, washing is seldom required.”

“Or, you know, just stay off the ground,” Rainbow Dash joked, earning some dirty looks.

Meg picked up a single hay fry, put it in her mouth and started chewing, savoring the taste and texture for a while before offering a verdict. “Seems like most of the flavor comes from the seasoning. Not really that different from our french fries.” Another hay fry joined the first. “The texture is rather fibrous; as a human I’m sure it would be unpleasant.” She helped herself to some more.

“Yeah, hay doesn’t really have much flavor of its own, which is why we don’t generally eat it raw, tho’ we could if we hafta,” commented Applejack. “What about the oatburger?”

Meg took hold of her oatburger, carefully mimicking how the other ponies held theirs, and took a bite. She thoughtfully chewed it for a few seconds and swallowed. “Pretty much as I expected it to taste.” She took another bite.


Meg dropped her oatburger in shock, as all heads turned to Pinkie Pie. She was standing by her party cannon with an impossibly big smile, peeking out from under those party glasses. None of these items were in the room a moment ago.

Wait. Those glasses. That’s a human nose!

Twilight had not made the connection before. She had assumed that her weird party prop was due to Pinkie just being Pinkie. Her mind raced as she contemplated previously unexamined possibilities. Would her human guests know anything about it?

Once Pinkie had the attention of the guests of honor, she fired the cannon, instantly decorating the room with streamers and confetti and balloons, and all the ponies with party hats. Meg and Steve stood there, mouths agape.

Didn’t they know about Pinkie’s party cannon?

Steve recovered his senses first. “I thought there wasn’t going to be a surprise party?”

Then, you were expecting it,” smirked Rainbow Dash, as she drifted towards him. “Now you aren’t.” She blew a party kazoo in his face.

“What do you think of Pinkie’s party cannon,” Twilight casually asked them.

“Well… we knew she claimed to always have one with her,” answered Meg, “but it wasn’t in the room a minute ago.” She rolled her eyes. “I know, we shouldn’t be asking how she got it in here or how it works.”

Oh, yes, they know. “Your sanity will thank you, trust me.” Did they know about that? She wouldn’t bet against it. I really ought to watch every episode, somehow, even if some of them will make me cringe. How many are there?

“But where does she get those Groucho Marx glasses from?” Meg said, pointing at Pinkie as the party pony was setting up the first game. “I can’t believe anypony would be making those here in Equestria.”

“Groucho what now?” Those glasses come from their realm? But the one Pinkie is wearing is too small to fit a human head.

“I have them stashed all over town for smile emergencies,” Pinkie said as she bounced past them.

She was gone before Twilight could ask her anything. Oh, what’s the point. The alicorn looked at Meg, hoping she could finally enlighten her.

“Wow…” She finished off a hay fry before continuing. “She really is that random.”

Twilight nodded in response.

“Well, Groucho Marx was a famous comedic actor of the previous century. Those glasses sorta make you look like him. You’re supposed to imitate him while wearing them, but I’ve never seen Pinkie do that, not in the cartoon and not here and now. But wearing them at a party would be an appropriate thing to do. They’re supposed to look silly.”

Twilight brought a hoof up to her forehead. “None of which explains how she got her hooves on some.”

“Sorry that didn’t help more,” Meg shrugged.

“What about Discord?” Steve asked. “He also, somehow, knows so much about our world.”

“Let’s get some drinks,” Twilight sighed, as she started walking towards the beverages. “I honestly don’t know, especially since he’s spent the last millennium as a statue.”

“We’re willing to do what we can to help solve these mysteries. I mean, it concerns us too, at least indirectly.”

Pinkie started the others on a game of pin-the-tail-on-the-pony—though of course Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy merely observed—as they continued walking in silence. Once they arrived at the beverage table, Twilight turned to look at them. “I appreciate the thought, but it’d be best if you didn’t.”

“In other words, it’s out of our league,” Steve said.

Twilight inspected the beverages. “I wouldn’t use those words, but, yeah.” Discord—even Pinkie Pie—was best left to the professionals. Amongst the pitchers of apple juice and lemonade and plain water, she discovered one that did not belong. “That one’s hot sauce,” she warned. Why does Pinkie insist on doing that?

But before they could pick out something to drink, Rainbow Dash came flying over. “Meg, you gotta try pin-the-tail,” she insisted.

Twilight pointed at Meg’s wings. “You are aware she’s a pegasus.” She couldn’t figure out what had gotten into Rainbow Dash.

“I know!” she exclaimed, throwing her hooves above her head. “It’d be so awesome!”

Steve quirked an eyebrow. “Why aren’t pegasi allowed to play pin-the-tail-on-the-pony?”

“It’s not that they’re not allowed…” Twilight started to say, but then understanding dawned on her. Maybe it would be a good idea for Meg to try it. “You should do it.”

That was enough for Rainbow Dash. She guided Meg, with excessive eagerness, to where the poster of a pony was set up. A tail, surrounded by a light blue aura, floated over to Meg’s muzzle. She opened her mouth and grabbed it. A blindfold then precisely wrapped itself around her head.

“I’m now going to lift and spin you, darling. Please keep you wings folded.” Rarity levitated the pegasus and spun her around for ten seconds. Once back on the floor, she stood motionless for a second, turned around to face the poster, and started walking towards it. When she was within a few feet, she slowed down, probing ahead with a hoof, until she felt the wall. She then pinned the tail and stepped back.

“Did anypony not see that coming?” rhetorically asked Rarity as she removed the blindfold.

“I didn’t, for the record,” said Steve.

“Me neither.” Meg looked at the poster and saw that she was only three inches off from the bullseye. “I just knew which direction to go. All that spinning had no effect on me.”

“That’s why pegasi don’t bother playing this game,” explained Twilight. “They are strongly resistant to disorientation.” And I can infer that humans are not. “It comes in handy when flying through fog or stormy weather.”

“You mean I have something like a built-in gyroscope?”

“Gesundhoof,” Rainbow Dash quickly said. “If you want a challenge, you should try a dizzitron. Not that it was much of a challenge for me!”

Shouldn’t she learn how to properly fly first? Twilight had managed to avoided the dizzitron, so far, but it was only a matter of time.

The party lasted another hour or so. Steve also tried his luck at pin-the-tail, and didn’t do any better than any other unicorn, which is to say, not well at all. He then tried his luck examining and explaining Pinkie’s party cannon, and did even worse.

In due time, everypony went their separate way, with Pinkie staying behind to clean up and prepare the room for the next reservation. Twilight decided she might as well give Meg and Steve that tour of her old home.

They walked the short distance to the Golden Oak Library. Twilight had spent little time there since its restoration, only what was needed to move her belongings over to her new castle. It was currently unoccupied, as a new full-time librarian had yet to be found.

The front door glowed lavender and opened. The former occupant stood aside as Meg and Steve walked in. They immediately looked all around, taking in the half-empty bookshelves, the center table, the stairs, and the living quarters they led to. That her old home had somehow become a tourist attraction left her feeling melancholic. We haven’t even gone upstairs yet.

They walked over to an eye-level bookshelf and scanned the titles. That shelf held books on Equestrian history.

Steve looked at the empty shelves above. “I’m surprised these shelves aren’t all full of books.”

Twilight followed his gaze. “I moved the more specialized books to the castle library. The plan is to fill these shelves with books of general interest, but we haven’t found a new librarian yet.”

She walked over to the other side, where fiction was located, and pulled a book from a shelf. The book floated in front of her, presenting itself to the other two as they came over.

Meg gasped as she saw the cover. “Daring Do and the Quest for the Sapphire Stone,” she read out loud. The pegasus looked expectantly at Twilight. “This is it? The actual book? The one that got Rainbow Dash hooked on Daring Do?”

“Not this specific book,” she informed them. “That one belongs to the hospital.” The book opened to the first page, as a big smile planted itself on the bookworm’s face. “Since you knew about Daring Do, I thought you’d like to see her work.”

Meg started to read the book, speaking the words. “As Daring Do trekked through the tropical jungle, the wet heat sapped her energy and slowed her every step. If only she could… escape this…”

She quickly scanned down the page and onto the next, finally looking up at Steve. “This really is the book. It continues past the few paragraphs Rainbow Dash read in Read It and Weep.”

“You can borrow my copy when you go home.“ The book returned to its home on the shelf. “It has the advantage of being autographed,” she smugly said. It helped knowing the author.

“You don’t have to do that,” Meg protested. “This one would be just fine!”

“It’s only fair, considering how many of your books I’ve borrowed.” Their books were in good condition, so she had no reason to fear for the well-being of her own books in their hands.

The alicorn made her way to the stairway, signaling her refusal to take “no” for an answer.

Meg and Steve followed Twilight up the curved stairway along the wall. This second level was the residential area, with a kitchen, bedroom, and living room with a fireplace, all in a circle around the open area below. It was depressingly vacant.

They wandered around from one end to the other, but there really wasn’t much to see beyond memories of what once was—and only Twilight could see those.

Another staircase later and they were on a high balcony, where a telescope resided. It hadn’t been touched since it was restored, still pointing in the same direction as on that fateful day. Meg looked through the eyepiece. It wasn’t hard to deduce what was going through her mind. Yes, it was pointing at him when he tried to kill me, she thought with some irritation.

But it was something she had better get used, and not just because of fans from another realm. It was part of being a princess. What happened that day, what will happen in the future, shall become history, taught in school and become the subject of field trips and family vacations.

Curiosity satisfied, they worked their back outside. Twilight led them back to the castle via a different route, but not before discreetly re-aiming that telescope so that it pointed towards the sky.

A hot air ballon rose gracefully above Ponyville, lifting towards the layer of dark clouds above. On board were a baby dragon piloting the ballon, an alicorn and her student for the day, and a pegasus eagerly looking forward to her first flight lessons.

Meg hung her front hooves over the basket’s edge as she looked down at the town below. It was not a large basket and it was a long way down to the ground, but she felt strangely unbothered by those facts. Her wings ruffled, as if pointing out the reason why.

Her attention turned to the clouds almost on top of them. The weather pegasi had only just finished putting the clouds into place. They had a few hours before rain was scheduled to begin. Rainbow Dash should already be up there waiting for them.

Spike began bleeding some hot air to slow their ascent. The balloon penetrated the clouds, breaking through into the late afternoon sun. More hot air was bled, and as the basket started to fall back through the cloud, Twilight hopped onto the cloud top and cast a spell anchoring it in place.

It didn’t take long for Rainbow Dash to spot them and fly over. She hovered in front of the unicorn. “Steve, I’m sure you already know this, but don’t get out until Twilight casts her cloud-walking spell on you.”

She then drifted over to the other pegasus. “Meg, just get out as if we’re on solid ground. As far as you’re concerned, this is solid ground.”

Twilight added her own reassurance. “Just do what I did.”

Meg looked down at the dark, primed-to-rain cloud, nervously licking her dry lips. Just do what I did. All she had to do was push with her hind legs and clear the top of the basket. And fall right through. It was illogical. Twilight was standing on that cloud right in front of her. Even if she did fall through, she knew darn well Rainbow Dash would swoop down and grab her. But Logic could not compete with a lifetime spent as a human.

Steve tried to reassure her some more. “You’re a pegasus. You know you can stand on a cloud.”

Meg continued staring at the insubstantial mist. What if my magic isn’t fully working yet, like this morning?

Rainbow Dash folded her wings and dropped onto the cloud, bouncing once before coming to a rest. “You’re not gonna fall through.”

This is ridiculous. She came up with a compromise. She spread her wings and proceeded to hover just above the top of the basket. Using her front limbs, she pulled herself out of the basket and over the cloud. Slowly, she drifted downwards. Her hooves made contact with the cloud—and did not pass through.

Meg stopped flapping, but kept her wings extended. Her full weight pressed against the cloud, which pushed back with equal force. A smile broke out on her face. I’m standing on a cloud. She folded her wings, secure in the knowledge that, for the moment, they were not needed.

She took a few tentative steps. “It does feel solid… soft, a bit springy, but solid.”

Rainbow Dash walk up to her. “That’s why flight school is held on clouds,” she explained. “It’s a lot less painful crash landing onto a cloud.”

Twilight cast the cloud-walking spell on Steve and Spike. “Okay, you two can come out now.” Spike hopped right out. Steve needed a few seconds to work up the courage before jumping out himself.

Not so easy, was it?

Meg knew that not all unicorn magic worked in her universe. Was the same true of pegasus magic? “Can pegasi walk on clouds back in my world?” she asked her instructor.

“That was one of the first things we tried. It was a big relief when we could.”

“How about sonic rainbooms?”

“I don’t know. I didn’t attempt one.”

“No, the lack of a magical field makes it impossible there,” Twilight said. “A sonic rainboom is a shockwave in the magical field.”

Rainbow Dash got a thoughtful look in her eyes.

“No, the field produced by those pills won’t let you do one,” said Twilight preemptively. “Never mind the attention a rainboom would attract.”

Pills? Meg kept silent, figuring that if they wanted her to know, they would tell her.

“Could you do one for us now?” Steve asked.

Rainbow Dash rubbed the back of her head. “Yeah,” she sheepishly began. “I’ve been told not to do them near populated areas without permission.”

“Hold on, I’ve been meaning to try something.” Twilight closed her eyes and concentrated, her horn glowing. A wave of lavender spread out across the cloud top.

“What was that?” asked Steve.

“A sonic barrier that should prevent the boom from reaching the ground below—or triggering premature rain.”

Dash gave her a skeptical look. “And if it doesn’t?”

Twilight sighed. “I’m giving you royal permission. Satisfied?”

Producing a fierce grin as her answer, the fastest flier in Equestria positioned herself for a high-speed launch. “Prepare yourself for total awesomeness!” Rainbow Dash rocketed high into the sky, leaving behind her rainbow contrail.

Wait, what about any pegasi flying above the clouds? But then Meg realized there weren’t any. They preferred flying under the solid cloud cover, so they can see where they’re going, and they knew rain wasn’t scheduled for several more hours.

The one pegasus that was flying above the clouds was now far above them, beginning her dive. Faster and faster she dove. Her body assumed a streamlined shape, front hooves directly in front and rear hooves pointing back. She stopped flapping, her wings held close to her side. Yet somehow she seemed to be accelerating more than what could be accounted for by gravity.

A cone developed around her, partially obscuring her. Rainbow Dash strained, willing herself ever faster, until something snapped and a rainbow shockwave exploded outwards. A thunderous boom reached them a half-second later. The pegasus continued onwards, banking to approach them, leaving a solid rainbow in her wake. She wrapped the rainbow around them, then came in to land beside them.

The shockwave was still rippling outwards, shifting through the colors of the rainbow. Even in broad daylight, it was plainly visible, radiating its own light instead of refracting the sun’s light. Meg could only wonder what it’d look like at night. It was not spreading out that fast, certainly nowhere near the speed of sound, but Twilight did say it was a shockwave in the magical field, not in the air.

“And that’s how it’s done!” Rainbow Dash said as she solicited hoof bumps from both Steve and Meg.

Twilight had a pleased look on her face too. “Looks like my sonic barrier did its job.”

“Awesome! That means I can do them all the time now!”

“And I can do a proper scientific investigation of sonic rainbooms.”

That threw cold water on Rainbow’s excitement. “I can do them only if you can study them?”

“If you want to do them here, yes,” Twilight smirked.

As the rainbow circling them finally faded away, Steve felt this was a good time to express his gratitude. “Well, that truly was awesome! If someone had told me a few weeks ago that I’d be able to witness that in person, never mind witnessing it as a unicorn, I’d have thought them certifiably insane. I could actually sense the shockwave with my horn.”

Twilight gasped in surprise. “You could?”

It took Steve a moment to grasp the implications of her question. “You mean, that isn’t typical?”

“No, it’s not. Even I can only poorly sense it. It’s one of the things I’m working on. This must be related to your special talent. It puts your cutie mark in a whole new light. I want to explore this sometime.”

“You two eggheads go talk your sciency stuff while I work with Meg,” Rainbow Dash said dismissively, as she led Meg away to a safe distance to begin her schooling.

“Have fun!” Steve called out as the two pegasi trotted away over the cloud.

As they trotted a few dozen feet, Meg’s anticipation built. How would the legendary Rainbow Dash teach her? What will she learn?

Meg’s instructor came to a stop and turned around, facing her. “What I want you to do is just copy what I am doing. That seemed to work well for you this morning.”

Meg began to protest. “I almost crashed in a wall.”

Dash waved that aside. “That’s because you weren’t fully in touch with your magic yet. That shouldn’t be a problem now.” Sweeping a hoof in a big arc, she added, “Besides, nothing to crash into but clouds here.”

She leaped several feet in the air and hovered. Impatiently, she looked at Meg, who didn’t realize the lesson had begun. “Get your flank in the air and follow me.”

Meg did as commanded, as the adrenaline started to flow. Rainbow Dash kept it simple for now, emphasizing the basics: how to accelerate, slow down, glide, and bank. Unlike that morning, copying the actions of the experienced pegasus worked. It was almost too easy, as if she already possessed the muscle memory and reflexes, but simply had not known it yet.

Her instructor regularly upped the ante, challenging her with higher speeds and more aggressive maneuvers—challenging for a new pegasus, anyway. Eventually, she hit the limits her new form had been endowed with, and crashed, grinding against the cloud for a full ten feet before coming to a halt.

Rainbow Dash landed beside her on the cloud and helped her up. “I’d say that was typical of a non-athletic pegasus.”

Meg checked herself for any bruises or other injuries, as she grabbed this opportunity to catch her breath, and couldn’t sense any. She wasn’t joking about crashing onto clouds. Satisfied she was okay, she admitted, “I wasn’t an athletic human either.” She wasn’t sure how much more she could do before she had to rest.

Rainbow Dash smirked. “Better get used to crashing, then. Any improvements from here on out you’ll have to earn the hard way.”

And with that, she launched into the air.

“So that’s how your solar system works,” Twilight said, deep in thought, as she reflexively tossed a ball with her magic over to Steve. “It certainly explains the illusion of your celestial objects rising and setting.”

Steve’s eyes tracked the ball as it crossed the dozen feet separating them. It wasn’t aimed at him, but several feet above and to the left. This was not due to carelessness on his instructor’s part. He fought the urge to move to intercept it; he was supposed to stay exactly where he was. Concentrating, he reached out with his mind to where the ball will pass him and waited, his horn glowing. He grabbed it, then threw it back.

As his horn’s glow faded, he was able to resume his end of the conversation. “So what exactly are your sun and moon and why do they need magic to move?”

Ideally, he was supposed to talk and do telekinesis at the same time, like Twilight was doing, like what most unicorns could do, but it still required too much of his attention. It was getting easier, however. At least he was no longer letting the ball slip through his magical grasp. Fortunately, Twilight had enchanted the ball so that it wouldn’t fall through the cloud.

“They’re physical objects, highly magical, but”—she received and tossed the ball back—”not very large objects, in fact far, far smaller than they appear, hovering approximately twelve thousand miles above the surface, and they don’t physically move at all.”

That so caught Steve off guard that he missed the ball. It landed on the cloud with a muted thump and began rolling in the direction of a napping Spike. “I’m sorry, this just demands too much of my attention.”

The ball, engulfed in a lavender glow, returned to the basket of the balloon. “No problem, it was time to move on to a different exercise anyway.”

“Just how small are they?”

“Around a thousand feet in diameter.”

“How do they appear so much larger?”

“An optical illusion. The emitted light is directed and focused on the entire world such that the Sun and Moon appear to be in the same relative position in the sky, after adjusting for latitude, no matter where on Equus you are.”

But that would mean… He was beginning to understand Twilight’s reaction to his own world’s cosmology. “Are you saying that sunrise and sunset occur everywhere simultaneously?”

Twilight nodded yes.

It would explain how Discord was able to really mess with day and night the first time he got loose, and why Celestia needed to do something to raise the sun in the morning and set it at night. She was switching it on and off, not moving it around the back side of the planet. It also meant no time zones, no jet lag.

Steve looked at the alicorn who herself once raised the sun. “And yet the two systems produce perceptually indistinguishable results, or nearly so.”

Twilight frowned. “I don’t have an explanation for that.”

It also would have huge ramifications for climate. There was no day and night side of the planet, so there was no temperature differential. Did this planet even rotate? If not, and there was no reason for it to, there would be no Coriolis force to divert north or south air movement to the east or west. No wonder the weather had to be managed by pegasi.

And what about the stars in the night sky?

Twilight retrieved a set of various small objects from the basket and sent one over to him. “I want you to move this in a circle about you. Every so often, I’ll send you another one. Try to keep as many objects as possible circling you, equidistant along the arc from each other.”

The time came end for the training session to end. Soon the weather pegasi will be back to begin the scheduled rain. Twilight was impressed with the progress Steve had made, even if it was expected. He had achieved a level of telekinetic competence one would expect of a typical unicorn.

It was quite informative too. Twilight was beginning to think her realm might be a relatively insignificant pocket universe hanging off the humans’ universe. Unfortunately, that hypothesis raised more questions than it answered.

Rainbow Dash was walking Meg back to the balloon. “You’ve done enough flying for your first day. Take the balloon back.”

Meg used her wings one last time to enter the basket, with far more grace than she had exhibited a few hours ago. “Before we go, I want to thank you so much. That was awesome!” She looked back at her wings. “I’m just afraid I’ll have really sore muscles tomorrow.”

“Eh, probably not,” Dash said. “Wing muscles are pretty tough.”

She started to hover and drift away. “Anyway, I have to meet up with the weather crew. See ya.” Rainbow Dash disappeared, leaving behind her rainbow contrail.

Twilight went over to Spike and nuzzled him. “Wake up, Spike! Time to go.”

Spike sluggishly got up as Twilight and Steve hopped into the basket. Twilight gently lifted the sleepy baby dragon into the basket. Soon Spike was sufficiently awake to prepare the balloon for departure.

The trip back to the castle was uneventful. Twilight’s guests shared their experiences, their enthusiasm overcoming their exhaustion. Later on she would touch bases with Rainbow Dash for her feedback.

The ballon touched down on the expansive east balcony, close to the entrance as the rain had started. Twilight opened the door and they all rushed inside, except for poor Spike who had to first secure the balloon. He can have an extra gem.

Once inside, Meg and Steve did some more gawking. On their way out earlier, Twilight had teleported them all directly to the balcony from the downstairs library, after they had expressed a desire to experience teleportation. This was their first look at the second level.

She first led them to her private library. With a bit of trepidation, she opened the door, waiting for their inevitable reaction. I should be used to it by now. And as they entered the room, she got it.

Meg said what they were both obviously thinking, as she looked around at the all too familiar library. “Uh… isn’t this an exact copy of your old home?”

“Yes, it is,” she admitted. It was part of the remodeling she had done, a way of hanging on to a part of her former life. Some had questioned its wisdom, but in the end she had put her hoof down and insisted on it. How would a future episode of that cartoon present that?

Will she now have to take that into consideration with every decision she makes?

But enough of that. She pushed those thoughts aside as she tried to adopt a more positive attitude. “You can come here tomorrow morning for breakfast after you wake up. Just don’t come upstairs without my permission.”

She turned around and headed back into the hallway. “I’ll show you your room.”

They followed her to the far end of the hallway, where an open door welcomed them. Twilight led them inside and pointed out the accommodations. It wasn’t as fancy as the guest rooms in Celestia’s castle, or even some fashionable Canterlot hotels, but it was still a cut above anything in Ponyville. Celestia was quite insistent on that, and Rarity was all too happy to comply.

“And what’s that thing,” Meg asked, pointing to a rough crystalline cylinder, with a hinged lid, sitting on a small table next to the bed. The lid was open, exposing a soft, almost ultraviolet glow from within.

Steve turned away from the view of Canterlot he was admiring and walked over to see for himself.

Twilight had to suppress a giggle. It was so odd that an adult pony wouldn’t know what that was. What did humans use? Surely they had to have something equivalent!

“That is an anti-fertility charm,” she informed them, as nonchalantly as she could manage. “It’s only operative when the lid is open, and it covers the entire room.”

Meg blushed as understanding dawned on her. “Is… is it one hundred percent effective?”

“Of course, so long as it’s glowing. I enchanted it myself.”

Twilight headed for the door. “Come on, let’s get something to eat.”

She allowed herself a smile, now that they were behind her. And you’ll have to figure out that activity for yourselves.

10. A Different Perspective

“In this simulation—” Steve tapped the play button “—an incoming gravitational wave triggers sympathetic vibrations in the magical field surrounded by this circle of suitably enchanted crystals, causing the crystals to vary their light output accordingly.” The video was projected onto the large, white screen behind him.

The airy auditorium was packed full of scientists from all over the world, eager to learn how magic, the existence of which became known only quite recently, could easily—and cheaply—put to the test one of General Relativity’s remaining unconfirmed predictions.

As the video was playing, Steve scanned the human audience, judging their reactions. Their eyes were glued to the screen as they listened to the video’s narration, not an incredulous soul to be found. It was almost too good to be true.

The video finished playing; he tapped the trackpad, advancing to the next slide. It felt good being able to use a keyboard and trackpad with ease once again.

“This shows the structure of the enchantments that are cast on the crystals.”

This part of the presentation worried him the most. It was like trying to explain Quantum Mechanics to ancient Romans; it was so far outside their conception of reality. He scanned the audience again. There was no trace of disbelief, no unwillingness to accept the reality of magic. Heck, they didn’t even seem to notice he wasn’t wearing any clothes.

He was about to explain in plain English—as best he could, anyway—what the slide was showing, when his eye caught something out of place at the back of the auditorium, something midnight blue, refusing to resolve itself to his vision. It slowly came into focus, revealing a large pony, a pony with a long horn, wings, an unusually long and flowing starry night mane, and a black metallic collar around her neck. Inlaid within the front of the collar was a huge white gem in the shape of a crescent moon.

Princess Luna.

It all suddenly made sense. He was a unicorn, a sleeping unicorn in a guest room in Twilight’s castle. “This is a dream,” he said, mostly to himself; if he didn’t know better, he’d swear he was wide awake now.

The alicorn considered him as she casually walked down the aisle through the suddenly empty auditorium. Her mane and tail flowed, not as if in a breeze but like in some gently flowing cosmic fluid. She stopped at the front row of seats.

Now what.

In a curious voice, she said, “You truly are familiar with our realm.”

Thoughts flashed through his mind. This was a ruler of Equestria. Okay, Twilight technically was, too, but this princess has been ruling for millennia. Not counting the last millennium. Probably should avoid that topic. First impressions mattered. So don’t stand there like an idiot, say something!

Steve bowed, saying, “It’s an honor to meet you, Princess Luna.”

“You may rise,” the diarch gently informed him.

Steve did so, wondering why she was here. While the dream had, technically, been of the naked-in-public variety, it hardly qualified as a nightmare. Never mind not wearing anything, he suddenly realized that the audience hadn’t noticed he was a unicorn. It was a dream, he reminded himself.

“My sister and I wish to offer our appreciation for the help you are providing us.”

Luna looked at the slide currently being projected onto the large screen. “This is your research back home?”

Steve looked at it for the first time since the dream became lucid.

“Well… not exactly.”

What had previously been crystal clear now looked like gibberish, just some meaningless curved lines around the crystals along with some pointless equations. He knew next to nothing about magic spells, so how could it be otherwise? Surely it also looked like nonsense to Luna.

“There’s no magic in my world, so that”—referring to the slide—”would be absurd. I don’t know enough about magic to even begin to design something like that. That’s just some random nonsense my dream came up with.”

“Yet some magic is there now,” she pointed out, “and I have heard of your special talent.” She was looking at his cutie mark.

So Twilight has been keeping her fellow princesses informed—hardly surprising.

He pondered her statement as he looked at his laptop’s screen. Was Luna implying that his special talent might somehow be useful with respect to that doll? Perhaps she was saying that his dream was implying that. Dreams were her specialty, after all. Yet for it to be useful, he’d have to be able to return home as a unicorn. Didn’t Discord’s gift make that improbable?

Luna was patiently waiting for him to speak.

“I’ll have to look into that,” he finally said, uncertain. Meeting her eyes, he asked, “I’ll remember this when I wake up, right?”

“Yes,” she said, smiling.

“Sorry,” he said, slowly shaking his head, “silly question, I’m sure. While I knew you could dream-walk, that’s… not the same as experiencing it.”

As if in response, the auditorium melted away revealing a starry firmament surrounding them in all directions, save for a modest, deep purple platform under their hooves that glowed softly in the reflected light of an unseen Moon. Steve’s jaw went slack as he looked around. Luna watched in amusement as he walked the short distance to the platform’s edge and looked down. There was nothing to see but more stars, colorful jewels in the inky blackness stretching out to infinity.

The Princess of the Night summoned a small table into existence, with plush cushions on either side. Luna took a seat, and with her magic lifted a tea kettle that had appeared along with the table. In the absolute cosmic stillness, the sound of pouring tea seized the unicorn’s attention.

Steve turned around and nearly jumped off the platform on seeing the table.

That was close.

Then he realized how silly that was; this was a dream.

Collecting his nerves, he walked over and seated himself on the opposite side of the table from the Princess, whose muzzle still bore an amused smile.

“Nothing bad would have happened if you did leave this platform,” she said.

“Yeah,” he replied sheepishly, “I kinda figured that out, this being just a dream and all.” He lifted his cup to his mouth and took a sip. It was at the perfect temperature, naturally. If only all of life could be lived in a dream…

“How do you like being a unicorn?”

The alicorn fixed her gaze on him, her curiosity desiring satisfaction.

“I don’t regret it for a second,” he said. “Not that I wouldn’t be happy to return to being human and have hands again. I’m still amazed at how easy it was getting used to this new form.”

A smug look graced Luna’s face. “That was my contribution to the spell,” she boasted.


“Don’t get me wrong; my sister created much of it.” The alicorn’s eyes focused inwards as ancient memories came to the surface. “We used to have so much fun changing ourselves into other creatures.” She sighed. “That was so long ago…”

Her eyes refocused on Steve. “Celestia is quite proud that Twilight was able to master it so easily. True, her special talent is magic, but it would have been beyond even her abilities before she became an alicorn.”

Didn’t Twilight find that spell in a book she found in the old, abandoned castle? Perhaps that was only part of the story; there was only so much that could be squeezed into an episode. Regardless, she really was capable of mastering new magic that easily, even magic of that power and complexity. “I can’t even begin to imagine being able to use such powerful magic. Yesterday, I could only do the most trivial of spells.”

“You’ll improve over time,” she assured him. “You ought to find it easier tomorrow, having had a good night sleep.”

“Yeah, Twilight mentioned something like that… but how much time will we have? …if I may ask.” Discord’s gift made little sense if this was to be their only trip here—it was hard to believe Twilight didn’t know about that in advance, not the way she took it in stride—but that didn’t mean they had a lifetime Equestria reentry pass, either.

Luna’s face became unreadable, as she put down her teacup. “We haven’t decided yet.”

At least there’s still a chance. But their time here could be cut short, too, and that was an unpleasant thought. It wasn’t that he wanted to emigrate to Equestria and spend the rest of his life as a unicorn, but he certainly wanted visitation privileges. There were many places to visit and explore, if nothing else, not to mention magic to understand and master.

Almost as if reading his mind, Luna broke the silence. “You’ll be visiting Canterlot tomorrow. Twilight has requested permission for you to accompany her to the Royal Archives and it has been granted.”

She needed permission? It wasn’t hard to figure out who needed to grant it, or what that implied about the particular archive Twilight had in mind.

“Why would she want me along? It’s obvious these archives aren’t open to the public.”

“She believes you’ll be of assistance to her.” The Princess got up on her hooves. “I enjoyed our conversation,” she said, as she slowly faded away. “I’m afraid I must be on my way.”

The morning sun poured sunshine through the window. Steve woke up, to find his muzzle buried in his wife’s mane. This will take some getting used to.

Last evening was definitely an experience he’ll never forget. It was rather ironic, actually; he never cared for clopfics and now he found himself living one. The shower afterwards was… different, too. Not that he was complaining.

He carefully got out of bed, and looked back at the cute orchid pegasus still sound asleep, her wings tightly folded against her barrel. It was picture-worthy, but like an idiot he’d left his phone at home, thinking it wouldn’t be able to get a signal.

He went to the bathroom and looked at himself in the mirror. A quick brushing was called for, so he picked up a brush and started on his mane. After a few strokes, he stopped, and stared at the brush floating above his head, engulfed in a teal glow. I didn’t have to think about it.

So, Luna was right: a good night sleep did make magic easier. He finished brushing his mane and started on his tail. He was starting to feel like a real unicorn. Would Meg’s flying be improved, too? At least he didn’t have to preen, not that her wings looked like they needed preening.

Wait, that was a dream. Did Luna really visit his dream? He’d find out soon enough. Either Twilight will take him to the archives or she won’t. Regardless, he needed to talk to her about somehow returning home as a unicorn. Did Luna visit Meg’s dream as well?

His tail done, he quickly touched up some ruff spots on his coat. He noticed his cutie mark, a grid with ripples emanating from its center. The lines forming the cutie mark seemed well defined, with sharp boundaries. Come to think of it, all cutie marks looked that way. Wouldn’t that require each strand of hair to have different colors along its length? He deliberately mussed up the coat in that area. The lines remained sharply defined, the cutie mark as a whole undistorted, as if it was an image projected onto the coat and not formed by hairs of different colors.

I suppose I can ask Twilight. He brushed the cutie mark, fixing the coat.

Dismissing that from his mind, he went over to the desk where his computer slept, plugged into an outlet. He opened the lid, this time effortlessly, and experimentally began typing using telekinesis. Still nowhere near as fast as using ten fingers, but nonetheless a vast improvement over two hooves. He had no doubt he could do much better with practice.

What about the trackpad? In his dream, he had been able to use magic on the trackpad with ease. He focused his magic on the trackpad and moved it across its surface. There was some reaction, but nothing terribly useful. Maybe with practice… or just use a mouse.

He closed the lid. Might as well see if Twilight’s up.

As he walked over to the door, his magic grabbed the handle, pulling it open. After entering the hallway, he carefully closed the door behind him and trotted down to the library. The door was already open, so he walked right in.

“I’ll be down in a second!” Twilight called out from above.

Steve wandered over to the bookshelves. Unlike at the old library back in town, these were stuffed full of books, highly advanced reference texts on magic predominating but also books on a broad selection of other topics. He also spotted what were probably Twilight’s autographed Daring Do books. There must have been at least two dozen of them. Did one of them really have Rainbow Dash on the cover?

Before he could be tempted to look and see, Twilight flew down from the second level. Steve found that a bit odd; it seemed more in character for her to take the stairs. Then he realize how silly that was, pretending to be the authority on what was in character for her.

“Good morning!” the alicorn cheerfully said as she landed and folded her wings. “Did you sleep well?”

“Best night sleep in ages,” he replied, “though… I did have a strange dream.”

Twilight gave him a knowing smile. “Princess Luna, right?”

Steve silently nodded.

“She thought you handled that rather well, by the way. As she informed you, we’ll be visiting the Royal Archives, but first you’ll be taking a quick trip home—as a unicorn.”

“She told you that part, too?”

“Indeed she did,” she said, giddy with excitement, “and I can’t wait to see what we’re going to find out!” It was the first time he had seen her be her adorkable self. Was she starting to let her guard down around him, now that he was a more familiar pony?

Twilight took wing and hovered. Before flying back up to the second level, she said, “Why don’t you go and fetch Meg. Breakfast will be ready soon.”

As Steve went back to his room, he reflected on last night’s dream with Luna. As neat as it was to experience that, it was also a tad bit troubling; in hindsight, it felt like an invasion of privacy. He could have been dreaming about anything when she popped in. Maybe her subjects didn’t question her right to do that, or were even bothered by it—hell, maybe they’d feel honored by the royal attention—but he wasn’t one of her little ponies.

And how did Luna inform Twilight? Did she visit her dream too? Or was it simply a letter delivered via Spike?

Once back inside the guest room, he found Meg already awake, trying out the preening kit Twilight had left her. He brought her up to speed as he helped out by brushing her coat. It turned out that he was the only one to have been visited by Princess Luna, but could she observe a dream without being noticed?

After Meg finished making herself presentable, they headed over to the library. Even before they reached it, they could smell the omelets awaiting them. As they walked up to the central table, Twilight was pouring orange juice into three glasses.

“Good morning, Meg! Did you sleep well?”

“Quite well,” she replied, as she and her husband joined the alicorn at the table. “It looks like Rainbow Dash was right; my wings are only slightly sore.”

Twilight replied with a smile. “She usually is when it comes to flying.”

“And thanks for the preening kit,” Meg said as she extended a wing, showing off the neatly aligned feathers. “It did make it a lot easier.”

“I wasn’t born with wings either, so I know what it’s like.” Twilight started to dig into her omelet as she said, “These are daffodil and daisy omelets, one of Spike’s specialties.”

Steve studied the contents of the plate in front of him. “Can’t say I ever had daffodils or daisies before. This ought to be interesting.”

“No, I suppose humans can’t eat those. Well, you’re a pony now and trust me you’ll love it!” She brought a omelet-laden fork to her mouth, and said, “Bon appétit.” Relieving the fork of its cargo, a grin erupted on her face as she savored the flavors.

Steve cut off a piece of his omelet with his fork and picked it up, examining the flower and cheese mixture inside. Better get used to it. He took it into his mouth and gave it a few experimental chews. Wow. He had no idea how it would taste as a human—quite unpleasant, most likely—but to his current palate, it was full of rich and fragrant flavors, not like anything he had ever tasted before.

“See?” Twilight smugly observed.

Something still didn’t add up, though. “But eggs and cheese aren’t what herbivores eat,” he pointed out.

The alicorn raised an eyebrow. “Who said ponies were pure herbivores? Sure, we could survive on just grass or hay, but we’d have to graze all day long and there are better things to do with our time. It gets boring real fast, too.” She drank some orange juice.

“But definitely no meat…”

“No, we don’t have the teeth for it, nor can we digest it properly, and it just doesn’t taste good. I suppose with enough processing it could be made palatable, but what’s the point? That we can eat plants directly is a huge advantage; an acre of land can support far more ponies than it could support griffons, for example.”

Makes sense, when you put it like that, he thought as he had more of his omelet. Not to mention that most of the larger, potentially edible animals were probably citizens with legal rights, including the right not to be eaten.

After they had finished their morning meal, they got ready to depart. Meg and Steve went back to the guest room to put on their saddlebags. When they got back, Twilight was wearing her saddlebags as well. There were also three mysterious plaid pills floating in the air in front of her.

“These pills are how we cross over to your realm. This one time, I won’t be taking you home the way I brought you here; instead, you’ll each take a pill, just like me. That will stop you from becoming human again.”

Cross over like a pony, remain a pony. At least that solved that little problem. Twilight went on to explain how the pills work. She also warned them about the taste.

Soon they were ready to go. They each took a pill. Meg and Steve kept their minds destination-free, as instructed. The pill’s taste made that surprisingly easy. How could a plaid pill actually taste plaid? And why did plaid have to taste so bad?

Twilight selected the destination then signaled everypony to swallow.

The office appeared around them. Steve looked around, taking it all in from a new perspective. He was still a pony, and that made everything seem so much larger.

Out of habit, Twilight took out her magic probe and tested the super-sized Pink Pie doll. “Steve, see if you can sense the magical field in any way.”

Let’s see what this special talent can do. His horn softly glowed teal as he concentrated, eyes closed, his awareness reaching out to the field surrounding him. “Yes… I-I think I can sense it flowing away from the doll. Not very fast, like a somewhat viscous fluid.”

“That would be consistent with my earlier measurements,” Twilight observed.

“I’ll be right back.” Meg took flight and flew out of the room. Waves washed over Steve’s horn.

“Huh?” he said as he looked at the door his wife just flew through. “I sensed that, her taking off and accelerating. But… I never noticed that from a pegasus before.”

Twilight looked expectantly at him. “Pegasus magic doing something to the magical field?”

“Nnnooo… the only time I sensed that was during the sonic rainboom. This is different.”

Steve wandered around, senses open, but not picking up anything new, just more something from his wife as she moved about the apartment, though weaker due to distance.

Twilight went airborne and hovered, causing him to turn his head in her direction, even though his eyes were still closed. “You sensed that too,” she said.

He opened his eyes and saw her hovering. “Yeah. A strong surge as you lifted, but now…” He walked around her. “It’s mostly static now, whereas before it was dynamic, something radiating.” He stopped in front of the alicorn, shaking his head. “I don’t have better words to describe it,” he apologized.

Steve looked again at the door as he said, “Meg’s coming back.” Twilight turned to look at the door, and sure enough, a few seconds later, a pegasus flew through the door and set down on the off-white carpet.

Uncomfortably aware she was the center of attention, Meg said, “What?”

“I’ve just discovered that my special talent allows me to sense pegasus flying magic at work—but only in our universe, for some reason,” he said as Meg looked on in confusion.

Twilight lowered herself to the floor. “Maybe it isn’t just pegasus flying magic.” The chair suddenly surged a few feet off the ground, embedded in a lavender glow, then a few seconds later gradually returned to the ground. She looked at Steve expectantly.

“I sensed the same thing as before,” he said. “Something about changes in momentum or suspending an…”

Changes in momentum… Pegasi violated conservation of momentum. Unicorn levitation violated it too; there was no equal and opposite reaction on Twilight’s horn. Conservation of linear momentum was implied by the symmetry of spatial translation; the laws of physics are the same everywhere. Violation was impossible. Yet when it appeared to be violated, something was radiating he could sense, something that magic didn’t need to use in Equestria’s universe, where the laws of physics were negotiable.

My dream. The dream that Luna visited, where he had used magic to design a gravitational wave detector. Gravitational waves can carry momentum. That was the equal and opposite reaction.

Twilight and Meg were looking at him, blinking.

“I think I’ve got it figured out,” he finally said. “I’m sensing gravitational waves. The momentum they carry is the equal and opposite reaction.”

“And these waves ordinarily are undetectable?” Twilight asked, her tone growing more serious.

“Yeah, it takes incredibly precise measurements over a large distance to detect the minuscule warpage of space they cause as they pass by.”

“Can your realm’s existing detectors detect a pony this way?”

“Uhhh… hmmm…” Steve tapped his hoof to his chin as he thought it over. “No, because ironically they’re too sensitive. Ponies won’t put out strong waves, but a pony is going to be like a trillion times closer than any astronomical source they’re designed to detect. It will peg the meters, so to speak, looking like a transient failure, probably interpreted as a vibration from the ground that wasn’t properly filtered out.

“Also, the waves put out by ponies are highly directional; the odds they’ll hit one of the few detectors that have been built is low.”

“Never mind the three that would be required to do trilateration,” Twilight observed.


“And you’ve never sensed these waves back in Equestria.”

“Also correct. Magic gets the job done without them there. I’m curious as to how magic knows how to use them here.”

Twilight did not reply immediately. “That’s a good question, but it doesn’t completely surprise me. It’s in the nature of magic to “magically,” so to speak, work out the details of how to accomplish a task. Much of the art of spell casting, as I’ll soon be teaching you, is in correctly specifying the task.

“So,” she summarized, “the big takeaway from this is that magic can directly manipulate space-time here, like, say, the space-time occupied by that doll. I now know what to look for in the archives.”

She looked at each of the other two ponies. “Ready to head on back?”

“Actually, not yet,” Steve said as he moved over to the doll. “I want to see how far my special talent goes.” Twilight positioned herself to observe, eager to find out herself.

The unicorn lit up his horn, touching it to the doll. He closed his eyes, clearing his mind, sensing the magic and the space-time through which it traveled. It was flowing from somewhere. He tried to follow it back to its source.

In the center of the doll he found the entry point into this universe. It wasn’t a hole, exactly, but more like a permeable boundary, where magic was oozing through after making a turn that’s orthogonal to all three spatial dimensions. The magic was incredibly dense, almost congealed, able to flow only because of the incredible pressure behind it. It began to thin out immediately and spread as it hit the relative vacuum of this world.

He tried to follow it past that boundary, into what he assumed had to be the hyperspace separating the two universes. It was difficult to get his magic to move against the flow, but at the same time the incredible density of the magic provided the fuel he needed to do it; even then, he could barely sense the other side of that boundary.

But it was enough. Strain was accumulating. The volume occupied by the permeable boundary was slowly growing, expanding as the pressure increased. The surface area of the boundary was increasing with the square of the radius, but the volume through which magic seeped increased with the cube. Something had to give eventually, metaphorically ripping a hole in the continuum. He couldn’t begin to imagine what would happen, but it couldn’t possibly be good—for either universe.

His legs turned to jelly as blood pounded in his ears. It’s a ticking time bomb. He fought the need to gallop as far away as possible. There’s no place to run, he told himself, not on this planet, not on any other planet in this solar system, maybe not even on the planets orbiting the nearby stars.

How does Twilight deal with these armageddon scenarios? She may be used to dealing with them, but it was new to him. Was there anything he could do about it? He shook his head. Maybe after years of serious training, if even then, but right now? There was nothing he could do.

He couldn’t even report it to the authorities here. They’d think he was crazy, first of all, and there was nothing they could do either. The only pony who could fix this was the lavender alicorn standing next to him.

Steve reported his findings, trying to keep his voice steady. He concluded, saying, “It’s hard to put a time on it, but I feel like maybe three to six months before it blows.”

Twilight had taken it all in without saying a word, maintaining a stoic expression. Steve guessed she wasn’t much surprised by what she had just heard. She confirmed it, quietly saying, “Sounds about right. Ready to go?”

“Hold on a minute,” Steve said accusingly. “You knew our world was in danger too, and you never thought to tell us?”

Twilight sighed, her eyes downcast. “I didn’t know that for a fact, but it doesn’t shock me.” She lifted her head, meeting his eyes. “Would you have done anything differently if I had told you?”

He couldn’t shake the feeling she wasn’t being completely honest, that she was leaving something out, but did it really make a difference? Regardless, that hole needed to be plugged.

“I… I suppose not,” he admitted, as he turned away from both the doll and Twilight. “I sort of wish I didn’t know it now. I’d sleep better.”

“Tell me about it,” she joked, trying to break the sour mood. “Ready to go?”

“No, not quite yet.”

While he was here, he might as well see what else he could do or discover. He closed his eyes once again and focused inwards.

When the time came to invoke the return spell, he would return to the location within Equestria from which he departed. The wormhole between universes that brought him here could not have completely gone away; it must still be connecting him to that location, a dormant shadow of itself, but able to be revived for the return trip.

After searching for a few moments, he found it. The nanoscopic terminus was inside his head, magically bound in place. He tried to follow through the connected wormhole, but had even less luck than with the doll; in its current state, it forbade the passage of magic, or pretty much anything. Understandable, if inconvenient to magic users.

Nonetheless, it gave him an idea, one that did not require magic to flow through a wormhole. Steve opened his eyes, then jumped onto a chair so he could see the top of the desk. His cell phone was where he left it, recharging. It started to glow teal as it was unplugged and levitated towards him.

He jumped back to the floor, to questioning looks from the others. “I want to try something.”

He focused his magic on the antenna, creating a wormhole with one end anchored on the antenna and the other here in the room. As with the one inside the doll, this wormhole attaches at either end at right angles to all spatial dimensions, like the end of a pipe against a flat surface, making it impossible for matter or energy to enter or exit, unless assisted via magic. Only electromagnetic radiation with a frequency range of high megahertz to low gigahertz shall be so assisted. While magic is not allowed inside this wormhole, magic at both ends stabilizes it, keeping the inherently unstable wormhole from collapsing.

“Meg, where’s your phone?” He put his own phone in a saddlebag, along with a USB cable so he could charge it off the laptop.

“In my saddlebag,” she said as she took it out. “I know it won’t get a signal there, but I wanted to take some pictures and have some games to play.”

“You’ll be getting a signal if I’m right about this,” he said as he did the same thing to her phone. She gave him an intrigued look as she put her phone back into her saddlebag, but not as intrigued as the look Twilight was giving him.

For the heck of it, he repeated the process one last time with a tablet. Into his saddlebag it went, just fitting. He looked at Twilight expectantly.

“Ready now?” she asked with a quirked eyebrow.

“Yes,” he said, nodding.

After they returned to the library, Steve got out his phone. It was showing a signal, both cellular and wifi. He carefully “tapped” out his password using magic to unlocked it. He tried checking for new e-mails, and it did so without complaints, not that anything new arrived in the last few minutes. For his final test, he tried calling Meg’s phone.

From within her saddlebag a ring tone was heard. Meg took the phone out with her mouth then put it on the floor in front of her. She accepted the call with a hoof-tap, then lowered her muzzle to the phone. “Caller id says it’s you,” she said.

“Sounds normal,” he replied and ended the call.

Twilight had walked over to the phone on the floor, fascinated by the voice coming out of it. “You can talk to each other no matter where each of you are?

“Pretty much. Both phones have to be within range of a cell tower, but these days you have to be in the middle of nowhere not to be.”

“Cell tower?”

Steve grimaced. “It’d take too long to explain,” he said, despite having learned the hard way in the past few weeks how much that annoyed Twilight.

The annoyed pony then asked, “And what you did puts your phones within range of a… ‘cell tower’… even here in Equestria?”

“Exactly.” Steve then explained what he had done and what gave him the idea. The alicorn became so absorbed in her thoughts, it almost seemed like she stopped paying attention to his words.

“So that’s what those pills are doing,” she said to herself, tapping her chin. “This will really help me reverse-engineer them.”

So, Discord didn’t give you the blueprints? No, I suppose he doesn’t work that way.

Meg picked her phone up off the floor with a hoof, took it in her mouth, then put it back in her saddlebag. Steve just noticed that the phone had shown no evidence of having been in her mouth before; that is, it didn’t get wet. How odd, he thought.

“I better get going… don’t want to keep Rainbow Dash waiting,” Meg said as she started to hover above the hardwood floor. Today she was going to get an introduction to weather magic.

“Just a sec,” Steve said, as he positioned his phone for taking video. “Hover next to those Daring Do books.”

She did as instructed, adjusting her position in response to Steve’s hoof movements.

“Okay,” he said as he began recording, “now wave for the camera.” Meg gave a silly smile as she waved a hoof above her head for a few seconds. After she dropped her hoof, letting it freely hang from her body, he stopped recording.

Meg quickly flew over to his side and watched along as he played back the video. “Wow. I look just like any other hovering pegasus.”

“Yes,” he sighed, “impossibly cute.”

She gave him a quick nuzzle. “I’ll take that as a compliment. Gotta go.”

Meg backed up, turned around, and flew out the door.

“May I see that?” Twilight asked as she walked over.

“Sure.” Steve replayed the video from the beginning and held the phone in front of the mare. Twilight intently watched and listened to the playback.

Once it had finished, he belatedly asked for permission. “I hope you don’t mind. Our time here may be limited; it’d be nice to have these pictures and videos to reminisce by.“

“No… I don’t have a problem with that,” Twilight replied as she studied the icons that had popped up around the final frame of the video. “I find it incredible how much this tiny device can do. I’ve seen similar devices… elsewhere… but I never had a chance to get a close look at one.”

Elsewhere, he thought as he turned to look at her. It was practically an open secret. This seemed as good as time as any to get it out into the open. “By ‘elsewhere,’ you mean the other side of a certain mirror safeguarded by Princess Cadance, correct?”

Twilight continued to study the phone’s display. “I suppose you know about that too,” she said in a flat tone.

“Sunset Shimmer stealing your crown to get the Element of Magic?” he asked, treading carefully, there being something off about her tone.

“Yep.” She turned and slowly walked away, not looking at him.

This wasn’t making a whole lot of sense. Didn’t that have a happy ending?

“I’m sorry… that was not…” She lowered her head and exhaled. “It’s not something I care to talk about.” She turned around and gave him a forced smile. “Let’s go out to the balcony. The chariot will be here shortly.”

11. A Day Out in Equestria

Meg flew past the hot air balloon, which was deflated and secured on the balcony, and headed towards the river bordering the east end of town. Her introduction to weather magic was to take place above Sweet Apple Acres; Applejack was okay with it if the barn got a good washing out of it.

She climbed several hundred feet, high enough to pass above the local pegasi traffic but well below the patchwork layer of clouds, remnants of the solid cloud cover that had hosted her flying lessons the previous day. Weather pegasi in a few hours would start clearing them out, but for now the clouds above the apple orchard would serve as her instructional materials.

Last night’s sleep had done her a lot of good. She was fully in touch with her pegasus instincts, automatically correcting for a cross breeze, taking advantage of thermals, or maintaining a level flight path. It was as natural and effortless as walking.

She banked left to line her path up with the river, sparkling in the morning sunshine. That direction more or less will take her straight to the homestead. It was almost impossible to get lost. She could already see the orchards on the southern border of Ponyville, and how could she miss a collection of buildings in the middle of orchards and farmland?

She maintained a comfortable cruising speed, about as fast as driving a car through town—but without the intersections and red lights. The air blew through her mane and tail, but not as hard as it should have given her speed. Her eyes barely felt the wind at all. Must be pegasus magic at work. This was so much better than fighting the commuting traffic back home.

A gray pegasus below her caught her eye. The mare was ahead of her and off to the right, flying almost parallel to her. Her heart skipped a beat as she noticed the blonde mane and a uniform. Could it be? She sped up, closing the distance between them, so she could get a good look at mare’s cutie mark, but before she could do so the mysterious pony banked and came in for a landing.

Meg did not change course to follow. Even if the pegasus mare was who she thought it was, how would she introduce herself? She wasn’t allowed to reveal her true identity or origin. Then there was what Pinkie Pie had told her—after first getting Gummy off her finger—when asked why Derpy had decided not to come. The answer was a reality check; worse, she couldn’t blame her for feeling that way.

Hi, Derpy! You wouldn’t meet me in my world, so here I am to meet you in yours! You have a daughter, right? How’s Dinky doing? Why are you delivering mail on a Sunday? By the way, what’s the story with your eyes?

Yeah, great idea.

As she approached the southern boundary of Ponyville, she could make out far to the right the schoolhouse, quiescent on this weekend morning. She tried to imagine the playground full of fillies and colts playing at recess, including the three fillies she had already met. Did they really get bullied by Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon all the time?

Off to the left was the Everfree Forest. The canopy was dense, comprised of twisted and intertwined branches, seemingly at war with each other. Flying through that would be a nightmare. The boundary of the forest at ground level was no more inviting, perpetual gloom hiding lurking dangers. What the cartoon portrayed was a sanitized version, warm and fuzzy compared to the real thing. Did Zecora really live in that?

Fluttershy’s cottage was supposed to be in that direction too, just outside the forest, but Meg couldn’t make it out. An upcoming hill forced her to focus on her flying, and she banked to go around it.

Thousands of apple trees came into view, all neatly lined up in rows. A quarter mile away was the homestead, a collection of rustic, red buildings in a large clearing. A violently shaking tree in her peripheral vision caught her attention; that could only be one thing.

Meg began her descent, banking towards the now motionless tree, deprived of the color red. It was doubtful Rainbow Dash was down there, but she wasn’t flying around up here either; Applejack would probably know where she was. Besides, she’d love the opportunity to see the earth pony at work, and maybe even meet Big Macintosh.

The holes in the canopy were more than big enough to fly through, but she didn’t yet feel confident enough to do that. Meg slowed to a stop above the canopy between two trees, then descended vertically to the ground below.

Canterlot loomed before them. The four pegasi of the Royal Guard pulling the chariot began to slow down as they entered the capitol’s airspace. Princess Twilight Sparkle adjusted her crown with a golden slipper adorned hoof. She had nearly forgot to put on her regalia before departing, which would have been quite awkward. While visiting Equestria’s seat of power, she was now expected to dress the part, nor would it have been proper for her to arrive on a passenger train.

Twilight sneaked a peek at the cause of that momentary forgetfulness seated next to her. The humans may have known about her “adventure” on the other side of The Mirror, but there was no reason to believe they also knew it had led to the current crisis. She gazed at her former home as she wondered how would they react when they discover it had been her actions that now threaten the existence of their world.

Unaware of her ruminations, Steve was enthralled with the approaching city, taking in the bountiful waterfalls, the majestic palace with its well manicured gardens, the self-important mansions that surround it, the lesser suburbs and business districts where most live and work—including the block where she grew up and her parents still lived, not that she mentioned that to him. He took plenty of pictures with that device of his.

Those suburbs and business districts clung to the mountainside in layers below the palace and noble mansions, invisible from Ponyville as they occupied the gentle slopes on the opposite side of the mountain. The chariot flew far above them, heading towards the palace grounds.

They approached a set of multistory buildings surrounding a large, rectangular plaza, in the center of which was a large garden, full of exotic flowering plants and topiaries. Walking paths meandered from one side to another, cutting through the undulating terrain. It seemed improbable that the chariot could manage the steep descent required to land on the plaza, but the well-trained pegasus guards brought the chariot to a halt at the entrance to the Royal Archives.

A waiting unicorn Royal Guard came forward to open the door and unfold a set of stairs from the chariot. Twilight exited first, walking down the stairs as the guard bowed, doing her best to ignore him, as was expected. Steve followed, as the guard resumed standing at attention.

The Princess and her guest walked towards the entrance, where two more unicorn guards opened the doors, bowed to the alicorn, and let them through. Once inside, Twilight headed down the spacious corridor to the Star Swirl the Bearded wing. Steve gawked the high, vaulted ceilings and frosted glass windows embossed with the Solar Crest; to him it was all new and exciting—and he didn’t even suspect that those windows would show the Lunar Crest when illuminated by the Moon during the night. It had been many years since Twilight experienced that awe and wonder for herself.

They reached the locked gate at the entrance to the wing. While the gate did not look very substantial, physically speaking, the enchantments upon it—indeed, on the entire room it protected—were anything but insubstantial. Not even Celestia herself could trivially teleport in or out of that room.

The alicorn’s horn softly glowed as the spell was cast to unlock the gate. Being a princess does have its advantages, Twilight thought, as she remembered an earlier attempt to sneak in. She still couldn’t believe the guard had simply let her in without asking any questions, nor that Celestia herself did not question her presence upon walking right past her. My messed-up mane was all she noticed?

Twilight opened the gate and entered, holding it open for Steve, then letting it close behind him, auto-locking as it latched shut. All the scrolls and manuscripts around them, most of them untold centuries old, were too priceless or dangerous or both to let just anypony in here. Only Celestia or Luna could grant permission. Celestia must had done so for her many years ago, but for some reason never told her. She never had the nerve to ask her mentor for fear of the questions that would be asked in return.

A few dozen feet in front of them, at the end of a corridor formed by rows of shelves on either side, was the huge hourglass symbolizing the research for which the ancient mage was famous. Steve trotted over to it, then walked around it, inspecting it from all angles, coming back on the other side. “This is where you found the spell to go back in time to warn yourself?”

Is there anything they don’t know? She reminded herself she needed to watch everything humanity had on them.

“Technically, Pinkie Pie found it, but yeah. I also found out the hard way that time travel is pretty useless.”

“Not surprising, really. We don’t know if time travel into the past is possible—well, I suppose it has to be, because what would stop me from going back in time here, then crossing over back to my universe… uh, anyway… a lot of theoretical research has been done. Quantum Mechanics does not forbid traveling to the past, but it may forbid temporal paradoxes. You went back to unknowingly create the very conditions that would cause you to go back.”

“And that was no fun at all,” she droned. Twilight remembered reading something about that in one of the books she borrowed from Steve. It had to do with constructive or destructive interference of the probability wave function with its past self. An attempt to change one’s own past would destructively interfere such that it had zero probability of happening when the wave function collapsed upon observation; or, in her case, by creating her own past, she caused constructive interference, making it more likely. Theoretically.

What would Star Swirl think of all this? He hadn’t known anything about Quantum Mechanics. If he had, maybe he wouldn’t have bothered with most of his time related spells. Here they were kept, locked up, not because somepony might use them to alter the past—the ancient mage had determined, the hard way, that it was almost certainly impossible—but because time loops made all sorts of weird stuff possible in the present, whatever it took to make the time loop stable. Not that she knew any of that when she used the spell. She had been in too much of a rush, desperate to warn her past self, to first read that part of the scroll.

“The spells for manipulating space are this way,” she said, as she headed off into the stacks.

Steve followed close behind. “Are there spells that manipulate both time and space simultaneously?”

That made Twilight come to a sudden halt and look at him. “No, what would be the point?”

“Relativity, remember? The two are connected, and to some extent interchangeable.”

“Right…” she slowly said, as she resumed walking. “Hyper dimensional rotation of one frame of reference with respect to another.” They turned left at the next junction and continued walking. “No, there aren’t, at least not intentionally,” she said after mulling it over.

“What do you think such a spell could accomplish?”

“What d’ya mean ya don’t know?!” Apple Bloom said, stamping her hoof in the dirt.

Meg gulped. She was afraid of this. “I’m sorry?”

“Well, what were ya doing when it appeared?” the filly demanded.

Applejack and Big Macintosh continued laying baskets around the next apple tree, for now not getting involved.

“Just standing around?” she weakly said.

“Seriously?!” she exclaimed, her eyes shooting daggers.

Once she had descended beneath the canopy, Meg had spotted the Apples two trees over. Apple Bloom had been the first to spot her as she flew over. She must have been told she was coming, and that she’d be a pegasus, because she had lost no time in checking her flanks.

“Sugarcube, that’s enough,” Applejack softly reprimanded. “She’s tellin’ the truth.” Having finished placing the baskets, Applejack had come over to finally intervene.

“It’s not fair!” the young filly petulantly said.

Applejack put a hoof on her younger sister’s withers, and sighed. “It’s not like she got it to spite ya.”

A light breeze ruffled the leaves as Apple Bloom looked up at her big sister, her anger and frustration deflating into a forlorn look on her face. “I know…”

While the show liked to play it up for laughs, the blankness of their flanks really did torment them, driving them to try ever crazier stunts. And here she was, a human incapable of getting a cutie mark, getting one anyway just for having been a pony for a few minutes. It must have seemed like some cruel joke.

Perhaps that’s why they never seem to get punished for the trouble they cause. She didn’t see any evidence Apple Bloom had been punished for visiting her home. Regardless, she wasn’t going to bring it up; she didn’t need Applejack also telling her something was none of her business.

Applejack returned her hoof to the ground. “C’mon, one last tree to go.”

Apple Bloom silently nodded.

Applejack sauntered over to the tree, turned around and gave the tree a solid buck. Even standing a half dozen feet away, Meg could feel the impact. Every single apple broke loose from the shock wave passing through the trunk of the tree and into its branches, plummeting into one of the surrounding baskets.

Oddly enough, nearly every single apple landed in a basket, undamaged from its fall, without so much as a tiny dent. Earth pony magic? Of the small number that missed and landed in the dirt, Apple Bloom unenthusiastically trotted about, collecting them up, dusting them off, and putting them into a basket. Once she had finished with that, Big Mac began to load the baskets into the wagon, his bulging muscles effortlessly—no, stop it…

She averted her gaze from the stallion, looking for something to distract her. Applejack walked towards her, thankfully provided it. Meg was still finding herself getting caught off guard by the whole attracted to stallions thing, and Applejack’s big brother was undeniably one heck of a stallion.

“Ah reckon Rainbow Dash wasn’t flying around when you arrived?” the farm pony asked, as she looked up into the sky.

Meg shook her head. “No.”

Applejack adjusted her Stetson as her gaze returned to Meg. “Well, she ain’t exactly a morning pony.”


That was the first word Big Mac had uttered since she arrived. He really talks like that.

“We’re heading back to the barn. You might as well wait for her there.”

They watched in silence as Big Mac loaded the half-dozen baskets onto the wagon. This time Meg had no trouble keeping her thoughts under control.

Applejack interrupted the silence. “Don’t take it personally, Twilight tryin’ to talk ya out of it. Tain’t anypony objectin’ to y’all becomin’ ponies.” Her voice took on a more subdued tone. “She’s had destiny on her mind of late and she was only tryin’ to spare y’all that.”

Another basket was loaded before Meg replied. “I think it may have been too late to worry about us getting destinies.” There were too many inexplicable coincidences for it to be otherwise. Who am I kidding? They’re inexplicable, period.

Applejack gazed into her eyes, seemingly trying to peer into her soul. “I reckon yer right about that. Becomin’ ponies just made it official.”

Big Mac finished loading the wagon and walked around towards the front of it. Applejack joined him there and hitched him up. Apple Bloom jumped into the wagon, making her way to the front and peering over the side. They all started back in silence, with the two mares out in front.

After a few minutes Meg’s curiosity got the better of her. “Applejack, if you don’t mind me asking, what’s it like being an Element of Harmony. What was it like to turn me into a pony?”

The farm pony briefly glanced at Meg, then took a moment to consider her answer. “Honestly, you’d get a better answer from Twilight, though ya might not understand it.”

Meg facetiously pressed her question. “I could ask Rainbow Dash, but all I’d get out of her would be how awesome and cool it was.”

That got a chuckle out of her. “I’ll try, then.” She took another moment to compose an answer.

“Can’t say it makes a difference, most of the time. It’s there inside me, but sleepin’, waiting for Twilight to awaken them. When she does, Ah become one with the harmony of the Elements. We can sense the disharmonies around us, and we possess the power to harmonize ’em.” She gave Meg a smirk. “We sure harmonized Tirek.”


“As for your transformation, we supplied the magical energy, but Twilight did the transformation herself. What she could not do alone was give ya magic. A pony without magic is not in harmony. We all felt your disharmony and we harmonized ya, and you became magical.”

“I really do want to thank you for that. I would not trade this experience for anything. I’ll miss these wings when I go back home, as much as I miss having hands here.”

“Why d’ya have to leave?” Apple Bloom asked, causing Meg to turn her head back to look at her. The filly’s front hooves were hanging over the front of the wagon. Becoming a pony had done nothing to reduce her perception of the filly’s cuteness; it merely had made her a larger, but still impossibly cute, filly.

There was really only one answer to that question. Meg simply replied, “My life is back home.”

“Will you visit us?”

“I’d like that, but it’s out of my hooves.”

“Considerin’ all you’re doing for us, I can’t imagin’ Princess Celestia forbiddin’ it without a good reason,” Applejack opined.

They walked the remainder of the way in silence, the sound of the turning wagon wheels competing only with the sound of rustling leaves and softly clopping hooves. Upon reaching the homestead, Rainbow Dash called out to them. The pegasus was lying on her back on a branch up in a tree.

Meg flew over to her and hovered in the air beside her, wondering how she was pulling that off. It didn’t look very comfy, and what stopped her from tipping over and falling off?

Applejack shouted across the distance. “Now remember, Rainbow Dash, Ah want you to wash the barn, not electrocute it!”

“Clouds can be finicky, what can I say?” the weather pony shot back.

Applejack just shook her head and carried on, as she and her big brother slowly walked to the barn. The wagon would be relieved of the baskets once inside.

Electrocuted? As in lightning? Pegasi did trigger lightning in the cartoon. “This isn’t dangerous, is it?” Meg asked, suddenly wondering if this was a good idea.

A scroll levitated off a high shelf and floated down to Twilight. A clasp unhooked and the first two feet were cautiously unrolled, exposing the document’s synopsis. Steve had ceased being amazed at the condition of these scrolls. Like everything kept here, it had been subjected to powerful preservation spells. This scroll had to have been over a thousand years old, having been written by Star Swirl himself, yet it had barely aged at all—and most of that probably occurred before it was preserved.

“This one looks very interesting…” Twilight muttered.

Steve tried to read along, but with limited success. It wasn’t that Equestrian had changed much over the past millennium; it hadn’t. Being ruled by immortal alicorns no doubt helped stabilize the language. Disturbingly though, it meant that ponies were speaking and writing something extremely close to modern English centuries before it existed in the human world.

Part of the problem was the handwriting—or whatever to call the unicorn equivalent. Cursive writing had evolved over the centuries, subject to fashions and whims, and apparently Star Swirl had a few whims of his own. Twilight had long ago become fluent in the writing of her idol, but Steve found it difficult to read.

But the real problem was the specialized terminology. Even the synopsis was full of strange words, never mind the exotic symbols and drawings that described the spells themselves, like some bizarre mixture of chemical formulas, mathematical equations, computer software, and drawings of a zen rock garden—not that he was terribly surprised at that. Every branch of science tends to develop its own specialized terminology, not to intentionally obfuscate but out of simple necessity.

Fortunately, Twilight served as an interpreter. “This spell makes a container bigger on the inside than the outside.” She unrolled more of the scroll, as she also rolled up the read pages onto the other roller.

“That sounds innocuous enough, not to mention incredibly useful,” Steve commented. “Why is it locked up here?”

The alicorn scrolled through a few more pages before replying. “It’s tricky to cast correctly… mistakes can have serious side effects… contents can be crushed by irresistible force… or vanish completely and irretrievably… the interior can expand indefinitely, sucking in air without limit…”

“Those sound like good reasons,” he dryly said. “Yet, somehow, I’m not surprised by those potential problems.”

“Oh, that’s interesting… it’s used on some of Princess Celestia’s highest security vaults—not just to make them bigger, but because it makes it impossible to enter the vault through the surrounding walls.”

“I suppose it would, if it’s doing what I think it’s doing.”

“Yes…” she said, as she quickly scanned through the remainder of the scroll. “I think I see what you’re getting at… Heh. Celestia insisted on casting the spell herself, over Star Swirl’s objections. Well, he doesn’t say that in so many words, but I can read between the lines.”

Twilight got out her notepad and quill and made some notes, then carefully rewound the scroll and put it back on the shelf. “The spell has a lot of complications, some of them having to do with time. That mystified Star Swirl; he never could understand why. But now that I’ve been exposed to Relativity, I do. The spell curves space, extruding a bubble, but time is inextricably linked to space, so it’s unavoidably affected too. He tried to manipulate them separately, the time component being a corrective factor, which is why the spell’s so fragile, so easy to screw up in terrible ways.”

“I bet that irresistible crushing force was an unintentional gravitational field created by the wrong kind of space-time curvature.”

She put the notepad and quill back into a saddlebag as she gave him a warm smile. “And that is why I wanted you here with me.”

Glad I could be of assistance, he thought, as he gave a smile back. To be honest, it had become a bit boring for him, once the novelty of being there had worn off, to just stand around as Twilight checked one scroll after another. At least he was allowed to take a few pictures, so long as they didn’t reveal the contents of the scrolls or even the names of the scrolls.

Twilight started walking through the stacks. “Time to pay the temporal section a visit.”

“Nah, just ignore her,” Rainbow Dash said dismissively. “She’ll never let me forget that one time she got zapped by lightning.”

Meg gaped at her in disbelief.

“She was barely singed!”

Meg rolled her eyes. Whatever… none of my business and clearly they remained friends.

She then realized she might have been referring to the season three episode Apple Family Reunion. Applejack had Rainbow Dash fill a line of buckets with rain from a cloud. The cloud obliged, filling the buckets, but then lashed out with lightning that struck Applejack. Well, she would try to be more careful. Somehow.

Rainbow Dash got airborne and lost no time in changing the subject. “First thing we need is a cloud. Leave your saddlebags on this branch.” After Meg did so, they proceeded to climb at a steep angle.

She wasn’t going fast at all, but Meg still found it challenging to keep up. It wasn’t just a matter of developing her wing muscles. She could tell Rainbow Dash wasn’t exerting hers much at all. It was a matter of using pegasus magic more effectively; she was doing a much better job of ignoring gravity.

This was not a flight exercise she had done yesterday. Apparently, her flight instruction was still in progress. Ignoring gravity while climbing was much harder than ignoring it while hovering, when potential energy remained unchanged. Meg concentrated on willing gravity away. It had some effect; she found herself climbing faster. The pegasus above her instantly matched her new speed.

Of course I’m not going to outfly her. But that didn’t mean she shouldn’t try to go faster still. She didn’t really understand what it was she was doing, but she tried to do it harder. It had rapidly diminishing returns, not to mention driving her pulse rate and breathing to unsustainable levels. Using magic consumes oxygen? She had to back off. Surely I’ll get better with practice.

Several thousand feet they climbed until they reached one of the small, left over clouds littering the sky. After they perched on it, Rainbow Dash began her lesson in weather magic.

“It’s all about showing the cloud who’s boss. Tell it what to do by bucking it or jumping on it or anything else with your hooves. The more powerful the contact, the more stuff happens. Just standing on it is enough sometimes—like this.” She suddenly fell through the cloud as if it was nothing but mist. A few seconds later, she had flown around to the edge of the cloud and reappeared on top, hovering next to her student. “Got the idea?”

Meg simply nodded.

“Okay, first lesson. Make this cloud disappear.”

Meg went airborne, flew over to the cloud’s side, and positioned herself to give it a good buck. Dissipate, she thought, as she bucked it. The cloud dissipated as instructed.

“Not bad, not bad at all,” Rainbow Dash said approvingly.

Meg turned around and stared at where the cloud used to be. That wasn’t so hard. The air felt more humid, but then the water had to go somewhere, right? Yet a cloud exists because the air is already saturated with water vapor. It’s magic; what do I expect?

Rainbow Dash was flying over to another cloud. After Meg caught up to her, Dash said, “This time, I want you to move the cloud. Just push it.”

If it was solid enough to walk on, it’s solid enough to push. Meg went to its side and pushed with her forehooves. It felt slightly elastic, but nonetheless solid, and it moved.

“Now I want you to fly through it, just go through it horizontally.”

Meg stared at the cloud, hesitating. How ironic. She was once afraid to stand on a cloud because she feared falling through; now she was afraid to fly through a cloud because she feared it’d be like hitting a brick wall.

Rainbow Dash sensed her hesitation. “It won’t be solid if you don’t want it to be. Show it who’s boss!”

She certainly didn’t want it to be solid if she was going to fly through it! Don’t overthink it; let instinct handle it. She flew straight at it, as fast as she could, her forehooves pointing straight ahead; she was committing herself to flying through it. As she made contact, the cool mist offered no resistance, showering her with relief.

Dash was waiting for her on the other side. Meg shot right past her, banked a one eighty, and came to a hover beside her, a big grin on her face.

“That was the easy stuff. Now we move on to rain.” Dash led her student back over the edge of the cloud. “This requires some skill. You hafta get a feel for the cloud. Watch and learn!”

Rainbow Dash perched on the edge of the cloud while Meg hovered off to the side, giving her a view of both the pegasus on top and the precipitation soon to fall below. One quick bounce up and down on the cloud and some rain briefly fell out of it. A bigger bounce, and it briefly rained harder. Three bounces, and it rained continuously. One last bounce, and the rain stopped.

“There’s no substitute for practice, so give it a try,” she said as she flew over to where Meg was hovering.

Meg flew to the edge of the cloud and perched. She mentally psyched herself and gave it a bounce, willing some rain.

“You got a brief drizzle. Try for more.”

Meg bounced again, hard. This time it was a brief but massive downpour. The cloud visibly shrank.

“That was the other extreme. You need to get a feel for the cloud.”

This continued for about an hour. Slowly but surely, Meg started to get the “feel” for a cloud. She had no idea how she was doing it, but she found herself able to fine tune the cloud’s response to her bounces. Every so often they switched to a new cloud as they used up an old one.

Rainbow Dash finally felt Meg was ready to make a cloud wash the barn. She picked out a suitable cloud, one with plenty of water, and expertly trimmed it so that it was slightly larger than the barn. They were about to push it down to the barn when Meg remembered something.

“Wait, how do I make lightning? Or rather, how do I make sure I don’t make lightning?”

“Same as always, tell it to do what you want it to do—or what not to do. Go ahead and make some lightning, without any rain.” Dash lifted herself well above the cloud. “Make sure the lightning goes down.”

Right, because I will be above the cloud. She set down on the cloud. Lightning below, no rain, she thought as she bounced hard. The sound of thunder jolted her, and the smell of ozone wafted up from the side of the cloud.

Rainbow Dash flew over to her and offered a hoof-bump, catching Meg off guard. She awkwardly accepted it, as the weather pony said, “Awesome! You’re definitely getting the hang of it. Let’s push it down to the barn.”

They moved to the center of the cloud and began pushing down. The cloud, being big enough to cover the barn, did not want to move very fast, nor could they see where they were going as they pushed it. Every now and then, Rainbow Dash flew off to the side to see where they were and make a course correction.

Once they got the cloud into position, Rainbow Dash gave the word. “Okay, Meg, make it rain hard!”

She went bouncy bouncy like on a trampoline all over the cloud in a series of long jumps, willing the cloud to rain hard until it exhausted itself, then flew over to where Rainbow Dash was hovering and inspected her work. It was a nice steady downpour. She was feeling like a full-fledged pegasus, not to mention having the time of her life.

“That was awesome!” They hoof-bumped again as Dash tossed her mane out of her eyes. “If you want to help out with the next Winter Wrap-up, I’d be happy to have you on my team.”

You would? That seemed like an honor, but then she remembered that no special qualifications were needed; even Derpy was helping to move the clouds in that episode. None of that was a reason to turn down the offer, however. “I’d like that.”

The real problem, of course, was that winter was months away, never mind spring. Would she still be welcome in Equestria then?

Twilight had been scanning the shelves of yet another stack when Steve’s attention was interrupted by his ringing phone. He retrieved it from his saddlebag, looked at the caller id, and silently cursed to himself. Damn it, we forgot all about that. He accepted the call with a magical tap and held the phone up to his ear. “Hey, Tom.”

“Where are you? You’re not home, but your car’s still here.”

Twilight was looking at him with curiosity, her ears angled to best listen in. Steve had little doubt she’d be able to. Let her, he sighed to himself. It involves ponies anyway.

“It’s a long story. I can’t go into details.”

“Is everything okay? Meg isn’t answering her phone. Are you with her?”

Naturally, he would try to call her first. She was the one who was hosting the committee meeting; he wasn’t a part of it. It had been scheduled weeks ago and it completely slipped their minds with everything that had happened.

“No… she’s not with me, and, yes, everything’s okay. We’ll be back tonight.”

“We’ll have to reschedule, but we really need to get started on planning this contest.”

Twilight slightly tilted her head. “Planning a contest?”

“Is someone with you?”

Her ears folded as she realized she had just injected herself into the conversation. “Hang on a moment,” Steve said as he tapped mute.

Ignoring her faux pas, he explained. “This contest is to see who can ad lib the best impression of a pony. Meg’s on the committee to organize it and the first meeting was supposed to be right now at our home. We forget about it.” Hopefully, the insatiably curious pony won’t ask about when and where the contest will be held and what else would be going on around it.

“By ‘impression of a pony,’ you mean ponies like me?”

Steve wasn’t sure he liked where this might be going. “That’s right…”

“Could you use this as an excuse to let me talk him?”

“You mean, have him talk to you as a hypothetical contestant?”

She eagerly nodded yes.

He rubbed the back of his neck as he thought about it. It was a way for her to talk to a different human, and it would be a nice joke on Tom, even if he never finds out. Heck with it. Can’t make it worse. Might make it better. He un-muted the phone and switched to speaker mode. “Hey, Tom, you still there?”

“Yeah.” It sounded like he was back inside his car, still parked.

“Yes, I’m with someone, and it turns out she does a killer Twilight impression. Why don’t you do a trial run as if she was a contestant. Don’t worry, she won’t actually enter the contest, so you won’t be giving her an unfair advantage.”

After a brief silence, he dryly replied, “Sure, got nothing else planned right now.”

He stood next to Twilight, holding the phone between them, taking a second to note how effortless it has become to do simple levitation. “All you have to do is answer his questions trying your best to sound like Twilight Sparkle,” he matter-of-factly explained.

“But I am Twilight Sparkle,” she replied with a grin.

“That’s the spirit!”

“Well, you do sound like Twilight, I’ll give you that. Can you tell me where Meg is?”

Steve rolled his eyes at that. Did he think he was cheating on her or something?

“I most certainly can!” Twilight replied enthusiastically. “She’s with Rainbow Dash right now, above Sweet Apple Acres, learning weather magic.”

“Guess I deserved that,” Tom muttered. Recovering, he asked, “It’s possible for humans to do that?”

“Not in the slightest. I turned her into a pegasus yesterday.”

“Did you turn Steve into a pegasus too?” Tom’s smirk was quite audible.

“No, he’s a unicorn.”

“Is that true, Steve?” he went through the motion of asking.

“I’m not a contestant,” he droned.

“He can’t admit to it without breaking his Pinkie Promise,” she explained, repressing a giggle.

“Okay, okay… you get points for creativity,” he said. “I’m now going to give you a scenario. Lyra Heartstrings has come to you asking for help with scientific research she’s conducting on the hands of a human she has in her possession. What do you do?”

Steve’s heart skipped a beat as Twilight blinked, stunned by the question. “Lyra research what now?” she asked.

“Should I repeat the question?”

“No… I heard the question; it’s the premise I don’t understand. Why would Lyra be studying human hands? She’s a musician.”

“Because she’s obsessed with hands,” he explained, a bit irritated he had to spell it out.

Twilight shot Steve a questioning look, but he couldn’t explain while Tom was listening. She must have noticed their silly nervousness when they had encountered Lyra yesterday. He settled for a face-hoof while slowly shaking his head.

Not getting an answer to her unspoken question, Twilight continued. “I rather doubt that; she doesn’t even know humans exist. Nor has she ever expressed, to my knowledge, any interest in the hands of minotaurs, which are somewhat similar to human hands. However, if this scenario were to happen, I would not permit intelligent creatures to be held in captivity and become the subject of experimentations.”

“I would expect nothing less from my faithful—and former—student.”

Steve almost dropped the phone as he turned his head to the source of that voice. A white alicorn towering above him with an absurdly long and flowing multicolored pastel mane gave him a wink.

“You can do a perfect Celestia impression too?” said the disbelieving voice from the phone. “That’s enough,” he said with a tired voice. “Have Meg contact me ASAP to set up another meeting.”

Steve tore his head away from the Solar Princess. “S-sure, will do. Bye,” he said, and ended the call. How did she sneak up on us like that? I should’ve heard her clopping hooves a mile away! Or flapping wings… or whatever.

Facing Celestia again, he gave a quick bow, saying, “Your Highness,” and received a subtle nod and a serene smile in return. “Uh… how much did you hear?”

“Enough to be intrigued,” she said with a twinkle in her eye.

Steve next turned to look at Twilight. She was looking at him expectantly, with a raised eyebrow.

“Yeah, about that whole Lyra thing…”

12. There's No Place Like Home

Meg hovered next to her saddlebags, still hanging off a thick branch of the old oak tree, contemplating how to get them onto her back. Rainbow Dash was hovering beside her, willing to assist, but she was determined to do it by herself. After all, she was getting the hang of her magic. She learned how to fly, how to “boss” around clouds, and she had just finished learning how to manipulate wind.

Just grab it with my front hooves, lift it over my head, past my wings, and onto my back. It seemed simple enough. She lowered herself enough to touch the padded straps on either side of the branch, magically glued her hooves to the straps—no, that won’t work. The straps would go upside down as she rotated her forelimbs back.

New plan. She put her hooves under the straps, magically glued them in place, and lifted, then raised her entire body until the bags were clear of the branch. That accomplished, she moved away from the tree into the nearby uncluttered air.

The next step was to lift it above her head. Done.

She just needed to get it past her wings… except her wings were flapping. Landing would not work, because her front hooves were otherwise occupied. Maybe I should have laid down on the branch. But it would have been too easy to tip over and fall off.

She really had but one option. This requires precise timing. On the next downstroke, she put her wings all the way down and forwards, holding them there for a split second, while simultaneously tossing the straps past her wing joints. Once she felt the straps land on her back, she resumed flapping, having dropped only a foot.

“A bit clumsy, but not bad for a first attempt,” Rainbow Dash said appraisingly. “Ready to go?”

“Not quite… I want to take a picture first.” Meg turned her head to reach into her saddlebag and pull out her phone, but discovered her flapping wings were in the way. She couldn’t suspend flapping for the time it would take to retrieve it. Guess I’ll have to land first. She did so, extracted her phone, and transferred it to a hoof. Hovering so that she had free use of both front hooves, she woke up her phone.

Crap. Tom had tried to call her. She’d completely forgot about that planning meeting for the contest. Slowly and carefully, she tapped out her password to unlock the phone. Hands would be really nice right now. Praying that she didn’t drop the phone, she climbed a hundred feet to ensure some privacy—at least, as much privacy as she could expect with another pegasus around, which wasn’t much as it turned out.

Meg returned the call and it was quickly answered.

“Hi, Meg.”

“I’m so sorry, Tom, but something came up and it completely slipped my mind.”

“Did you learn a lot of weather magic from Rainbow Dash?” he asked with a straight face.

A few seconds passed before Meg said, “Excuse me?” He must have talked to Steve, but he would never have told him that. What’s going on? Rainbow Dash was hovering a half-dozen feet away, clearly listening in and mystified by what she had just heard. Meg looked her in the eyes and put a hoof to her mouth, warning her to stay quiet.

“Oh, it was something Twilight Sparkle told me.”

“You talked to Twilight Sparkle,” Meg droned, as the other pegasus got closer. Meg repeated the hoof-to-mouth gesture, with emphasis. Dash rolled her eyes then pantomimed zipping her mouth shut.

“Oh, lighten up, Meg, I’m not going crazy. Steve was with someone who could do a killer Twilight impression and she played the role of a contestant for me—could do a good Celestia too.”

Meg exchanged a look with Rainbow Dash. “That’s… interesting. Didn’t know she could also do a Princess Celestia impression.”

“So you know who she is?”

“Uh, yeah, I’m pretty sure, but I can safely say she won’t be entering the contest.”

“That’s what Steve said. Just as well, considering her… unconventional head canon, at least as far as Lyra was concerned.”

The subject of Lyra came up? In front of Twilight and Celestia? And now Rainbow Dash, she thought, as she quickly glanced at the perplexed pegasus. “That doesn’t surprised me,” she glumly admitted.

“Anyway, I assume we’re still on for the next meeting in two weeks. Can you do something sooner?”

“No… I don’t think so, sorry,” she said. “I’ll be sure to have my scenarios done in two weeks.”

“See you then. Bye.”

“Bye.” Meg ended the call as she looked cheerlessly at the subject of many of those scenarios, who was questioningly looking back. She really didn’t want to deal with this. “Look, I’d rather you just ask Twilight,” she pleaded. “It’s a safe bet she’s already asked them of Steve.” Would this make a good scenario? she sarcastically wondered.

Dash considered her request for a second. “Fine,” she grudgingly agreed. “You need to get your camera out of your saddlebag?”

“What?” Meg was already scouting out the best vantage point for an aerial photo of the homestead. “No, this phone is also a camera.”

“That tiny thing?!” Dash exclaimed, pointing at it with a hoof. “How can film even fit inside it?”

Meg was already flying off to her chosen vantage point, not really in the mood to explain human technology. “I’ll prove it to you once we meet up with Rarity. I have a bunch of photos I can show you.”

“So,” Twilight summarized skeptically, “you’re telling me the whole Lyra thing got started because of this one image.” Twilight was scrutinizing said image on the tablet. It was a frame capture from near the beginning of Dragonshy, showing Lyra sitting on a bench like a human, next to another pony lying down.

“Uh huh.” Steve was just waiting for her to point out that not even a human could sit like that on a park bench, not as they actually exist in Equestria.

“And because she’s sitting like that, everypony deduced she’s obsessed with human hands.”

“Even better, the camera’s rapidly panning at that point, so blink and you’d miss it.”

Twilight looked up at Steve, unhappy with the non sequitur.

He sighed, admitting, “It’s not just because of the cartoon.” He really didn’t want to open that can of worms, but what choice did he have?

“I’m listening,” she said firmly.

Steve briefly looked at Celestia, who maintained her serene smile, a poker face perfected by millennia of practice. She had been content to let Twilight drive the conversation. Just so long as you don’t banish me to the Moon, he facetiously thought.

He had no choice, apparently. “There are also works of fiction written by fans of the show,” he began, as if exposing the skeletons in humanity’s collective closet. “They aren’t canon to the cartoon, and they don’t describe your reality. That’s not really even possible, as they’re written by thousands of people, so inevitably they contradict each other.” Getting to the point, he concluded, “Nonetheless, there are certain themes that most of these stories have in common, themes not addressed, for whatever reason, by the cartoon itself.”

“Like Lyra’s obsession with human hands.”

“More like an unhealthy interest in humans in general, with hand obsession being a sub-genre. Often, in these stories, no other pony believes humans exist.”

Twilight was having trouble accepting that; evidently, it did not describe the Lyra she knew. But how well did she actually know her? They never interacted in the show.

“And other themes?” she asked, hoping for something more plausible.

Steve wondered how deep a hole he was digging for himself, as he mentally enumerated a list of candidate themes and decided which one to start with. “Does Derpy have a unicorn daughter named Dinky?”

“Yes,” Twilight immediately answered.

“Is she unusually intelligent?”

Twilight did not answer for a half-second. “I was going to recommend she apply to Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns, yes.”

Starting to believe, eh? “Are Lyra and Bon Bon romantically involved?”

This time, it took her several uncomfortable seconds to answer. “It’s why Lyra moved to Ponyville from Canterlot, yes.”

Might as well end this with heavy artillery. “Is Scootaloo an orphan, or does she come from a broken family, or will she never be able to fly?”

The seconds passed as Twilight examined the simulated stone floor, struggling to come up with a response. Finally, she said, “Out of respect for Rainbow Dash’s wishes, I won’t address that.”

Did that mean one or more of them were true? Or simply that something else just as bad was true instead? Not that he was going to find out then and there. Steve decided he had said enough and remained silent.

“Regardless,” Twilight said with renewed conviction, “there’s no way for the real-life Lyra to know about humans, much less be obsessed with them.”

“How can you be so sure?” he sincerely asked.

“Humans aren’t even mythological creatures,” she irrefutably declared.

We aren’t? Humans being creatures of myth was usually a theme of Lyra stories, when humans weren’t physically present. But something wasn’t quite adding up. “That’s quite curious, because human mythology is full of creatures that only exist in Equestria: manticores, hydras, griffons, minotaurs, dragons, not to mention unicorns and pegasi. And then there are all the animals and plants that are common to both our worlds.”

The implication was that the two worlds had once been in contact. If those creatures had visited the human world, then how could humans not have visited this world? Twilight was fully capable of putting two and two together.

“That’s an interesting observation, but it has nothing to do with Lyra,” she said, but lacking the absolute conviction she displayed earlier.

Steve pressed his point. “Maybe you’re right, but maybe you’re not. Even if there are no records of humans ever having been here before, even in myth, that doesn’t mean there haven’t been any. Somewhere, in the middle of nowhere, there could be physical evidence. It’s possible Lyra had stumbled upon this evidence, but for whatever reason has decided to keep quiet about it.”

“You know I can’t prove a negative,” she said, frowning. “But why would she be in the middle of nowhere looking for such evidence? How would she even recognize it? She’s a musician, not an archeologist.”

“Steve may have a point.”

Twilight looked at her mentor in surprise. “He does?”

“He does,” she gently confirmed. “After Lyra Heartstrings graduated from my school for gifted unicorns, she attended Canterlot University. She majored in musicology, as you might expect, but because of her interest in ancient music and musical instruments, she also minored in archeology.”

That pulled the rug out from under Twilight’s conviction. “That’s… unexpected.”

Indeed, thought Steve, agreeing. There might be something to Lyra and humans after all, even if it wasn’t clear what form it would take. Nor, apparently, did Twilight know Lyra all that well, otherwise she’d have known this.

Twilight looked at Steve, conceding the argument. “Would it be possible for me to read some of these stories?”

“Yes… it is…” he said. He paused to take a breath, grimacing. “I’ll be blunt: that terrifies me.”

Twilight looked at him, not knowing what to say to that.

Steve reluctantly continued. “You have to understand: they think of you as a fictional character, to do with as they please. You will not like some of it.”

“All the more reason for you to read it, Twilight,” Celestia said as she walked over to her former student.

Twilight looked at Celestia, once more an inexperienced foal in her presence.

“It will be good practice,” she explained to her faithful student. “Plenty shall be written about you, now that you’re a princess. Some of it you will not enjoy reading; I can assure you of that.”

That’s an interesting way of looking at it. At least writers of fan fiction don’t believe she’s real; the same could not be said about what Celestia’s referring to. Twilight didn’t look thrilled about that. I guess she hasn’t experienced it yet.

How to make it happen? It would be easiest just to let her borrow the tablet, but he didn’t want to grant her full access to the Internet. Maybe Meg could figure something out. “I’ll see what I can do.“

“Can it really be that difficult?” asked Rainbow Dash disbelievingly as she watched Meg fumble with her phone.

“I’m not used to hooves; what can I say?”

Somehow she had to hold the phone with one hoof, without obstructing the lens or screen, so she could tap the shutter release with the other hoof—preferably while not dropping the phone to the ground dozens of feet below. The natives made it look so easy.

She ultimately went with placing the side of her left hoof under one end of the phone, the end opposite the lens, and magically holding it in place. The magical glue seemed more than up to the task. Just how strong is this “glue?” Strong enough, she was certain, that tapping the screen wouldn’t send the phone plunging to its doom.

That done, she framed the homestead and captured it on digital film. There were many other pictures she’d like to take, but the logistics of using her phone with hooves was proving to be a little too much. Besides, Rainbow Dash was getting impatient.

That left her with a new problem: how to get her phone back in her saddlebag without first setting down on the ground. Why not ask an expert? “Hey, Dash! How do I get my phone back in my saddlebag while flying?”

“Easy,” Rainbow Dash smirked. She grabbed the phone with her hoof, positioned herself above and slightly behind Meg, reached down with her other hoof to open the saddlebag, put the phone inside, then closed the saddlebag.

Not exactly what I had in mind, Meg thought, but she couldn’t deny its effectiveness. If only it was possible to hover without flapping her wings. Why was the mechanical action of flapping wings necessary to magically ignore gravity? Who—or what—came up with these rules?

“Come on, let’s get going,” Rainbow Dash said impatiently as she started flying back into town.

Meg quickly followed, and discovered, once again, that to keep up she had to fly near her limit, much faster than the leisurely pace she flew early that morning. She doesn’t let up, does she? At this rate, it will take only a minute to reach Carousel Boutique.

Could I go faster? Airspeed was determined by thrust and drag. Both were obviously benefitting from magic, but how? It felt like her wings were pushing against something much denser than just air, but whatever it was its density decreased with airspeed. Even with magically reduced drag, that put an upper limit on her velocity.

Meg chose to focus on thrust, willing higher density. Like that morning, when she focused on ignoring gravity while climbing, it had some effect, increasing her speed; and also like that morning, Rainbow Dash instantly matched it and maintaining it was exhausting. Before she had to back off, Carousel Boutique came into view, causing Rainbow Dash to slow down and begin their descent.

It looked just as absurd as she expected: a cylindrical building, covered with a cone-shaped roof painted in a pastel pink and purple checkerboard pattern, which was topped with what sort of looked like an actual carousel with pony-shaped mannequins—ponnequins?—mounted on the poles. Naturally, those ubiquitous pink hearts decorated the building.

Yet, like Sugarcube Corner, it worked far better than it had any right to, with it being an actual, physical building instead of a cartoon drawing. It was enough to make her wonder if magic was somehow involved. Did Rarity come up with this look, or was it already like this when she moved in?

Meg followed Rainbow Dash as she came in for a landing in front of the entrance, touching down beside her. There was a “closed” sign in the window; it did not list business hours, but that probably didn’t have much meaning in a small town where a pony’s residence and place of business were one and the same. Dash reached up a hoof to press the door bell, triggering a melodious sequence of chimes.

Dainty hoof steps approached from inside. A few seconds after they stopped just short of the door, it glowed a light blue and swung open, revealing an alabaster unicorn with an over-styled, purple mane. As her horn stopped glowing, Rarity greeted her guest for the afternoon. “Meg! You finally made it. Come in, darling, come in!”

Meg tentatively walked inside, her eyes scanning the showroom. The color scheme was more of that pastel pink and purple. There were plenty of full-size mirrors and ponnequins, many of which modeled a dress. Drapes covered nearly every wall, hanging with generous folds. Accents of hearts and diamonds decorated the walls. On display against a wall… are those what I think they are?

Rarity gleefully trotted over to the objects of Meg’s attention. “Aren’t they simply magnifique? They’re some of my best work.”

Meg walked over to the five gowns on display. “Didn’t you wear these to Twilight’s coronation?” That’s what they looked like, but these weren’t some simple cartoon drawing. Not that she knew much about such things, but… the fabrics, the craftsmanship, the details, the jewels—okay, jewels aren’t as precious here—regardless, they had to have been incredibly time-consuming and expensive to make. Who paid for this? It seemed crass to ask.

The fashionista gave her a studied look. “I’ve heard about that cartoon of yours, naturally, but…” Her face lit up. “It showcases my work?”

Meg wasn’t sure she liked where this might be going. “I guess? Sort of… I mean, I’m sure many people in my world would love to commission something from you…”

The fashionista began to squee.

Me and my big mouth.

But before Rarity could finish squeeing, Rainbow Dash came to the rescue. “Get real,” she scolded the unicorn. “You know the Princesses are in no rush to make a decision, never mind how they’ll decide.”

“Well, ahem, yes, of course,” Rarity said, collecting herself. “You’re quite right. But a girl can dream…”

Changing the subject, Rainbow Dash addressed Meg. “You were going to show pictures taken by that camera thingy of yours? I need to get going soon.”

“Right.” Meg fetched her phone from her saddlebag with her mouth. She then hovered, freeing up her front hooves, and transferred the phone to her left hoof. After some very careful tapping with her right hoof—it did seem to get easier with practice—the last picture she had taken was on the screen. She invited the other two mares to look at it.

“That’s Sweet Apple Acres, isn’t it,” Rarity asked. “I’m not used to seeing it from that perspective.”

“Yeah,” Rainbow Dash confirmed, sounding impressed. “I was there when she took it.”

“Do you have pictures of your realm? I haven’t had the chance to visit it myself.”

“Sure do,” Meg replied, as she navigated to the vacation photos. “These are photos from our vacation in Hawaii a few months ago.” The first photo looked down the beach of Waikiki, with plenty of palm trees and sky-scraping hotels visible. “It’s a subtropical island a few thousand miles away.”

“Too bad it’s so small,” Dash said, as she leaned in close. “There’s lot’s of detail.”

“More than you can see, actually. It’s possible to zoom in… well, using hands anyway.” After thinking it over for a few seconds, Meg put the phone on the ground and used both hooves to do a stretch gesture. It worked, giving a better view of the pedestrians on the sidewalk.

“Aren’t they dressed differently than in your city?”

“Let me look,” Rarity quickly said, as she moved in, prompting an annoyed Dash to step aside. She quietly examined the picture for a bit. “Such bold colors… garish, perhaps, but there’s a certain logic to it.”

“Then you’ll love this one.” Meg swiped a few times, bringing up a picture of a rack of Hawaiian shirts in a store.

“Oh, my… yes, definitely giving me ideas…”

Dash headed towards the entrance. “Sounds like you two are hitting it off, so I’ll be on my way.”

“Bye!” Meg quickly called out, before she was gone. “If we don’t see each other before we leave, I want to thank you for the lessons you gave me.” Oh, right, gotta say it. “It was awesome!”

“I’m glad some ponies can see that,” she smirked as she went through the door.

“Must you encourage her?” Rarity said with a slight, disapproving frown.

Huh? Sure, that pegasus was full of herself, but really? “Well… she was an awesome teacher.”

The unicorn exhaled, as she returned her attention to the picture currently being displayed on the phone.

“I mean… I know where you’re coming from, but is it really that bad to give her a little joy?”

“I suppose not,” Rarity nonchalantly conceded. She spent the next few minutes viewing the other pictures, doing the swipe gesture herself, having had observed Meg doing it.

“Have you taken many pictures of Equestria?” she casually asked once she saw the last picture.

“No, just that one—so far.” She sheepishly looked down at her hooves. “I’m finding it difficult to hold and operate my phone with hooves. You ponies make it look so easy.”

“I’m guessing Steve is finding it much easier?” Rarity asked. “Being a unicorn,” she quickly added.

Meg remembered when he took a video of her hovering by Twilight’s Daring Do books. “Yeah, telekinesis is awesome,” she said half-heartedly. But wings are awesome too, she reminded herself. Twilight’s so lucky to have both.

A smile erupted on Rarity’s face as she grabbed the phone with her magic. “Come along, darling.” She trotted off to her workshop in the back room. “I believe I have a solution for you,” she sing-songed.

Meg blinked, then trotted off after her. It wasn’t hard to guess what the unicorn had in mind. At least it wasn’t a dress. She’d been half afraid that the fashionista would insist on taking her measurements, offering to design the perfect dress for her and refusing to take no for an answer—because she was the Element of Generosity, don’t you know. This would actually be useful.

Meg entered the workshop. It was as messy and chaotic as the showroom was neat and organized. Piles of fabric bolts everywhere. Numerous ponnequins modeling dresses in various states of completion. Uncountable shelves and drawers lining the walls. Off to one side, a table bearing a sewing machine, various scissors and other tools—and, for now, her phone.

A bolt of thick, durable black fabric was floating in the air. A pair of scissors floated over from the table and cut out a rectangle. It was long enough to wrap around a pony’s fetlock and then some. As the fabric levitated back to a random shelf, a drawer slid open. Out of it came something circular; it floated over to the rectangular piece.

Purposefully humming to herself, Rarity positioned circular thingy so that it was about a quarter of the way from one end of the rectangle. With a quick glow of her horn, the two were bonded. Another spell caused the far end to glow for a second.

“Hold out your forelimb,” she instructed Meg.

She did so, curious as to how the fashion-related magic she was witnessing was going to work. The strap—for it was now clear that’s what that rectangular piece was—wrapped itself around the upper end of her fetlock. It was long enough such that there was an inch of overlap; upon being pressed together, it held, like velcro. She could now get a good look at the circular part. It had a metallic frame filled with a felt-like shallow dome. So what? Just put the phone on that?

In answer to her unspoken question, the phone came floating over and placed itself on the felt dome. It wasn’t centered; the bottom of the phone was positioned over the dome, with the top of the phone pointing towards her hoof. The phone was pushed against the dome, which she instinctively pushed back against, and the light blue glow vanished. The phone stayed in place.

Meg experimentally raised her fetlock to her ear. The bottom end, the part with the microphone, was angled away from her mouth. It’d probably work, but not ideal. But the camera lens… not gonna work.

Rarity knew what she was thinking, and with a smug look lit up her horn once more. The phone rotated a quarter turn clockwise, locking into position with a click. The lens now had a clear view. “I assume that piece of glass on the back is the camera lens. You can rotate the other direction too,” she explained. “It will hold any angle, so long as no twisting force is applied.”

Rotating the other way would take care of the microphone, if necessary. Meg tried rotating it back with her other hoof. A certain amount of force was needed to get past the detent, but then it offered little resistance until it clicked into position parallel to her fetlock. It was looking quite promising.

“How do I get it off?”

“Just grab it with your hoof and pull. The magical bond is designed to release with the application of hoof magic. Same for taking the strap off.”

Quite promising. Eager to try it out, she navigated to the camera app and rotated the phone once more. She was about to take a picture of Rarity when the unicorn objected.

“Not in here, please!” she exclaimed with overly dramatic horror. “You can take pictures in the showroom.”

Fair enough, she thought, though she didn’t mention her workshop was in several episodes. They went back into the showroom. “Why don’t you pose next to the coronation gowns?”

“Gladly,” she said with pride. She trotted over to the display as Meg hovered about seeking the ideal vantage point.

Once she had it, and Rarity settled on a pose, holding out a hoof in the direction of the display, she snapped the picture. After taking a quick look to see that it came out okay, she flew over to Rarity and showed it to her.

“Quite impressive. You know if it is good or bad immediately,” she said approvingly. “Too bad it’s so small, and there is something to be said for a photo you can frame and put on a desk, hang on a wall, or give to somepony else.”

Meg silently groaned. Time to do some explaining—again.

It was finally time to go home. After spending an hour taking pictures around Ponyville, with Rarity as her guide—the fashionista certainly had a good eye for the picturesque—Meg thanked her for her assistance and flew back to the castle. Pausing long enough to take some pictures of Twilight’s current residence, she went indoors through the balcony and into the library.

She found her husband already there, practicing spells under Twilight’s tutorage. A metal object levitated in the air in front of him, changing size and shape. Upon noticing her arrival, he put the object, now in the shape of a simple cube a few inches across, down on the floor. Meg went over to him and gave him what would be their last pony hug and nuzzle for a while.

It was hard for him not to notice something attached to her fetlock. “Did Rarity make that?” he asked.

“Yep. It’s really useful.” Meg presented it for his inspection, showing how the phone could rotate. “I took a lot of pictures around town.”

Steve used his telekinesis to rotate the phone, then tried to pull it off, without success. “It does come off, right?”

“It responds to hoof magic.” She demonstrated, grabbing it with her hoof and pulling. It came off easily. That actually worked. She hadn’t tried taking it off before, but there was no reason to doubt Rarity’s instructions.

Twilight had been watching with amusement. “You should put that in your saddlebag,” she warned. “Otherwise, you won’t have it when you become human again and you’ll have to wait until you turn back into a pony to get it back.”

Just like our clothes, but in reverse. “We should take our saddlebags off too?” she asked, after putting her phone in them.

Twilight shook her head. “No, leave those on. They get special treatment. I’ll carry your backpacks.” They were on the desk, ready to go.

Meg exchanged a silent gaze with Steve. There wasn’t much point in delaying their return home. As fun as it was being a pegasus, she wanted to be human again—if for no other reason than to prove the transformation was reversible, that she hadn’t thrown her old life away. “Ready to go?”

“Yes, I am,” he said with only a slight hesitation.

“Then let’s be on our way,” Twilight declared. She levitated their backpacks over to herself, and then levitated over one of those plaid pills that had also been on the desk. The two visitors walked over to her, as she engulfed them in her magic. She swallowed the pill.

This time, Meg was prepared to experience her transformation as it happened. It won’t pass by unnoticed.

The home office replaced the library. I’m still a pony? There had been no sensation of change, except… the room was its normal size, and she towered above the desk. Looking down, she saw she was standing on two feet and wearing the same clothes she had been wearing yesterday morning—hard to believe it was only yesterday. Her saddlebags were hanging from around her neck.

She reached up with her hands and lifted the saddlebags from around her neck and held them in front of her. Welcome back hands; I missed you. She put them on the desk, next to their backpacks; Twilight had already set them down there. Steve did the same. The alicorn was diligently observing them.

Hands. Meg inspected hers, as if they were something novel; but quite the contrary, she had just used them as if they had never been swapped for hooves. Hopefully, the same would be true of her hooves and wings when she became a pony again.

Wings. She no longer had wings. She tried to image them sprouting from her back, but could no more do so than she had been able to imagine fingers sprouting from her equine hooves. Once more she was a creature of the earth. She was already missing them.

“Everything okay?” asked Twilight with a look of concern.

Or at least it probably was a look of concern; perceiving with a human brain, it wasn’t as clear anymore. She briefly glanced at Steve, and noted he looked exactly the same as just before being ponified; presumably the same was true of herself. “Yes, everything’s okay. Just being introspective, I guess.”

The alicorn smiled, reassured, and walked over to the doll to conduct her measurements ritual. A minute later she had finished and was ready to depart. “Progressing as expected,” she reported cheerlessly. “I’ll be back, usual time tomorrow.”

“Okay,” Steve said. “We’ll try to have something set up for you by then so you can read fanfics and watch episodes.”

“I’m looking forward to it,” she said more brightly. Twilight invoked the return spell and vanished.

They both stared at the space formerly occupied by the pony in silence. Steve then gave Meg a recap of his day. She was unsurprised to hear it included explaining Lyra fanon to Twilight and Celestia.

“Any ideas on how to make that happen without giving her total access to the Internet?” Steve asked.

“Yeah, some…” Meg replied as she got some stuff out of her saddlebags. Her cutie mark adorning the saddlebag caught her eye. It still felt like her cutie mark, even if it was absent from her body. Supposedly absent. I’ll check later. “The episodes can be downloaded onto the tablet, so no problem there. I think I can set up some filtering to restrict Internet access; that’ll handle the rest.”

Steve finished retrieving stuff out his own saddlebags. “I’d appreciate that. Let’s go out for hamburgers. I could use a bacon cheeseburger, hold the daffodils.”

“Works for me,” she heartily agreed.

A few minutes later, they were outside heading towards their car. They were going down the stairs when a woman, professionally dressed and carrying some kind of device, appeared at the bottom, blocking their exit.

“Mr. and Mrs. Coleman?”

They came to a stop at the bottom. “Yes?” Steve replied questioningly.

“I’m Agent Jessica Fowler of the FBI,” she said as she presented her badge. “May I have a few minutes of your time?” The device she was holding in her other hand was making occasional soft, random clicks.

“Uh, sure… is that a Geiger counter?”

“It is,” she said, as she put the badge away, got out her phone and made a call. “I’ve found the Colemans.” A few seconds later, she said, “Okay,” and put the phone away.

This can’t possibly be a coincidence. She remembered the white van that had been parked out front a few days ago. “What’s this about?” Meg asked, anxiety creeping into her voice despite her best efforts.

13. Government in Action

“Have you heard about the interference with television broadcasts,” began Agent Fowler conversationally.

“It’s been in the news,” replied Steve noncommittally.

But why look for us, specifically? Meg thought. Twilight’s assurances that human technology couldn’t possibly detect magic, much less zero in on the source, were starting to sound hollow.

“This block of apartments appears to be at the geometric center of the interference,” she said, waving her arm at the offending building, as if she was quoting something from Ripley’s Believe It or Not! “We’re interviewing all residents. Have you seen anything out of the ordinary in the last few weeks?”

“You mean like a high power antenna?” he asked.

This was a dangerous game. Lying to an FBI agent was a federal crime in and of itself. But telling the whole truth, even if they could, would only get them arrested for contempt.

“If only it was that simple,” she wearily replied. She slid past them and began climbing the stairs. “Special Agent Holmes, the lead investigator, will meet us at your apartment.”

They followed the agent up the stairs. The bacon cheeseburgers would have to wait.

“Why the Geiger counter?” Meg asked. Not that she had ever seen one before, much less used one, but the occasional clicks seemed like ordinary background radiation to her.

“The power output of the transmitter is at least a megawatt, and slowly but surely rising. We’ve checked the power grid. It’s not coming from PG&E.”

Steve climbed a few more steps. “So… what? You think it’s nuclear powered or something?”

Agent Fowler stopped at the stop of the stairs and turned around. She silently stared at Steve for a few seconds before answering. “Quite honestly, we don’t know what to think.”

She began walking past the apartments. A half dozen doors down, a man in a suit and tie, with slightly graying hair, was waiting. Meg recognized him as the man she had seen leaving the van. They continued in silence until they reached him.

Steve spoke first. “Special Agent Holmes, I presume?”

The agent pulled out and displayed his badge. “You may call me Scott,” he said, after which he returned his badge to a pocket.

As if we’d know if they’re real or fake, Meg idly thought. After all, she had never seen one in person before, or even knew what it was supposed to look like.

“May we talk inside?”

Steve hesitated. This Holmes would make an excellent poker player; it was difficult to get a read on his intentions.

“You’re a physicist, correct?”

Carefully, Steve said, “Yes.”

“Then I think you will find this intriguing.” After a brief pause, seeing no movement, the agent continued. “Unless you are in possession of a device acquired from extraterrestrials, I can assure you and your wife that you are not persons of interest.”

Couldn’t he have at least smiled after saying that? It wasn’t clear if he was deadpanning a joke or being completely serious. Not that it really mattered. If they wanted in, they would get in, one way or the other.

Coming to the same conclusion, Steve took out his keys and unlocked the door. He put the keys away and put his hand on the doorknob, but did not turn it. “You’re sure you’re not Agents Mulder and Scully?”

“The X-Files was just a TV show; this is reality,” Holmes said with a straight face. Fowler, at least, was trying to suppress a smile.

“I guess it is…” Steve opened the door and everyone followed him in.

“She’s a good customer of mine, but I can’t say I know her,” Rarity said, waving a hoof about.

“I know her birthday is in one hundred and twenty seven days!” Pinkie Pie giddily declared.

Twilight scanned the circle of thrones, but nopony else had anything to add, until her eyes landed on Applejack.

“Honestly, Twi, you ought to know her best, considerin’ she’s from Canterlot just like you.”

Rainbow Dash retorted, “It’s not like everypony in Canterlot knows everypony else there!”

Twilight’s gaze fell on the pegasus. “I probably do know her best,” she admitted, sighing, “but that isn’t saying much.” She went on to explain. “During my years as Celestia’s student, I would occasionally attend performances of the arts put on in her honor. Sometime, I was allowed to be present, afterwards, when she granted the performers an audience. That’s how I met Lyra.”

Dash stared off into the distance. “Heh… who’d have thought she had a bit of Daring Do in her.”

“Attendin’ classes and actually diggin’ for stuff are two different things,” Applejack pointed out.

“Indeed,” Rarity agreed. “I can’t imagine such a cultured mare willingly getting herself so filthy.”

This was getting pointless. They weren’t going to solve the mystery of what Lyra might or might not have discovered by talking amongst themselves. I’m going to have to talk to her. How was she going to raise the subject without sounding crazy? But for now, there were more important matters at hoof—like saving Equestria. Nonetheless, it did help crystalize what was really bothering her. “It’s just a bit unnerving that the humans might know something so… significant… about us that we’re clueless about.”

The room fell silent.

Twilight took a deep breath. “I guess that leads to the next topic on the agenda: Meg and Steve.”

Meg and Steve sat down on the sofa, while Agent Fowler sat in the reclining chair. Agent Holmes took the Geiger counter from her and walked around, slowly sweeping the probe across various surfaces. If not for the rare click, it would be easy to think it was turned off.

The agent stopped his sweeps and turned to face Steve. “You’re a physicist; what do you make of that?”

Steve had watched the demonstration with increasing consternation. “If… I didn’t know better… I’d say… I… I don’t know what to say.”

“Then I’ll say it for you: here, at the geometric center of the broadcast interference, there appears to be unusually little background radiation.”

“That’s… physically impossible. Radioactive decay cannot be suppressed. It’s absurd to think that all radioactive isotopes have been removed from the area—our own bodies even.”

“That is what I’ve been told,” he agreed, holding up the detector’s probe to his chest, “and yet here it is. We’ve tried several devices, thinking we had a bad one, but they all behave the same way. What little it’s detecting now appears to be mostly cosmic gamma radiation.”

“Which do you think is more likely,” Agent Fowler asked, “suppression or removal?”

Steve struggled to form words. The question was absurd, like asking whether it was more likely the Sun went around the Earth, or that the Earth was flat. But as absurd as it might have been, it was possible to put it to a test. “I can think of an experiment that will answer that question.”

“I’m listening,” Holmes said.

“Uh, yes… you need to get a radioactive sample and bring it here. Doesn’t have to be very active, just something that will really set off a Geiger counter at close range—a beta emitter would be perfect. Whether it actually does will answer your question.”

Agent Holmes chewed it over for a moment, his face giving no clues as to what he thought of that proposal. “I think that can be arranged,” he finally said. “I’ll let you know when we’ll be back. Your cooperation is greatly appreciated.”

He made his way to the front door, his associate following close behind. Steve followed them both, and happily closed the door after the agents had departed.

He then went back to the living room and wearily sat down next to Meg, leaning his head back. “Great,” he exhaled. “Now we’re stuck with some FBI agents. Just what we need.” He could only image what would happen if Twilight showed up while they were here. They needed a way of communicating with ponies back in Equestria. Something could be set up with the tablet they’d be giving Twilight.

“This has to be a side-effect of magic,” Meg said.

He turned to look at her. “Obviously,” he droned. “But how?” He resumed looking at the ceiling. “Does this mean there’s no radioactivity in Equestria?” As he closed his eyes and rubbed them, he said, “I really need to find out how Twilight’s magic probe works. I’m starting to think it has a lot in common with a Geiger counter.”

Meg looked at him with concern. “Should you have suggested that experiment? What if it leads them to the doll?”

He opened his eyes and looked at her once more. “They’re not idiots. They’d have come up with it on their own, if they hadn’t already. We can’t afford to give the impression of non-cooperation.” He leaned his head back again. “Anyway, a Geiger counter is nowhere near precise enough to zero in on that doll, and even if was… how could a stupid doll be emitting a megawatt of power?” He rubbed his forehead. “Far more than a megawatt. That megawatt is only what was turned into detectable electromagnetic radiation.”

Enough to power Twilight’s teleportation. He had no idea how much power that actually took, but he did know very few unicorns were powerful enough to do it.

“Meg minded her manners well enough, from what Ah could see. A little too curious, perhaps, but who wouldn’t be in her hooves.”

Twilight’s gaze shifted from Applejack to Rainbow Dash, the pony who had expressed the strongest objections to bringing them across.

The pegasus grinned uncomfortably, aware of the attention suddenly focused on her. “Well… she had a hard time doing even simple stuff with her hooves.”

“I’m certain she will get better with practice,” Rarity asserted.

“Is she happy being a pegasus?” Pinkie asked.

“What the hay does that have to do with anything?” Dash replied.

Pinkie mercilessly glared at her. “Is she happy being a pegasus?”

All eyes turned to Rainbow Dash once more. She swiveled her head from one side to the other, meeting each pair in turn, finally locking in on Pinkie’s. “Yeah, I’d say she was.”

“That’s the impression Ah got,” added Applejack, nervously adjusting her Stetson.

Twilight rather agreed with Dash. Nopony would be forcing Meg to return if it made her unhappy. But it was pointless to argue such things with Pinkie Pie.

Having already recounted her day with Steve, she felt it was time to end their discussion. “Since there do not appear to be any objections, for the time being they are welcome in Equestria.”

The next day, Twilight spent the afternoon analyzing the latest anomaly measurements she had received from Cadance. Unfortunately, she still lacked the means to send them via Spike, necessitating the use of the postal service. Twilight was becoming accustomed to Derpy’s regular visits as she made the special deliveries.

For better or for worse, the numbers matched what she was seeing on the other side with the doll: a slow but steady worsening. At least it was progressing as anticipated. She still had time. Unfortunately, she needed it. As productive as her visit to the Canterlot Archives was, she still had trouble coming up with a spell that would solve the problem. She was still missing something.

It was time to visit the other realm, both to take another set of measurements and to receive the tablet she was promised. She was looking forward to learning some simple programming so that she could save a lot of time doing calculations—some of which, no doubt, will be spent watching the near one hundred episodes that exist of that cartoon. I’ll just need to be organized.

Twilight flared her wings and lifted herself to the upper level. It was starting to become second nature; Rainbow Dash would be proud of her. She flew over to her bedroom and landed in front of a chest of drawers, on top of which rested Discord’s pill dispenser.

Temporarily overriding the magical lock she had placed upon it, she turned the knob, causing a single plaid pill to fall out. The contents of the jar shifted in response, yet it remained as full as the day she got it. Apparently, it will never run out. Discord could be so… unpredictably accommodative.

Twilight swallowed the unpleasantly plaid-tasting pill, crossing over. She found Meg deep in thought, working on something on her computer. As much as she hated to break her concentration, she really needed to make her presence known. “Ahem.”

Meg didn’t look away from the screen. “Hi, Twilight. We need to talk.”

This… did not sound good. “About what?”

Meg swiveled in her chair to face her, her hands clasped in her lap. “Our government has become aware something weird is going on here.”

That… cannot be good, not good at all. “May I ask how?” It shouldn’t have been possible, unless the humans violated their Pinkie Promise, but she wasn’t going to jump to conclusions.

Well,” she started with an exhale, “we happen to be at the geometric center of the emissions that are interfering with broadcasts. That was their first tipoff.”

Twilight suppressed the urge to face-hoof. How could I be so stupid.

Then, they noticed the sheer power output of the emissions. That kind of power consumption is difficult to hide, but they couldn’t track it down—and they tried. That forced them to consider crazy ideas, like someone running a small nuclear reactor or something.”

“Nuclear what now?”

Meg waived off the query. “The point is, human technology can detect the presence of magic. Agents of our government are trying to make sense of it. They will be coming here to study it.”

Twilight blinked, several times. This is bad, very very bad. “How can your technology detect magic?” Moving the doll would be futile, if humans can follow the magic.

“Steve wants to talk to you about that. He thinks the device you use to measure the magical field has a lot in common with a device we have that measures radioactive decay.”

Twilight silently mouthed the words, “radioactive decay.”

“The spontaneous decay of certain element isotopes, often into other elements.”

She collapsed onto her haunches, her gaze drifting to the floor. That did sound similar. But even in her own realm, those substances are not completely stable. They’re extremely rare. Here, in this realm, without magic to create them, never mind keep them remotely stable… No! Enough with the assumptions. Somehow, they did exist here.

Twilight looked up again at Meg. “Do you know when they’ll be here?” she asked, weakly.

“Not really, no,” Meg admitted. “I doubt we’ll get much advance notice, if any.”

“I wouldn’t want to be here when they are.” Maybe meeting with representatives of this realm was inevitable, but she dearly wanted to delay it until after that hole has been taken care of. For now, they would only get in the way.

“I wouldn’t recommend it, no,” Meg said, stating the obvious. She turned around to retrieve the tablet and handed it to the alicorn, who accepted it with her magic. “I’ve setup a means of communicating, so we can warn you if it’s not safe to come over.”

I mustn’t underestimate their technology.

Meg gave her a tutorial on how to use the communications app. It was text based, but that meant a record of all messages sent and received was available, including the time it was sent. She also set up a password for her, so that the tablet couldn’t be used by anypony else. She then showed her the calculator app. It’s programmability was quite primitive compared to what she read in that book, but it was also far easier to understand.

Finally, Meg showed her how to play episodes of the cartoon. The entire first season was present; there wasn’t room for more than one season at a time, unfortunately. Still, it would take around ten hours to watch them all.

After being shown how to charge the device, Twilight returned home. She wasn’t in the mood to wait for Steve to come home and talk to him. Meg assured her it was okay.

Not being much in the mood to do anything else more productive, Twilight decided to start watching the cartoon. She selected the first episode, Friendship is Magic, part one, and magically tapped the “play” icon. At least the name of the episode was reassuring.

Special Agent Holmes put the small, metal box onto the coffee table as the Colemans watched, standing well back. He wouldn’t say what the radioactive substance was, but as beta radiation was nothing more than energetic electrons, a simple metal box was all the shielding required—if any shielding at all was required in their home.

They were about to find out.

Why does this have to feel so much like a cheesy sci-fi movie? Steve wondered.

Homes unlatched the lid. Putting on thick gloves, he stood back and opened the lid. Even a few feet of air blocks beta radiation, so this wasn’t particularly dangerous. Fowler, also wearing thick gloves and standing back, held the probe of the Geiger counter a foot over the box.

If there was any difference, it was too small to be obvious. “It should be clicking like crazy,” Fowler reported, not really accepting the evidence of her ears.

She slowly lowered the probe. When it approached the top of the box, it finally started to noticeably click faster—but still substantially below normal background levels. She inserted the probe into the box, presumably all but touching the substance, and was rewarded with the highest reading so far, yet still so low it was safe enough to hold in one’s bare hand.

Holmes closed the lid and latched it.

There was no denying it. Magic suppressed radioactive decay; it messed with the weak nuclear force somehow. Now, Steve predicted, comes the pontification on all the possibilities, for good and evil.

He was not disappointed.

“If we could harness this somehow… dealing with nuclear waste and accidents would be so much easier,” Fowler said.

“Or be used by terrorists to shut down a nuclear power plant,” Holmes countered.

“Or prevent an atomic bomb from detonating.”

“Including ours.”

It was growing tiresome fast. “Or win someone a Nobel Prize,” Steve threw in, drawing their attention. “I assume you’ll be spending a lot of time here?” he asked with a distinct lack of enthusiasm.

“First, we need to determine how this effect correlates with distance. It might be possible to make do with a nearby, currently vacant apartment,” Fowler offered.

“If not, we could assist you in moving elsewhere,” Holmes added. “It may be wise to evacuate the area anyway.”

Steve exchanged a look with his wife. Yeah, that would work real well. In the best case scenario, they’ll have new, inconvenient neighbors, and in the worst case… what happens when the “effect” follows them to their new home?

“I can’t say we’ve noticed any ill effects,” Meg said. “I guess that’s surprising, if there’s a megawatt transmitter here,” she added, uncertainly. They knew that’s not how it worked, but did they know that?

“You needn’t worry about that,” Fowler assured them. “This may be the center, but the transmission doesn’t actually originate from here. It seems to come from a spherical shell; it even extends underground, hard as it is to believe. So that megawatt is spread out over a hundred square miles.”

“But you think it’s connected to this ‘effect?’” Steve flatly asked.

Holmes made his way to the front door. “It would be a huge coincidence if it wasn’t, wouldn’t you agree?”

Twilight checked the tablet again. She knew that was silly; a sound hadn’t played announcing the arrival of a new message. The most recent message remained the same: FBI present.

She resumed impatiently walking in circles. How long were they going to be there? What if they took the doll?

The tablet chimed. Twilight rushed over and read the message: all clear. She lost no time in putting on her saddlebags and swallowing a plaid pill.

Meg and Steve were both there, waiting for her. She quickly glanced up at the bookshelf, relieved to see the doll was still there, next to the Derpy doll. Her attention returned to the humans.

Steve provided the executive summary. “The magical field definitely suppresses radioactive decay. They may spend time here researching it, possibly move into a nearby apartment, or even evacuate the entire area. They think the chances are it’s connected to the broadcast interference.”

It was another clock ticking away, perhaps the fastest ticking one of all.

Twilight took off her saddlebags and got comfortable. She levitated out a sheet of paper and sent it over to Meg. “Here are the equations for simulating the magical field in the form you requested.”

Meg plucked it out of the air and studied it for a moment. “Okay,” she said as she got busy on the computer.

Performing a simulation of a physical system requires breaking it up into a large number of tiny pieces. The state of each piece, at a moment of time, depends on the state of that piece, and its neighboring pieces, at the previous moment of time. The smaller the pieces and intervals of time, the more accurate the simulation.

Twilight had reworked the equations she was familiar with into the form needed to express those dependencies. Describing a physical system in this fashion was alien to her; without the technology of computers, there was no point to it.

As Meg busily typed away, those hands of hers rapidly and accurately hitting the keys, Twilight retrieved her magic probe from her saddlebags, and the Pinkie Pie doll from the bookshelf, and did her measurements. That clock was still ticking away as well.

She lifted a chair and positioned it so she would have a view of the monitor, without being too much of a distraction. It took a surprising amount of effort to create software. As much as she’d wish it could be finished tonight, it wasn’t likely to be completed until sometime next week. It didn’t help that Meg could only work on it at night during the week.

She already had her first simulation planned: a sonic rainboom. Providing the initial state was proving to be a challenge in and of itself. It wasn’t as if the initial state of all those millions of pieces could be specified individually, one by one.

For the next hour, she unobtrusively observed, trying to understand the process. Assembling pieces together, the layers of abstraction, she once more considered how there was some resemblance to spell creation. It’s unfortunate she’s not a unicorn.

“It’ll take a few hours to download the second season,” Meg said, plugging the tablet into the computer and starting the transfer. “It should be done by the time we get back.”

“It’s been surprisingly nostalgic,” Twilight said. “I mean, it’s only been a few years, but it seems like I’ve already forgotten some of it.”

Meg put her saddlebags around her neck and put her phone inside it. “It’s only to be expected. You’ve been a very busy mare since moving to Ponyville.”

“You’re telling me,” she chuckled, but then got serious. “Nonetheless, the deviations, when they occurred, were irritating. Most of them seemed so arbitrary, so minor, so pointless.”

“Perhaps it’s a clue to how it’s happening? I dunno. I’m ready to go.”


Twilight grabbed Meg with her magic and invoked the return spell. They found themselves in a field, not far from a cottage that had a thatched roof that was still very much green and alive.

I’m back! It was a shame Steve was too busy with work to come along, but he insisted she go anyway. She could only be there a few hours anyway. She was babysitting Susie that Saturday afternoon.

Meg looked down and saw hooves. Above her left hoof was the phone holder Rarity had made for her. She raised her wings, retrieved her phone—noticing her cutie mark was back—and pushed it onto the holder, locking it in place. She checked to see if she still had a signal, and she did.

“I was afraid that whatever Steve did would be undone when I left the magical field back home,” she explained to Twilight, who had been patiently waiting.

“It probably was,” she said, thoughtfully, “but it got redone when you re-entered the magical field. Magic tends to have a memory effect.”

Meg started flapping and began hovering. I’m a creature of the air again, she thought, a big smile plastered on her face. It was like she hadn’t spent the last week as a human, just as she’d hope.

“You are happy being a pegasus, aren’t you?”

Her eyes looked at nothing for a few seconds. “Yeah, I am… in moderation anyway,” she concluded.

Twilight joined her in the air. “This way,” she said as she flew off to the cottage. “Hopefully, your love of flying is infectious,” she half-muttered.

They arrived at the front door and set down. Twilight knocked on the door. “Fluttershy! It’s Twilight!”

Timid clopping sounds gradually approached the door. It hesitantly opened, revealing a butter yellow pegasus with a pink mane. “Hi…” she began, until she noticed the orchid pegasus off to the side. “Meg?” she finished, trying to duck behind her mane.

“Hi, Fluttershy,” Meg tried to say as casually as possible.

“Don’t you remember?” Twilight asked.

Her ears flattened back. “I’m sorry. I remembered, but, I didn’t expect it to be this early.”

“That’s okay,” she assured her. “Can you keep her company for a few hours?”

“Oh, sure, I can do that,” she said unconvincingly.

“Then I’ll be on my way.” Not giving Fluttershy a chance to object, Twilight took wing and flew away, rapidly.

Meg wondered if she was being used. Well, it was for a worthy cause. At least she trusts me enough to leave me alone with her.

Fluttershy’s eyes nervously shifted, her lips pulling back into an awkward grin. The silence grew.

Fluttershy was living up to her reputation. What to do about it? It wasn’t as if she had a baby dragon for her to gush over. She didn’t have any pet at all to talk about. I guess I don’t have many alternatives. Hopefully, he doesn’t live up to his reputation.

Meg tentatively approached the door, stopping when Fluttershy threatened to pull back. She can’t possibly be happy being like this. Not that she had a solution. Sure, there were drugs to treat social anxiety, but who knows what effect they would have on a pony?

There was only one card for her to play, so she played it. “Could you introduce me to Angel?” He’s just a rabbit. Surely the cartoon greatly exaggerated his intelligence—and malevolence.

Fluttershy immediately brightened up. “Yes, of course, I know you’ll like him! He really is friendly when you get to know him.” She turned around and began searching for the rabbit. “Angel bunny! Where are you! There’s somepony who wants to meet you!”

The doorway no longer blocked, Meg entered the cottage and closed the door behind her. The interior was pretty much as she expected. Quite a few bird houses, some hanging from the ceiling; no easy way to reach them to change their food or water—unless you’re a pegasus. A large metal bird cage in a corner rested on a six foot stand, with a narrow wooden stairway providing a path to the floor. What’s up with that?

That cage was empty, but at least some of the bird houses were occupied, their residents poking their heads out to examine her. There were holes in the walls, for rodents she guessed, and some were high enough to require stairs of their own. Various small mammals, aquatic birds, and reptiles lounged around on the floor and furniture. Probably not many ponies making social calls. There was even a platypus snoozing in the corner, with a bandaged limb. Those are also in Equestria?

A thumping sound in front of her made her look down. It was Angel, pounding the floor with his hind foot and folding his arms in irritation.

Not promising. “Hi, Angel…” The use of his name by a total stranger did nothing to mollify him. He stopped thumping, which somehow made him look more menacing.

This is absurd. He looked like an ordinary rabbit, no different from rabbits back home. Sure, he was a lot larger—no, she was a lot smaller. So how could he act so intelligent? Magic? And folding his front limbs? Can a rabbit actually do that? He wasn’t doing too badly on facial expressions either. That look of contempt was coming through loud and clear.

“There you are!” Fluttershy came in from the kitchen, saving her from certain… what, exactly, could he do to me? A carrot was lodged in her mane. On sight of it, Angel forgot all about the intruder and hopped eagerly over to his caretaker. “Did you give Meg a warm welcome?” she asked in cooing tones.

Angel nodded enthusiastically.

“Then here’s your reward,” said Fluttershy, as she grabbed the carrot, pulled it out of her mane, and hoofed it over to the rabbit. Angel yanked it out of her grasp and started munching.

Meg rolled her eyes. Is she really this blind? It’s one thing for it to be a running gag in a cartoon, but this was real life. She considered raising the subject, but decided not to; at best, she would get nowhere. It was impossible to believe that the others, especially Rainbow Dash, hadn’t already tried.

Whatever. She came to take pictures, so pictures she shall take. That rabbit almost looked cute munching on the carrot. She hovered, freeing her front limbs, rotated the phone, put it into camera mode, and took a picture.

The fake shutter release sound caught Angel’s attention, but after glaring at her for a second, he returned to his carrot. Meg took that as permission to continue, but she first turned off the sound effect, just to be on the safe side.

Meg spent the next two hours taking pictures and helping Fluttershy with the animals under her care, both inside and outside of her cottage. She even accompanied her a little ways into the Everfree; the timid pegasus needed to checked up on that bear. It was surreal how brave she could be at times, even if she insisted there was no real danger that close to the cottage. They did have to skirt a new patch of poison joke, however, of which Meg dutifully took a picture.

Eventually, the alarm clock went off on her phone; it was time to head on back. She made her goodbyes and departed, pausing long enough to take an aerial photo of the cottage. As she flew back to the castle and Twilight, she thought about how that was time well spent. Fluttershy had even begun to come out of her shell around her. Angel… had become a bit more tolerant of her.

The castle loomed in front of her. The door to the small balcony just above the main entrance was open, so she adjusted her course and headed towards it. Slowing down, she passed through the door and landed in the corridor. From there she walked over to Twilight’s library and residence. Twilight was there reading a book, waiting for her.

A minute later, she was home.

Meg had spent the last hour showing Twilight how to use the magical field simulator she’d been working on, while they both finished off some leftover cheese pizza for lunch. There was much left to be done, but it was working well enough to elicit feedback, which Twilight provided in abundance.

The doorbell rang. Meg walked over to the front door, closing the door to the office behind her. Twilight could continue playing around with the simulator while she kept Susie occupied in the living room.

She looked through the peephole, and seeing her brother and sister-in-law—and not the FBI—she opened the door. A little girl did not run inside. There was no girl at all. “Where’s Susie?”

“We need to talk,” droned her brother, Matt. His wife, Lori, didn’t look too pleased either.

What’s going on? Meg stepped aside and let them in. Without a word, they went straight to the living room and sat on the sofa. Meg nervously followed and sat on the reclining chair.

Matt leaned forward. “Would you care to explain why Susie is absolutely convinced she saw ponies when she was last here, that she actually touched Rainbow Dash?”

14. Epiphanies

Susie's parents were looking at her, expecting an answer. Meg didn’t have one.

Susie told them? She was supposed to keep it a secret. I expected a little girl to keep something like that a secret. It was so obvious in hindsight, but it wasn’t as if she had chosen to take her into confidence.

She could only hope a plausible lie will take care of it. “I-I let her play with a new Rainbow Dash doll.” Yeah, that was real convincing.

“Does this doll talk and fly?” Matt sharply asked, not buying it.

“Of course not,” Meg flatly replied.

“So… what did you do to convince Susie she touched a living, breathing, flesh and blood, talking and flying Rainbow Dash?” he asked, losing his patience.

At least she could answer this one truthfully. “I didn’t do anything.”

Motion in her peripheral vision caught her attention and she briefly turned her head. Twilight was standing in the hallway, out of view of everyone but herself. Just stay there, she thought, wishing telepathy was an alicorn power.

“Fine, let me rephrase that,” he said condescendingly. “How was she convinced she touched a living, breathing, flesh and blood, talking and flying Rainbow Dash?”

Perhaps she could blame it on an overactive imagination? No, that wasn’t going to work. They must have tried hard to get her to admit it didn’t really happen. Her heart sank as she realized there were no good options.

“What do you expect me to say?” she said in resignation. “That Rainbow Dash was really here?”

Her brother looked at her like he didn’t recognize her. “I expect you to tell us how she came to believe this,” he simply said.

Meg rubbed her forehead, trying to ease the headache that had pounded into her awareness, and used that as a cover to surreptitiously look at Twilight. The alicorn nodded her head. I guess I have permission to… what? Whatever it was, it had to be a last resort. Each additional person who knew meant more opportunities for other people to find out.

Out of desperation, she scraped the bottom of the barrel. “Are you suggesting I somehow brainwashed her? Gave her hallucinogenic drugs?”

“If you would simply answer the question, I wouldn’t need to suggest anything.”

Meg snuck another look at Twilight, who repeated the head nod. It was either that, or tell her brother to leave—and kiss goodbye any relationships she had with the rest of her family.

She tried to break it gently. “Did you ever consider the possibility she’s telling you the truth?”

“This isn’t a joke,” he icily replied.

“I’m not joking.”

Her brother blinked, then stood up. “You’ve lost it, haven’t you? It’s bad enough you’re infatuated with a cartoon meant for little girls, but… you think it’s real?”

There was no going back. It was strangely calming, having made the decision. “Yes, Equestria’s real. I’ve been there.”

“You’ve…” He spun around in stunned disbelief. “Then there’s no reason you can’t take us there,” he said mockingly, holding his arms out.

Meg looked at Twilight once more, and got another head nod in return. “Nope, no reason at all,” she said, standing up. “We’ll be there in a few seconds.”

Lori stood up and joined her husband. “You really have gone mad.”

Neither of them had noticed the pony who had entered the room. “She seems perfectly sane to me,” Twilight casually declared.

Neither of them had said a word, dumbfounded, gawking in utter disbelief at Twilight, as the alicorn prepared to bring them all across. This is priceless! thought Meg, as a part of herself felt vindicated. It wasn’t just for little girls, and the proof was smiling at him. But the shock he was experiencing made another part feel ashamed for feeling that way.

“You may experience some disorientation,” Twilight warned them as she invoked the return spell.

Once all four of them were in Twilight’s private library, Meg quickly verified she was a pegasus once more. You have one more shock coming, she joylessly thought. They had been too fixated on Twilight to have noticed her transformation. She decided to hover a few feet off the ground; maybe it was the pegasus fight or flight instinct, but it simply felt right.

“Welcome to my home,” Twilight said as she sweepingly waved a hoof.

Matt and Lori, mouths agape, silently looked around at the shelves of books lining the walls. Eventually they laid eyes on Meg, without recognition, treating her as an anonymous background pony. After convincing themselves that a pegasus really was doing the physically impossible act of hovering, they turned back to Twilight, who had been patiently observing them.

Yes, Twilight, this is how many people would react to existence of ponies.

“Where’s Meg? Did you leave her behind?” asked Matt, trying hard to make sense of the situation.

The transformation did not cure her pounding headache, her ears sagging in response. Let’s get it over with. Dreading their reaction, she said, weakly, “I’m hovering right here.”

“Hovering?” he asked, bewildered, as he abruptly turned to the source of his sister’s voice. He stared hard at the hovering pegasus, refusing to put two and two together.

Meg sighed. “I like being airborne; it’s a pegasus thing.”

He gaped at her, wide eyed and speechless. Lori wasn’t much better.

“Yes, it’s really me.”

Lori broke the silence. “You’re a pegasus,” she said, incredulously.

“I know.”

Matt found his voice, declaring, “That’s not possible.”

Says the guy standing next to the alicorn who’s the Element of Magic. As much as she might like to rub it in any other time, her heart was no longer in it. Besides, they were freaked out enough as it was. “I wanted to experience being a pony in Equestria, and Twilight was willing to make it happen. Remember the breezies episode?”

“That’s just a…” Matt looked at Twilight, who innocently smiled back.

He looked back at the pegasus. “Prove you’re Meg. What happened before we came here?”

Meg told him, from the moment they arrived at her home till the moment they arrived here in Equestria, his jaw slowly dropping the whole time.

“Satisfied?” Can we please get past this?

Matt slowly walked around her at a safe distance, looking at her like some three-eyed mutant goat from a lab experiment gone wrong. Meg turn her head to follow, and when he started to go behind her, she rotated her body in midair to face him. “Say something,” she pleaded.

Her brother remained speechless for a few more seconds. “You agreed to this?” he finally said, as he held his hands out towards her. “You asked for this?!” he shouted in disbelief, forcing her ears to flatten.

“And why not?” she retorted defiantly. “It’s not as if it’s permanent. I’ve already gone back and forth several times.”

You got hooves!” he screamed, wildly gesturing with his very human hands to emphasize the point.

She flew over to glare right in his face. “I can fly! I can walk on clouds. I saw Rainbow Dash do a sonic rainboom. I watched Applejack buck apple trees. Twilight zapped me with the Elements of Harmony. I know the joy of getting my cutie mark. I’ve eaten daffodils, and liked it. I’ve met Discord. I’ve experienced Pinkie Pie.” She grabbed his shirt with her hooves. “And these hooves aren’t as useless as you think,” she finally said, after which she released him.

“How… how can hooves do that?” he stammered.

“It helps being a magical creature.” Meg contemplated his stunned silence. “Oh, come on! You’ve watched the cartoon with your daughter. Look around you! It’s real!

He looked around again, as if seeing it for the first time, until his eyes locked onto the alicorn in the room. “You’re really Twilight Sparkle.”

“I am,” she confirmed, putting on her friendliest smile. “I am also the Element of Magic, the Princess of Friendship, and former personal student of Princess Celestia.”

He stared at her for a few seconds, wetting his dry lips. “H-how is this possible?”

“Nopony knows,” Twilight admitted. “Until a few weeks ago, we had no idea your realm—or that cartoon—existed.”

Matt barked a laugh. “Heh, ‘nopony’… you actually talk like that.”

Twilight was considering how to reply to that when Lori spoke next. “So Susie really did meet those ponies,” she said, hesitantly.

Finally! We’re getting somewhere. Meg eagerly took the opportunity to explain what happened. “That wasn’t supposed to happen, I can assure you. The Crusaders somehow crossed over without warning or permission—big surprise, I know—and Rainbow Dash came by to bring them back.”

“And watch The Wizard of Oz…” she added, unsure.

“Uh, yes,” Meg sheepishly confirmed. “Long story.”

Lori looked around, uncertain of what was supposed to happen next. “So… what now?” she asked. “Are we free to go home?”

“I can take you back right now,” Twilight offered.

That apparently wasn’t quite the answer she was looking for. “Well, I mean, we’re here, so… could we look around a bit? We’re in Ponyville, right?”

Twilight’s smile faded. “I can’t permit you to leave my castle. Meg can give you a full explanation later, but the short version is that the existence of humans is a secret for now.”

“Castle? This isn’t the Golden Oak Library?”

“Meg can explain that, too.”

Lori turn to Meg, contemplating her current equine form. “You’re allowed in Ponyville, aren’t you?” she asked flatly.

“Yep,” she confirmed. “Steve’s even been to Canterlot.”

“Does it really cling to the side of a mountain?” Matt asked, having calmed down enough to re-enter the conversation.

“Why don’t you see for yourself?” Twilight suggested. “Meg, why don’t you show them the room you stayed in?”

Right. It had an excellent view of Canterlot. Meg was feeling better already; the worst was behind her. “It’s just down the hall; follow me.”

Meg drifted towards the closed door, then paused, waiting for Matt and Lori to start following her. “Coming?” she asked them. After a moment’s hesitation, they did so.

She opened the door and led them down the hall to the back of the castle. Fortunately, the architecture was designed for full grown alicorns, so the ceiling was more than high enough for adult humans. Not that a human couldn’t stand in most pony buildings, but the head clearance would be minimal.

The door to the guest room was closed. Meg lowered herself enough to reach the door handle. Using her hoof, she depressed the latch and pushed the door open, then drifted to the side, pointing the way in with a hoof.

Matt and Lori entered the dark room, lit only by light spilling in from the hall. The first thing they noticed was a softly glowing crystalline cylinder on an end table. “Is that a night light?”

Meg hovered in behind them. “Uh, not exactly.” She hastily flew over to it and closed the lid. Who knows what effect it would have on humans? Probably nothing, or the same effect it had on ponies, but better safe than sorry. They gave her a questioning look, but she did not elaborate.

She then flew over to the north-facing window and pulled open the curtains, flooding the room with sunlight. Matt and Lori walked to the window and looked out, marveling at the view of distant Canterlot.

“The cartoon doesn’t do it justice, does it?” whispered Lori.

“Why are those clouds in a line—are they moving?” Matt asked.

Meg looked up through the window herself, to see what her brother was talking about. There was, indeed, a convoy of well separated clouds, moving far too fast to be natural. “There’s probably rain scheduled for tonight, so the weather pegasi are bringing in clouds from the weather factory in Cloudsdale.”

“Weather pegasi…” he muttered. While those pegasi were too high to be made out, every now and then a pegasus flew by the castle. None left a rainbow contrail.

“It’s how they earn a living,” Meg said, turning way from the window. The room had been restored to its original condition, ready for another guest. She wondered if there was a cleaning staff, or there was some spell that did the trick.

“So…” her brother began, now standing next to her, “you stayed here overnight?” He was looking at the four-poster bed, its frame, posts, and tester seemingly carved from a single, giant crystal, like the room itself, resting on the plush, deep lavender carpet. All the furniture looked like it was carved from that same crystal.

“Yep. It was strongly encouraged. A good night’s sleep as ponies was supposed to help us connect with our new magic, and it definitely did.”

Lori came from the bathroom, a somewhat dazed look on her face. “They never did show a toilet in the cartoon, apart from that one outhouse in Appleloosa.”

“Well, now you know ponies do have flush toilets,” Meg giggled.

“Yep, a toilet designed for quadrupeds. Now I’ve seen everything.”

Meg led them down the hall to the other end of the castle, so they can see Ponyville. At the far end was a small balcony above the castle’s main entrance, through which she had returned from Fluttershy’s cottage earlier that day. The door to it was still open, but the balcony wasn’t an option; they’d be too visible. She was about to check the last door on the right—that room should have a window, if she remembered correctly—when something outside caught her eye.

She quickly flew to the balcony outside. How ironic, she grumbled to herself. Off in the distance, and heading straight for the castle, was a gray pegasus with a blonde mane.

“Into the library, now,” she ordered them, as she rushed past them to warn Twilight.

“Twilight, we have a problem: Derpy’s coming here.”

The alicorn looked up from the book she was reading and blinked, as Matt and Lori entered. “She’s rather early today,” she said to herself. “You two, go upstairs and stay out of sight. Meg, your choice; you know what topics are off limits.”

“Did you just say Derpy’s coming?” asked Lori as they made their way to the stairs.

Meg remained where she was, setting down on the floor near Twilight. “Yes, now go!”

They ran up the stairs and found themselves a vantage point from which they could observe without being noticed. Seconds later, the mailmare leisurely flew into the library, came to a halt in front of Twilight, gave a quick bow while still hovering, and landed, all the while ignoring the other pegasus in the room. “I have another letter from Princess Cadance,” she informed the alicorn.

Meg watched as the mailmare reached back under a wing into her mailbag. Their eyes briefly connected, and Derpy gave quick smile in response. With her muzzle, she pulled out an envelope and presented it to the Princess.

The envelope was soon encased in a lavender glow and levitated over to Twilight. “Thanks, Derpy.”

Derpy bowed again and leisurely flew out of the library, presumably back to Ponyville, giving Meg another warm smile as she went past her. Meg gave her an awkward smile in return.

Twilight looked curiously at Meg, as Matt and Lori came back down the stairs. “Why didn’t you say something?” the alicorn asked.

Meg blinked. “I… had no idea what to say… especially after what Pinkie told me.”

Twilight mouthed a silent “ah,” then proceeded to extract the contents of the envelope. Soon, several pages were levitating, spread out in front of her, as the two humans gawked at their first exposure to telekinesis.

Even if she didn’t talk to her, Meg was still glad she got to see Derpy up close, to look into those wall eyes, and to hear her voice—speaking of which, the show got wrong, both versions. Nor did she destroy anything; there was nothing clumsy about her flight.

Did Derpy actually wreck the Town Hall? Rainbow Dash had been there—if it had happened at all—but did she dare ask her about that? Yet Dash did call her a featherbrain, the day they all first crossed paths.

Twilight continued scanning the pages. “More anomaly data?” asked Meg.

“Yep,” she said. “Come see me when you’re ready to go back.” With a popping sound she vanished, and from upstairs came another popping sound.

They all stared at where Twilight was, with varying levels of astonishment. “She can really do that,” Matt gulped.

“Yep,” Meg said nonchalantly. She started walking to the door. “Come on, let’s see Ponyville.”

They fell behind her as she made her way to that room adjacent to the balcony. The door was unlocked, and she opened it. The room was bare; not even curtains covered the window. That made it all the more obvious how the “glass” was simply a thin and transparent section of the wall; it was all a single crystal. It reminded her of how this castle came into being.

Without hesitation, Meg brought them to the window; having seen it from the outside, she knew it wasn’t that easy to see inside, not during the day at least. Spread out before them was the town. Being near the northeast part of Ponyville, there wasn’t all that much visible recognizable from the show, apart from the backside of the Town Hall off to the side; regardless, in the distance numerous ponies could be seen in the parks lining the river. The sky over the far end of town was full of dark clouds, and as they watched a new cloud was put into position, merging into the others already there.

“Do you think Rainbow Dash is up there?” asked Lori.

Meg scanned the sky, but could not see any evidence of the prismatic pony. “I don’t see her… but I doubt she’s personally involved with every weather task.”

Out of the blue, Lori asked, “Why were you zapped with the Elements of Harmony? Did it have something to do with meeting Discord?”

“Huh?” Meg said as she faced her. “No! Nothing like that. Discord’s quite reformed. The Elements were used to make me magical. No point in being a pegasus if I didn’t have flying magic.”

“Why a pegasus, specifically?”

Meg sat down on her haunches. “I didn’t have a choice in the matter. I guess it’s how human DNA maps to pony DNA, or something. Steve became a unicorn.”

“Was it difficult… being changed?” she asked self-consciously.

Meg was beginning to wonder if she wanted to try it herself. She often suspected Lori was a closet pegasister. “Not really. It takes less than a minute, and you don’t even notice it happening—literally. Thanks to an early Christmas present from Discord—he was dressed as Santa, don’t ask—we transform as we cross over. The hardest part is getting in touch with your new magic. That takes a day or two.”

“What’s this about an anomaly?” Matt asked, injecting himself into the conversation. “Is it something dangerous?”

Meg grimaced. “I’m not at liberty to talk about it,” she quietly said, quickly looking around. “I had to Pinkie Promise not to discuss it with other humans—in front of Pinkie Pie herself. I might have come close to breaking it just now, come to think of it, but since she’s not here giving me the evil eye I’m probably okay.”

“How would she know if she’s not here?”

An exaggerated gasp made all three turn their heads. Pinkie Pie was standing just a few feet away, wide-eyed and mouth agape.

Oh, no… she thought as her heart leaped into her throat. “I’m sorry, Pinkie,” she pleaded, “I’ll be more careful.”

Pinkie galloped over to Meg and engulfed her in a bone crushing hug, a huge smile plastered on her face. “You’re a pegasus again!”

“Pinkie!” Meg wheezed, struggling to inhale. “Not so hard!” Earth pony strength was nothing to joke about—and this wasn’t even Applejack. Pinkie loosened her grip, and as Meg gasped for air she could smell the bubblegum scent of the pink pony’s mane.

One her need for oxygen was satisfied, she asked, bewildered, “You’re not mad at me?”

Pinkie released Meg and sat down on her haunches next to her, and raised a hoof to her chin, her eyes looking up thoughtfully at the ceiling. As she began tapping her chin, she said, “Well, technically you were discussing it with Twilight and not these humans. They did happen to overhear, but Twilight didn’t specifically prohibit that in the wording, so you didn’t actually break the promise.”

Huh? That only raised as many questions as it answered. “If I didn’t break the promise, then how would you know all that and why are you here?”

“Twilight just told me!” Pinkie looked thoughtful again. “She was worried for some reason.”

She stood up and started bouncing. “Anyhoo, my Pinkie Sense told me there are new ponies in town and you know what that means! A welcome-to-Ponyville party!!”

She looked at Matt and Lori, who stared back, but decided they weren’t ponies. “Are there any new ponies playing hide-and-seek around here?” she asked as she determinedly searched the bare room. “They must be real good, ’cause there ain’t anyplace for them to hide.”

“Pinkie, this is my brother Matt and his wife Lori.” She prepared herself for the inevitable Pinkie reaction. “This is their first visit to Equestria.”

Pinkie stopped bouncing, confused. “Huh. First time I got that feeling for a not-a-pony.” She brightened up. “Must be because they’re relatives of a pony! This calls for a welcome-to-Equestria party!!”

She leaped high enough to be eye-level with the humans, and remained suspended in the air, limbs shaking with excitement, long enough for her to shout, “Hi! I’m Pinkie Pie!” Matt and Lori were suitably flummoxed by her ambivalence for physics.

Meg knew better than to try and talk Pinkie Pie out of a party. “I think that’s a great idea. How about a week from today at Sweet Apple Acres? It will have to be by invitation only, and Twilight decides who gets an invitation, okay?” Who knows? Maybe the guests of honor will even attend.

“Oh, right… because they’re humans.” Pinkie nodded her head in understanding. “I sure hope Applejack gets an invitation—” she switched to a confidential whisper “—or it will get awkward.”

But then Pinkie came up with a solution. “Or… we can turn them into ponies, just like we did for you!”

Meg stole a quick look at her brother’s face and saw what she feared. “Uh, no, Pinkie, that isn’t likely to happen.”

Pinkie also looked over at her brother and frowned. “I see.” But the party pony instantly cheered up and started bouncing her way to the door. “My first party for humans! I’ll get right on it!”

Meg slouched, letting her wings sag onto the floor. She looked up at her brother, and said, “So… will I have to tell her the party’s off?” He grimaced in response, remaining silent.

Lori got down on her knees in front of Meg. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” she said, as she stood up, folding her wings properly against her barrel. “It’s just that watching Pinkie in a cartoon does not prepare you for the real thing.”

“I’m beginning to get the picture.”

“They trust her with knowledge about humans?” asked Matt.

“There’s a throne downstairs with her cutie mark on it, you know. Besides, Pinkie Pie is the Element of Laughter. All Elements of Harmony were needed to make me magical. Not that they use those gems anymore.” She gave him a hard look. “You haven’t answer my question.”

He looked at his wife, who stared back at him. “I’ll sleep on it,” he said begrudgingly.

If only I could have a certain Princess help you with that, Meg thought, as she started walking out of the room. “Let’s go back home.”

“Could we see the throne room first?” asked Lori.

She paused for a moment, looking back. “Sure, follow me.” Meg was happy for any interest they showed.

The walk down to the throne room on the ground floor was uneventful. Meg would fly ahead to make sure there weren’t any ponies about, but that wasn’t a problem. Unlike the palace in Canterlot, this castle had yet to become a hub of activity. It was still quite new, after all; but even so, whatever curiosity the locals possessed had already been satisfied.

The doors to the throne room were already open, through which the circle of thrones were plainly visible. As they walked inside, it became evident that one of them was occupied by a certain colorful pegasus. She was just sitting there, eyes not even open, basking in her own awesomeness.

“Rainbow Dash? What are you doing here?” asked Meg.

“Being awesome,” she declared, not moving or opening her eyes. “I thought you weren’t crossing over today.”

Meg walked over to the thrones. “Slight change of plans. I’d like you to meet my brother and his wife.” She waved them to come over.

Rainbow Dash finally opened her eyes. She went airborne and zoomed over, hovering in front of them. “Susie’s parents, right?”

“Right,” said Matt. “You’ve met her, from what I’ve heard.”

“Yeah… that wasn’t exactly planned,” she sheepishly said, running a hoof through her rainbow mane. “Is that why you’re here?”

“I’m taking them home now. I’ll come back and explain everything. Are you up for a flying session?”

“Sure!” she replied, happy for an excuse to avoid a potentially awkward conversation. “We can work on your speed. I’ll be waiting here.” She flew back to her throne and resumed her previous activity.

“Uh… aren’t you getting a little too attached to that throne?”

“You’re starting to sound like Twilight.”

“Sorry,” she said, rolling her eyes. Then she remembered what she had seen that morning with Fluttershy and Angel. “Uh, I was with Fluttershy this morning, and…”

Dash opened her eyes again, curious where this was going.

“You do know she can’t see Angel’s true nature, right?”

Dash sighed. “Yeah, we all know. We’ve tried, believe me. He’ll get used to you and learn to tolerate you, so don’t worry about that.”

“I thought as much…” Meg said as she turned around and started walking. “See you in a bit.”

A few minutes later they were back in Meg’s apartment. Her brother took notice of her restored humanity.

“Yes, I was a pegasus,” Meg said. “We encountered Rainbow Dash in the throne room, where I brought up Fluttershy and Angel. Should I go on?”

Matt shook his head wearily. “No, that isn’t necessary.”

“Dash is still doing that, huh?” Twilight commented, then frowned. “And, yeah, Fluttershy just won’t hear it… not that he’s really that bad… once he gets to know you.”

Meg didn’t feel like continuing this topic. “I’ll get my saddlebags,” Meg said, as she left the room.

She went to the bedroom, got her saddlebags, put them around her neck, and returned to the office. She then unplugged her phone from the changer, and was about to put it in a saddlebag, when an idea came to her. Maybe they couldn’t go into Ponyville, but they still could see pictures of it.

She brought up the photo album and presented it to Matt and Lori. “Sweet Apple Acres?” her brother asked.

“My very first photo in Equestria.”

“You can work it with hooves?” he asked incredulously.

“It’s… a learning experience,” she admitted. “Rarity made me a holder for the phone that makes it much easier to use.”

“Our technology works there,” Lori observed with wonderment. “Too bad we can’t reach you there.”

Meg smiled. “Yes, you can. I have a signal, thanks to an enchanted antenna. It’s amazing what magic can do.”

“It’s equally amazing what technology can do,” added Twilight.

They went through the photos. Meg had been able to take photos of the familiar landmarks, like Sugarcube Corner, Quills and Sofas, Carousel Boutique, and the Town Hall. With Rarity as her guide, she also got photos of other picturesque but unknown locations. It ended with the photos she took that morning at Fluttershy’s place.

“There are platypuses in Equestria,” Matt droned.

“Who knew?” replied Meg, as she put the phone into a saddlebag.

Lori focused on the saddlebag. “That’s… your cutie mark, isn’t it?”

Meg held up a bag, presenting for a better view the two overlapping circles with a star in the shared area. “It is,” she said pensively, “and, no, I don’t have it as a human,” she preemptively added.

“Wow,” Lori replied with awe, “an actual, for real cutie mark, not some brony wish-fulfillment.” She looked up, her eyes meeting Meg’s. “What does it mean?”

“I don’t know,” she replied, frowning. “Steve’s clearly represents his research, but mine… I’m guessing my destiny?” She shrugged. “Only time will tell.”

“And it shall,” Twilight said sympathetically. “I had no clue what was in store for me when I got my cutie mark.”

“The whole destiny thing is real, too?” Matt asked rhetorically.

“It is for us,” the alicorn replied politely.

“And now for you,” he droned, addressing his sister.

She had hoped he’d be over this by now. “What if I always had this destiny?” she retorted. “Maybe that’s why I crossed paths with the ponies in the first place.”

“It would help explain the massive coincidences that led to the crossing of our paths,” Twilight thoughtfully observed. Matt just snorted and shook his head.

Meg covered her eyes with her hand and shook her head. It didn’t matter it was all real; he still wouldn’t or couldn’t understand. Why can’t he just accept my desire to be a part of both worlds… both worlds… two circles… and where they overlap…

The shock of the epiphany nearly caused Meg to lose her balance and fall, prompting the others to look at her. “I-I’m okay,” she assured everyone. “I know what my cutie mark means, w-what my destiny is.”

Twilight responded with her full attention. “And?”

Meg was suddenly afraid to say it, as if she had the option of renouncing this destiny by simply refusing to utter it. All eyes were upon her, including the derisive eyes of her brother. Some support would be nice right about now, and if she couldn’t expect it from her brother, at least she knew from where she could get it.

She got down on her knees in front of the alicorn. “The two circles are our two worlds, and where they overlap is the star; that’s me. I’m a bridge between our worlds.”

Twilight’s eyes widened as understanding sank in. “I’m so happy for you!” she said, embracing Meg in a hug. “You have no idea how important this is. I’ll schedule a meeting with Celestia ASAP!”

Meg contemplated the lavender pony face a few inches in front of her. “I don’t think I’ve felt more like a pony than I do right now, as a human. How ironic.”

Twilight beamed at the human. “You did just experience the most important event in a pony’s life!” The alicorn released her, and with fresh determination said, “We need to wrap up here and head on back. I have a letter to write and a baby dragon to find!”

The next few minutes passed in a daze for Meg. She sent Matt and Lori on their way, imploring them to let Susie attend a Pinkie Pie party next weekend. She sent a message to Steve, then went back with Twilight. She found Rainbow Dash still being awesome on her throne, and soon she was in the skies high above Ponyville, mastering her pegasus magic with renewed resolve.

15. Tea Time

The view through the panoramic windows was breathtaking. Far below and in the distance, Meg could see Ponyville and Twilight’s castle, and beyond that Sweet Apple Acres. She even thought she could barely make out Rainbow Dash’s cloud home. Possibly by design, the view was not spoiled by the inclusion of the Everfree Forest; not that it couldn’t be seen, but to see it you had to stand far to the right and close to the glass.

The journey to Celestia’s private tea room was like a fairy tale come true. It began with a trip by royal chariot, pulled by four pegasi of the Royal Guard. After touching down on the plaza in front of the palace, they entered and walked through the high-arched, marble hallway covered in tapestries highlighting Equestrian history. At the end of the hall were a pair of massive doors, emblazoned with the Solar and Lunar Crests, obviously leading to the throne room, now closed for the weekend.

Everypony they encountered gave the regalia-adorned Twilight—and by extension, herself as her guest—the royal treatment, literally, getting out of their way, if necessary, and offering a quick bow as they passed by. It ended with a flight up a spacious stairwell, to a floor near the top of the building, and down a corridor to a modestly sized room.

The walls were covered in maple wood with cherry wood accents, the floor covered in cherry wood exclusively. The light wood reflected the indirect, early afternoon sunlight pouring in through the expansive windows, lighting up the room, giving it an airy feel. In the middle was a modest mahogany table, maybe big enough for a half-dozen ponies to fit around it, surround by padded, deep red cushions on the floor. A side door led to a kitchenette. Exquisite craftsmareship was evident everywhere, as was a patina of age; not that anything looked old or worn out, but somehow one could tell this room had not been remodeled in centuries.

Behind her, Princess Twilight Sparkle—that title was unavoidable in this place—was getting the tea started. Years of studying under Celestia had taught her the proper way to brew tea; she contentedly used her magic to heat the kettle, part of a silver tea service set that also exhibited craftsmareship and the patina of enduring service.

It would not be long before Princess Celestia arrived.

Meg decided it wouldn’t be a good idea for the Ruler of Equestria’s first look at her to be of her haunches, so she turned around and took a seat in front of her laptop computer. It didn’t do much to calm her nerves. It wasn’t about Celestia herself; she knew better than that, she even knew of her husband’s encounter with the princess in the archives. It was the subject of this meeting, informal as it may be.

To take her mind off that, she double-checked the presentation she and Twilight would be giving on the magical field simulator they’d been working on. They spent last night and this morning coming up with something to show—not that they had made a breakthrough or anything. It was simply a concrete demonstration of what human technology could do.

As tempting as it was, she abstained from surfing the web, in case Twilight caught a glimpse. Meg didn’t want her wondering how to do the same thing on the tablet she was loaned, or why it didn’t work. Steve had only got around to enchanting the laptop’s antenna last night, after they had returned from a celebratory dinner Twilight gave them at one of Ponyville’s finer restaurants.

It was frustrating, though possible, to work the keyboard and trackpad with hooves. At least it took her mind off her cutie mark.

Twilight noticed her unease, if not the reason for it, and gave her a warm smile. “Relax, there’s nothing to be worried about,” she assured her.

Meg looked up from the screen. “No, it’s not that—” She inspected a hoof, sighing. “I don’t suppose there’s a spell to make fingers sprout from a hoof, is there?” Lyra could do that in Anthropology, so perhaps it was possible.

Twilight thought about it for a few seconds, as the sound of clopping hooves came down the corridor outside. It wasn’t clear if she was trying to identify such a spell, or to come up with a polite way to avoid doing so. “No, not that I know of, sorry.”

Figures. She could probably live with using telekinesis; but even if possible, that would mean giving up her wings. Sigh… Of course, some ponies didn’t have to choose. Meg didn’t think the odds were good that Celestia would grant a request to be made an alicorn just so she could type while flying.

The hoof clops continued getting closer. It wasn’t long before Princess Celestia entered the room. “My dear Twilight,” she said with a warm smile, as she gave her former student a quick nuzzle, as a mother would to her foal. “I see you have gotten the tea started.”

Twilight gave her a nod and a smile in confirmation. Little imagination was needed to see a young filly trying to please her mentor. It was Meg’s most intimate glimpse so far into the young alicorn’s life, bringing to mind some of the first words Twilight had ever spoken to her: we do not live our lives for your entertainment. Here was the proof. Was she destined to become a part of them? Up until now, she had felt like an outsider, lucky to have acquired a backstage pass, but it was only a matter of time until that pass expired.

Celestia turned her attention to Meg, maintaining her warm smile. “And you must be Meg. I have heard so much about you.”

Meg had stood up when the Princess had entered the room, and she now started to bow.

“No need for that here,” Celestia said serenely, preempting the bow. “This is an informal affair.”

Presumably, she didn’t want to be referred to as “Your Highness” either. Celestia walked around the table to the side next to the window, as Meg said, “It’s an honor to meet you.”

The diarch took her seat, her long, flowing mane backlit by the light of her Sun. As with Rainbow Dash, and unlike in the cartoon, the pastel colors of her mane and tail smoothly blended from one to another, as opposed to being a handful of disjoint bands of color. From the covers of her books, she knew the same was true of Daring Do’s monochromatic mane. The limitations of low budget animation…

“Have you enjoyed your time in Equestria?” Celestia casually said, her face impossible to read, just as Steve had told her. It could have been anything from a meaningless icebreaker to a loaded question, a question to which the wrong answer would have consequences.

Meg assumed the former, given the circumstances. “Very much so. It’s an experience I wouldn’t trade for anything.” She mentally kicked herself. Couldn’t I come up with something less clichéd?

“And how would you describe being a pony?”

“I love being a pegasus, being able to fly. I do miss having hands now and then, I have to admit. What really surprised me was how normal it felt being a pony. I thought I’d have to learn to walk all over again.”

Celestia briefly looked aside to infinity, a smile on her face. “Yes, there is a reason my sister added that to my spell,” she reminisced.

Refocusing her attention on Meg, she got down to business. “The reason we are here, of course, is your recent cutie mark epiphany. It interests me greatly, because it may address a predicament we have.”

“The magic leak? I’m afraid I don’t understand how that helps.”

Enveloped in a lavender glow, the Solar Crest embossed kettle floated to each similarly embossed cup in turn, filling them with steaming tea.

“The leak is a serious problem, of course, but I’m referring to what comes afterwards, once that has been dealt with. We now know that your realm, full of humans, exists. Should we avoid you? Establish relations? We don’t know.”

“Nor do we know what to make of the existence of that cartoon, or the fact that we speak nearly identical languages, not to mention countless other similarities,” added Twilight.

“Then I discover my destiny is to be a bridge between our worlds.” Meg took a sip. It was very good tea, but then it was fit for a princess.

“Precisely,” Celestia said with a warm smile.

Ever since that epiphany, Meg’s doubts have been growing. Could she be mistaken? What was she supposed to do anyway? If only her cutie mark had appeared after that epiphany, like a real pony. She wasn’t even a pony at the time! Yet the princesses seemed certain. “But I don’t have any answers for you,” she finally said. “I have no clue how to fulfill my destiny.”

“Join the club,” said the newest princess sympathetically.

As Meg looked at Twilight she could only think of all that the young alicorn had experienced in her short life, shorter even than her own, that it all actually happened. Yes, that did make her destiny issues look silly by comparison. She could only hope they remained silly. At least my cutie mark isn’t on the Tree of Harmony.

“You are not expected to fulfill your destiny in a few days or even months,” Celestia reassured her. “It may well occupy the rest of your life.”

At least I’m not immortal.

As Twilight topped off all the cups with fresh tea, Celestia said, “You may not be one of my little ponies, but I shall be here to offer you my guidance.”

No, I’m not one of your little ponies, even if I currently look like one. Wait. Offer me guidance? Her feelings about that were surprisingly ambivalent. It sounded a little to good to be true. Surely, Celestia did not mean her ill, but still… what’s the catch?

But then the implications of that statement sunk in. “I may continue visiting Equestria?” she asked hopefully.

“You cannot be a bridge between two realms if you do not live in both of them,” she gently pointed out. “You and your husband may spend as much time as you wish in Equestria. I so decree it.”

Her wings flared with excitement. “Thank you, Your Highness!!” she exclaimed, doing her best not to give the princess a hug.

“That was a much better answer to the question ‘have you enjoyed your time in Equestria?’” Celestia observed with amusement. “I’d also like you to accept the position of Royal Advisor on Human Affairs.”

Say what now?! Meg’s jaw went slack. Celestia placidly waited for her response. “I… uhm…” She looked at Twilight. The protégé beamed back at her. She knew. She looked back at Celestia. “Uh… I’m honored, naturally, but, how could I possibly be considered for something like this?”

Celestia was not in the least taken aback. “Can you name another pony with as much knowledge and experience with humans?”

Meg blinked. Twice. She couldn’t possibly be that naive. How old was she? “But I am a human,” she said, stating the obvious. “Isn’t that, like, a conflict of interest?”

“Precisely,” Celestia said. She took a long sip of tea while Meg looked on in confusion. “Call it a leap of faith, but I believe that conflict resides in your soul, neither side having the upper hoof.”

“Because of my cutie mark.”

“That is my interpretation of it, yes.”

Meg thought it over while drinking some of her tea. It was a plausible interpretation, she had to admit, but was it a correct interpretation? She didn’t know. There was no way to know, other than being tested by whatever the future held for her. And what if it turned out to be a wrong interpretation? What would Celestia do then? But in that case, would it really matter whether she was working for her?

“I don’t know whether that interpretation is correct,” Meg carefully said. “What if it turns out not to be?”

“There’s only one way to find out, is there not?” she replied with a twinkle in her eye. “If I should be wrong, so long as you inform me in a timely fashion, I give you my word I shall not hold it against you.”

No, not naive, just willing to take a calculated risk. And keeping Meg close by as an advisor may actually lower that risk. What was it? Keep your friends close and your enemies closer? Regardless, it was a way of discovering the true meaning of her cutie mark, the risk seemed minimal, and she was going to be a de facto advisor on humanity even if she turned it down, so why not make it official? Actually, there was one small problem…

“What about the time commitment? I already have a full time job and we need the money.”

“The position does come with a generous salary.”

“Um… with all due respect, Equestrian bits are not legal tender back home.”

Celestia was actually caught off guard by that. “Of course, how silly of me. You do need to live in your realm as well.” She thoughtfully took a sip of tea. “There’s no rush. We’ll figure something out.”

And they hadn’t even mentioned commuting. Meg had no independent means of crossing over. Maybe these can all be addressed one day, but with the FBI closing in, could it really wait until then? It didn’t have to be all or nothing, after all.

“I could do one or two evenings a week for now—it’s a start, at least.”

Celestia quickly agreed. “Let’s give that a try.” A smile blossomed on her face. “It would allow my sister to attend too.”

“Why don’t we get started on the presentation,” Twilight said. “Meg?”

Meg woke up the laptop and began to slowly and laboriously type as she started speaking. “We’ve been working on a magical field simulator so that we can safely conduct simulated experiments. I’m about to show a movie created from our first successful simulation, that of a sonic rainboom.”

She should have been ready to hit “play” by this point, but the stress of the situation made her hooves clumsier than usual. “I’m sorry… I’m just not used to hooves.”

Celestia was looking at her awkward attempts at typing with interest. “Yes, I can see how your technology wasn’t designed with ponies in mind. You don’t have to remain a pony for my sake; quite the contrary, I’d like to see you use this device as a human.”

The thought of being a human in Equestria felt odd—except for the first few minutes of her first visit, she had always been a pony here—but it would be a tremendous help, and anyway she’d be a pony again before leaving the room. “Twilight?”

Meg stood back from the table as the younger alicorn approached her. A lavender flash later and the room suddenly looked a lot smaller.

“You truly have mastered this spell,” Celestia declared with pride. “I don’t think I could have done it better myself.” Twilight basked in her mentor’s approval.

Meg had her hands back, but now she had a new problem. The table was too low for her to type standing, and there was no chair for her to sit on. Something would have to be done about that if this was to be a regular occurrence. For now, getting down on her knees on that cushion would have to do—actually, it wasn’t too bad.

She quickly got the movie ready to play, and turned the computer to face Celestia. That’s when she noticed the alicorn intently observing her, as if she had never—of course she hasn’t seen a human before.

“Quite impressive, your hands; though much like a minotaur’s, they’re far nimbler.”

“More so than Spike’s, even,” Twilight added.

It never occurred to Meg that Spike might be able to handle human technology. Too bad he would outgrow it—literally.

All this talk was making her feel too much like a bug under a microscope, and she wanted to get on with the presentation. She was about to start the movie when she noticed the light from the window washing out the display.

She went over to the window. “Let me close the curtains.” As she did so, she saw the skies and clouds, now inaccessible to her, and below them a town she was now barred from visiting. Stop that; you’ll be a pegasus again soon enough. Enjoy having hands.

“Yes, that does make a significant difference,” Celestia said, nodding, as Meg returned to the computer.

With a single, extended finger, Meg pressed on the trackpad, the cursor already positioned on the play button, and started the movie. There was no soundtrack, so she continued her exposition.

“It took about ten hours to run this simulation, even though it covers only ten seconds of elapsed time. Using a coarser grid is much faster, but it introduced so many errors that the end result was not a recognizable sonic rainboom.”

A circular rainbow of colors erupted from the center of the screen, undulating outwards, reaching only halfway to the edge of the display before the simulation ended.

Twilight took over from here. “The human authorities are aware of the doll due to the electromagnetic radiation that’s produced when the magical field undergoes a phase change once it thins out to a certain density. If we can prevent the production of that radiation, they may lose interest; at the very least, it will make it extremely difficult for them to find the doll after we move it, giving us time.

“I hope to use this simulator to find a way of doing that. We can run countless experiments in total safety, and only when we come across a potential solution do we carry out a real experiment. Unfortunately, there’s no way to know how long that will take.”

“If each simulation takes ten hours, that may be too long,” Celestia pointed out.

“It’s possible to rent time on hundreds, even thousands, of computers,” Meg said. “Each can run a different simulation. One computer coordinates the others, deciding which possible solutions to explore and, based on the outcomes, narrows the search space until it finds a correct solution.

“Also, I don’t think we’ll need anything like ten seconds of simulated time to know if it worked.

“Once it starts, it doesn’t need any attention from us, so Twilight can focus on a permanent fix. It just keeps running until it finds a solution, we run out of time, or we run out of money to pay for it.”

“I can assure you money is no—oh, right.” It was a bit shocking to see a sheepish grin on the diarch’s face.

“We’ll worry about that later,” Meg assured her. “I’m very motivated to get this solved. The money is the least of our problems, and it isn’t really that expensive unless we rent time on even more computers.”

“And I still need to define the solution space,” Twilight said. “To do that, I need to study the point where the phase change occurs. We’ll do that tonight.”

The presentation concluded with a live demonstration of the simulation software. Meg went through the user interface, showing how the simulation parameters are setup and the simulation itself is controlled. She finished by running the sonic rainboom simulation from the snapshot saved after having created that movie.

It was in extreme slow motion, of course, the laptop not being as powerful as the desktop that produced that movie. The frame rate was adequate; each increment of time could be computed in a fraction of a second, the problem being an accurate simulation needed very small time increments. And it was easy to see why: despite running about ten thousand times slower than realtime, there were plenty of waves of color, traveling from the invisible leading edge towards the center, crisscrossing and forming eddies, that would be an invisible blur to the naked eye.

“This is the largest time delta that yields a realistic sonic rainboom, but there’s no reason we can’t go smaller. I’ll slow it down by another factor of a hundred.”

She did so, the previous movement slowing to a near standstill. “I can zoom in also, showing finer detail.” She did so, centering on the outer edge of the rainboom. That brought the motion of smaller, and quite active, eddies into view. “I’m not sure how accurate it is at this level of detail; a finer grid is probably needed.”

Celestia’s eyes were glued to the screen. “Quite fascinating. I never suspected there was such richness to this phenomenon.”

“It gets better,” Meg said, enjoying herself. “We can also see stuff that is not visible. For example…” She did something on the laptop. “I’ll map the magical field density to brightness… and viscosity to color, with red being low viscosity and on up through the rainbow until violet for high viscosity.” She then resumed the simulation.

The leading edge of the rainboom was no longer invisible, now being a bright red circle in a sea of dim, uniform green. Waves traveling inwards originated from this shockwave, showing up as variations in brightness, constructively and destructively interfering as they crossed each other, quickly diminishing in amplitude. Viscosity gradually increased away from the boundary, going from red back to a normal green, but not uniformly. As the changes in viscosity caused the waves to refract, this non-uniformity caused the deviations from a perfect circle of smoothly changing colors.

Twilight explained what was going on. “Light seems to be emitted from areas of low viscosity and high turbulence in density variations, particularly where waves constructively interfere. What looks like a solid band of color is really a rapid succession of individual flashes.

“Color is correlated to the angle between the two constructively interfering waves. One set of waves is always perpendicular to the shockwave, traveling towards the center. The other set, at a longer wave length, is emitted at an angle to the first. This angle varies over the circumference of the shockwave, resulting in the color variation. The point on the circumference where this angle is zero seems to be randomly determined by some form of spontaneous symmetry breaking when the shockwave is created.”

Celestia watched the simulation in silence for a bit, before exclaiming, “This is truly quite impressive! I’m pleased you two were able to work together so well, combining the talents of our two realms. The possibilities are endless.”

She stood up. “I’m afraid I have other commitments to attend to, but I look forward to our next meeting. Perhaps you could give an overview of money in your realm?”

“Sure, I’d be happy to,” Meg replied.

Twilight opened the curtains as Celestia left the room. As Meg put the laptop away, the alicorn walked over to her. “Feeling better about the whole destiny thing?”

“If juggling two jobs is all I’m destined to do, I can manage that.” She considered discussing her thoughts on Celestia’s motivations, but decided it wouldn’t be productive. Twilight really did worship the ground Celestia walked on, and while she may become a chess grandmaster a thousand years from now, right now she could barely play checkers.

“Look on the bright side: at least your cutie mark isn’t on the Tree of Harmony,” the alicorn said half jokingly.

Meg walked over to her saddlebags she left by the windows and picked it up, putting it around her neck. As she got her phone out, to take advantage of her hands while she still had them, she replied in kind. “Maybe we should pay it a visit to make sure of that.”

“Not quite ready to give up your hands yet?”

“Almost…” A few finger gestures later… “Will wonders never cease,” she said, looking incredulously at the screen. “Looks like my brother will go to Pinkie’s party after all and he’ll bring Susie too.” She could take a good guess who persuaded him.

“Great! Pinkie will be pleased to hear that.”

She put the phone down on the table and stepped away. “Alright, I’m ready to get my wings back.”

Twilight’s horn lit up and performed the transformation as Meg looked out the window. She could tell she was a pegasus again just from how the skies beckoned to her. “So what do we do next?” the pegasus said.

“I know this little place that serves the best donuts in Canterlot,” proposed Twilight.

Meg pondered possible clever quips, but couldn’t come up with anything usable. She merely said, “Let me guess: Donut Joe’s?”

With mock shock, Twilight exclaimed, “You can read my mind?!” She then giggled. After getting that out of her system, she continued with her planned itinerary. “After that, we’ll return to Ponyville, with a detour to the Tree of Harmony. Somepony ought to check up on it once in a while, and I bet you’d like to see it.”

The Tree of Harmony. But as much as she’d like to see the fabled tree, there was the small problem of its location. “Is it dangerous? The Everfree Forest looks a lot scarier in reality than it did in the cartoon, and it was bad enough there.”

“It’ll be safe enough,” Twilight confidently said. “We’ll be flying in, bypassing most of the forest, and there’s nothing there I can’t handle anyway. Nothing will bother us near the tree itself.”

I suppose there isn’t anything in that forest that you can’t now handle. “I’d love to visit the Tree.”

The chariot landed just outside a huge opening in the ground. There was a set of stairs carved into its side, providing a path to the bottom, but the two winged ponies ignored it, preferring to fly to the back of the underground cavern. There to be found was the Tree of Harmony, a crystalline tree whose branches radiated out from a central hub on the top of its trunk. On its five major branches were embedded five of the Elements of Harmony, still in the shapes of the cutie marks of their respective bearers; in the center was embedded the Element of Magic. Celestia’s and Luna’s cuties marks adorned the trunk.

Meg walked around to the back of the tree, curious to see what was there; the cartoon never showed the tree from that perspective. Nothing of interest was there to be seen, and certainly not her cutie mark—not that she expected to. Nonetheless, she felt some relief confirming it.

“The cartoon doesn’t reveal the origin of the tree,” she said as she walked around to the front, “but it does make it clear it’s at least a thousand years old. Do you know anything more?” She then added, “If you’re willing to tell me, of course.”

Twilight continued gazing at the tree. “Not even Celestia knows its origin. It’s much older than a thousand years, that much I know.”

On impulse, Meg left the ground to get a closer look at the Elements. She began to vaguely sense the harmony radiating from them, an extremely weak version of what she experienced when she was zapped by the Elements during her ponification. How odd this tree should be in perhaps the least harmonious spot in Equestria. She started reaching out to the Element of Magic.

“I wouldn’t recommend that.”

Meg touched it anyway and was rewarded with a painful shock. Retracting her hoof reflexively, she wish she had listened. Fortunately, the pain rapidly faded. Returning to the ground next to Twilight, she said, “I guess you’re not worried about anypony stealing them.”


Meg held out her phone and snapped a picture. As the tree seemed to glow with an inner light that lethargically pulsated, like the beating heart of the realm itself, she also took a video lasting a minute. Then, on general principles, she took pictures of the chariot, the four Royal Guards still hooked up, ready to leave at a moment’s notice. Next, she captured side and back views of the tree, the cave and the forest outside the cave. She even got Twilight to pose in front of the tree. Twilight then offered to take a picture of Meg in front of the tree; Meg figured she was looking for an excuse to use her phone, but she showed her the button to “press” and let her take it in her magic. The alicorn then took a picture of both of them in front of the tree, her magic holding the phone ten feet away and elevated a bit above them.

“Show off,” said Meg playfully. “I guess I’m done taking pictures.”

“And I’ve confirmed the Tree of Harmony is in good shape. Let’s head back.”

Meg closed the door to the apartment and locked it. It was time to pick up Twilight and her husband, at a place far away from the doll that forced them to be visible, not to mention the FBI that had set up shop next door.

Before she could walk more than a few feet, a door behind her opened and she heard Agent Fowler’s voice. “Ah, Meg.” Meg turned around as the agent continued. “I’ve been trying to get a hold of you, but it looked like you weren’t home even though your car was still here.”

“We weren’t.” A true statement. “We got a lift from a friend.” True, in a manner of speaking. “I just got back.” Also true.

It was bad enough the apartment next door became available so soon—she had wondered about that, but apparently the Fongs had been planning to move for several months—but naturally the agents on the case were working overtime, so the weekend provided no relief from them.

“Ah, okay… well, anyway, just wanted to let you know that the effect is strongest at the wall between us, towards the back—and I mean really strong. Perhaps it’s something in the wall itself. We’ll want to check it from the other side at your earliest convenience.”

Meg wished she could tell her, not a chance in Hell, but that would not help the situation in any conceivable fashion. “Sure, no problem; but not now, I’ve someplace to go. I’ll let you know.”

Fowler gave her a courteous smile. “Of course,” she said, and went back inside.

“Could be worse,” she quietly said to herself as she walked to her car. “At least they didn’t evacuate the area.”

She face palmed. Don’t say that! There probably wasn’t a better way to make it happen. At least she wasn’t in Equestria; it didn’t work that way in the human world. Usually. On the other hoof, she was in a magical field. I guess I’ll find out. And once she did, she could tell the results of this unintentional experiment to Twilight; it would surely make her day. Or am I just being silly. It was getting hard to tell.

Meg got in her car, started the engine, and backed out of her parking spot. After a few minutes of driving, she arrived at a large shopping mall and parked in a distant corner of the lot, away from most other cars.

She sent a text message to Steve, announcing her arrival, and got out of the car and stood by its side. Not long afterwards, she heard Twilight say, “We’re here.” They were invisible, but not inaudible, the alicorn having figured out how to tweak the magic of the containment bubble.

There was no one around, so she opened the back door and got out of the way. I sure hope no one is watching. What she was doing would look silly, and it didn’t help when the car twitched as something jumped inside. She closed the door.

Meg then opened the front passenger door and repeated the process, nervously looking about. That done, she finally went back around the car to occupy the driver’s seat. “Everypony settled in?”

“Yep,” came Steve’s voice from the front passenger’s seat.

“Yes,” came Twilight’s voice from the back seat behind Steve.

Meg started the car and began driving to the exit. She would have to be extra careful. Even if seatbelts would work for ponies, which was iffy at best, the sight of seatbelts around an invisible object might draw too much attention.

As she turned onto the road, it felt like she was being intensively observed by a certain pony, and soon her suspicions were confirmed. “I’ve never been in a car before,” Twilight said. “It’s fascinating how you use your hands and your feet to operate it.” Fortunately, Steve was there to answer her unending questions about driving, letting Meg focus on the actual task, so she didn’t have to answer questions about how the car moves, or how traffic lights work, or the GPS nav system, or countless other questions.

They drove away from the apartment, looking for that “shell” from which the electromagnetic radiation was being emitted. Theoretically, Steve would be able to detect the phase change that occurred in the magical field at that point, by using his special talent, but Twilight had various devices with her as well. Somehow, she was able to keep an eye on them while indulging her curiosity about cars and driving.

After only a few minutes, Steve said, “I think we just passed it—it’s hard to tell, being in this magic bubble.”

A few seconds later, Twilight confirmed it. “Yep, I’m reading a sharp drop in field strength.” In the rear view mirror, Meg could see the working end of the probe suspended in midair—not enveloped in lavender, as it was outside Twilight’s bubble.

“Okay, I’ll turn around.” At the next opportunity, she made a u-turn, then pulled into the parking lot of one of the endless series of strip malls lining the road. “Let me know when we cross it again,” she said, as she slowly traversed the lot.

“There!” Steve said, causing Meg to hit the brakes. She picked out a parking spot that should have the shell more or less cutting down the middle of the car, from front to back. A few seconds later, he confirmed it. “We’re good.”

Meg worked the nav system. “I’d say we’re about seven miles from home as the pegasus flies.”

They spent the next half-hour there, as Twilight gathered data. It wasn’t easy; her devices had to go outside her bubble to gather useful data. Both of the ponies had shrunk their bubbles to the minimum. Going outside the car was problematic, as the stores were still open and there was activity around them. Mysterious devices might draw attention, especially if they disappeared and reappeared elsewhere.

“Okay, I think we’re done,” Twilight finally said, “and as I suspected, the shell is slowly expanding as the hole gets bigger, letting more magic flow through.”

Meg started the engine and began driving home. There was no reason for the two ponies to remain—they’d have to return to Equestria before proximity to the doll made them visible anyway—but Twilight wanted to experience some more driving, and Meg indulged her by taking a different and longer route back. She took advantage of the extra time, as night fell, by reporting her encounter with Agent Fowler.

16. Hiding in Plain Sight

The doorbell rang. Meg reluctantly walked over to the peephole. As expected, it was Agent Fowler, there to check out The Effect from the other side of their shared wall. At least she had been able to delay this visit till Tuesday, giving Twilight a chance to remove the anti-eavesdropping spell from the wall—just in case someone on the other side checks to see if they can listen in on what was bound to take place.

It could not be put off any longer, so open the door she did. “Hello, Mrs. Coleman,” the agent said as Meg stepped aside, letting her in. It was already dark out, but the agent was still in her pant suit attire, and in her hand—adding to Meg’s already growing dread—was a modified Geiger counter.

No one else was outside. “Isn’t Special Agent Holmes with you?” Meg asked as she closed the door.

“He has business elsewhere,” Fowler cryptically offered. Meg wondered if that was good or bad.

Steve joined them. His eyes fell on the modified probe. Noticing that, Fowler stated, “You’re intrigued by the modification.”

“I certainly am,” he said. The probe was covered by a layer of gray metal, probably lead, rendering it useless for its intended task.

Fowler proceeded to explain. “As you can see, the probe is now shielded. We’ve injected suitable radioactive material into the probe itself. Anywhere else in the known universe, the reading would be off the scale. But here…” She switched it on. There were a few clicks every second on average.

The agent began walking towards the room that served as the home office, holding the probe out front. The Colemans followed, as if walking towards the gallows. It seemed inevitable the probe would zero in on the doll; but after studying how Geiger counters worked, Twilight insisted it couldn’t have that level of precision—not that she had anticipated this particular customization.

Meg was severely tempted to confess. If it truly was only a matter of time before the FBI found out, it would be a whole lot better if they first found out from them; but two reasons stopped her: first, it would break their Pinkie Promise; and second, they would come off looking crazy. That wouldn’t be a problem if Twilight would reveal herself to them, but she’s still hopeful she can suppress that broadcast interference. The simulations they’ve got running in the cloud are making progress, but it’s hard to say when they will converge on a solution—if there was a solution.

As they entered the office, the clicking rate had already slowed down. Fowler made her way to the part of the wall where, on the other side, the effect was strongest. The clicking slowed down with each step. She stopped in front of the bookshelves, on top of which were the two dolls. The only hope was that the click rate, at this point, was so low, less than one per minute, it was hard to notice any changes. Twilight may have been right after all.

She continued scanning the rest of the room, the clicks becoming more frequent as she moved away from the bookshelves. “No real surprises here,” she said, “apart from that autograph on the Pinkie Pie doll. Did Andrea Libman sign it or something?”

Meg exchanged looks with Steve. “No… she didn’t…” he said. “You know about that?”

Fowler stopped scanning and turned to face him. “You got me,” she confessed, throwing up her arms—or at least as much as she could while holding the device and its probe with both hands. “As you can imagine, it’s not something that frequently comes up on the job.”

“I’d imagine not,” said Meg. How would Twilight react to this development?

First setting down the Geiger counter, she walked over to the Pinkie doll and reached up, taking it off the shelf, and examined the signature. “Personally, I’d go for an autographed Twilight Sparkle doll. She is best pony.” As she reached up and put the doll back on the shelf, she said, “I wonder what Twilight would make of this effect? She’d probably just cast a spell or two or something and would know exactly what was going on and what to do about it.”

Meg caught herself before she rolled her eyes. There were so many things she could say to that, none of them particularly helpful. “Too bad she’s not here right this second,” she said with complete sincerity.

Fowler looked at her for a second, then broke out in laughter. A second later, Meg belatedly smiled. “Good one,” the agent said. “You nailed the delivery.”

She picked up the Geiger counter and started for the front door. “Looks like it could be something in the wall. We may need to cut a section out for further testing, not to mention getting it to the middle of nowhere where it won’t interfere with broadcasts.”

She stopped in front of the door, turning around. “But first, we need to better localize it, and that means we need a much stronger radioactive substance for this thing,” she said, lifting the probe. “With the added shielding,” she said less than enthusiastically, “I’m going to get quite the workout.”

“If it has that short of a half-life,” Steve said, “it would need to be fresh.”

“Oh, we know. We’re working on that. As you can image, the technical issues—not to mention bureaucratic—are proving to be quite challenging.”

Twilight inspected a thin, rectangular piece of what seemed to be some kind of plastic. On the back was a strip of magnetic material; a spell revealed the reversing magnetic domains that, they were told, encoded the information embossed on the other side.

Celestia and Luna were more focused on what Meg was saying. They were getting an overview of money in the human realm, in what was the first weekly meeting with their new Royal Advisor on Human Affairs, to be held every Thursday evening.

“So, cash is now used to mainly for inexpensive items, and even then it’s becoming common to use credit or debit cards for everything. Since large amounts of cash are rarely used, it has been made deliberately difficult to use so as to hinder criminal activities, which prefer to use untraceable cash. The same applies to cash equivalents, like precious metals and gems.”

Celestia digested what she had just heard as she raised a tea cup to her lips. After setting it back down, she said, “It truly is difficult paying you in a form that you can use in your realm.”

“I’m afraid so. Small amounts I could probably get away with, but that isn’t enough to do us much good. The legally required paperwork for large amounts would attract too much attention. Regardless of the amount, I’d owe taxes on what I sold, so I’d have to document what I paid for it, and, well, obviously I couldn’t do that.”

“At least you can spend your salary here in Equestria,” Luna said in consolation.

Meg gathered up the materials she had brought with her—her credit cards, some coins, some paper currency, and her checkbook—and with her hands put them back into her saddlebags.

She sat back down on her knees, and sighed. Avoiding eye contact, she said, “And speaking of unwanted attention from authorities…”

Meg was referring to the FBI, Twilight knew. She wished she would have a little more faith. “The simulations are making good progress,” she tried to convince her yet again. “It won’t be long before this problem goes away.”

The human turned to face the alicorn. “You’re not the one they’ll arrest. This can destroy our lives. It would really, really help if you show yourself to them. You know one of them is your fan. You don’t even have to tell them everything.”

They already had this conversation, of course. Twilight wished she had an answer that everypony would be happy with, but she didn’t. “There’s no way to know how they’d react,” she repeated her argument. “Maybe Fowler is a fan, but even you had a hard time at first dealing with our existence. Holmes is a total unknown, never mind the people they work with. It’s just too big a risk.”

That, plus the fact it would force them to begin relations with the human government long before they were ready. There was still much they needed to learn about the humans and their realm; and regardless, beginning relations with a crisis hanging over them was not a good way to start. Take care of the crisis first, learn a lot more about them, then they could start relations.

Meg stood up in frustration and walked over to the window, gazing at the distant Ponyville under the early night sky.

“What is the risk they will find the doll first?” Luna patiently asked.

Twilight was prepared for that question. “I really don’t think they can modify their device to be precise enough to zero in on a small object like that doll. But for the sake of argument, assume they can and they take it away. In that case, we first find it again; next, once we have the spell to stop the broadcast interference, we apply it; then we take the doll back and put it someplace far away where they’ll never find it.”

That did little to mollify Meg. “That won’t let us off the hook,” she said, still looking out the window. “The FBI will believe we broke into a government facility and stole it back, even if they lack a shred of evidence to prove it.”

“And if I do introduce myself,” Twilight said, irritated that Meg won’t see the obvious, “I’ll be confirming to them that you are involved and that you’ve been keeping it a secret from them. Right now, all they could know is that you are in possession of a doll with mysterious powers. To blame you, they would have to first believe you did something to give the doll those powers.”

There was silence as all eyes were on Meg. She clasped her hands behind her neck as she continued facing the window. With a resigned sigh, she said, “I may be damned if you do and damned if you don’t.”

She turned around to face the alicorns, dropping her hands to her side. “I sure hope you’re right, Twilight.”

The doorbell rang. Meg quickly flew over to the peephole to verify it was her brother and family. It was. She flew back to the living room and sat on the sofa, out of sight of the door. Twilight was in the office, waiting for her cue.

“You can come in!” she shouted.

She heard the door open and several people enter. “Over here!” With growing anticipation she heard small footsteps race towards her. Susie will finally get to see her as a pony and experience a Pinkie Pie party in Equestria. After all the stress she had endured the past week, she was looking forward to being reminded of what made her a brony.

Her niece turned a corner and stopped, mouth agape, staring at the orchid pegasus on the sofa. “What do you think of my new look?” Meg asked her.

Susie slowly approached her. “Twilight really turned you into a pony?”

“With some help from her best friends.” She waved her to come closer with a hoof. “You can hug me; I’m still your aunt Meg.” The little girl didn’t need to be told twice. She flung herself at the pony and wrapped her arms around her withers. Meg returned the hug by nuzzling her face.

After stroking her mane a few times, Susie pulled back a bit. “You’re a pegasus,” she said in wonderment.

“I’ve noticed,” Meg smiled, as she opened and closed her wings.

“You can fly?”

“And walk on clouds and do everything else a pegasus can do.”

“Can you do a sonic rainboom?” she asked, eagerly anticipating an affirmative answer.

Unfortunately, she had to disappoint her. “There’s only one pegasus awesome enough to pull that off,” she told her. “You know that.”

“Yeah, I know,” she said, disappointed, but quickly rebounded. “Can I touch your wing?”

She started to unfold a wing but stopped. “Yes, but you have to be careful.” The wing extended the rest of the way as she said, “I’m still new at the whole preening thing.”

“I promise I’ll be careful,” she said as she began, carefully, to explore her wing.

Susie’s parents had caught up to her by now and were standing a few feet away. “You actually have to preen?” her brother asked.

Meg looked up at him as Susie continued stroking her feathers. “What can I say? Ponies have to worry about personal hygiene too. Fortunately, Twilight gave me a preening kit.”

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Twilight quietly approaching them, a subtle hint that she needed to wrap things up. “Now, Susie, remember, that when you meet the other ponies you can’t touch them. Treat them like people, okay?”

“Okay…” she reluctantly agreed, and began fidgeting. “When do I get to meet other ponies?”

“Well…” Meg said, stalling for time as Twilight got closer, “why don’t you look behind you.”

Susie turned around and her face lit up. “Twilight!” She ran to the alicorn but in an incredible show of restraint remembered not to hug her.

“Hello, Susie,” Twilight said with a warm smile. “Ready to go to Equestria? Pinkie Pie has a great party planned for you!”

“Right now?!” the little girl exclaimed, jumping for joy.

“Very soon.”

Meg began hovering above the sofa. “I’ll let them know you’ll be there shortly.” She waited just long enough for Susie to see her hovering, giving her a big smile as she invoked the return spell.

She and Twilight had departed not far from the main barn at Sweet Apple Acres, where the party was to take place, and to there she had returned. Everypony was milling about in the late morning sunshine, and she trotted over to join them. The Crusaders were there, as were the rest of the Mane Six, Spike, also the other Apples, plus her husband—no, a certain pegasus was missing. Meg searched the skies but only saw a few scattered clouds.

Applejack approached her with a look of mild annoyance. “They’ll be here in a minute,” Meg assured her.

“Much obliged for the head’s up,” Applejack said, but then she looked up at a cloud that was just a few hundred feet above the ground, almost directly on top of them. Meg had somehow failed to notice how low it was. “Could ya go up there and wake Rainbow Dash up?”

So that was the source of her annoyance. Looking up at the cloud in question, she said, “You know she’s up there?”

“Eyeup. Fluttershy’s been up there, even tried to wake her up, but you know her…”

Meg looked at Fluttershy, who looked back sheepishly. Too timid to disturb her sleep, got it. “All right, I’ll take care of it.”

She took flight, circling around and gaining altitude, until she was above the cloud. Looking down, she had no trouble spotting the napping pegasus against the several hundred square feet of whiteness; Rainbow Dash didn’t exactly blend in. She flew over to her and hovered above her, taking in the situation.

Dash was splayed out on her back, tongue sort of hanging out of her open mouth, her wings unfurled against the cloud top, her tail—okaaay… I really didn’t need to see that.

Maybe it didn’t matter that much to ponies, but Meg had been a human for far, far longer. Sighing, she put it out of her mind, which was rather easy to do as a pony, and focused on her task, setting down on the cloud next to the snoring pony, and considered the best way to wake her up.

“You should take a picture of that and sell it on eBay,” a familiar voice behind her helpfully suggested. “You’d make a fortune!”

You just had to pick today of all days. Fortunately, Rainbow Dash was too sound a sleeper to have heard that—or was that unfortunately? Meg couldn’t decide which it was, as she shot a disgusted look at the draconequus standing a dozen feet away.

“Whaaat?” he innocently said, a halo over his head. “I’m only trying to help.”

She started walking towards him. “Help?” she said with a raised eyebrow. He’s reformed, she kept reminding herself.

“You’re not gonna pay the rent with what Sunbutt’s gonna pay you,” he pointed out. “This is the perfect opportunity to make some money in your realm from one of her little ponies!” Discord was insufferably pleased with his own genius.

If this is how he behaves when he’s reformed… While it’s true he hasn’t done anything evil since his reformation—even being helpful in his own, unique way—he could still be a pain in the flank. What’s he up to? The collection of random animal parts came across, in flesh and blood, as more… discordant than in the cartoon, but he seemed sincere enough. Was it that he didn’t know any better, or was it just his chaotic nature?

Whichever, Meg was desperate to change the subject. “How do you even know about eBay?” she asked. Or The Wizard of Oz, for that matter.

“You’re much too young for that type of knowledge,” he said, wagging an uplifted talon and talking down to her as if she were a little filly. “Ask me again in a few centuries.”

Meg face-hoofed. “I’m beginning to understand how Jean-Luc Picard felt.”

“Ahhhh…” he said excitedly, pointing at her. “I see what you did there!” He was suddenly wearing a Starfleet uniform—in command red, naturally. “That’s what I like about you, Meg. Nopony else gets this stuff.”

Meg looked askance at Discord, already finding this tiresome. “Why are you here?” And please not for the party!

“I just wanted to touch bases with you, that’s all,” he pouted. “You haven’t visited me since your ponification.”

“I don’t even know where you li—”

“That’s exactly what Twilight said!”

“I still don’t know where you live.”

They both looked up and saw Twilight and Fluttershy hovering above them. “And what’s with that shirt?” Twilight asked, mystified. Discord gave Meg a knowing wink.

Fluttershy hovered over in front of Discord. “We agreed this party wasn’t appropriate for you,” she lectured.

“It’s all right; he’s just here to see me,” Meg explained. “Look, I’ll attend one of your tea parties with Fluttershy, okay? I’d love to try your cucumber sandwiches.”

“Perfect!” he shouted with glee, clasping his claws together. “That’s all I’m asking for.” He was gone in a poof.

Twilight and Fluttershy set down next to Meg as she collapsed onto her haunches. “Was he being difficult?” asked Twilight with some concern.

“No, not really,” Meg said wearily. She gave them a forced smile. “An Equestrian experience wouldn’t be complete without a Discord encounter.”

She got up and started walking back to Rainbow Dash, who was still sound asleep. “Though I’m sure glad I didn’t meet him before he was reformed.” And I can’t image why the cartoon would misrepresent his sense of humor, she sarcastically thought to herself. Was he even joking? She wasn’t sure which would be worse.

“Lucky you…” opined Twilight.

That elicited a sheepish grin from Meg. Yeah, that wasn’t too bright. She stood over the snoring pegasus. “Not a light sleeper, is she?”

Twilight gave her a smirk. “Watch and learn.” She leaned in, putting her muzzle near an ear, and whispered, “Daring Do is signing autographs for the Wonderbolts.”

Rainbow Dash jerked awake and was airborne in no time, frantically looking around. “Where!?” After a few seconds she fixated on Twilight’s giggling smile. “Not cool,” she angrily said.

“The party’s started,” Twilight informed her. “Besides, while you were having your beauty sleep, Meg was here all alone with Discord.”

“Huh? Here?” She looked back and forth between Meg and Twilight. “What did he want with you?”

“It’s not important,” she decided to tell her—and everypony else. “He just wanted some attention… I think.” She wondered how would they react if they knew the entire conversation. Be deeply offended? Wonder what the big deal was? It would have to remain a mystery.

“I’m sure that’s all it was,” Fluttershy said without reservation.

“I meant it when I said I’ll attend one of your tea parties,” Meg said to her, “but there’s no rush, if you catch my drift.”

Fluttershy gave her a gentle smile. “Whenever you’re ready,” she agreed.

“We’ve been up here long enough,” Twilight declared. “Don’t want everypony to start wondering what’s going on.” With that, she jumped into the air and headed back to the ground. Fluttershy followed suit.

“Hang on, Meg,” Rainbow Dash said, stopping her from leaving. “Help me lower this cloud to the ground.”

“Uh, sure…” They hovered into position a dozen feet apart. “What do you have in mind?”

“Pinkie’s idea, actually.” She signaled for them to start pushing down. “Put on a show for your family.”

“That was thoughtful of her.” Pinkie Pie did know her parties. The cloud began its descent to the ground.

“You should have woken me up, ya know.” Rainbow Dash gave her a stern look.

“That’s why I was up here, ironically.” That failed to placate her. “Really, it wasn’t a big deal, and besides it wasn’t long before Twilight and Fluttershy were up here.”

The top of the barn appeared beyond the cloud’s edge, causing them to slow their descent and lower their voices. “Besides, if he truly wants a private conversation with me, there’s no way to prevent it—short of staying out of this realm, anyway.”

“Nnngh… I suppose,” she grimaced. “Still don’t like it.”

And now that she really thought about it, Meg found it scary, too. She was at Discord’s complete mercy. All he had to do was snap his talons, and… well… anything. Sure, alicorns were scary powerful too, but at least they were… harmonious, for lack of a better word.

Dash had been focusing her attention on the barn. “Okay, stop.” They both set down on the cloud, which was now about five feet off the ground. She said, in a low voice, “You take the lead. It’s your family, so it ought to be your show.” She offered a hoof and Meg bumped it.

Meg walked over to the edge closest to the barn, as she further mulled over what just happened. Rainbow Dash did not really trust Discord. Not that she couldn’t see why, but it was equally apparent that Twilight did seem to trust him—enough, anyway. His presence at their ponification was evidence of that. Fluttershy… that went without saying. Well, like it or not, he’s part of the package deal. Whatever he may be, he’s not boring.

She stopped just before the cloud’s edge. Taking a quick look back, she noticed Rainbow Dash was a few feet back, intending to stay out of sight until called for. Meg took a deep breath, crossed the last few feet, and looked down.

Looking back up, out in front and center, was her extended family, waiting for something to happen. The Crusaders were also out front, standing next to Susie. Further back were the adult ponies, including Steve, all showing the least anticipation—well, not counting the bouncing Pinkie Pie. It’s not as if they’re about to see anything they haven’t seen a gazillion times.

“Sorry that took so long,” Meg began. “There was, uh, a distraction earlier… but we’re ready to get started now!” Once I’ve figured out what to do.

“Is Rainbow Dash up there?” asked Scootaloo.

The pegasus in question joined Meg at the cloud’s edge. “Sure am!” she said, giving the filly a wink.

Come on, Scootaloo, this show’s not for you, Meg thought with annoyance.

Meg’s brother skeptically examined the cloud, as he drank from his mug of hard cider. “That’s an actual cloud?”

“Sure is,” Meg confirmed. She bounced a few times off the cloud like a trampoline, willing moderate rain to fall right underneath her for a few seconds. “See? It rains just a like a real cloud.”

Matt lifted his hand and moved it through the cloud. It was too thick for him to reach the hooves of the pegasi standing on it. “Why don’t you fall through?”

“I don’t want to,” his sister replied. “Hitting the ground would hurt.” Rainbow Dash snickered.

“You don’t want to,” he repeated in a monotone. “That’s all it takes.”

“If you’re a pegasus… yes.” She spread her wings. “I’ll let myself fall through.” And just like that, she did, dropping like a rock, halting her fall just above the ground. Hovering, she drifted out from under the cloud and over to her brother. “Yes, it’s literally magic.” With some disappointment, she added, “I really hoped you’d get that by now.”

“It’s… a lot to absorb. And magic is what prevents that cloud from dissipating this low, or keeps it in place?”

“You got it.” She drifted over to Susie, who was clearly enjoying herself. “What do you think?”

“It’s just like the cartoon!” she exclaimed. A question formed in her mind, causing her face to scrunch. “What’s it like to stand on a cloud?”

“Well…” Meg struggled to find the words. “It doesn’t feel wet or even damp, nor does it feel slippery. It’s very soft, yet firm and springy. It kinda depends what you’re doing on it. When telling it to rain, it’s a lot like a trampoline, believe it or not. And a cloud makes the most wonderful bed you could sleep on.” Or so I’ve been told.

“You can tell it to rain?” her niece said, suitably impressed.

“Well, you don’t actually talk to it,” Meg said, “it’s not alive, but that’s sorta what I was doing when I made it rain briefly. It’s how pegasus weather magic works.”

Her sister-in-law broke her silence to ask the next question. “How did you learn to do all this magic so quickly?”

Meg looked up to a prismatic pegasus still standing on the cloud. “I had an awesome teacher,” she smiled. Rainbow Dash gave a proud smirk in return.

“I’d like to see how a professional disposes of a cloud like this—if you have no further use for it,” Lori added.

You’re sure doing a good job kissing up to her, Meg thought.

“I guess we’re done with it,” Rainbow Dash mused. She went airborne and hovered to the side of the cloud, then gave it a good, solid buck. The cloud didn’t stand a chance, disintegrating as a shock wave rapidly traversed it, leaving nothing but humidity behind. A light but persistent breeze was already removing the humid air from the vicinity. Still hovering next to where the cloud once was, the weather pony boasted, “And that’s how it’s done!”

Susie and Scootaloo applauded, while Lori continued to stare at where the cloud had been. “There really is no substitute for seeing it,” she said, shaking her head. “Didn’t matter I knew you could do that.”

Pinkie Pie trotted over to them and addressed Susie. “Let’s go inside and get the party started! There’s cake and ice cream and muffins and cupcakes and apple pie and party hats—”

Rainbow Dash stuck a hoof in her mouth. “They get the idea.” She waited a few seconds, just to be sure, before removing her hoof.

Pinkie wouldn’t let it dampen her mood. “Follow me, Susie!” she said as she bounced her way to the barn.

The others all began heading over to the barn as well, except Matt. “Meg, wait.”

The orchid pegasus stopped, and while hovering turned around. “Yes?” she said, wondering what her brother wanted.

“Can we talk… privately?” he contritely asked.

Whatever it was, it seemed promising. “We can go into the orchards, I guess.” Meg began drifting towards the apple trees, slowly at first, until Matt was at her side, then she matched his walking speed. They continued in silence, until they had passed a half-dozen apple trees.

Matt leaned against an apple tree. “First, I want to apologize. However I may have felt in the past about your infatuation with the cartoon, it’s impossible to deny—” he threw his hands up at the world around them “—this changes things.”

Meg wasn’t quite sure what to make of that. It didn’t help she had to read his human body language with pony eyes. “I accept your apology,” she said in measured tones, “but I feel a ‘but’ coming…”

He studied her silently for a few seconds. Probably wishing he didn’t have to decipher the finer points of pony body language. This really wasn’t the type of conversation to have while being different species.

“It’s not just about you. It affects the rest of us too.”

And he didn’t even know about the doll, or the FBI taking an interest in them. “Could you be more specific?” she asked, somewhat nervously.

“What about our parents?” He stared into her eyes. “Should they expect their grandchildren to have hooves?”

“I… we…” she stammered, diverting her eyes, “weren’t planning on having children for a few years, you know that.”

“Assuming they will even let you continue to visit, what do you see yourself doing a year from now, five years, fifty years from now?”

“Princess Celestia has granted us permanent visitation rights.” And offered her a job, not that she cared to mention that to him.

That got her a raised eyebrow. “Curious, but it’s not my place to question how she runs her kingdom. I presume Twilight will be your personal chauffeur between our worlds for the foreseeable future?”

“I…I guess.” Meg wasn’t sure she liked where this was going.

“I’m sorry, I truly am, but I’m trying to be real here. This place,” he spread his arms wide, “is real, as you were all too happy to show me, and as a real place it doesn’t revolve around you.”

Meg slowly returned her gaze to him. “It has to do with my cutie mark. They take that very seriously here.”

“Yeah, Twilight did go overboard when you had your epiphany, didn’t she.”

He took a drink from his mug. “They sure do make good cider here,” he conceded.

“Try having a cutie mark appear on your butt and you’ll understand.” She could see the next question coming a million miles away. “No, I don’t have it as a human,” she preemptively said. “Not that it matters,” she muttered. “It’s the mark of my destiny regardless of my physical form.”

“Just try to remember your life choices affect us too, okay? Until you figure out what to tell our parents,” he half-joked, “could you at least use the pony equivalent of The Pill?” He brought the mug back to his mouth.

“The guest room Twilight provided us with had an anti-fertility charm.”

He spat out a mouthful of cider. “You really are doing it… as ponies.”

“Not that it’s any of your business,” she said defensively, “but why shouldn’t we?”

He tried to come up with a good reason—even a mediocre reason—but couldn’t, his mouth soundless opening several times. “Fine, you’re right, never mind,” he conceded. “I’m just surprised Twilight would have such a charm in her possession. Doesn’t seem like she’d have need of one.”

She rolled her eyes in exasperation. “She is an adult, you know; they all are, even if the cartoon doesn’t like portraying them as such.”

“Bookworm, didn’t see the point of having friends?”

“Hell, I don’t know!” she exclaimed, throwing up her hooves. “The subject hasn’t come up and I’m not gonna bring it up—with any of them. But I do know that cartoon take liberties with the facts occasionally; she might never have been as antisocial as portrayed.”

“At least you were spared the inconvenience of having to undress,” he sarcastically said.

“Not this again…” she said, face-hoofing.

“No, really, how do you deal with it? Don’t you, as a mare, notice Big Mac’s—”

Enough!” she hissed. “You could try being a pony yourself if you really wanted to know.”

“It’s not on my bucket list,” he flatly pointed out.

“Seriously. Being a different species broadens the mind. But, fine; you’ll just have to take my word for it: it’s different for ponies. Ponies don’t care. They don’t think about it—most of the time. That’s why they can run around in their birthday suits without causing civilization to implode.“

“But you’re really a human!”

“My mind is running on a pegasus brain right now,” she said slowly and carefully. “You cannot comprehend how that alters my perceptions.”

Matt considered the orchid pegasus hovering in front of him for a little too long. “The only thing left of your human self is your memory?”

“Well… I… damn it!” she exclaimed, stomping a hoof in midair. “I dunno know how it works. Ask Twilight. All I know is that I still feel like I’m me. Yes, one brain was changed into another, but the transformation is so seamless, it doesn’t interrupt my thoughts in progress. I can’t even tell it’s happening as it happens! The transformation is always something that has happened, not is happening,” she said, resorting to air quotes at the end.

“Calm down,” he said, holding out a upraised hand. “I’m sorry. If it makes you feel better, if my eyes were closed I wouldn’t be able to tell if you were human or pony—well, apart from the flapping sound of your wings.” He waved his hand. “Let’s change the subject. How do you hover like that? And please say something more specific than ‘it’s magic.’”

Meg agreed that was a nice, safe subject. “I’m ignoring gravity.”

He didn’t expect such a simple, straightforward answer. “Okaaay… why do you need to constantly flap your wings, then? Can’t you just float in zero-G?”

“I don’t make the rules,” she shrugged. “There are other aspects to pegasus flying magic that concern inertia and thrust. Rainbow Dash is teaching me how to do it, but for the theory behind it—the egghead stuff as she puts it—I have to go to Twilight.”

“I’ve seen you hover in our world. Can you stand on a cloud?”

“I haven’t tried it, but Rainbow Dash tells me that works too.”

“Is there any magic that doesn’t work in our world?”

“Oh, yes, plenty. It drives Twilight crazy trying to understand why. Steve’s helping with that, and she’s teaching him how to use unicorn magic.”

Matt contemplated his empty cup. “I could use more cider,” he stated as he started back to the barn.

“Don’t forget the food.” Her own stomach was beginning to complain. “I’m not sure why but the stuff grown here is really good.”

“Are you sure that isn’t an artifact of having a pony tongue?”

“Absolutely sure,” she assured him. “Any food edible by both humans and ponies tastes the same to me either way.”

“Sounds convenient,” he observed. “What about food that isn’t?”

“You wouldn’t believe how tasty daffodils are.” She wouldn’t mind having some right now. There was pony-only food being served, though pains have been taken to clearly identify it as such. Steve had been tasked with making sure of that.

“Aren’t daffodils supposed to be toxic to equines?”

“Not to magical candy-colored equines that can talk.”

They approached the clearing. The sounds of a piñata being struck came from the barn.

“Sure,” he sighed, “why not.”

The late afternoon sun was casting long shadows. Twilight had put on her saddlebags and was ready to take Susie and her parents back to their realm. She patiently waited as Meg said her goodbyes.

“We’ll be staying overnight,” she informed them.

Matt gave his sister an odd look, but didn’t say anything. What does that mean? the alicorn wondered. She made a mental note to ask Meg about that later.

Meg gave Susie a final hug, and the little girl hugged the pegasus in return. It left Twilight wondering what it was like to be hugged by one of these bipedal creatures, to be touched by those hands. Perhaps Susie could be persuaded to give her a hug once they’re back in the other realm. Somehow, Twilight doubted it would take much encouragement.

“Twilight will lock up after you leave,” Steve said. “She needs to collect some data while she’s there anyway.”

Susie reluctantly let go of the pony that was her aunt and joined her parents. She watched Twilight as the alicorn lit up her horn and swallowed a plaid pill. The four of them crossed over back to the home office.

“Where’s Twilight?” asked Susie.

You’re looking right at me.

“I don’t know, hon. I guess she decided not to come here after all.” Lori took her hand and tried to guide her out of the office and to the front door.

“I’m right here,” Twilight said with some annoyance, but they continued to ignore her and kept on walking.

If they can’t see or hear me… Her heart missed a beat. This is bad. This is very very bad. She nervously looked up at the shelf where the Pinkie Pie doll resided. It wasn’t there. The doll was there when they all went to Equestria. The Derpy doll was still there.

The front door opened. She started to trot over there, but then decided to just let them go. While she could have made herself visible, she would then have to offer an explanation. There was no time to waste.

It couldn’t have gotten far in just a few hours, she told herself. Out of her saddlebags came the magic probe. It moved away from her and penetrated her magic containment bubble. Zero.

The sensitivity is too low, that’s it. Her queasy stomach said she was fooling herself. Doing her best to ignore it, she upped the sensitivity to maximum. Back through the bubble it went. Zero. The doll was already too far away.

With growing dread, she quickly scanned the office and other rooms for anything obviously out of place or missing. There wasn’t. Whoever took it knew what they were after. It wasn’t hard to guess who.

She checked the front door, and saw that it was locked. She continued to stare at the doorknob. What am I going to tell Meg?

Twilight released the breath she didn’t realize she was holding and shook her head. I don’t have time for this. She invoked the return spell and returned to Equestria.

17. An Unforgiving Land

The ponies all gathered around Meg and Steve outside the barn in the cooling air of the late afternoon, as the subject of their plans for tomorrow was discussed.

“We’ll be spending the day in Canterlot, playing tourist, visiting museums and parks and such,” Steve said. “Any suggestions?”

“You simply must visit the Couture History Museum.”

“There’s a Wonderbolts exhibit—no, wait, that’s in Cloudsdale.”

Such predictable, clichéd answers, thought Meg. Twilight’s recommendations had been no less so, but at least hers were of greater general interest. Mostly. But then the former unicorn did possess the advantage of having lived most of her life there. When they had mentioned considering the public tour of the castle, naturally Twilight quickly pointed out how she could give them a real tour someday.

“Thanks for those—” Meg politely began, not wishing to hurt anypony’s feelings, but got interrupted by Applejack.

“Twilight?” the farm mare said, who was the first to spot the returning alicorn. “What happened?”

The others turned to follow Applejack’s line of sight. Twilight was despondently walking towards them, her mane a frazzled mess, defeated.

So that’s a real thing? Meg had never seen her so miserable, her head down, avoiding eye contact with everypony else. Twilight came to a stop in front of them. She lifted her head to address them, and simply said, “The doll is gone.”

“What are you talking about?” asked Steve, hoping he heard wrong.

“It’s gone. It’s at least a hundred miles away.”

“Gone? Were we robbed or something?” asked Meg. But that didn’t add up. Mere thieves wouldn’t have transported their belongings so far so quickly.

“I don’t think so,” she glumly replied. “Only that doll was obviously missing.”

“FBI,” Meg weakly said, as she sat on her haunches. Her worst fears were coming true.

Now what? Did they dare go back?

I guess it’s safe enough… as invisible ponies.

And there was the point Twilight had made, that to be arrested for giving a doll the ability to break the laws of physics, they’d have to first believe it was possible to do that.

They just took the doll? They didn’t do anything else?

They hadn’t even tried to call her or Steve. It still didn’t add up.

Twilight lowered her head, her ears sagging. “I’m so sorry, I really am. No matter how hard I try not to, I keep underestimating what your technology can do. I should have taken your concerns more seriously.”

Rainbow Dash lifted into the air, full of determination. “So, what are we waiting for? Let’s go find it and get it back!”

Twilight didn’t immediately respond. Meg said, “That was your contingency plan, if this happened, wasn’t it?”

The alicorn lifted her head to look at Meg. “I’m questioning the assumptions that led to that plan.”

A breath later, she continued. “What do you think the agents will do with the doll?”

Maybe it was because Twilight was so devastated, or maybe because it seemed so unreal, but Meg found herself surprisingly calm.

“Well… they did say something about taking the cause of The Effect—as they call it—somewhere far away from any city, so that it no longer interferes with broadcasts. And you did say it’s been moved a great distance.”

Twilight clarified the question. “What will they do to the doll?”

Meg gave her a blank look. “I don’t know. I would think they’d be very cautious. For all they know, destroying the doll may cause an unimaginable explosion.” She blinked. “Would it?” she asked, suddenly worried.

“No,” Twilight said, shaking her head. “The hole is not dependent on the physical body of the doll. I don’t know what binds the two, but the worst that can happen is that the hole floats freely—which is still bad enough. It could go deep underground, if it’s subject to gravity.”

Rainbow Dash was getting quite irritated, crossing her forelimbs. “We need less talk, more action.”

“I agree,” said Steve. “There’s not much we can plan until we know where it is and how it’s guarded.” He tilted his head slightly. “By the way, how did you find it the first time? You didn’t search the entire planet, did you?”

“No, that wasn’t necessary,” Twilight began to explain. “Those pills can put us within fifty miles of it. We then just follow the magical field gradient. The first time we used them, we found ourselves over an ocean, a few miles from shore. It only took a few hours to zero in on your location.”

Dash was hovering in Twilight’s face. “So let’s get going already!” she shouted, causing her to wince and flatten her ears.

Twilight looked at her for a few seconds, recovering her resolve. “I don’t have any more pills with me; we need to go back to the castle first.” The alicorn spread her wings, preparing to take off.

“Not without us,” Steve said. It wasn’t a request.

Twilight paused, considering her options. “I’ve already caused you two enough trouble. I’m not subjecting you to more danger.”

He pressed his case as Twilight turned towards her castle. “You don’t know what you don’t know. That’s how you got into this mess in the first place. It’s our world. We can properly interpret what you’ll find there.”

Twilight stood motionless, her ears, tail, and wings slowly drooping.

“He has a point, Twi,” Applejack said.

Twilight sighed, then lethargically turned back around to face the others. “Meg, come with us. Steve, I’m sorry, but this time wings are required. We’ll be returning to your realm high above the ground.”

“Yeah, we didn’t know that the first time,” Rainbow Dash said. “We found out when we started plunging to our deaths,” the pegasus said, ending with a snicker aimed at Twilight.

Steve did not argue the point.

They didn’t waste any more time. The three winged ponies took off and flew back to the castle. That gave Meg a few minutes to speculate to herself on where they might have taken the doll.

Assuming they weren’t taking it someplace absurdly far away, like the south pole or an uninhabited island in the middle of the Pacific, the best bet would be in the middle of the Mojave desert. Lots of military bases there, including the apocryphal Area 51.

I guess we’ll find out soon enough.

They arrived at the castle, and quickly went to the private library. Twilight went upstairs to retrieve a set of pills. Upon coming back down, her mane restored to its normal state, she said, “Start hovering,” and levitated pills to the other two. “Take it into your mouth, but don’t swallow yet.”

They all did so. Meg did not find it pleasant keeping the plaid-tasting pill in her mouth. Is this funny to you, Discord?

“Keep your mind clear of any destination, then swallow.”

They all swallowed.

Below them was a dry, barren landscape. Broad dusty valleys flowed between low rocky mountains, layers of geologic strata visible within them. Maud Pie would love it here. The valleys sprouted sparse vegetation, desiccated and brown, possibly dead, though probably just hibernating until the next, unlikely rain. There was no sign of civilization, not so much as a dirt road. They were probably a mile above the ground, but even up here it was hot under the burning sun. Not a good place for furry creatures. Not a cloud to be seen either.

“Looks like you were right about the middle of nowhere,” Twilight said as she scanned the horizon, looking for anything relevant.

Meg’s best guess as to their location was looking good. She brought her phone into view and selected the map app. The app had no details to show, no roads, no rivers, no towns, nothing. Only one bar, too—and only that, she was sure, because of their altitude, thus providing a direct line of sight to a distant cell tower.

At least the GPS registered a change in her location; but she needed to zoom out, way out. Uh oh…

“So, where are we?” Rainbow Dash asked.

“I, uh, got a small problem,” Meg said, bearing a sheepish look. “I need to do a pinch gesture to zoom out, but I can’t do that with hooves.” She held up the other hoof. “I need two fingers.”

Twilight considered that for a moment, tapping her chin with her own hoof. “Try using your lips.”

That’s… clever. If it works. Only one way to find out. She pursed her lips, widely separated them, and made contact with the screen. After closing her lips, she pulled the phone back to see what happened. “That actually worked,” she said, pleasantly surprised.

She had to repeat the gesture numerous times, but eventually the map was sufficiently zoomed out to make out their location. “We’re inside Death Valley National Park, barely, though far to the east of the main road used by tourists. Maybe a hundred miles away from Las Vegas.”

Rainbow Dash was slightly confused by that. “Don’t you mean Las Pegasus?”

Meg rolled her eyes in irritation. I don’t need this right now…

“It’s called Las Vegas here, and it’s on the ground, not in the sky. Anyway, we’re about four to five hundred miles from my home—by car, anyway. As the bird flies it’d be significantly shorter, but there’s a huge mountain range in the way.”

“We’ll worry about that when the time comes,” Twilight said, dismissing it. “But, seriously, you have a park named Death Valley? Who’d want to go there?”

Meg sighed. “Long story. Suffice it to say, it’s quite survivable with modern technology. But if you have any magic that can help us deal with extreme heat, it would be most useful. What we’re experiencing right now, up here, in the late afternoon is nothing.”

Twilight took out her magic probe. “I’m sure there’s a spell or two I can find that will do the job,” she said without concern. She positioned the probe at the boundary of her bubble and took a reading. Frowning, she said, “Well, it’s farther away than when we were over that ocean.”

“At least thirty miles away, then,” Meg declared. “I don’t think they’d set up base in a national park, so we should fly east.” She looked at the setting sun and pointed in the opposite direction. “That way. We should at least find the highway running parallel to the park on the Nevada side. I have an idea for speeding up the search, if it’s possible for you to move our car here.”

They proceeded to fly away from the sun. Moving quickly through the air helped make the heat more tolerable.

“You want Steve to take readings on the ground while we take readings up here,” Twilight hypothesized, finding considerable merit in the idea. “It should be possible to move your car here by passing it through Equestria first.”

“That’s the idea.”

“It’s a shame you don’t have more of those phones. We could cover even more territory.” Twilight sighed. “Not that we know how to use them.”

“You don’t want to know about the billing plans,” Meg deadpanned.

Twilight raised an eyebrow at that, but decided not to inquire further.

Mile after mile of arid desert past beneath them as the sun rapidly approached the horizon, the shadows growing ever longer. This high up, the path water took when it did rain was obvious, forming the valleys in which the sparse, half-dead looking shrubs barely grew.

They paused for another reading, as the sun touched the horizon. “We’re not going to find it before nightfall,” Twilight said, as the probe moved into position.

Meg didn’t have much in the way of encouragement, but she offered what little she had. “Another night won’t make a difference. If they were going to destroy the doll, they’d have done it already.”

Twilight had little herself to offer. “I don’t think it’s moving—at least, not very fast—so we have that in our favor too. And it is getting stronger, so you were right about the direction.”

“Hey, guys?” Rainbow Dash was looking at the horizon as the other two were talking. “What are those bright, moving things over there?” There were only a few visible, widely separated, traveling in opposite directions.

Twilight took a look herself once the probe was put away. The objects were slowly dimming. “I… I don’t know. At least they’re not coming this way. Meg?”

Meg was already looking at them. It was perfectly obvious what they were. “Those are cars reflecting light from sun behind us, like a mirror.” They were dimming rapidly now, as the sun finally dipped below the horizon.

“That’s the road I was looking for,” she said, after checking the map—which required her to awkwardly zoom in. “US Route 95. That’s where we’ll put the car.” She began descending towards the road. Twilight and Rainbow Dash followed, once her intentions were clear.

It took nearly ten minutes to reach it—distances can be deceiving in the clean, dry air—but eventually they set down on the dirt, a few feet from the pavement.

“I see what you mean by the heat,” complained Rainbow Dash, as she decided to spare her hooves by hovering. The sun had set, but the ground still retained the heat it’d absorbed. Meg decided to join her; it wasn’t hot enough to be painful, but it sure wasn’t comfortable either. The air was cooler a few feet off the ground, too, and flapping wings helped keep the air moving. Twilight remained on the ground; must be her alicorn constitution, Meg reasoned.

“We won’t be here much longer,” Twilight stated. She took another reading. “Still getting stronger.” She put away the probe and looked at the two hovering pegasi. “Let’s head back.”

“No, not yet,” Meg objected. She was looking south, and didn’t like what she saw. “Not enough visibility here.”

“What are you talking about?” Rainbow Dash asked, following Meg’s gaze. “I can see that hill just fine.”

“And the road goes behind it,” Meg pointed out. She only got a look of incomprehension from both of them. Just then, a car came around the curve and rocketed past them.

“Whoa…” Rainbow Dash stared at the retreating taillights. “They can go that fast?!”

“Quite a bit faster, actually, but he’s breaking the speed limit as it is.” Meg flew down the road, looking for a suitable spot.

Twilight followed, while looking back nervously at the curve in the road. “How long does it take to get up to that speed?”

“Now you see the problem.”

They flew on in silence, during which two other cars went past them. Meg wasn’t going just for distance, but in the fading light was also looking for some ground next to the road, beyond the normal shoulder, that didn’t look like a flat tire waiting to happen. Eventually, she came upon a suitable spot.

“Okay, right here.”

Twilight took one last measurement with the probe. “Looks a bit stronger, so Steve will want to take your car north, while we continue flying east.”

They all invoked the return spell. Steve was there, using the laptop as Spike watched on in fascination, waiting for their return.

“I have some good news,” Steve said, as he noticed their presence. “The simulations have converged on a solution.”

“Perfect timing,” Twilight muttered, as she and Meg went over to see the solution for themselves. “Spike, copy that down.”

“Already done.” The baby dragon distractedly pointed to a scroll next to the computer.

Steve turned to the mares. “So?”

Meg pulled off her phone and presented it; Steve retrieved it with his magic. Due to the antenna’s enchantment, it still thought it was in the Nevada desert. “We ran out of daylight, but it’s somewhere northeast of there. We’re thinking, first thing tomorrow morning, you can drive north while we fly east.”

“Nevada, eh?” He sent the phone back to Meg as he turned to Twilight. “I take it you can move the car there by bringing it here first?”

“We can go fetch it right now.” Twilight started to fly upstairs to fetch more plaid pills.

“No, don’t, not yet,” he said.

She drifted back to the floor, mystified. “Why not?”

He stood up and walked over to her. “We have to assume they’re looking for us. They know we weren’t home. They know we didn’t take our car, but they might still be keeping an eye on it. If it disappears now, by tomorrow they’ll be searching multiple states for it. We need to wait till tomorrow. It will then be physically impossible for it to be in Nevada, so they won’t be looking for it there—not before we locate the doll, anyway.”

Twilight looked over to Meg, who had nothing to add. “We get it tomorrow,” she conceded.

Dawn was breaking. Under the dim skies, two mares popped into existence behind a car. Meg proceeded to fly around, looking to see if anyone was up and about, as Twilight prepared herself to pull a massive object with her back to Equestria.

It didn’t take Meg long to report back. “It’s clear. Can’t rule out video surveillance, but if they’re watching they’ll be working overtime to come up with a reason why the car didn’t just vanish into thin air.” The thought of them desperately searching for some hardware malfunction, or editing of the video, or something, was amusing to her.

Then a scary thought occurred to her: are we visible to cameras? What if invisibility was achieved by manipulating the perceiver? That seemed unlikely, since most would be outside of a magical field. But if photons were passing right through them, how could they see each other?

“I need to check something,” she hastily told Twilight. Meg moved a few dozen feet away, then brought up her phone and put it into camera mode. She saw the car—and only the car—on the screen. Yet she had no trouble seeing with her eyes the lavender pony looking back at her with curiosity.

It was her perceptions that were being magically manipulated. It made sense, really: being invisible, the retinas of her eyes could not absorb photons; she ought to be blind. The same would apply to sound and hearing. No, they were still solid objects. But that implied echolocation could “see” them. She shrugged that off; fortunately, there were no bats on the FBI payroll.

Wait. How does the camera see anything? Meg shook her head. This wasn’t the time, and Twilight was starting to get impatient.

Meg went back to her. “I’ll explain later.” The last thing they needed was for Twilight to go off on a tangent right now. “Let’s get out of here.”

Twilight concentrated, as Meg kept an eye out. After a few seconds, she heard hooves click three times and she turned around. Twilight and the car were gone. She invoked the return spell herself.

Back on the main balcony of the castle, the car shined in the morning Equestrian sun, with Twilight and Steve standing next to it. Rainbow Dash was hovering next them, watching.

Steve was trying to unlock the door, the problem being his keys were in his pants, and his pants were wherever they went when he turned into a pony. He was attempting to unlock the door by pushing a button inside the car using telekinesis. Having to pass through solid objects to get to it made it difficult. Twilight was treating it as one of her lessons.

A mechanical sound marked his success. He opened the door and Twilight levitated one of her magic probes into the car. Steve got a crash course on how to use it last night. It wasn’t designed for human fingers, but it could be managed. Once it was on the passenger’s seat, he closed the door.

Rainbow Dash took that as her cue. “Let’s get this show on the road,” she said with anticipation, as she flew back into the castle. The others followed her to the library.

Twilight went upstairs to fetch more plaid pills, and upon returning sent two of them over to Rainbow Dash and Meg. They swallowed the pills.

The sun was peaking through a gap in the hills to the east, as they stood a dozen feet off the highway. It was now pleasingly chilly—to pegasi, anyway—but it wouldn’t stay that way for long. Not a sound was to be heard in the still air.

Meg noticed they weren’t casting shadows. It then occurred to her that not enough time had passed for the sun to have risen above the horizon. Right, she remembered, we’ve gone a few hundred miles east.

Rainbow Dash had already started to climb high in the sky, and Meg belatedly followed. Once they achieved a vantage point that let them see the road for miles in either direction, they hovered.

Meg now felt silly for picking a spot yesterday based on visibility. She had perfect visibility right here. All she had to do was to give Steve the all clear via their phones. I’d been thinking as an experienced human driver, not as a pegasus.

There was virtually no traffic this early in the morning. There would be no problem in bringing their car across. Meg called her husband.

The use of cell phones did raise concerns. It was not a secret which cell tower they communicated with. After returning to Equestria the previous day, they had gone home—as invisible ponies—to retrieve some stuff. A useful side effect was that it had also reset the tower her phone talked to. If anyone was paying attention, they would have seen her phone instantly hop hundreds of miles, then hop right back again almost an hour later. As with the disappearing car, they would be preoccupied with finding and fixing the fault in their monitoring tools, and would question it when they saw it happen again today.

“We’re ready,” he tersely answered. Who knew who was listening in?

The two hovering ponies did another sweep. A car had decided to pick that time to come from the north. “Soon,” Meg replied.

Meg kept an eye on that car while Rainbow Dash checked the other direction. The seconds ticked by, until the car finally passed their chosen spot, its noise doppler shifting to a lower pitch.

“Clear,” Dash said.

“Go,” Meg said, then ended the call. The call was likely to be dropped anyway; the cellular infrastructure wasn’t designed to hand off a call from one tower to another hundreds of miles away. Wait. If we’re invisible, how can the phone talk to a cell tower? Obviously, invisibility didn’t apply to radio frequencies. Did they show up on radar?

The two pegasi descended to their starting point, as the car popped into existence, pulled onto the road and noisily accelerated away. Twilight went airborne and met them halfway.

“The doll doesn’t appear to have moved since yesterday,” she said. “Let’s continue east.”

For several minutes they flew at a northerly angle to the rising sun, over more of the desolate land, occasionally seeing a dry river bed formed by flash floods. Twilight signaled for them to halt so she could take a reading.

“It’s weaker, but not by much. It must be quite some distance to the north.”

Meg checked her phone. “The road bears west, so we should go straight north.” She switched to the compass app and oriented herself. “This way.”

For the past hour Steve had been traveling north on US Route 95, pulling over every mile or two to take a reading and text it to Meg. Fortunately, the non-existent traffic made it easy to slow down in preparation for pulling over onto the dirt shoulder, as he was doing yet again.

After parking the car, but leaving the engine running, he reached for the magic probe. The probe was designed to be operated by unicorn telekinesis, but it was still possible to turn the tiny knobs with fingers. He had already needed to decrease the sensitivity several times as he got closer to the doll.

But before he could grab it, he noticed a car pulling up behind him with a makeshift flashing light on its roof, not the highway patrol but an unmarked sedan.

Oh, crap.

The driver and passenger got out of the nondescript vehicle and Steve recognized the passenger as FBI Special Agent Holmes. For a change, he wasn’t in a suit and tie but, like the unknown driver, in a sport shirt and jeans.

This cannot be a coincidence.

He cursed his stupidity; Twilight wasn’t the only one operating on erroneous assumptions. A least she had a good excuse.

No purpose would be served by fleeing, so he opened his window and patiently waited. He would just have to hope for the best.

Holmes casually walked up to window. “Fancy meeting you out here in the middle of nowhere, Mr. Coleman.”

Not that he thought it would do him much good, Steve decided to play innocent for as long as possible. Besides, exactly what was he guilty of? Speeding, which he hadn’t been doing anyway, was outside his jurisdiction. “What’s this about?” he tried to say as nonchalantly as possible.

“Care to explain why you are here?”

This cat and mouse game was not likely to end well, but he really didn’t have much choice. “Exploring the desert. Is that a federal crime?”

“An interesting question,” Holmes replied with a deceptively relaxed attitude. “Where’s your wife?”

That was tricky to answer. Give an obvious lie and the agent will have his federal offense on a silver platter. Tell him she’s a winged pony flying around not too far away, and he’ll… it wouldn’t be good, whatever he did. “She was unable to accompany me this morning.” A completely true statement.

The agent was silent for a moment, obviously knowing an evasive answer when he heard one. “I’d like you to help me understand something,” he finally said, still maintaining a relaxed façade.


“How did your car get from the Bay Area to a point about fifteen miles south of here—” he paused briefly for effect “—instantaneously, without traveling through the intervening distance?”

There was only one way he could know that. Even if there was live video surveillance, that wouldn’t tell them when or where the car arrived here, nor did he say anything about his phone. “You put a GPS tracking device on my car?”

He got silence in response.

“I don’t see why it’s my problem if your hardware malfunctions.”

More silence.

It wasn’t as if he could claim the car really did teleport hundreds of miles; and if the device was tampered with, then why was it working now?

Holmes pulled back a few inches, putting his hands on his waist. “I’ll admit this is a peculiar situation we got here. I could let you be on your way, but I think we both know we’ll just end up bumping into each other again. I got what you’re looking for—though how you’re able to track it is another of those mysteries I’d like solved.”

In hindsight it was so obvious. This was all a test, to see what their reaction would be to the doll disappearing. If they had been oblivious about the doll, they would have done what anyone else would have done in that situation: wonder what happened to it, then move on. They wouldn’t be efficaciously tracking it down hundreds of miles away. They had been given plenty of rope, and they had just hung themselves with it.

Agent Holmes stepped away from the car. “Please exit the vehicle.”

This is it. Perhaps it was just as well. In all likelihood, they were taking him straight to the doll. It was only a matter of time before Twilight showed up. Then things would get interesting.

Hopefully not in a bad way.

Steve got out of the car and was promptly handcuffed.

“My associate will drive your car to our base of operations,” Holmes said as he led Steve to his car. He opened the back door. “Please get in, Mr. Coleman. It’ll be a short ride.”

He did so without resistance.

“We’re done going north,” Twilight said as she put away her magic probe.

The sun had climbed higher in the past ninety minutes and was making its presence felt. It wasn’t hot, yet, but it was only a matter of time. “Do you know how hot it will get?” she asked Meg.

Meg brought up the weather app. “The forecast high is 112 degrees in the afternoon. No clouds.” She looked up at them. “Could be worse; summer’s only getting started.”

Twilight took that in stride. “The cooling potions should last about two hours at that temperature.”

“What about Steve?” Rainbow Dash asked. “He’s in that metal box thingy. Won’t that get really hot?”

“He’ll be fine,” Meg assured her. “Air conditioning.”

Twilight’s ears perked up. “Could you elaborate?” How could too much heat be solved by technology?

“Uh… a machine that can pump heat from the inside to the outside?”

“What are the operating principles of this machine?”

“I don’t know, really,” she admitted. “Involves compressors and heat exchangers and stuff like that.” She ended with a sheepish smile.

Well, Twilight thought, they can’t be knowledgable about everything. She added it to the list of technologies she needed to study up on when she had the time.

“What I would like to know, right now,” Meg said, “is how we can feel the sun’s heat when we don’t cast shadows. The light must be passing through us.”

“I don’t really understand, myself,” Twilight said, frowning. “This is Discord’s magic, don’t forget. I believe it’s tied into the fact that we can see each other; that requires the light to interact with us, even if it also ignores our existence. Perhaps the light is duplicated at the point of first interaction. True, practical invisibility is extremely difficult to achieve.”

There was still much Twilight hadn’t puzzled out about how those pills worked. Never before had she seen magic so sophisticated—or disorderly. Normally, a complex spell is well structured, with clearly defined layers, parts, and interactions. These pills were the opposite of that. It would have been amazing that they worked at all, if she hadn’t known who created them.

“Speaking of Steve…” Meg checked her phone, and frowned. “It’s been too long since his last update.”

She proceeded to call him. The phone rang once… twice… thrice… and just before it would have gone to voice mail, the call was answered.

“Mrs. Coleman, I presume?”

With her ear swiveled to the phone, Twilight could make out the voice coming from the other end—and it wasn’t Steve’s. Worse still, Meg’s face had gone pale.

“Agent Holmes?” she said, weakly.

“Mr. Coleman is in my custody right now. If you tell me where you are staying, I can have your car returned to you.”

Meg was now scared. “That… that won’t be necessary.”

“You might be interested to know I have the doll as well.”

Meg looked at Twilight. There wasn’t really anything to say, and it wouldn’t do for this agent to learn of her existence prematurely.

“Ex-excuse me?” Meg belatedly replied.

“I think it would be best to dispense with the pretense, wouldn’t you agree?”

She ended the call. “Maybe I should put it into airplane mode—shut off the transmitter,” she mused. “He’s going to try and trace my location, though I suppose it wouldn’t do him a whole lot of good even if he succeeded.”

“He can do that?” Dash asked, a bit worried.

“Not very well, I would think, given the low density of cell towers out here.” She did some tapping on her phone. Eventually her face broke out in a smile. “Fortunately, I can get an exact GPS fix on my husband’s phone.” The orchid pegasus turned around, orienting herself to the southwest. “That way, about three miles.”

So why can’t the agent get an exact GPS fix on her phone? So much about their technology she did not understand.

“Well, what are we waiting for?!” The cyan pegasus was chomping at the bit. Meg flew off in the indicated direction and the others followed.

The minutes it took to get there gave Twilight plenty of time to ponder the situation. The trouble that Steve—and probably Meg—are in with their government was ultimately her fault. She couldn’t fix the hole fast enough, never mind that it was her actions that created it in the first place, even if unintentionally.

And about the doll… It was now clear they could track it too. What were her options? Take it to the middle of an ocean and hope they couldn’t find it there? That they couldn’t follow her as she moved it there? She couldn’t afford to again underestimate their non-magical technology.

She shouldn’t underestimate this agent either. “Meg, does this agent know you can home in on that phone?”

She quickly glanced at her with a grim look on her face. “It wouldn’t surprise me. He may very well be counting on it.”

So they will be expecting us. Except, of course, they would be expecting Meg to arrive in a car, not on wing as a pegasus accompanied by an alicorn fueled by the magic pouring out of that doll.

I am a Princess, she reminded herself. What would Celestia do?

They had the element of surprise, but how to use it? Certainly not to start a war.

She quietly sighed. It seemed so much easier when she was merely being tested.

Are you sure this isn’t your biggest test of all?

She pushed such thoughts out of her mind; they were unproductive. Besides, it wasn’t as if Celestia knew this would all happen.

Meg checked her phone again and made a minor course correction. They remained high above the ground in order to enjoy a large field of view. Whatever it was they were looking for, it would probably stick out in this desolate land.

And it did. From behind a hill, a collection of shiny objects came into view, reflecting the intense morning sun back to them. “I think that’s it,” Meg confirmed.

They descended towards the objects. “Stay five hundred feet above them,” Twilight cautioned. “That should ensure our invisibility, at least until I can check the magical field strength.”

Finally they came to a rest above the objects. There were four large rectangular objects, sort of like train cars except they weren’t attached to each other, and three cars, one of which was Steve’s. As she got the probe out, she asked Meg, “What are we looking at?”

“Looks like three RVs—recreational vehicles—and a tractor trailer.” She got blank looks. “Uh, an RV is basically a hotel room on wheels. They probably rented these on short notice in Vegas. It means they can sleep here overnight. The big, heavy stuff is inside that tractor trailer—probably equipment to study the doll.”

Twilight took a reading. “It’s definitely down there. I think we can get as close as two hundred feet before our bubbles collapse and we become visible.”

“It could be much worse,” Meg said. “I was afraid they’d take it to a military base. There are several to choose from out here.”

Twilight did not want to even think about their military technology, much less have to deal with it. As unfortunate as it was what happened to Steve, she was glad she had accepted Meg’s offer to join the mission. She couldn’t afford ignorance right now. She needed Meg’s understanding of her realm. “I’m open to suggestions,” she humbly stated. “Our top priority is getting Steve out of there.”

Meg looked down at the RVs, conflicted over which option to pursue. It took an uncomfortably long time for her to decide.

“No, the doll is,” she sighed, looking back at the alicorn. “Steve’s in no immediate danger, not really in any danger in the sense of physical harm. They can’t stop us from taking him back to Equestria with us. They don’t even know we can do that. The doll, on the other hand… er, hoof…”

Right. We can’t take the doll to Equestria. “We use our element of surprise to get the doll,” Twilight proposed. Meg nodded. “Then I’ll talk to this Agent Holmes myself.”

“Huh?” Meg and Rainbow Dash said simultaneously.

“You should not be suffering for my mistakes. I need to set things right.”

“How do you know you can?” Rainbow Dash demanded to know. “How will he react when he sees you?!”

They both looked at Meg. “Impossible to predict,” she said. “It could be anything from ‘he thinks you’re best pony’ to ‘he’ll think he’s having a mental breakdown.’”

Why can’t it ever be easy? She took a deep breath. “I have to try,” she said with determination. “But that’s why we’re getting the doll first.”

18. Interventions

Twilight concentrated and teleported to a point directly above one of the RVs. She didn’t move. “Why can’t I teleport?”

The other two had no answer, not that Twilight expected them to have one.

“I’ve teleported before, so I know it’s allowed here,” she pointed out to the universe at large.

Meg asked, “In and out of our office?”

“Right.” She had done so several times, in both directions. So what was different about— she face-hoofed.

“I was close to the doll,” she said, having figured it out. “Our bubbles had collapsed, not that I knew it the first time I teleported in.”

“You can’t teleport to a point outside your bubble,” Meg deduced.

“Which means you have to become visible before you can teleport,” Rainbow Dash added, frowning.

Twilight looked down. No humans were outside. She would still be high up when she became visible, and it would only take a second to teleport. They’d have no reason to look up anyway. The risk was minimal.

She slowly descended over the RVs, keeping an eye on the pegasi above her. Once they turned invisible, she would know that her own bubble had collapsed and thus be able to teleport. To make sure the coast remained clear, she also periodically looked below.

As she descended, she reviewed in her mind the sequence of events around that first magic containment bubble collapse. It was unlikely their bubbles collapsed simultaneously, the first time they had approached the doll. She couldn’t remember who had been in front, but if the one in front had been looking at the other and had noticed a brief invisibility… well, maybe it would have made a difference or, given Meg’s destiny, maybe it wouldn’t have.

Meg and Rainbow Dash vanished. Twilight immediately concentrated and teleported. This time it worked. She was hovering right above an RV. She pulled up her legs and got as low as possible, so she couldn’t be seen from the ground.

She got out the probe and took a reading. I’m right on top of it! Must be her lucky day. She was overdue for one. Several more readings along the length of the vehicle placed it towards the back.

So now what? Were there any humans inside? How could she find out without revealing herself? And what if it was occupied? She drifted from one end to the other, focusing her ears to catch any sounds from below, and heard nothing. Not conclusive, unfortunately.

There wasn’t much choice. Thankfully, there was no need to cover her tracks; once the doll was safely elsewhere, she was going to introduce herself anyway. Twilight prepared a knock-out spell for quick deployment, then drifted over the side and down to the windows facing the empty desert, away from the other vehicles. Some were completely covered with curtains, but the few that were mostly uncovered were enough to see nearly all of the interior.

Her luck continued to hold. The Pinkie Pie doll was just sitting there on a table, happily smiling at nothing, and no humans were visible. Still not conclusive, but getting there. The windows on the other side were the same, some covered and others not so much. She choose a location next to a covered window and teleported inside. A quick scan in all directions showed she was alone.

The alicorn took a deep breath and exhaled, attempting to calm her nerves. Meg warned they might have put some kind of tracking device on it. There did appear to be a collar with some kind of device attached to it. She had to assume that was it.

Meg had also warned that cutting the collar could trigger an alarm. Fortunately, she had other options. Concentrating, she touched her horn to the collar and teleported it off the doll and on to the table.

There was no reason to think that act would set off an alarm, but better safe than sorry. The sooner she got that doll outside and far away from here, the better.

Teleporting the doll was too risky. Meg explained that the RV was probably locked if unoccupied, and that opening the door might cause an alarm to go off. Even worse, that door was facing the other vehicles. Nor did she know how to determine if there even was an alarm, never mind how to deactivate it.

She examined the windows. It did appear they could be opened. That might set off an alarm too, but as the door was on the other side, clearly visible and obviously closed, they wouldn’t be sure what was going on and that would give her precious seconds.

She grabbed the doll with her magic and brought it over to one of the smaller windows. It was too small for her to go through, but that was irrelevant. It’s smallness also made it less likely it would trigger an alarm.

“Here goes nothing…” she said to herself. With her telekinesis, she unlatched the window and pushed it open, then immediately sent the doll though and down to the ground. Next she teleported outside and picked up the doll.

Only now did she let herself notice there was only silence. Not that she knew what the alarm would sound like, but surely it would be loud and obnoxious. She allowed herself the luxury of closing the window and re-latching it. No need to make it obvious how I did it.

She flew into the desert, hugging the ground for a few thousand feet before climbing high into the sky. Rainbow Dash and Meg were paying attention and soon joined her, becoming visible as their bubbles collapsed.

“Did they spot you?” asked Rainbow Dash.

“No,” answered Twilight, shaking her head. “I can’t believe how easy it was.”

“Maybe they wanted you to get it? A trap, maybe?”

Meg shook her head. “That’s silly. If they expected anyone to come after that doll, they expected it to be someone, not somepony, and they already have their most likely candidate in custody. They certainly didn’t expect an alicorn who can fly and teleport.”

Twilight positioned the doll in front of her, looking into Pinkie’s eyes. “First things first: let’s take care of their main concern.” Out of her saddlebag came a collar. It wrapped itself around the neck of the doll and fastened itself.

The collar was studded with magicked crystals that should perturb the magic flowing out of the doll in such a fashion as to prevent the emission of electromagnetic radiation when it underwent its phase change. As far as humans were concerned, the doll had just been rendered harmless and nearly impossible to find.


She had to trust the computer simulation for now, but soon she would be talking to those who could verify it. But first, she needed the doll to be far away from here.

She next got a canvas bag out of her saddlebag and put the doll in it, then secured the bag to the top of Rainbow Dash’s saddle.

“Fly over to the top of that hill over there and hide the doll, then come back here and stay out of sight.”

The pegasus lost no time in departing.

Twilight looked at Meg. “Now all I have to do is figure out in which of the other two RVs they’re keeping him.”

“I didn’t tamper with it. I didn’t even know it was there.”

This was the third time that question had been asked. If he was disappointed Steve kept giving the same answer, Holmes did not show it, nor did it stop him from repeating his response.

“There is no evidence it malfunctioned.”

“Nor is there evidence it was tampered with, right?”

Special Agent Holmes merely looked at him with that poker face, a face Steve was becoming all too familiar with. That handcuff attaching him to the pole next to the table had also become too familiar. Surely the others must be here by now! Not that he had a clue what they would—even could—do.

Holmes never answered that question.

Steve once again asked, “If I had tampered with it, why would I un-tamper it right in your backyard?”

He never answered that question either.

The air conditioner turned on, filling the RV with its loud drone.

This time, he did. “So I would find you and bring you here, where the doll is,” he replied in an even voice, changing his tactics. “Your wife then gets a GPS fix on your phone.” He let a small smile grace his face. “Your phone is still here and broadcasting.”

Wow, he thinks he has it all figured out. He was tempted to tell him the whole truth just to see what it would do to that poker face, Pinkie Promise be damned. “Yeah, and question marks, then profit,” Steve sarcastically replied. “What’s she supposed to do once she gets here? Get captured too?”

Holmes leaned against a cabinet, crossing his arms. “You tell me.”

I wish I knew. At least Twilight had options that the FBI could never conceive of.

Agent Holmes picked up the magic probe from the kitchenette counter, where it had been next to Steve’s car keys, and examined it. “Rather odd design. Did you make this?”

“No.” At least it was a new line of questioning, but how to answer the inevitable followup question?

“What does it do?”

Steve decided a half-truth was better than a non-answer. Twilight would take it back anyway. “Helps locate the doll.”

His eyebrows went up at that. “How does it work?”

“For all I know, magic.”

“Who gave it to you.”

“You wouldn’t believe me.”

“Try me.”

Where are they? he screamed inside. But what do I expect her to do, just knock on the door? He looked the agent in the eyes. “You wouldn’t believe me,” he said slowly and clearly. “I’m better off not telling you. Really.”

There was a knock at the door. “Special Agent Holmes?”

You have got to be kidding me. “She gave it to me,” he said with resignation, pointing with his free hand to the door.

Holmes put the probe back where it was. Getting out his phone, he made a call. “Fowler, I need back up.”


Steve could barely make out the voice.

A few seconds passed. “I’m locked inside, somehow.” Loud, banging sounds could be heard. “I’ll, uh, have to get back to you.”

Twilight had been a busy mare, apparently.

“Keep me informed,” Holmes stoically replied and put the phone away. He pulled out a gun, and started off for the front of the vehicle.

“Just don’t shoot first and ask questions later,” Steve said a bit more loudly than needed. “It will only annoy her.”

Holmes looked back at him, his poker face intact.

We’ll see how long that lasts.

He continued to the front, stopping a few feet behind the driver’s seat. “The door is unlocked. Open slowly and enter, keeping your hands up where I can see them.” His gun was aimed at the door.

The door opened slowly as instructed. “Just so you know, I don’t have hands,” a friendly voice said. “I assure you I’m only here to talk.”

Something jumped onto the steps leading up from the door.

“My appearance may shock you, but I mean you no harm.” A lavender pony walked into view, bearing the friendliest of smiles. Her horn was softly glowing, powering a shield if she had any sense. The door closed behind her.

Holmes did not shoot, but he also didn’t do much of anything else for a few seconds. “What the hell are you?”

Not a brony then. Steve could not see his face, but Holmes’ voice was only moderately stressed. He seemed to be handling it fairly well. Well enough to aim a gun at Twilight’s head.

Twilight did not seem to care. “I suggest you take a picture and send it to Agent Fowler,” she said, maintaining her smile.

He didn’t know what to make of that. “Did you trap her in the other RV?” he asked, as he got out his phone.

“I did; and we’ve never met, if that’s what you’re thinking.” She cocked her head. “You might say she knows me by reputation.”

The phone made a fake shutter release sound. After a few seconds of tapping, he waited. He didn’t have to wait long. He accepted the call.

“This really isn’t the time for a tardy April Fools’ joke,” Fowler said, trying to keep a lid on her frustration. “I’m getting out through a window. I’ll be there in a second.” The sounds of her climbing through the window and hitting the ground came through.

“It’s no joke; it’s standing right in front of me.”

Rapid footsteps on the rocky dirt were heard. “Then kindly tell Twilight Sparkle that she’s impossible,” she said sarcastically.

Princess Twilight Sparkle,” the alicorn loudly said.

The footsteps stopped. “That… voice.”

Holmes sighed. “Just get over here,” he said, and ended the call.

The gun remained pointed at Twilight, and a friendly smile remained on her muzzle.

“I’m a pony, by the way.”


“You asked what I was; I’m telling you.”

The standoff continued in silence for a little bit longer, until the door opened and Agent Fowler entered. Twilight turned her head to look back at her stunned expression.

“Am I still ‘best pony?’” she casually asked Fowler.

“How could you…” she started to say, then she put two and two together. “Meg told you that.”

Twilight nodded. “I consider Meg and Steve to be my friends, and I am here, as a representative of Equestria, to set things straight.” She turned back to look at the gun. “Would you please put your weapon away?”

The gun did not move.

“You’re not going to win a fight with an alicorn,” Steve helpfully pointed out.

Fowler looked at Steve, then back at Twilight. “Your horn is glowing,” she observed. “He’s right,” she conceded. “I doubt a bullet could touch her.”

“You can’t be serious.” The gun still pointed at the alicorn.

Fowler looked at Holmes, exasperated. “Look, I know how crazy this is. She’s a character from a cartoon! But we both see her, and if she’s even a tenth as powerful as she’s portrayed, she can effortlessly take out an entire SWAT team.”

Holmes looked back and forth between Fowler’s grim face and Twilight’s friendly face. “This isn’t a cartoon. That just isn’t physically possible.”

“Neither is she,” she retorted, pointing at the pony.

He stared at Twilight for a few seconds. “Fine,” he conceded, as he slowly holstered his gun. “I’ll play along… for now.” Addressing Twilight, he asked, “I take it you’re connected to that doll?”

Twilight bore a proud smile, as she said, “You’ll be pleased to hear that I’ve just taken measures to prevent the electromagnetic radiation you find objectionable. The doll is no longer your concern.”

“I suppose I am glad to hear that,” he facetiously replied, “but that doesn’t mean I’m handing the doll over to you.”

“Rainbow Dash is hiding it someplace far away from here as we speak.”

Holmes and Fowler were too stunned to immediately reply, though for different reasons.

“Dash is here too?” Fowler asked.

“We’ll have no trouble finding it,” Holmes assuredly said.

Twilight shook her head. “I teleported the collar off the doll. You will never find it.”

“Teleported?” Holmes scoffed.

Fowler put a hand to her forehead. “Yeah, she can do that.”


She nodded.

“Fine,” he exhaled, and turned his attention back to Twilight. “This is your definition of ‘setting things straight?’” Holmes obviously did not think that had been accomplished.

That unexpected attitude cracked Twilight’s armor of friendliness. “I just got rid of a problem you’ve been having, so, yes, actually.” She was a bit uncertain how to proceed, so she fell back to something generic and always appropriate. “I’m here to talk.”

“That might mean more if you weren’t responsible for the problem in the first place—and you are, correct?”

Her armor shattered, replaced by a frown. “Not intentionally,” she admitted. “It’s an even bigger problem for us, and I’m doing my best to fix it.” Looking back again at Fowler, she said, lecturing, “In the real world, not every problem can be fixed with a spell or two.” Fowler’s face turned red from embarrassment.

Holmes walked a short distance up the aisle and back again, pondering what to do. “Looks like we have a long talk ahead of us, so you might as well come in and get comfortable.” He went to a sofa and sat down.

Twilight hesitantly followed. “I want to talk to Steve first, to make sure he’s okay.”

Holmes waved a hand. “Be my guest.”

Twilight flew to the table, in front of which Steve was seated, and laid down upon it, so she could be eye level with him.

“You can fly,” Holmes muttered.

Twilight ignored him and addressed Steve. “Are you okay?”

“As well as can be expected,” he replied, holding up a cuffed hand.

The alicorn princess addressed the FBI agent. “Release him,” she commanded.

“You don’t give orders here,” he barked.

His refusal infuriated her. “Fine. I’ll set him free.” Her horn brightened.

“Twilight, don’t!

She looked at Steve with confusion, but her horn dimmed.

“This isn’t helping me,” he explained. “Go down this road, and eventually I’ll become a fugitive requesting asylum in Equestria.”

Holmes found that amusing. “A person having to spend the rest of his life amongst ponies? I can imagine fitting in would be a problem.”

“You’d be surprised how well I can fit in, but that’s beside the point. I’m not interested in throwing away my life.”

“I suggest cooperating, then. Perhaps start by explaining that doll?”

“Twilight, I think you should let me talk to Agent Holmes privately for a bit. Why don’t you move my car back to your castle. My keys are on the counter there, along with your device.”

Twilight looked at Holmes. He was silent. “That might be a good idea,” she said, weakly.

She levitated the keys and magic probe into her saddlebag as the agent watched dumbfounded. The alicorn then position herself next to and parallel to the window overlooking the table. “Rainbow Dash is keeping watch,” she said before teleporting to the other side of the glass. Letting gravity do its thing, she dropped to the ground, and wearily walked over to the car, her tail drooping. Holmes got to a window just in time to see the car glow lavender and disappear.

“I’m listening, Mr. Coleman,” Holmes said. “Please make it good.” He continued staring at where the car used to be.

If Steve didn’t know better, he could have sworn he heard a trace of pleading in his voice. “You have to understand she doesn’t know much about us; she didn’t even know our world existed a month ago. And she’s still new at the whole princess thing.” He shrugged. “It would really help if you could cut her some slack.”

Holmes sighed. “I’ll try to keep that in mind. The doll?”

“Yes, the doll…”

Holmes expectantly stared at him.

“It really is just a doll. We bought it in a store a few years ago. It’s just that, somehow—I don’t know how, and I don’t think Twilight does either—Equestria’s magic is draining into our universe through that doll. It’s sorta like a wormhole connecting our universes, and one end is anchored inside that doll.”

Holmes stared back blankly for too long before speaking. “I guess that’s not the craziest thing I’ve learned today.”

“Mr. Coleman,” Fowler said, “how much of it is real? The cartoon, I mean…”

“All of it, with minor exceptions. And, yes, we’ve been there.”

“So all the broadcast interference, the suppression of radioactive decay, that’s all due to magic coming out of that doll.”


After thinking about that for a moment, Fowler went over and sat across the table from Steve, “I can understand why Twilight is extremely protective of that doll, but is there anyway we can persuade her to let us hold on to it, so we can study this magic, figure out how it affects radioactivity, so we can do that ourselves.”

Being a scientist himself, Steve could certainly empathize, but there were better options. “That flow of magic will stop as soon as Twilight can figure out how to stop it—and trust me, she’s motivated to find a way. The doll will then be just a doll.”

“Then all the more reason to get it back now so we can study it while we can!”

Steve shook his head, smiling. “There are other ways of getting access to magic. The doll must be miles away by now, but that didn’t stop Twilight from using magic, now did it?”

“She brought some with her?”

“It’s not my place to provide the details.” He may have been breaking his Pinkie Promise as it was. He thought Twilight had given him permission. It seemed like she was going to say all this herself, anyway.

But now for the big carrot. “But maybe, if you play your cards right, you could even be allowed to study magic in Equestria itself. Twilight’s quite interested in the synergies between our technology and their magic.”

It had the desired effect on the pegasister. “Y-you think that’s possible?”

“It’s not impossible. Equestria’s not going anywhere. We both now know the other exists. So what’s next? Princess Celestia is trying to figure that out, and so must we.”

“That’s above our pay grade,” she said, fidgeting. “If this is a First Contact, it sure ain’t going very well.”

“Nobody planned for this to happen. But I promise you, Twilight will work with you, if you’d just meet her halfway.”

“And what would you suggest,” droned Holmes.

Steve held up his cuffed hand, jingling the chain.

Fowler looked at Holmes.

Holmes remained silent, struggling to maintain his poker face.

“Look, I’m not going anywhere. My car’s gone, remember?”

“Couldn’t she take you where she took your car?”

“She could do that with or without the handcuffs.”


“What, exactly, am I guilty of?” Steve complained. “Are you going to argue in court that I harbored a doll pouring out magic from another universe full of cartoon ponies?”

Holmes frowned, his poker face finally demolished. “I suppose you’d call on Twilight as a witness for the defense?”

“Sure, why not?” Steve shrugged. He had no idea if Twilight would do that, but who knew where human/pony relations would be when the trial finally took place, a year or two in the future.

Holmes got up. “I don’t think the system is ready for that, yet,” he wearily said. He got out a set of keys, picked one, then removed the handcuffs.

Steve rubbed his freed wrist with his other hand.

Holmes sternly looked at him. “But you are to keep me in the loop,” he warned. “This case has attracted the attention of people with sufficiently high pay grades.”

Steve almost felt sorry for him. How was Holmes supposed to explain ponies and magic to them without losing his job? “I get the message,” he simply said.

And Twilight had better brush up on her diplomacy skills.

“At least the mystery of the GPS tracker has been solved.” The agent sighed. “She mentioned Rainbow Dash?”

“Yeah, she’s probably hovering above us somewhere.” And probably another pegasus that doesn’t need mentioning. “I doubt you can see her, but I think I can get her to come out of hiding.”

“Please do,” Holmes said. “Why don’t you go outside ahead of me. That might set her at ease.”

Steve walked to the front, opened the door, and stepped out into the desert heat. I sure hope that cooling potion is working for them. He looked up and around but of course did not see any flying ponies. Probably hovering above the RV listening in. Which meant they were watching him right now. Looking at his hypothetical equine watchers, he called out, “You can show yourself, Rainbow Dash.”

A few seconds passed before the cyan pegasus popped into view above the RV, just as he suspected. Rainbow Dash flew down to hover in front of him. “So you’re out of trouble?” she optimistically asked.

“For now,” Agent Holmes replied, as he and Fowler joined them. They both stared at Dash, if for somewhat different reasons.

The pegasus was about to say something no doubt unhelpful, so Steve preempted her. “Where’s the other pegasus?” Holmes raised on eyebrow at that, but said nothing.

Fowler, though, said, “Fluttershy’s here?”

Steve shook his head. “It isn’t Fluttershy. The vast majority of ponies have never appeared in the cartoon.”

Rainbow Dash nervously looked from Steve to Holmes and back. “Uh… I think she’s with Twilight right now.”

“Can you contact Twilight?” asked Holmes.

“No?” she said sheepishly.

“There’s a good chance they’re where Meg is,” Steve said. “My phone?”

Without hesitation, Holmes pulled Steve’s phone from a pocket and handed it over. Steve unlocked it and called his wife.


“You’re with Twilight?” he asked, getting down to business.

“Yes, she’s right here.”

“Good. Tell her Agent Holmes is ready to talk to her.”

“I’ll do that. We’ll be there shortly.”

“Okay, I’ll let him know.” He ended the call. “Twilight will be here soon.”

Meg had been hovering with Rainbow Dash, listening in above the RV in which Steve was being held, as Twilight tried get him released. Her hopes quickly dwindled and were finally crushed when Twilight teleported outside to reclaim their car. She was torn between staying and continuing to eavesdrop, or leaving and talking to Twilight. After listening for a little while longer, she decided Twilight needed her more; there was nothing she could do here anyway. “I’m going to talk to Twilight,” she told Dash as she invoked the return spell.

Back at the balcony, she saw their car, but no alicorn. Where did she go off to? It had better be somewhere inside the castle, or she’d never find her. She checked her private library and residence. Not here. She flew downstairs and checked the main library. Nope. Throne room? She flew down the hall and through the open double doors. There you are. The princess was not on her throne, but on the floor in front of it, her mane a mess from the stress. Spike was by her side.

Twilight took notice of her. “You have every right to be upset with me.”

Meg sighed as she landed. Twilight wasn’t going to make this easy. At least she wasn’t as bad as she was in Lesson Zero. “I’m not upset with you. You did your best.”

“My best may have ruined your lives.”

“Our lives were probably ruined when the doll turned into an illegal broadcaster,” Meg said, trying to alleviate her guilt. “The authorities had to pin it on someone and we’re the only candidates.”

Twilight wasn’t having it. “It’s still my fault they know about it. If I had taken the possibility seriously, I could have… done something.”

“So you’re not infallible.”

Twilight looked away. “I have never failed a test.”

I know, there was even a song about it. Over the years there had been several times Meg wished she could have reached through the screen and talk some sense into that lavender mare. Now that she needed to talk some sense into her, she wished this was again just a cartoon. The irony was not lost on her.

“Twilight, this isn’t a test,” she forcefully said. “You’re done with tests. You won’t find the answer to this situation in some book. You’ll just have to apply what you’ve learned, and if you screw up then you shall learn from your mistakes.”

“You’re starting to sound like Princess Celestia.”

How did her mentor deal with her moods? One would think that Twilight was even worse as a young filly. There must be some way to snap her out of this.

“Maybe she speaks from experience? She sent Discord after Tirek instead of you. How did that work out?”

The alicorn looked back at her. With a flat voice she replied, “Discord is now truly reformed, I have this castle, and my friends and I have Rainbow Powers. Oh, and Tirek was defeated.”

You have got to be kidding me.

Twilight was prone to overthinking herself into… well, an unhealthy state of mind, but this takes the cake.

Great, all I need to do is to out-think Twilight Sparkle.

Meg was about to say something along the lines of “Celestia could not possibly have known all that would happen”—yeah, like that’s really out-thinking her—but then she remembered how that very episode began with Celestia waking up with a vision.

Maybe Celestia could know. And maybe Twilight saw that whole affair as yet another test, one that she passed and for which she was duly rewarded.

And yet in some sense it had been undeniably a test, if not from Celestia then from the Tree of Harmony itself—and it did undeniably reward her for passing. Was this really doing Twilight any favors, reducing everything to mere tests, tests that it was her destiny to pass? But then, that was the key word, wasn’t it? Destiny. Meg couldn’t help but wonder if she was being tested, too, for the sake of her destiny.

“Okay, for the sake of argument, let’s assume Celestia knew all that would happen. Then maybe she also knew what would happen by assigning you this task: that you would encounter severe difficulties, overcome them, eventually succeed, and that you’d be much better off for the experience.”

“She’s got you there, Twilight,” said Spike, making his presence known. Meg had practically forgotten he was there.

Twilight pensively rubbed for forelimbs together for a few seconds.

“Maybe you’re right. But I still don’t know how to fix the mess I made for you two.”

“Listen to me,” Meg said. “By introducing yourself, you did far more good than harm. Honest. Whatever case he had been building against us, you just blew up, even if he doesn’t know it yet. He can’t ignore your existence. Try to turn it into an official First Contact situation.”

Twilight was mulling that over, when Meg’s phone rang. Her heart missed a beat when she saw it was Steve—then grasped it might be someone else. “Steve?”

“You’re with Twilight?” It was to the point. Obviously, Holmes was close by.

“Yes, she’s right here.”

“Good. Tell her Agent Holmes is ready to talk to her.”

“I’ll do that. We’ll be there shortly.”

“Okay, I’ll let him know.” The call ended.

Twilight looked at her. “Holmes is ready to talk to you.”

“I guess I’m ready also.” Twilight got up on her hooves. “I think you’ve earned your salary today, Royal Advisor.”

The alicorn plodded out of the throne room and towards the stairs. Meg decided this would be a good opportunity to get some well-deserved answers.

“Twilight,” she said, as she flew alongside her, “there’s some stuff you haven’t volunteered—and we haven’t asked, because maybe it wasn’t any of our business—but things have changed, and I’m asking now.”

Twilight lowered her head, but kept on walking. “Ask your questions.”

“Well, for starters, where is the magic draining from? It doesn’t seem to be Ponyville or Canterlot.”

She halted, and glumly looked at her. “Crystal Empire. The Mirror is the center of it. It’s on the top floor of the castle. The zone of no magic will soon encroach upon the Crystal Heart on the ground.”

Meg felt like an idiot. Derpy had delivered anomaly data from Princess Cadance. Even so, that only narrowed it down to the Crystal Empire.

The words fully registered. The Mirror? As in Equestria Girls?? That raised so many questions, but now was not the time to ask them. One thing was certain: whatever the lack of magic would do to the Crystal Heart, it couldn’t possibly be good. “Can’t you move it?”

“How? Pegasi can’t fly near it, unicorns can’t levitate, earth ponies have no strength, hooves are nearly useless, even Discord is powerless. We can’t even take it down the stairs because that will take out the Crystal Heart!”

“I meant, can you move the Heart?”

Twilight sighed. “No, that isn’t practical either.”

“What about your hot air balloon?”

“It’s operated by magic.”

Oh, yeah… They’re so dependent on magic. They should have moved it before it got so bad—or maybe it already had by the time they noticed. But the solution is so obvious!

“Twilight, there do exist creatures that can get things done without the use of magic.”

Her eyes opened wide as she looked at Meg. “How could I be so stupid.”

“We’ll talk about it later.” Okay… that could have come out better. “First let’s take care of Steve and the doll.” Meg considered the alicorn’s frazzled mane. “You might want to comb your mane before we leave.”

Twilight’s eye moved all the way up. “Yeah…” Her horn flashed and her mane became perfectly groomed. Meg was suddenly very envious of unicorns.

Before long, the two mares were hovering high above the RVs. To Meg’s relief, Steve was standing outside, unrestrained, with Rainbow Dash hovering near him—was she visible? It was hard to say, given their height; she would see her regardless, but the agents seemed to be aware of her, even talking to her.

Aside from Agent Holmes and Fowler, there were two others she had never seen before. There was also another car there; they must have just arrived. Perhaps they were there to study the doll?

Twilight had also been taking in the situation. “Steve’s free; so far, so good. Now to keep him that way. So what now, my Advisor?”

“Well, Princess, just remember you are not sovereign here, and that he represents the law of this land. You’ll have to meet him halfway, somehow. Returning the doll will go a long way, I’m sure.”

She winced. “That’s a huge risk. When I figure out how to plug that hole, I don’t want them getting in the way.” She turned away from the gathering below and looked at Meg. “How would they react if I told them exactly what was at stake?”

It was now Meg’s turn to wince. “It’s… hard to say. Unfortunately, I can easily imagine a panic response that would be… unhelpful. Unless you can think of a way in which they actually can help… But if you ever do tell them, the longer you wait, the more damaging it could be to future relations.”

“Can you think of a way they can help?”

Meg looked back down the agents. “Not really… they know nothing about magic, and I can’t think of any technology that could possibly be of any use.” Looking back at Twilight, she said, “Maybe provide access to massive computing resources?”

“If we had something new to simulate.” Left unsaid was the lack of any progress on that front.

They continued hovering as Twilight worked through her indecision. Eventually, Meg said, “We really shouldn’t keep them waiting.”

“No, I suppose not,” she sighed, looking at the pegasus far below them. “Who knows what Rainbow Dash will blurt out. Let’s go visible and spiral down.”

It wasn’t long before they came in to land next to Rainbow Dash, who greeted them. “Hey, guys.”

The two newcomers gawked at them as they took video of their approach. Meg was beginning to understand how the real ponies must have felt. She wasn’t complaining; they didn’t know who she really was and that suited her just fine.

“You’re really a princess,” one of them said skeptically, a fellow wearing a wide brim hat to shield his pale skin from the desert sun. “Shouldn’t you be wearing a crown or something?” He kept his phone aimed at the mares.

“We’re not in Canterlot,” Twilight smoothly replied.

“That’s enough, Aaron,” Fowler reprimanded. “Your Highness,” she said, as she glanced at Aaron, “this time I believe we are all ready to have a constructive conversation.”

“I’m looking forward to that—and you may call me ‘Twilight.’”

“Of course,” she said, smiling. Now that the shock had past, Fowler was enjoying getting to meet her “best pony.”

Her attention shifted to the orchid pegasus. “I don’t believe I’ve ever seen you in the cartoon before.”

“This is one of my trusted advisors, Common Ground.”

Meg had to suppress a reaction to hearing her “name” for the first time. When did Twilight come up with that? It certainly sounded like an appropriate pony name.

Fowler took a look at her cutie mark. “Yes, I can see how the name fits.” She lowered herself so she didn’t have to look down at “Common Ground.” “Pleased to meet you. I’m Jessica Fowler.”

Meg suddenly regretted being there, or at least being visible. She couldn’t take the risk of having her voice recognized. She settled for nodding in response.

“She is a mare of few words,” Twilight said, covering for her.

Fowler stood up, thoughtfully putting a hand to her chin as she studied the orchid pegasus. “I’ve never seen that cutie mark before, on any pony in the cartoon, yet you seem familiar somehow. I can’t put my finger on it.”

Meg’s stomach started to sink. Her pony face bore a resemblance to her human face. She could only hope that the notion of her having been ponified was so out there that it wouldn’t occur to even a pegasister agent.

Steve came to the rescue, attempting to change the subject. “I told them the true nature of the doll, that Equestrian magic is draining into our universe through it.” There was a trace of nervousness to his voice; that could be considered a major breach of their Pinkie Promise. Being in a different universe might be the only reason Pinkie wasn’t already there.

Twilight took it in stride. “It’s okay. I’d planned on explaining that anyway.” The alicorn turned to look up at him. “As a matter of fact, I think that Pinkie Promise has outlived its usefulness, so I’m releasing you from it, Meg as well.”

“I-I’ll be sure to let her know,” he said, briefly making eye contact with his wife, as she forced her wings back to her side.

“Seriously?!” Fowler exclaimed, struggling to contain her inner brony. “You made an actual, for real Pinkie Promise?”

Steve looked askance at her. “You’d have a different perspective if you’d met Pinkie Pie yourself,” he said, as Rainbow Dash rolled her eyes.

Chastised, she said, “Uh… yeah… I guess so.” It then hit her. “That’s her autograph, isn’t it? On the doll.”

Before anyone could answer, Meg’s phone began ringing. She brought it up to her face and looked at it, turning pale. The call was not accepted. Putting her hoof back down on the ground, she apprehensively looked at Agent Holmes, who had gone off to the side and had his back turned to the group.

He turned around and put his phone away, putting an end to the ringing.

19. Outed

This can’t be happening.

The shock at having been outed paralyzed her. She could only helplessly watch as Agent Holmes looked at the phone on her forelimb.

How could I’ve been so stupid!

Holmes, on the other hoof, almost seemingly out of boredom, asked, “Is there a reason you have Mrs. Coleman’s phone?”

He didn’t figure it out?

Maybe, just maybe, there was still a chance.

Think… why would I give my phone to “Common Ground.”

And once she had come up with a reason, convincingly disguise her voice as she gave it.

Or just return to Equestria and never come back.

The existence of that option, however iffy or undesirable it might be, was the only thing restraining her emotions as this disaster sank in.

“Because that is Meg Coleman,” Agent Fowler said, as if admitting she believed in the tooth fairy. A pin drop could be heard, if not for the drone of the air conditioners and the generators powering them.

Holmes glared at her in disbelief. “You can’t be serious.”

She didn’t back down, keeping her eyes locked on the ponified human. After taking a deep breath, she continued, knowingly digging a deeper hole for herself. “Here are the facts. Her face resembles Meg’s. She hasn’t said a word, most likely because her voice is identical to Meg’s. Steve had said we’d be surprised at how well they could fit in.” She took another breath. “And most importantly, Twilight is capable of turning her into a pony.”

Holmes did not know what to say to that. No one did, least of all Meg. And that phone was recording it all.

“Say something, Meg,” Fowler said, almost begging. “Please.”

The pegasus looked at the ground, avoiding the agent’s eyes, as she desperately searched for some way out. Flying away would only confirm it, as would keeping her mouth shut; “Common Ground” would have no reason to do those things.

Face it: I’ll be living the rest of my life in Equestria.

And then, with sickeningly clarity, she knew that escaping to Equestria wouldn’t work; her destiny would, somehow, make sure of it.

Is this what you have to put up with, Twilight?

Meg lifted her head, returning Fowler’s gaze. “You got me,” she said. “Happy?”

Rainbow Dash took that as her cue, shoving her face in front of the agent’s, forcing her to lean back. “So now you know. What ya gonna do to her?”

“Rainbow, back off!” While Meg was touched by this display of loyalty, it was going to get her shot. The only reason a gun wasn’t already aimed at her was because Holmes was caught off guard by the pegasus’ sheer speed. He was reaching for it when Rainbow Dash reluctantly took Meg’s advice and backed off, though still glaring defiantly at the agent.

Fowler was too flustered to answer. It was unlikely she had thought that far ahead.

Holmes left his gun holstered, but kept his eyes fixed on the pegasus. “Nothing,” he theatrically declared. “We are going to do nothing. It is not a federal crime to change species.”

His eyes scanned the other ponies and Steve. “Will this get any absurder?” he dryly asked. “Though, to be honest, this would be hard to top.”

Twilight had only been observing, not knowing what to make of this new development. She remained silent. Rainbow Dash, for a change, stayed silent too.

Somepony ought to answer that question, and since nopony else was going to, Meg decided it was up to her. “No, I don’t think so—not by much, certainly.”

“Good,” he said, relieved.

Meg was feeling a strange calm, a sense that if this was destiny at work, then it all had to work out in the end. That feeling was unlikely to last—Twilight was proof—but she might as well enjoy it while it did. And, to be fair, nothing awful has happened yet.

Or has it… Meg pointed at the phone that was still recording all this. “Who will see that?”

Holmes followed her outstretched hoof. He looked at the phone, contemplating it as he shielded his eyes from the intense sun. “It won’t go on youtube, if that’s what you’re wondering.” He said it as much to warn the assistant as to inform Meg. Returning his attention to the inconvenient pegasus, he said, “It will be seen by those who will be interested in meeting with you.”

Meg exchanged looks with Twilight. This could be huge.

“Like who?” Meg asked. In an ideal world, it would be diplomats from the State Department, maybe even the Secretary of State himself. But that would require everyone to take seriously the actual existence of cartoon ponies.

“That depends a great deal on how they react to this video—and my report,” he said, clearly not looking forward to it.

“I don’t envy you,” said Steve. It didn’t matter how convincingly realistic it looked, it would be easier to believe it was fake. Hollywood was too good at it.

“It could be worse,” Holmes replied, shrugging it off. “There’s been a steady stream of visitors to the apartment we rented next door to yours, all wanting to see this new physics for themselves. We even encourage them to bring their own equipment, to rule out the possibility of tampering. What’s one more impossibility?”

Meg could almost feel sorry for them. “I’m surprised that’s been kept out of the news.”

“It’s been kept under wraps as a potential threat to national security. That’s one reason we want the doll here, in the middle of nowhere. Another, obviously, was to stop the interference with broadcasts.” He nodded his head towards the tractor trailer. “It also gives us the freedom to conduct experiments that would be inappropriate in a residential neighborhood.”

The agent fixed his gaze on the alicorn. “Without the doll, however…” He waved his hand across the now pointless vehicles.

“I already took care of the broadcast interference,” she replied.

“I’m sure you’d have no objection to us verifying that,” he said. “But that’s now beside the point; it’s no longer our only interest in the doll.”

The rising sun bore down on them. Meg wished she had a lighter coat color, like Rainbow Dash. The cyan pegasus hovering by her didn’t seem to be suffering yet. One of those cooling potions would soon be needed if they didn’t all crowd inside one of the air-conditioned RVs—or rap things up so they can go home.

Twilight was trying her best to do so. “You’re only interested in the doll because our magic is flowing out from it. Other arrangements for access to magic could be made. I have no objection to you conducting experiments on magic. I’m even willing to assist you.”

Fowler got down in front of Twilight. “Look, I understand why you’re protective of that doll. But we can do a far better job of protecting it. Where are you going to keep it? Obviously not with the Colemans. Not in Equestria either, otherwise you’d have done that in the first place.”

Twilight had no immediate answer to that. Meg knew it was an option to take the doll to a small, uninhabited island in the middle of an ocean, but could pegasi fly that far? Could they be sure they wouldn’t be detected and traced? Maybe leaving it here might not be such a bad option, especially if they could get something in return.

“I am to have unrestricted access to the doll,” Twilight finally said, coming to a similar conclusion. “That is non-negotiable.”

“That’s reasonable,” Fowler nodded.

“And when I figure out how to stop the flow of magic,” the alicorn continued, “you will not get in the way.”


Not too bad, all things considered, Meg thought. Nor could she complain that attention had been diverted from her current species. Maybe her life hasn’t been ruined.

Holmes seemed content to let Fowler do the talking for now. That made sense, considering she was the pony expert. Meg wondered if My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic would soon become mandatory viewing for certain agents and other officials.

“And one last thing…” Twilight began to say, her tail slightly twitching as she swallowed her pride. “We can use some assistance.”

“What kind of assistance?” Holmes asked.

“The non-magical kind,” she replied, looking at Meg.

Meg looked back. Shouldn’t we have talked about this first? She could see the desperation in her eyes; they must really be running out of time to take a risk like this. At least it wasn’t hard to figure out what to ask for, if the only reason the mirror couldn’t be moved by her hot air balloon was because it was operated by magic.

Addressing the agents, Meg said, “We need to borrow the services of a helicopter for a few hours, and someone to fly it.”

Fowler blinked, then stood up. “Could you tell us what for?”

Meg turned back to Twilight; that was for the alicorn to answer.

And after a moment’s thought, she did. “We need to move a large object, the object through which magic is draining out of our realm and through that doll into yours. If it stays where it is, the growing zone of no magic will cause great harm.”

Fowler nodded in understanding, “And without magic, you can’t move it yourselves. How big is this object? Will it fit inside a helicopter?”

Twilight, of course, didn’t know the answer to that last question. Meg herself wasn’t sure. How big is that mirror? But more to the point, Twilight was still holding back specific details. “Twilight,” she whispered, as the alicorn’s ear swiveled to her voice, “they’re gonna find out anyway if they do it. It will help with planning.”

The alicorn simply nodded, her ears drooping a bit.

Fowler was the one who’d understand what she was about to say, so Meg said it to her. “It’s the mirror from Equestria Girls.” The agent’s eyes went wide. “I don’t know how big it is, but let’s assume it won’t fit and we’ll have to carry it underneath. Probably faster that way, and I suspect once we start moving it, we need to get it out of there ASAP.”

Twilight confirmed it. “Moving the mirror out to the balcony will bring it closer to the Crystal Heart.”

“Crystal Heart…” the agent muttered. “That’s real too?” She shook her head to clear her mind. “We need more information, like how to rig the mirror so we can lift it. And I assume you can move the helicopter directly to the Crystal Empire?”

Twilight frowned. “Not exactly. We can’t cross over near the anomaly—the mirror. It depends on how heavy one of these helicopters is, but I should be able to bring it across fifty to a hundred miles away.”

“Well… we should be able to do that on a full tank,” Fowler mused, putting her hand to her chin. “Guess you can fetch extra fuel if we need it.”

Holmes had been following along from the sidelines, not quite believing stuff like Crystal Hearts being seriously discussed. “It’s good that you’re all hitting it off, but aren’t we getting a bit ahead of ourselves?”

It wasn’t hard to guess what he meant. “Twilight,” Meg said, “I suggest Rainbow Dash go and bring the doll back.” Holmes nodded in agreement.

The pegasus hovered, waiting for a decision. She didn’t have to wait long.

“Go fetch the doll.”

Dash didn’t need to be told twice, taking off like a bullet, to the stunned amazement of the agents.

“She should be back in a few minutes,” Twilight informed them.

“No rainbow contrail?” Fowler asked, trying to follow the pegasus’ path with little success.

“No ambient magical field,” Twilight replied.

“Ah.” The junior agent turned towards the RV she was trapped in not that long ago. “I assume you’re the one who did something to that door to keep me inside?”

“Sorry about that,” Twilight sheepishly replied, also now looking at the door. “I just needed to delay you.”

She waved if off. “That’s water under the bridge. But could you undo whatever it was you did?”

“Of course.” Twilight trotted to the RV, Fowler close behind. Once she reached the door, she got up on her hind legs so she could touch her horn to the door at its edge, near the handle. A lavender flash later, a cylindrical piece of rock appeared and remained floating in the air. “That should do it.” She turned the handle and opened the door.

Fowler plucked the rock out of the air. “That’s how you did it,” she said, inspecting the cylinder. “You carved out this shape and teleported it into the door jamb.”

The mare returned all four hooves to the ground. “Yep. I had to improvise. Normally, I’d use a glue spell with a timed release, but a spell would have stopped working once I walked away.”

Fowler dropped the rock cylinder. It hit the dirt with a dull thud, barely bouncing once. “It was effective enough. I had to climb out a window.”

The agent walked over to the rear of the tractor trailer. “Let’s see if you really did stop it from broadcasting.” She pressed and held a button until the lift gate noisily tilted all the way down, revealing the interior of the trailer, then clambered up inside.

Twilight and Meg hovered near the entrance. Boxes were everywhere. Smaller ones were on shelves lining one side, while the larger boxes sat on the floor; all were secured for transport. Some were clearly marked with radioactive material decals. Twilight was practically drooling at the thought of all that exotic scientific equipment.

Fowler picked out a modest sized box and carried it back to the lift gate. Once there, she put it down and carefully hopped onto the ground. Using the lift gate as a makeshift table, she opened the box, pulled out an electronic device with a handheld antenna, turned it on and checked the settings, then proceeded to walk around, waving the antenna about as Twilight hovered close by, trying to look at the displays.

After circling around for a bit, the agent switched off the device. She turned to Holmes and said, “Nothing.”

Twilight gave a relieved sigh. “Thank Celestia, the simulation was accurate.”

Fowler quirked an eyebrow. “Simulation?”

That got Meg thinking. The one thing the government could do to help them was to provide access to substantial computing resources. They would want to know why, but was that a problem?

So what if they got their hands on the equations describing the magical field? Without a magical field, and no way to use magic even if there was one, what good would it do them? It would have been like giving a smartphone to one of those isolated, stone-age cultures that supposedly still exist in distant corners of the world, with no instructions on how to use it other than how to turn it on, no wireless infrastructure for it to talk to, and no way to recharge its battery.

Twilight was looking at her, delegating the task of answering the question.

On the upside, it would give humanity a taste of what it could negotiate for in trade.

Meg went for it. “Computer simulations using a genetic algorithm to determine a perturbation to the flowing magic, one that would prevent the emission of electromagnetic radiation when it underwent a phase change, which occurs when it thins out to a certain density. A solution was just found only hours ago. If it had completed a day or two earlier, I’m guessing we wouldn’t be here now.”

“Does it prevent the effect on radioactivity?”

Meg shook her head. “I don’t think so, no.”

“It probably wouldn’t have made much difference,” Fowler concluded. “As has been said, this has gone beyond broadcast interference.”

Only if we didn’t move the doll, Meg thought but did not say, as there was no point to correcting the agent’s erroneous assumption.

“Still, I’m surprised a computer can simulate that. Magic can be modeled with math? I take it Twilight provided the necessary equations.”

“She did, yeah,” Meg said, glancing at the pony in question. “It’s possible we may need to run other simulations, and it would be a big help if we had access to serious computing power.”

Just then, Rainbow Dash returned, coming to a sudden hover next to Twilight. This time she left behind a rainbow contrail—a disturbingly long one. Some of it had to be due to her carrying the doll with her, but it was also a sign of the increasing flow of magic.

Twilight removed the canvas bag from the top of pegasus’ saddle, extracted the doll from the bag, and levitated the doll over to Fowler, who grabbed it and quickly checked for the presence of Pinkie Pie’s autograph.

“Sure looks like the same doll, but I suppose we need a Geiger counter to be sure. Eduardo?”

The other assistant, the one not recording everything, hastily went to an RV.

Fowler fingered the crystal studded collar on the neck of the doll. “This is what does the—what was it?—the perturbation?”

“Yes,” Twilight replied.

“I suppose there’s not much point in asking how it works.”

Twilight affirmatively answered the rhetorical question with a smile.

Eduardo ran back to them, kicking lose some pebbles. After several seconds of holding it to the doll, the device still hadn’t clicked. “It’s turned on,” he said, answering the unspoken question.

“I guess that confirms it.” She turned to Holmes. “So now what?”

“Good question,” he said, his eyes fixed on the doll. “I’ll be back in a minute.”

He unhurriedly walked to an RV and went inside. A few seconds later, he came out, holding a water bottle, and walked back. After taking a drink, he addressed the alicorn.

“Let’s assume I can get you that helicopter—not that I’m making any promises. And just to be clear, you are offering assistance in the study of how magic can benefit us.”

“I am,” Twilight declared.

“Then, for now, our business here is concluded,” he said, putting a hand on his hip as he took another drink of water. “You’re free to take the Colemans with you.”

Twilight smiled. “I’ll start preparing things on our end.” With a lavender glow, the flap to a saddlebag opened and the flow meter came out. As it floated to the ground, she said, “Meg, I’ll need you to come with me to the Crystal Empire. Rainbow Dash, go have Spike send a request—along with an explanation—for the Zephyr to be sent over A.S.A.P.”

“On it!” Rainbow Dash invoked the return spell and vanished.

What would Celestia think of this? Especially since precise summarization was not one of Rainbow Dash’s strengths. Hopefully, Spike would mention the source of the information.

“Agent Fowler, could you please put the doll on the ground, a foot away from this device? I’m measuring the properties of the flowing magic. I try to do this daily.”

“Sure,” the agent replied, as she did so, her eyes inspecting the device. “By the way…” she hesitantly began. “Shouldn’t one of us accompany you? We can’t just fly a helicopter without a clue of what we’re flying into.”

The alicorn finished writing down the measurements before answering. “Fair enough,” she conceded. “Who do you have in mind?” She moved the flow meter farther away for another set of measurements.

Fowler looked at her superior. “I’m most qualified, I’d think.”

Meg studied the agent. Maybe too qualified. Her request seemed as much wish fulfillment, her attempt to hide that notwithstanding, as a need to prepare for the upcoming mission.

Holmes thought it over as Twilight took the next set of measurements.

“How long will she be gone?” he finally asked.

She swapped the flow meter for the magic probe as she answered. “The rest of the day, easily. It’s a long trip. I should have her back by early evening.”

He looked askance at the alicorn, asking half-seriously, “She won’t come back a pony, will she?”

“I give you my word.” She recorded another set of measurements, frowning, and put her equipment away.

“Trust me,” Meg said, her eyes drilling into Fowler’s, “it’s not something to be done on a whim.” The agent opened her mouth to say something, but then closed it.

Steve was already by the alicorn’s side. Twilight looked between Holmes and Fowler. “I’m ready to go.”

Holmes came to a decision. “Fine. Take the Geiger counter with you.”

“Okay, let me just get my purse.” Fowler quickly went to an RV, the one she had been briefly trapped in, and a few seconds later came out wearing her purse. She swung by Eduardo to get the Geiger counter, then stopped in front of Twilight, doing her best to maintain a professional demeanor.

Twilight didn’t waste any more time. She concentrated, engulfing the two humans in her magic, and invoked the return spell. Meg followed suit.

Fowler immediately twirled around, taking in the books, books, and more books, and a purple baby dragon sitting in a corner reading a comic book. But before she could think of something to say, Spike delivered a message.

“Twilight, Princess Celestia is in the throne room waiting for you.”

The alicorn’s ears and tail sagged. “Thanks, Spike,” she said, and teleported away.

“She’s not in some kind of trouble, is she?” Fowler asked, perhaps a bit worried she was somehow responsible.

Meg looked at Spike, who merely shrugged. “Only in her own mind, I suspect,” she said. “Where’s Rainbow Dash?”

Spike had gone back to reading the comic book. Without looking up, he said, “I think she’s rounding up the other girls.”

Why do they all need to come along? It wasn’t as if they could do anything around that mirror. It suddenly hit her: neither can I. She might not even be able to fly up there. At least I have the option of resuming my human form.

Fowler had been wandering around the library. “Wasn’t this destroyed?”

“We’re inside Twilight’s new castle,” Steve said. “This room only looks like the Golden Oak Library.”

On hearing his voice, Fowler spun around to stare at the unicorn stallion. It had apparently slipped her mind that Steve-the-human had not been in the room. To her credit, she put two and two together rapidly. “Steve?”

The pony nodded. “There’s a persistent spell in effect to trigger our transformation whenever we cross over in either direction.”

“But Meg was…” She waved a hand, dismissing the thought. “Never mind. Of course exceptions can be made.”

Fowler walked over to the central table and set down the Geiger counter, then remembered why she had it and turned it on. They patiently waited for a click. It eventually came, around a dozen seconds later. She turned it off, not bothering to wait for a second click. “Kinda anticlimactic, really.”

Meg was by the closed door to the hallway. “I think you’ll find this less anticlimactic,” she said as she opened it. “Follow me.”

Meg led her to that room with a view of Ponyville. To her mild relief, the door to the small balcony next to it was closed. Upon reaching the room, she opened the door and went inside, heading over to the window. Outside, Ponyville basked in the noontime sun, not a cloud in the sky.

Fowler took it all in, mouth ajar. “It’s like a fantasy come true…”

Tell me about it. It was only two weeks ago that she and Steve first crossed over to this world, a month since discovering that ponies were real. So much has happened since then.

Is this part of my destiny, to be a tour guide for humans?

On the grasslands on this side of the river bordering the town, a concert was taking place. Hundreds of ponies of all colors were resting on equally colorful blankets, facing a temporary stage. There was but a single performer, currently. The mare was too far away to make out her cutie mark, or the instrument she was holding with her forehooves as she sat on her haunches, but her colors were unmistakable.

“Is that Lyra?” Fowler asked, awed at the sight of the famous background pony.

Meg was thinking the same thing. “Probably,” she said noncommittally, as she remembered accidentally meeting her on their first trip into Ponyville. She wished she could be in that audience, listening to her music, but not today.

“I don’t suppose we can go out there?” The fellow pegasister was scanning the audience, looking for other familiar ponies. Some were certainly there, but they were too far away and close together to pick out.

Meg shook her head. “Sorry, but they don’t know humans exist, and the princesses are content to keep it that way for now.”

“Not even Lyra?”

“Not even Lyra—at least that’s what Twilight says.”

Whatever music was playing outside, none of it penetrated the window. Maybe the amplification was directional, or perhaps it just wasn’t loud enough to be heard this far away.

Fowler got down on her knees and faced Meg. “What did you mean when you said one should not become a pony on a whim?”

Meg wasn’t sure how to answer that. What type of answer was she seeking? She had to tell herself, the last few weeks notwithstanding, that Fowler was not a villain dedicated to bringing them down, but simply someone doing her job—and, as it so happens, a brony. Was she considering being ponified herself? Or did she simply want to know what it was like?

The best answer, Meg decided, was a brutally honest answer. “I have a cutie mark, a mark of my destiny,” she said, looking directly into her eyes.

“You do, don’t you.” Her gaze fell to her side. “What does it mean?”

Just then, Steve poked his head through the door. “Meg?” he interrupted. “Celestia requests your presence.”

“That, amongst other things,” she said somewhat cryptically as she extended her wings. She wasn’t really ready to have this conversation with the agents. “Best not to keep Her Highness waiting; I’m sure you understand.” The pegasus flew out the door, flying over her husband.

It didn’t take long to reach the throne room by wing, but long enough to give her time to wonder what had been going on in there between Twilight and her mentor. Maybe it wasn’t any of her business, but after her own therapy session with the newest princess, she wished she could talk to Celestia privately about Twilight. Regardless, for better or worse, she couldn’t see any way to make an appointment without Twilight knowing about it—if the diarch would even grant it.

Meg came to a hover before the closed doors of the throne room. There was no obvious way to open them. She was about to knock when the massive doors opened for her, engulfed by the glow of liquid sunshine.

Once open, she flew inside, and the doors closed behind her. Celestia was inside the circle of thrones, while Twilight was seated on her throne. The lavender alicorn seemed okay, so whatever it was that she had feared did not come to pass.

“You wanted to see me?” Meg asked, as she hovered in front of the princesses.

Celestia gave one of her trademarked serene smiles. “I want to thank you for your invaluable assistance.”

Meg’s orchid coat did a reasonable job of hiding her blush from the praise. She may not have been one of her subjects, but that didn’t seem to matter—never mind that she was acting as much in her own self-interest as Twilight’s.

The diarch continued, getting down to business. “Do you see any potential problems with this plan?”

Meg assumed Twilight had brought her up to speed. “If they come through with the helicopter, I don’t think there will be any real problems. They’re not going to double-cross you or anything. First of all, they are at your complete mercy here in Equestria; secondly, they want your assistance in studying how magic can benefit them; and finally—” she shrugged “—maybe it’s naive of me, but they simply wouldn’t do something like that, at least not without a very good reason.

“So the real question is, how likely is that helicopter? I don’t know. It depends a lot, I’d imagine, on the reaction of Holmes’ superiors to his report. It wouldn’t hurt to have a plan B, perhaps find a way to make a hot air balloon work. Modify one so it doesn’t rely on magic for its operation. That’s certainly possible; we have hot air balloons too.”

That got Twilight thinking. “There are non-magical sources of heat, of course, but propulsion would be a problem. Pegasi could tow it, but they’d have to be so far away that the weight of the rope would be prohibitive.”

There was an obvious technological solution to that. “We could use fishing line. It’s made from an artificial fiber that’s extremely lightweight and unbelievably strong. Inexpensive too.”

Twilight’s eyes went wide. “Do you know its precise properties? How hard is it to get?”

Meg was starting to think that Plan B was beginning to look more attractive than Plan A. “I don’t know, but I can find out. And it’s real easy to get. Just need to drive down to the nearest sporting goods store.”

Celestia remained focused on the bigger picture. “If they are able to provide direct assistance, it may be wise to let them—even if we don’t really need it. It would help lay the foundations for our future relationship.”

That dragged Twilight back to reality. “You’re right, of course.”

“But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t work on a contingency plan,” Celestia said, smiling. “The Zephyr will be here soon, but there’s time, I think, for one last question: What benefits do they see from our magic?”

The only thing Meg had to go on was the first time the agents brought a radioactive sample with them to their apartment. At one point, they mentioned the possibilities, good and bad, of having a means of suppressing radioactivity. And there were boxes with radioactive material decals on them in that trailer.

“They never told us, directly, but I’ve good reason to believe it has to do with radioactivity, the fact that certain atoms spontaneously turn into other types of atoms, releasing dangerous forms of energy in the process.”

“I never could understand how such substances even exist in your realm,” Twilight said, “given their unstable nature in the absence of magic.”

“There are natural processes that create them, but that isn’t the problem.” Meg wasn’t sure how much to say. She didn’t really want to talk about atomic bombs—not that they’d pose any threat to Equestria, as even a thermonuclear bomb required a small fission explosion to initiate fusion.

But even that simple fact was surprising to the ponies. “Really?” asked Twilight. “How?”

“That’s not relevant right now,” she said, brushing off the query. “The problem is that there are power generation technologies that create large amounts of the stuff as a waste product, stuff that’s real nasty to deal with under the best of conditions. And then there’s the occasional accident…” Not to mention deliberate, hostile actions, which she left unmentioned.

“I see,” the diarch said as she thoughtfully digested that.

From behind the castle came odd sounds. “That must be the Zephyr. I instructed the captain to come in low and behind this castle, to minimally disturb the concert out front. I won’t delay your departure by overstaying my welcome.”

Celestia gave an ever so subtle bow to her fellow princess, who returned the gesture, and teleported away.

Meg looked questioningly at Twilight. “So… is there a backdoor to this castle?”

The alicorn broke out in a smile, hopped off her throne, and went behind it. “Yep, over there,” she said, pointing at the wall behind the thrones. “It’s not meant to be seen, but it is there.”

With a lavender glow, the concealed door opened, revealing a large grassy plain and beyond that orchards and farmland. Right behind the castle was something resting on the ground that looked like a dirigible, painted a light gray, and on its side in golden colors was the Solar Crest and a name: E.R.S. Zephyr.

The two mares exited the castle, the door closing behind them as they walked towards the airship.

20. It's the Only Way to Travel

Meg wasn’t quite sure what to make of the Zephyr. It appeared to be some sort of rigid airship, like a zeppelin, but the proportions were off. The gondola underneath seemed too big, running most of the two hundred foot length. How could this be lighter than air? It was also hard to believe it’d be much faster than a train; it wasn’t even clear how it moved, as there was no visible means of propulsion. She could only assume magic was involved, serious magic if the letters E, R, and S, as she suspected, stood for Equestria Royal Ship.

The airship was oriented towards the castle, its nose only a few dozen feet away from the wall. As they approached the front of the gondola, a door opened and a set of stairs unfolded towards the ground. A uniformed unicorn stallion appeared at the door, evidently the captain, bowing as Princess Twilight Sparkle approached.

“Captain Shooting Star,” Twilight said. “How soon can we depart for the Crystal Empire?”

“Whenever you are ready, Your Highness.”

Finding that response satisfactory, she turned to Meg. “I’ll go fetch the others,” she said, and teleported back inside the castle, leaving her alone with the ship and its captain.

Should I wait here or go inside? She looked at the captain, hoping for a hint on what she should do.

The stallion stepped back from the door and with a wave of a hoof encouraged her to enter. Meg carefully climbed the stairs and found herself in what looked like an observation lounge at the front of the vessel.

Floor to ceiling windows wrapped around from one side to the other, providing excellent visibility in all directions except the back; the windows even curved in as they met the floor, providing a view of below. From the outside, the glass—or whatever it was made of—was nearly opaque, hiding the interior from prying eyes.

The lounge wasn’t exactly spacious, but certainly large enough to accommodate eight ponies, one baby dragon, and one human. On the cherry wood floor—how do they keep hooves from scuffing it up?—were plenty of plush cushions to rest on, but not one chair. What do minotaurs sit on? Regardless, it was an oversight that should not happen again.

She walked around the windows, looking out, for lack of anything better to do as she waited. The captain remained by the door, politely ignoring her. The silence was a bit awkward, broken only by the sounds of her own hoofsteps and some background ventilation hum. Eventually, she circled around back to the door.

“Uh, Captain…” She might as well try to make some small talk.

“Yes, ma’am?”

“How long will this trip take?”

In one episode, it was implied that one could take a train to the Crystal Empire in the morning, spend the day there, and be back before it got dark. Of course, in a different episode, it took all night for a train to go from Ponyville to Canterlot. What was the reality?

“Two to two and a half hours, ma’am.”

“How long would a train take?”

“All day, at least. The Crystal Empire’s about seven hundred miles away.”

“Ah.” That cleared up that. “Thanks.”

The captain gave her a nod.

Meg wandered back to a side window, looking at the not-so-distant Canterlot, content to have had those mysteries solved. Well, we wanted to see more of Equestria, and here we are, getting an all expense paid trip. We’ll get to see crystal ponies, and meet Princess Cadance and Shining Armor. Just have to make a stop at a magic-sucking mirror and put up with a brony FBI agent.

A sudden whoosh and there were flapping wings beside her. “Hey, Meg.”

Meg continued looking out the window. “Hi, Dash. The others are on their way?”

As if in response to her question came the sounds of hooves climbing the stairs. One by one, the rest of the Mane Six filed through the door, with Spike riding on Twilight’s back. All the ponies had their saddlebags, and Applejack, Rarity, and Twilight also carried or levitated other boxes or luggage. Bringing up the rear was Agent Fowler and Steve.

Rarity inspected the lounge with approval. “Tastefully minimalistic.”

“Let’s be on our way, Captain,” Twilight said.

“As you wish, Your Highness.” He retracted the stairs and closed the outer door, bowed one last time, then opened the door to the interior, passed through, and closed the door behind him.

Not once had he reacted to the human. Had Celestia informed him of the unusual nature of some of the passengers?

“This calls for a Bon Voyage and a Welcome to Equestria party!”

“You know the rules, Pinkie,” Applejack hastily warned her. “No party cannon on an airship.”

Meg shuddered to think of what necessitated that rule.

“Well, duh!” Not deterred in the least, Pinkie quickly yanked an impossibly large picnic basket out of her saddlebag, then rapidly pulled out plates, glasses, party hats, utensils, a large jug of apple cider and passed them around. All that was left inside was a large, heavily-frosted cake; there was no way all that other stuff could have fit in the limited empty space surrounding that cake. Everypony knew better than to question it.

“How…” But not the one human present.

Pinkie put a party hat on the stunned Fowler. “You didn’t expect me to fit two picnic baskets in my saddlebags, did you?”

The agent blinked. “Suuuure… let’s go with that.” The agent desperately scanned the other ponies, hoping for a sane explanation, but got awkward smiles and sympathetic head shakes.

Meg rolled her eyes. Are you really surprised by this? Almost immediately she regretted thinking that. She was no better the first time she encountered Pinkie Pie.

Just then, the Zephyr began to slowly rise, silently, ever so gently rocking about like a boat. It didn’t rise far, only a few dozen feet, before it turned around in place, reversing its orientation, and began moving away from the castle, slowly picking up speed and altitude as it went. The Captain was still doing his best to avoid disrupting that concert.

Meg and Steve each dragged a cushion into place next to the front window and laid down upon it. Fowler stacked one cushion on top of another, the better to sit on, next to them. “I guess ponies don’t use actual chairs in real life, huh?” she observed.

“Not that we’ve seen, no,” Steve replied.

Twilight came over to them. “Sorry about that,” she apologized. “We do have chairs, for minotaurs, that you could have used, but nopony thought of it.”

“Minotaurs… right… Iron Will…” She waved a hand, dismissing it. “Don’t worry about it. I’ll manage.”

As the mountains bordering the valley approached, the ship veered north towards Canterlot, and began rising rapidly. There was still no sound of any engines, merely a hint of wind noise, and the floor remained more or less level. There hadn’t been much sense of acceleration either. Serious magic, indeed. It was just as well, as there was nothing that looked like seat belts.

Pinkie Pie was putting slices of cake in front of them as the ship rose above the mountains. Fowler took in the view of Canterlot as it dipped below them

“The cartoon doesn’t do it justice,” she said in awe.

It wasn’t long before they were well above the mountains and local pegasi traffic. The Zephyr rotated one last time, aligning itself with the Crystal Empire, and gently but relentlessly accelerated.

Fowler watched the mountains pass by at ever increasing speed. “Are there any points of interest we should keep an eye out for?”

“Not really,” Twilight said. “The occasional small town and surrounding farms, I guess.”

They all dug into their cake. The ship must have been going hundreds of miles per hour by now, and yet there was still little sensation of speed. Meg thought of asking Twilight what sort of magic was at work, but decided she wouldn’t understand the answer anyway.

“I thought we could chat for a bit, to pass the time,” Twilight said. “I’m sure you have questions, and I have some questions too.”

Fowler finished off her mouthful of cake before replying. “Turnabout is fair play, I suppose,” she said, quickly looking at Steve. “At least I’m not restrained.”

The alicorn was a little taken aback by that. “You are our guest, I assure you.”

“I know,” she said, holding up her hand, “just a bad attempt at humor. You go first.”

Twilight thought it over as she had another mouthful of cake. “How did you identify the doll as the source of your problem? Your Geiger counter should not have been precise enough to pick it out.”

The agent was washing down the cake with apple cider. “That’s the best cider I ever had, by the way. Applejack’s, I assume?”

“Yer darn tootin!” the farm pony called out from the back of the lounge. The other ponies and Spike were passing the time playing some sort of card game.

“Uh, anyway…” she said as she gave the apple farmer a wave. “It wasn’t easy, that’s for sure. We were trying to get a probe that had some really short half-life stuff in it. That might have been precise enough, but it was proving very difficult to arrange. We did narrow it down to a section of the wall, but it occurred to me that it might not be in the wall, but just on the other side of it.

“That would be easy enough to check. Simply move an object to another room, and if the effect moved with it, bingo. If we ran out of objects to move, then it really was the wall. We were prepared to cut it out; we had the tools, the warrant authorizing it and everything. The wall would have been repaired afterwards, good as new.

“Turns out you weren’t home, even though your car was still there, but we had a very accommodative judge on speed dial.” She seemed to realize how that sounded. “A benefit of an extremely high visibility case,” she added.

Not that much of that would make sense to Twilight.

“So the first thing that caught my eye was the… Pinkie Pie doll.” She nervously eyed the pink pony, but her attention was on the game. “There was no logical reason that was it, but the same could be said for every other possibility.”

“I know the feeling,” Twilight commiserated.

“And, of course, that was it. We got it on a chartered flight to Vegas as soon as possible, and, well, you know the rest.”

“Why didn’t you try to contact us afterwards?” Steve asked in a surprisingly even tone of voice.

“We didn’t know your connection to the doll.” She sighed. “Look, you have to appreciate just how absurd the situation looked to us. This might have all been due to some previously unknown, completely natural process, in which case you were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. But what if you had made this happen somehow? Sure, it’d still be something previously unknown, but that didn’t matter; you were still doing something illegal with it. And your behavior was a bit odd. You seemed to be aware of more than you were letting on.

“So we came up with a test. How you’d react to the doll vanishing would tell us much of your connection to it. We’d never expected you could effortlessly track it down after we moved it hundreds of miles. We know there wasn’t a conventional tracking device on it.”

Is this all on the level? It seemed plausible enough. Meg quickly glanced at Applejack. The mare was focused on her hand, but one ear was turned their way. The Element of Honesty had so far heard nothing dishonest.

Twilight waved a hoof. “It would not have mattered where in your world you moved it, I’d have found it just as easily.”

Given how smoothly things have been going since the truth came out, Meg could not help but question her earlier decisions. Could all of this drama have been avoided? Sure, their hands had been largely tied by their Pinkie Promise, but she still could have pushed back much harder, tried to change Twilight’s mind.

“If we had told you everything up front,” she asked, “what would your reaction have been?”

Fowler answered without hesitation. “That you were crazy, at best, or deliberately trying to piss us off at worst.” The agent looked at Twilight. “Without the hard proof of you physically being in front of us…”

The alicorn frowned; she must have been wondering the same thing. “I have to take responsibility for that. I believed I could deal with the doll before matters got out of hoof, and I wasn’t ready yet to make official contact with your government.”

“And we sorta forced your hand… er, hoof. So why that particular doll?”

“I don’t know. I really don’t. All I can say is that those two—” she nodded her head in the Colemans’ direction “—did not cause it to happen.”

“So they really were in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

“That’s… it’s not that simple,” Meg said. “Don’t get me wrong, we didn’t make it happen, but it conceivably might not have been a coincidence it was our doll.”

“Meaning…?” the agent said, spreading out her hands.

Meg looked back at her flank. “You asked what my cutie mark meant.”

Fowler nodded.

“If not for that doll—our doll—pouring Equestria’s magic into our universe, I would not have this cutie mark right now.”

“Because it’s how you met Twilight.”

“Right,” she said, twitching her tail. “And one thing led to another.”

“Soooo… what does it mean?”

Meg had some cider first. She still wasn’t ready to divulge that to a government agent, to accept the full implications of what it must mean, but neither could she put it off indefinitely. “It means I’m a bridge between our worlds,” she reluctantly said.

“And that means… what, exactly?”

“I’m still working that out. These things don’t come with instruction manuals.”

Fowler scanned the other ponies, who all shook their heads in agreement. “You really think your… ‘destiny’… arranged for you to become a pony and get that cutie mark?”

Meg scooped up the last of her cake with her fork. “I don’t really know what to think.”

She brought the fork to her mouth and finished off the cake, as Fowler watched with interest. The fork differed from human forks; at the end opposite the tines was a flat disk, angled to the rest of the handle, for a hoof to magically grab.

“What’s it like being a pony, having hooves instead of hands and all the rest?”

Maybe I should write a book about it. It was a safe bet this was a question she’d be asked many times in the future—not that she’d want to encourage people to seek ponification. Destiny issues aside, Twilight and the others had better things to do than turning humans into magical ponies all day long, like some assembly line, never mind training them in their new magic.

And it was proving to be a challenging question to answer. By now, she had become so used to it that she had stopped thinking about it, and it never had felt alien to begin with.

“I guess the best way to put it is that it feels like I was born this way, that I’ve always been this way. It’s a property of the transformation spell. I can’t even tell when the transformation takes place. The only difficult part was getting a handle on my new magic, but even that took just a day or two, with a lot of help from Rainbow Dash.”

“Yep, I taught her everything she knows about being a pegasus!” Dash boasted.

“And I, naturally, tutored Steve in telekinesis and basic spell casting,” Twilight more modestly added.

“And you don’t miss having fingers at all?”

“Well, sure, in the sense that I miss being able to do some things that can only be done with fingers, like typing; but in the sense of feeling that some part of my body ought to be there but isn’t, no. Same applies when I return to being human: I don’t feel like I’m missing a tail or wings, though I sure miss being able to fly.”

“Wow. I’m really envious of you two.” Fowler was quiet for a moment. “I’d never have the guts to do what you did.”

They all silently gazed at the forests swiftly flowing underneath them. It was the only sensation of speed, apart from mild wind noise. They seemed to be going much faster than a jet plane, but that was because they were a lot closer to the ground.

These forests looked no different from the ones back on Earth—from a mile up, anyway. Who knew what odd flora and fauna existed down there, but it clearly was no Everfree. Then they spotted, in the distant mountains ahead, a full grown dragon lazily flying.

Fowler eyed it nervously. “That won’t be a problem, will it?”

Meg was sort of wondering the same thing. The other ponies suspended their card game and moved to the window.

Twilight, reassuringly, dismissed it with a wave of her hoof. “No, they know better than to mess with airships, especially one belonging to Princess Celestia herself.”

The dragon flew towards their flight path out of bored curiosity, attempting to match their speed—but maintaining a very respectful distance. In a little over two minutes, they finally caught up to and passed the dragon, but not before three phones caught it on video. It couldn’t match their speed, but it came surprisingly close.

Spike was mesmerized. “I can’t wait till my wings grow in,” he murmured, as the card game was resumed.

After a few more minutes, the forests thinned out and turned to grasslands, then farmland. A small, rural town alongside a river passed by.

“What do you think will happen next?” Twilight asked, breaking the silence.

“That’s a good question,” Fowler replied. She had her phone out again, taking a video of a pegasi cloud city they were about to pass. The ship had slightly adjusted its course to give it a wide berth.

“I really don’t know. The biggest problem is that everyone’s first reaction will be that this is all some sort of sick joke. You’re all characters from a children’s cartoon; obviously, you can’t be real. Aaron was recording it all on his phone, but…”

“Surely, that would be quite persuasive,” Rarity said, sticking her head up from her cards.

“Not really.” Steve slowly shook his head. “Stuff like that can be faked quite convincingly. Movies do it all the time. Only the fact that to do it well is very expensive and time-consuming will force them to consider the possibility it’s real. Maybe.”

“That,” Fowler agreed, “and there’s no conceivable reason for us to pull a career-ending stunt like that.”

Twilight considered all that as she drank from her mug.

“It also wouldn’t hurt,” Fowler added, “if we had an explanation of how all of this—” she waved her hand around “—could be real.”

Twilight reacted as if she had just heard an offensive joke. “And I would like to have an explanation of how one of your cartoons became a distressingly accurate documentary on all of us, and of my life in particular.”

“Point taken,” the agent said, chastised. “I have a feeling neither of us is going to get one.” She resumed scanning the horizon, full of endless plains. “This would be a whole lot easier if that cartoon didn’t exist.”

It sure would, for both universes. Humanity couldn’t take the existence of ponies seriously, and very important ponies felt that their private lives were being violated, potentially to be exposed within Equestria itself. And what will season five reveal?

The next hour was occupied by smalltalk. Fowler asked the ponies about some of her favorite episodes, discovering for herself that poetic license was sometimes taken with certain details. One example was MMMystery on the Friendship Express: the events depicted happened, but on a train to Baltimare, not on an overnight train to Canterlot—which, as it turned out, didn’t even exist.

The ponies in turn asked her about her life in law enforcement, learning about humanity in the process. Meg even showed her the numerous photos she had taken around Ponyville, since as a human she would not be able to visit those places herself.

Then out of the blue, Meg’s phone rang. “How do you have a signal?” a surprised Fowler asked. She had long since discovered that her phone, unsurprisingly, had no signal.

“Magic,” Meg quickly said, not caring to explain her husband’s special talent, as she lifted her phone into view. It was Tom. Crap. She had once again forgotten about the conference call, the one for the “best pony impression” contest planning meeting. It was tempting not to answer, but then he’d just call Steve again, and… might as well get it over with.

Everypony was looking at her. “Try not to say anything,” she told them.

She accepted the call and lifted the phone to her head, weakly saying, “Hi, Tom.”

There was silence for a few seconds. “Something came up again, hasn’t it?”

All equine ears had turned to her. Meg couldn’t fault them, really; she was only too aware herself that it was partially a reflex action. And besides, he was coming through so loud that even Fowler could clearly hear it, close as she was.

“I’m sorry, but my life has been real crazy recently.”

“You can’t keep missing meetings like this. We have a deadline.”

“I did send you my R—scenarios,” Meg defensively said, avoiding at the last second mentioning the name of the pony next to her. She just wanted this call to end.

Tom sighed. “When can you reschedule?”

Meg cringed. “I don’t know right now.”

“Look, I like your Rainbow Dash scenarios, especially the one on how she would teach a ponified human to do weather magic, and you’re certainly—”

“Hah! What human could be awesome enough to do me?”

I can think of at least one, easy, Meg thought as she gave the impulsive pegasus a sour look. On the plus side, Rainbow Dash seemed more amused than offended. Well, she did know about the Twilight/Lyra scenario. On the minus side, Tom had heard her; the pegasus had realized her mistake immediately, face-hoofing.

“Not this again.” One could practically hear him rubbing his hand against his forehead. “Fine, I get it, you know some people who can do excellent pony impressions, but if this is some joke, it’s in poor taste.”

“I didn’t put her up to this, I swear.” She glared at the prismatic mare, wondering what else could go wrong. No, no, no, don’t even think that, not here in Equestria!

“It doesn’t matter,” he said, brushing it aside. “Can you explain why it’s more important to spend your time with this ‘Rainbow Dash’ than on our meeting?”

“It’s… it’s complicated.”

It was just like Susie’s parents all over again, only this time there wasn’t going to be a pony personally introducing herself to Tom. It didn’t matter what she said; it didn’t matter what any of the others said. Could she try switching to a video call? No, she barely had a signal as it was, her last spot on Earth being in the middle of nowhere—if even that would be convincing. There was no saving this.

“I need to get back to the conference call. We’ll talk about this later.” He ended the call, not waiting for a reply.

Meg dumped her head on her cushion. “That could have gone better,” she muttered, as she felt a hoof on her withers.

“I’m really sorry about that,” Rainbow Dash said.

“If it wasn’t that,” she rationalized, sighing, “I’m sure it would have been something else.” It’s simply how her life’s been going recently. She tried burying her head deeper into the cushion, without much success.

Pinkie came over and wrapped a foreleg around her. “I think somepony needs a hug.”

A Pinkie hug did feel good—when she wasn’t squeezing the breath out of her.

“Maybe it’s just as well. I mean, can I really still be a brony when I’ve become a part of all this? For all I know, me and Steve will feature prominently in the next season premiere.”

“I have a hard time imagining the cartoon going in that direction,” Fowler said. “Introducing humans, that is.”

“And yet,” Twilight countered, “it has tracked the major events in our lives, and it doesn’t get much more major than this.”

“I guess we’ll have to wait until the next season airs sometime next year in order to find out,” Steve said.

“Or we could ask the show’s writers. They must be working on those scripts right now, or at the very least have the episodes planned out.”

That made Meg wince. The last thing she wanted was for Twilight to consider contacting the talent behind the cartoon. There was simply no way they could have the answers the alicorn was looking for, never mind the problems that encounter could cause… And Fowler had put it front and center.

To Meg’s surprise, Twilight reacted to that suggestion by walking around in circles, head down, tail swishing, clearly distressed. After a few iterations, she stopped to face Fowler and ask a question. “The episode that had Tirek stealing everypony’s magic. When was that written?”

Meg got a sinking feeling in her stomach. It had been established that it had aired close to the time the actual events took place. She cursed herself for not making the connection sooner.

“I don’t know, exactly,” Fowler said, “but animation has a very long production pipeline. First the scripts are written, then the voice actors record their lines, then the animation is done to those recordings… I know that the actors have said that they’ve recorded their lines as much as a year in advance.”

Twilight was not happy, not happy at all. “We can’t talk to the writers, or anypony else associated with the cartoon. I’m issuing a royal decree to that effect.”

“Isn’t that overreacting a bit, darling?” Rarity delicately said.

“I’m okay with it,” Fluttershy confessed. “I wasn’t going to talk to them anyway.”

Most of the ponies weren’t making the connection. They didn’t know when the episode aired. Fowler was looking just as confused, for she didn’t know when the actual events took place. That was a problem because the decree wasn’t binding on her, certainly not once she left Equestria, and she could easily contact the writers.

Meg had to make them all understand. “Agent Fowler, you need to respect this decree, even though you’re not a subject. The battle with Tirek took place about the same time the episode aired.”

Her jaw dropped as comprehension dawned. “They know your future?” she quietly said. “How’s that possible?”

Everypony looked at Twilight, wondering the same thing.

“I don’t know, but it doesn’t really matter how,” she said, punctuating with a hoof stomp. “The point is, they do, and that means we can’t have contact with them. I’ve personally experienced how awful it is to have knowledge of the future.”

Are we in a time loop? Twilight didn’t actually use those words, and strictly speaking Equestria’s future has not causally affected its past or present. That’s the point of the decree: to prevent that from happening. Celestia would certainly agree, once she learned of it.

“I see,” Fowler said. “And I was thinking an appearance at a brony convention would be a good way to introduce you to the world, but now you can’t do that.” After seeing Twilight’s confusion, she continued. “The writers and voice actors also go to these things, and it’s inconceivable they wouldn’t want to meet you if they knew you were there.”

Would that truly be a problem? They never reveal details about unaired episodes. Would they make an exception in the case of the actual ponies? Even if they wouldn’t, they might still unintentionally leak information, just from the innocent questions they’d ask of the ponies. It was risky, at best.

Twilight laid down once more on her pillow. “To be honest, I’m not ready for that kind of publicity anyway. I’ll meet selected government officials, if only to convince them we’re real, but that’s it, for the time being.”

Fowler nodded in agreement. “Taking it slowly is probably good.”

Not much was said for the remainder of the flight, and that gave Meg the chance to ponder just how deep down the rabbit hole she’d gone. She had plenty of reason herself to respect that decree, even if she weren’t in the employ of the princesses. Maybe she ought to cut her ties to bronydom, at least for the time being.

But while perhaps necessary, it was unlikely to be sufficient. There was also indirect contact to worry about. What if those government officials decided to contact the writers themselves? Telling them not to was unlikely to work, quite the contrary. Nor could they depend on the writers refusing to divulge their plans for the next season, if the Feds were persuasive enough.

They would just have to take it one day at a time.

21. Reflections on Reality

The Crystal Empire glittered in the mid-afternoon sun, far away in the distance, as the Zephyr began its descent. Twilight fidgeted, rubbing one forelimb against the other, as she watched the city approach.

Celestia would have sent Cadance a message, informing her of their imminent arrival, but that message would be concise and lacking in detail. Without a dragon to receive it, there was a real limit on how big a scroll could be teleported such a vast distance, even by a powerful alicorn. Twilight really needed to touch bases with her former foal sitter before they all appeared on her doorstep—including a de facto representative of a human government.

Nonetheless, she had no choice but to stay put until the airship had slowed to a relative crawl. That moment finally arrived.

“Attention everypony!” All heads turned to the alicorn. “I’m going ahead to meet with Cadance. I’ll meet you all at the palace.” Turning to Meg, meeting her eyes, she added, “You should come with me.”

The pegasus blinked. “Uh, okay. We fly right after we land?”

Twilight started hovering. “Nope, right now. I’ll teleport us outside.”

It took a second for the words to register, but Meg also started to hover, not quite sure what to expect. Twilight moved in front of her and teleported herself and Meg outside, well above and in front of the Zephyr. They retained their momentum, moving rapidly through the air. Both of them reflexively spun around to face into the wind and began flying.

Twilight banked toward the palace and picked up speed. She was tempted to visit the landing site first, to make sure they had a suitable carriage that would hide Fowler from view, but she trusted Celestia to make that requirement clear. Cadance, not to mention her brother, Celestia’s former Captain of the Guard, would have many questions. The more time she had to answer them, the better.

They flew in silence. Meg focused her attention on the approaching crystalline city. Twilight was tempted to ask why she had never mentioned this lengthy animation pipeline herself, but decided it didn’t really matter. Either she hadn’t known, hadn’t made the connection, or had been protecting them; whichever it was, it hadn’t counted as a violation of their Pinkie Promise.

As they approached the heart of the city, Twilight began descending. The palace was not much further—close enough, in fact, that she was worrying about the effect of the reduced magical field on their ability to fly.

“It’s at the top of that?” Meg asked, pointing at the palace, the tallest building by far. “The Mirror, that is.”

“Yep. Be prepared for your flying magic to weaken, just in case.”

They were now only a few dozen feet above the main road, low enough to attract the attention of the crystal ponies below. Meg gawked in return. In quick succession, they passed the giant crystal statue of Spike and the Crystal Heart, and arrived at the palace. As they landed, a guard at the palace entrance took notice and went inside.

The two mares walked up to the lethargically rotating Heart and examined it. “I thought it would be… shinier than this,” Meg said. Far from shiny, it had a dull appearance. If it still had an inner glow, it was invisible in the sunlight.

“It should be,” Twilight grimly replied. “That’s the problem. It has a low tolerance for a weak magical field.”

Twilight headed towards the entrance. “Follow me; no time for sightseeing now.”

The guards bowed as Twilight approached, letting them pass. Meg took the opportunity to get her first good look at a crystal pony. They were flesh and blood, just like any other pony; their skin merely gave the illusion of being crystalline. Twilight and her friends themselves briefly looked crystalline after the Heart had been restored and powered up.

As they entered the lobby, a crystal pony was approaching them from a hallway. “Your Highness,” he called out. “Princess Cadance and Prince Shining Armor are expecting you. If you would follow me, please.” But he stood still, looking questioningly at the orchid pegasus beside the princess.

“Meg will accompany me,” she informed him.

“Of course,” the stallion said, not missing a beat, as he turned around and led the way, first going down a wide hallway, next turning into a corridor, then climbing up a flight of modest stairs, and finally walking down yet another corridor, to arrive at a conference room. They must have heard them coming; for as Twilight entered the room, the royal couple were already making their way around a table to warmly greet her.

But that first impulse was cut short when they noticed Meg entering the room behind her. “We should get down to business,” Twilight apologetically said. “It won’t be long before the others arrive, and we have matters to discuss.”

Cadance nodded in acknowledgement, now serious. “Celestia gave us a heads-up, but it was of necessity short on details.” In front of her was the small scroll Celestia sent her. She looked at Meg, giving her a friendly smile. “And I assume this is Meg, the new Royal Adviser on Human Affairs?”

“She is,” Twilight confirmed, as Meg gave an awkward smile in return.

“You’ve actually brought one of these humans with you,” her brother said, his military training considering the security implications. “A representative of their government?”

Twilight briefly glanced at Meg, confused. He apparently was referring to Fowler, not the pegasus in front of him. Celestia didn’t mention that? While there wasn’t much that could be fit onto that scroll, there had been plenty of time to inform them about Meg by other means. Maybe those means weren’t considered secure enough. Regardless, there wasn’t time right now to go into that.

“Not exactly. She’s not a diplomat or official in any way. It’s a long story, but she may be able to provide a flying machine we can use to move The Mirror. The lack of magic won’t bother them; there’s absolutely no magic native to their realm. She’s here to see firsthoof what needs to be done.”

Shining Armor frowned. “Bringing one of these machines here concerns me, based on what Celestia has mentioned—not that I see much choice.” He turned his attention to Meg. “I’d like to have a briefing later on the security implications of this and what we could do to minimize the risks.”

“Sure, no problem,” Meg replied.

He studied the orchid pegasus with interest. “Have you actually met a human? Not that it’s my place to question Celestia’s judgement, but what are your qualifications for this position?”

Meg hesitated before answering, unsure what to say. “Uh… yes, I have met quite a few humans. I’ve even been to their… realm.”

Twilight rolled her eyes. This is getting ridiculous. “Meg is a human,” she said, quite to their surprise. “I first turned her into a pony a few weeks ago. I’m surprised Celestia didn’t mention that.”

After staring for a few seconds at the currently-not-a-human who was sheepishly grinning back at them, Shining Armor walked back around the table to take his seat. “Like I said,” he said, stoically, “it’s not my place to question Celestia’s judgement.”

What’s that supposed to mean? she thought, giving her tail an irritated twitch. Her brother caught that, his eyes widening a bit. He didn’t know. Celestia hadn’t mentioned that either, that she had delegated that to her. They really were out of the loop. Wait till they hear about the cartoon.

“I’ll explain everything later, I promise,” she said, impatiently, “but they’ll be here soon. Just so you know, Meg’s husband is with them, he’s currently a unicorn, and nopony knows what they really are outside a select few. You need to keep this a secret for now.”

“Of course we will,” Cadance said. “That’s to be expected, given the instructions to keep this human hidden from view. May I assume the other Elements are members of this select few?”

“Indeed they are,” Twilight replied with a smile. “In fact, they’re with Fowler—that’s the human’s name—right now.”

Cadance made her way to the door, her husband taking that as a cue to get up and join her. “They should be arriving soon,” she said. “Let’s be on our way.”

“I’ll focus on security down here.” Shining Armor shuddered a bit. “I really don’t like being up there.”

His sister gave him an sympathetic nod. “Don’t blame you.” If he’s handling security—big surprise—then he’d certainly be pleased to hear this: “The plan is for us to go straight up there, let her look around, then come right back down and leave. I’ve promised to get her back home by early evening.”

“The quicker, the better,” he said approvingly. “We’ll discuss this further afterwards.”

Except for Shining Armor, they all headed back to the main lobby; the prince left the room going in the opposite direction, to meet with his security staff. They followed the same route they had taken from the lobby, only in reverse. As they entered the lobby, Rainbow Dash flashed over to them.

“The carriages will be here soon,” the pegasus reported, after first giving a quick bow. “I flew ahead to let you know.”

“Thank you, Rainbow Dash,” Princess Cadance said, as they all continued towards the entrance.

Just go up, let her look around, come back down and leave. It was quite simple, but Twilight couldn’t help but feel she was missing something. She looked around, and saw that the cavernous lobby was empty of ponies apart from a few guards—all of whom, she was sure, were picked for their trustworthiness. Fowler was familiar enough—that’s it.

“Cadance,” she said, stopping. Her fellow princess also stopped, looking questioningly at Twilight. Now was not the time to mention the cartoon, but she needed to say something. “You should expect Fowler, the human, to be very knowledgeable about us. I’ll explain how later—it’s not what you’re thinking—just don’t be surprised by it.”

The pink alicorn blinked. “I’ll keep that in mind,” she finally said, wondering what that was all about.

They waited patiently for the carriages to arrive. It wasn’t long before two of them approached, one of them coming to a halt right in front of the entrance. Its door opened, and out came Agent Fowler, Steve, Applejack and Pinkie Pie. Twilight was impressed that none of the crystal pony guards lost their focus; one would think they saw humans every day—but then, they were trained by her brother. From the other carriage came Rarity, Fluttershy and Spike. They all gathered in front of Cadance and Twilight, with Meg rejoining her husband.

Fowler stepped forward and gave an uncertain bow. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Your Highness,” she said, addressing Cadance. “I’m Jessica Fowler.”

The Princess responded with a subtle nod. “Welcome to the Crystal Empire, Jessica. It is my understanding your time here is limited, so shall we get started?”

“Uh, sure, lead the way.”

Cadance headed towards the grand staircase at a back corner of the lobby. Fowler, Meg and Steve followed, but Twilight stood still, prompting her friends to do likewise.

“You don’t have to go up there if you don’t want to,” she told them.

Rainbow Dash crossed her forelimbs. “I’m not afraid of no mirror,” she asserted.

“I’m coming too.” Applejack’s voice dropped to a whisper as she added, “I’m keeping an eye on her, just in case.”

Rarity looked at the stairs with dread. “I don’t suppose, this time, you’d be able to teleport me all the way up there.” Twilight shook her head. “Then I think it’s best I do some shopping instead,” the unicorn said, and departed.

Spike also eyed the stairs. “I’ll help Rarity with her shopping,” he said as he rushed after her.

That left two. Twilight looked at Pinkie, awaiting her answer.

Pinkie gave her a big smile. “There’s always another party to plan. C’mon Fluttershy!” And with that, she bounced away.

“Uh…” The butter yellow pony glanced at the stairway, then at the departing Pinkie Pie, and made her decision. “Coming…” she said, as she also departed.

So only two would accompany her, not that she was complaining; there really was no need for them to come along. “Let’s get going,” she nonchalantly told them.

The three mares met up with the others at the foot of the grand staircase. It loomed in front of them, seemingly carved—or grown—from a single crystal. Only Sombra knew how it was accomplished, and the knowledge was lost with his defeat.

This time, Twilight knew teleporting to the top was not an option. Nor could any of them fly all the way to the top—though Rainbow Dash seemed determined to try. Even Applejack’s earth pony stamina would run out well before reaching the top. Then there was Agent Fowler. The human was standing in the center of the stairwell, looking straight up through the spiraling stairs.

“How far up is it?” the agent asked.

“About six hundred feet,” Twilight replied. “I should be able to teleport you most of the way; you’d have to climb maybe a bit over two hundred feet.”

“I can handle that, but wouldn’t you have to make a separate trip for each of us?”

Twilight shook her head. “That won’t be not necessary. Meg and Rainbow Dash can fly at least as high as I can teleport, and Applejack’s earth pony stamina will take her that high too. Steve, Cadance can teleport you, unless you want to stay down here.”

“And miss out on seeing the infamous mirror? No way.”

Fowler held out her hand. “Could you hand me the Geiger counter?”

Twilight took it out of her saddlebag and levitated it over to Fowler. After taking hold of it, she turned it on. It clicked almost immediately, but the next click was two seconds later. Seven more clicks occurred over the next ten seconds. Satisfied, she turned it off.

“The magical field strength here is about one fifth of normal,” Twilight said. It was only logical that the click rate would increase as they approached the mirror; it would have been quite a surprise if it had not.

The two alicorns and the unicorn joined the human in the stairwell. Cadance had done this teleport many times; she knew how high they could go and how much effort would be needed—far, far more than the short distance ought to require. They would do a synchronized teleport, with Cadance selecting the destination. Once their horns were sufficiently charged with magic, they teleported.

They arrived at a floor hundreds of feet up. Fowler went over to the railing and looked down the stairwell. “Do we wait for them?” she asked.

It was only her second teleport, the first being from inside the castle to just outside the Zephyr, and she was already unfazed by it. Twilight was impressed.

“We’ll wait for Applejack. It will be easier for the pegasi to fly past us, taking advantage of their momentum.”

Indeed, it wasn’t long before Rainbow Dash flew past them at a leisurely pace, her wings furiously flapping and her face set in pure determination. It’d be comical if it wasn’t so serious.

“She does know her wings are going to fail soon, right?” Steve asked. An uncontrolled crash into the stairs would not be pleasant.

“She knows,” Twilight droned. She wouldn’t have it any other way, she thought, as she watched her circle higher around the stairwell, struggling against her failing magic.

Meg was next to arrive, a distant second. Having no momentum left to preserve, she set down on her hooves, gasping for air. “I’m really… feeling… the burn.”

Fowler looked at the exhausted pegasus with concern. “Does the lack of magic hurt or something?”

“No,” Twilight said, shaking her head. “There’s no direct awareness of it. It simply becomes harder to use magic, requiring ever more exertion, until it stops working altogether.”

Having caught her breath, Meg tried hovering again. With hard flapping she succeeded, but gave up after a very few seconds. “It’s not worth the effort,” she decided, folding her aching wings. “I’ll walk the rest of the way.”

There wasn’t much to do but wait for Applejack. The sound of her trotting hooves came echoing from below, getting ever louder. Fowler turned the Geiger counter back on, and to nopony’s surprise it was clicking much faster, about twice a second.

As the device was being turned off, Steve decided to test his own magic. He lifted his phone out of his saddlebag. “My phone feels like it weighs ten pounds,” he said, before putting it back.

Twilight idly looked down the broad hallway, off of which were doors to numerous rooms. It all looked unused and it probably was. The palace appeared to have been built more as a status symbol than to fulfill administrative needs. While the palace in Canterlot was certainly intended to impress, at least it was also practical. Celestia would not have had it any other way.

At last, Applejack had caught up with them, climbing the last flight of stairs before reaching them. She didn’t seem much affected by the diminished availability of magic. Perhaps earth pony stamina didn’t need as much magic; then again, an athletic unicorn or pegasus could easily climb hundreds of feet, too, without the benefit of magical stamina, and Applejack was athletic even for an earth pony. Twilight eyed the next flight of stairs heading up. Well, I’m not athletic, so let’s see how well I do.

As Applejack ascended the final few steps, Cadance asked her, “How are you faring?”

She wasn’t breathing particularly hard, Twilight had to give her that. The farm pony walked over to them. “I’m feelin’ it more, but nothin’ Ah can’t handle. Ya dun need to wait here on my account.”

Twilight set a measured pace as they climbed the remaining flights of stairs. She wasn’t sure how much of a benefit she was getting from her earth pony magic, but whatever it was, it was diminishing rapidly with height. That was okay; there was no rush. I did come in fifth place by pacing myself during the Running of the Leaves.

Rainbow Dash was waiting for them at the top, exhausted, for once not looking smug at having won a race. “Did Sombra have a stair fetish or something?”

“Or something,” Twilight replied wearily, as she cleared the final step. “We might as well start with the balcony.”

Right behind her, Meg, Steve, and Agent Fowler entered the ballroom, looking around, and followed the alicorns to the balcony.

Once outside they went to the railing, to take in the view. Fowler felt compelled to get on her hands and knees before reaching it, as the railing was way too low for human comfort. She gazed at the tiny crystal ponies below. “You should be aware, if you aren’t already, that a helicopter is extremely noisy. We don’t want to scare everypony.”

Their flying machines do seem to be noisy, Twilight thought as she remembered her first sighting of an airplane coming in to land.

“We shall warn everypony in advance,” Cadance said, “so there will be no panic.”

Fowler moved away from the railing, got back on her feet, and wandered around. “This balcony is certainly wide enough, so no problem there. I’m guessing it will take the weight, if it had to land, but it might as well hover as we moved the mirror out here.”

Twilight tilted her head. “How much does one weigh?”

“Depends on the model, of course, but I would think a few thousand pounds, five thousand tops.”

Twilight did a quick calculation. Obviously, the machine was large enough to hold at least one human, probably two, maybe even four if putting the mirror inside was a theoretical option. It was something like a flying car. “Not a problem,” she decided. The balcony could easily handle that much weight spread over the probable area.

“That leaves The Mirror.” Twilight headed off towards the back of the ballroom, to the closed door of a storage area. The others followed close behind.

But before they were halfway across the ballroom, Meg’s phone hit the floor. The magic binding it to the strap around her foreleg had finally failed, as had the magic binding the strap to itself. Meg stopped to pick up her phone—except she couldn’t.

“Not enough magic, hon,” Applejack observed with sympathy.

“Here, let me.” Fowler picked up the phone and the strap and put it in Meg’s saddlebag.

“Thanks,” the pegasus said with a weak smile. She then tried to hover above the floor, without success.

“Sucks, doesn’t it,” Rainbow Dash also observed.

“Sure does,” Meg sighed as she folded her now useless wings.

They continued on to the storage area. This time, the door would not be magically locked. That was no longer possible. In hindsight, it was a minor miracle the locking magic was still working the first time she was here. No longer possible, either, was taking care of the physical lock with magic, but this time she had the key.

She winced. How am I supposed to get the key in the keyhole without magic? She could use her mouth—not that she has had much experience with that—or have Fowler do it with her hands.

It was an uncomfortable realization that she was at Fowler’s mercy—any human’s mercy—in this place. The agent was completely unaffected by the lack of magic, which, of course, is precisely why their assistance was needed. Twilight wasn’t particularly worried about Fowler herself; she was too much like Meg and Steve. But what about other humans? The risk was low, but was it zero? It was an unpleasant conversation she needed to have with her royal advisor before the next step was taken.

They reached the door. Twilight focused on the key in her saddlebag… and nothing happened. She sighed. I should have insisted on Spike coming along. Accepting the inevitable, she said, “Agent Fowler, there’s a key to this door in my right saddlebag. Could you retrieve it and unlock the door?”

“Uh, sure.” She set down the Geiger counter and got on her knees beside the alicorn. “It’s behind that door, isn’t it?” she said as she lifted the flap, looked inside, and retrieved the key.

“Yep,” Twilight replied, stating the obvious, as she watched the agent insert the key and turn it. Seconds later, the door was open. The Mirror was right where she last saw it, reflecting the light from the ballroom behind them.

Fowler picked up the Geiger counter and turned it on. It was clicking furiously. “I think it’s safe to say there’s no magic here,” she said, then turned it off. She set it back down on the floor and went inside towards the mirror. Meg and Steve followed; Twilight and Cadance stayed outside.

“Meg, Steve,” Twilight called out. “Your cutie marks are going to fade, especially if you touch the mirror. It’s only temporary, so don’t freak out over it.”

“I guess it’s perfectly safe for me to touch it,” observed Fowler. She inspected the frame, in particular how it extended into the circular base, the rim of which was adorned with horseshoe artwork.

Next, she cautiously put her hand to the upper frame, as if it might burn her or something. Nothing happened. She pushed, trying to tip it slightly, attempting to judge its weight. “Doesn’t seem very heavy, certainly under a hundred pounds. Won’t be a problem to lift.”

The agent stepped back. Putting a hand to her chin, she considered the object in front of her. “We just need a few dollies, insert them under the base, then roll it out to the balcony. We also need a harness to lift it by. We’ll drop a hook from the helicopter, hook it into the harness, and lift away. Should only take seconds.”

“We can supply those items,” Cadance said from outside the storage area.

Fowler turned around to address the alicorns. “How careful do we have to be with this? I mean, what if it accidentally falls to the ground. Will that destroy it? I assume that’d be bad.”

How much to tell her? Twilight hadn’t even told Meg yet the story behind The Mirror.

Of course it would be very bad. That mirror was the interface to the barrier between their realms. It needed to open every thirty moons—well, Discord never volunteered why, but even if it was only because it amused him, that didn’t mean it was a good idea to mess with his chaos magic.

Fowler was waiting for an answer.

“It would be very, very bad.”

“And what would happen to Sunset Shimmer?”

Twilight cursed herself for letting that slip her mind. In light of recent events, it was clear Sunset should come back at the next opportunity; it was never supposed to have been a permanent banishment anyway. “I don’t know,” she admitted.

“When the portal is open,” Steve said, looking at his equine reflection, “does it actually go to our world?”

“No, it doesn’t. It’s sort of hard to explain, but what I experienced was a Ponyville that was in the image of your realm.”

Fowler made her way past the two ponies back to the door. “Well, I think we’re done here,” she said, as she took out her phone. “I’ll just take a few pictures and we can go.” After they all left the storage area, she closed the door and removed the key, putting it back in Twilight’s saddlebag, along with the Geiger counter. She then proceeded to take pictures of the ballroom, the balcony, and the skyline of the surrounding city.

As the group started back to the stairs, Rainbow Dash got Meg’s attention. “Come on,” she said with an huge grin, “let’s jump off the balcony.”

Meg blinked. “Are you crazy? We can’t fly!”

The others stopped and turned.

“But we will be flying before we hit the ground.” That only added to the fun as far as the daredevil pegasus was concerned.

Meg shook her head. “I’m not an adrenaline junkie, Dash. I’m taking the stairs.”

A disappointed Dash trotted over to the railing. “See you at the bottom,” she said with an “it’s your loss” tone, and jumped.

The remaining pegasus looked at the other ponies. “She’ll be all right, won’t she?”

“Probably,” replied Applejack nonchalantly, as they all walked away from the balcony.

They went down the stairs. Unfortunately, as teleporting down was even harder than teleporting up, due to the starting point being in a much weaker magical field, they walked all the way down, one flight of stairs after another, and another, and another.

What was his deal with stairs? Crystal ponies could not fly or teleport, nor did they have exceptional stamina. Their natural talents concerned crystal growth and manipulation. Sure, those in good shape could climb to the top, but this was just absurd.

When they finally reached the bottom, Rainbow Dash was waiting for them, none worse for the wear.

It was time to take Agent Fowler back home. Twilight led her back to the carriage she came in, as the others left to do sightseeing. The two rode together as the carriage made its way back to the Zephyr. Soon, they were back on board and heading off into the wilderness, to a point where they can cross over, far enough away from the anomaly.

There wasn’t much conversation. Twilight wanted to firm up the plans for transporting the mirror, but Fowler couldn’t add much to what she had already said. It was out of her hands. They would have to wait until word came down from above. Fowler, for her part, wanted to know more about Meg and Steve’s involvement with the ponies; though it seemed more out of personal curiosity than official interest, Twilight didn’t feel comfortable providing that information.

Once they had arrived at that featureless grassland, the alicorn teleported them to the ground—it wouldn’t do to return to the inside of an object that wasn’t absolutely motionless—and crossed over, returning Agent Fowler to her fellow agents.

Twilight didn’t stay long, just long enough to make arrangements for her next visit, and to find out that there was no news, as yet, on the helicopter. Fowler was excitedly showing the pictures and video she took as Twilight invoked the return spell.

Back in her own realm, she did not immediately teleport back inside. Surrounding her as far as the eye can see were expansive grasslands, thriving in the brief summer sandwiched between brutal winters. The nearest train tracks were many miles away. This is as good a location as any. Here is where they’ll move The Mirror. Tomorrow, she’ll have a construction crew out here to build a facility to hold it.

Returning to the Zephyr, she ordered Captain Shooting Star to take her back to the Crystal Empire. Upon arrival, she looked for her friends, finding them at the huge statue of her number one assistant.

“And that’s why Spike had to save the Games all by himself,” Rainbow Dash said, concluding her lecture. She sternly pointed a hoof at Meg and Steve. “Remember, you’re not to tell any other humans. Oh, hey, Twilight, you’re back.”

Twilight looked curiously at her cyan friend. Will you tell them about Scootaloo next?

“Speaking of Spike, where is he?” Her baby dragon was the only one not there.

Rarity tittered. “Oh, he’s making an impromptu public appearance, signing autographs.”

Twilight rolled her eyes. At least it hasn’t gone to his head—much.

Meg and Steve were looking at her, wondering what was next. As much as she wished they could continue seeing the sights, there was business to attend to. “It’s time for our meeting with my brother and Cadance,” she told them.

They walked the short distance to the palace, while her five friends went off to save Spike from his admirers and have dinner. Once they entered the lobby, a waiting attendant directed them to the same conference room they’d been to earlier. Cadance and Shining Armor were waiting for them inside. Against a wall, a buffet had been laid out. They all helped themselves to some food before getting started.

After the five ponies had taken seats around the table, Twilight began talking. “I said earlier I’d explain everything later, and later has arrived. For now, this is all a royal secret that cannot be shared with anypony else.”

The royal couple nodded in understanding, their ears at attention, ready to finally hear what was going on.

For the next half-hour, Twilight gave a summary of the events since her last visit to the Crystal Empire: her initial visit to the human realm, the discovery of the doll and its owners, the cartoon, the learning of their advanced physics and the technology it enables, Meg and Steve’s first visit to Equestria and their ponification, Meg’s cutie mark epiphany, Celestia’s appointment of Meg as Royal Advisor, and the involvement of the FBI.

“And that’s pretty much it,” she concluded, as she finally dug a fork into her salad. “It’s a lot to take in, I know.”

Cadance and Shining Armor had barely touched their food. Her brother found his voice first. “I don’t suppose we can see this cartoon for ourselves.”

Steve pulled the tablet from his saddlebag. “Actually, you can, right now.” He woke it up and browsed through the available episodes. The fourth season was currently loaded. “I don’t have one that features you, but here’s one that has Cadance, Discord also.”

“Discord…?” Cadance muttered. “You mean the time I visited Twilight and he faked an illness and sent us on a quest for some flower?”

“That’s the one.” The tablet floated over to the royal couple and set down on the table. The cartoon began playing. Twenty two minutes later, it finished.

This time, it was Cadance who found her voice first. “You weren’t joking.”

“What about Discord,” Shining Armor asked. “Does he know about this?”

That was a very good question; Twilight was annoyed she hadn’t thought of it herself. “I haven’t told him, but I haven’t asked him either.” Twilight took a scoop of ice cream. “I don’t know.”

Meg shifted uneasily on her plush cushion. “He’s very knowledgeable about our culture. I’d be surprised if he didn’t know.”

Twilight suddenly felt a cold chill. Could he—would he—look at those scripts as they were finished? Only one thought offered consolation: it was beyond even his power to alter the timeline. Even if he had been looking into the future this way, it didn’t alter what had already happened—or, for that matter, what would happen, as she knew from personal experience. Could his chaotic nature even tolerate possessing immutable knowledge of the future?

Her brother had been inspecting the tablet. “So this is human technology.” He put it down and looked Meg in the eyes. “What are the risks of bringing one of your flying machines here?”

“I… I’m not sure I understand the question. I suppose it could have a mechanical failure, which would cause it to fall to the ground and crash. It’s unlikely, but it’s possible.”

“How could this machine be used to harm us—theoretically,” he clarified. When Meg did not answer immediately, Shining Armor continued. “I’m not saying they intend to cause us harm. But even with the best of intentions, accidents happen. It’s my job to be prepared. Would this machine have weapons, for example?”

It wasn’t a pleasant conversation to have, but it needed to be had. Twilight had little doubt humans would ask the same questions—maybe they already were—if the horseshoe was on the other hoof. Nonetheless, she was glad her brother was the one to bring up the subject, so she didn’t have to.

“No. Well, it shouldn’t. I mean, there are military helicopters with serious weapons, but there’s no reason to use one of them. The FBI wouldn’t even have one in their possession; they’re not an army. If they somehow got one anyway, you should reject it and insist on a civilian model.”

The former Captain of the Guard nodded. “And what could be done with a civilian model?”

“Well… the pilot can have personal weapons on him, like a gun. The helicopter could have cameras recording everything. They might try to leave behind some surveillance devices, but I don’t know what good that would do them, because they’d have no way of communicating with them or retrieving them…”

“Maybe not now,” he said forebodingly. “We should create spells that can detect and neutralize these devices.”

“I’ll have work started on that,” Twilight said, adding a new item to a list.

“Is there truly no way to get the task done without one of these… helicopters?” Cadance asked.

“We could probably do it with a hot air balloon using a benign, lightweight human rope substitute to tether a team of pegasi, but we’d still need humans to rig The Mirror, move it to the balcony, and hook it up to the balloon. Meg and Steve here could be two of them, naturally. I did bring my balloon aboard the Zephyr, just in case. There’s no guarantee, after all, they can even provide us with a helicopter.”

Shining Armor was not amused. “Any reason this isn’t the primary plan?”

“Actually, yes,” Twilight flatly replied. “Princess Celestia thinks it would conducive to our future relations if they had the opportunity to help us.”

The unicorn was not totally buying it. “There are many ways they could help, some less risky than others.”

Twilight didn’t care to argue about it. She didn’t even really disagree, except that one rarely profits by ignoring her mentor’s wisdom. “I’m moving ahead with the balloon, for now, anyways. Meg or Steve can get a spool of that synthetic rope tomorrow morning. We also need to get started on building a facility to house The Mirror far away from here. I’ve already selected a location.”

“I’ll get started on that,” her brother declared, happily accepting the change in subject.

The meeting hadn’t lasted much longer. Before long Twilight was in her guest room, studying the magical field simulation program. She had brought along the laptop computer and some human physics books. For all the progress they’ve made that day, the hard reality is that it only bought some time. The solution to closing the hole still eluded her; she desperately needed a fresh approach.

The problem was fundamental. Nothing material could even slow the flow of magic, much less block it. Magnetism and electric fields had no effect, either. Even if the two nuclear forces could effect magic—and there was no reason to believe they did—there was no way, even with human technology, to utilize those forces. Magic itself can and has been used to stop the flow, but only temporarily; a magical shield could not for long withstand the magic vacuum on one side. Nor did any of the space manipulation spells she knew apply to this situation, at least not in any way she could determine.

That left one fundamental force of nature: gravity. But magic was unaffected by that too. The strength of the magical field did not fall with altitude, unlike air pressure, nor did the magic flowing out of the doll “fall.” The phase change that emitted electromagnetic radiation formed a perfect sphere around the doll, according to Fowler. Magic flowed through space in straight lines, same as light, even though the speed of that flow was like frozen molasses in comparison.

But even light is affected by gravity! Quickly she got out the book on General Relativity, opened it, and found what she was looking for. Light always traveled in a straight line. But in curved space-time, the straightest possible line was still curved; light could not ignore the curved geometry of space itself. Therefore, neither can magic!

But how to take advantage of this? Her eyes went back to the laptop. The magical field simulation program was based on another program, one that simulated black hole collisions and the gravitational waves that produced. Black holes. An object whose gravity is so strong, it is said, that not even light can escape.

“That doesn’t make sense,” she muttered to herself. Relativity made a big deal about how light was always observed to be traveling at the speed of light, regardless of the observer and the speed and direction in which that observer was moving relative to the source of that light. Gravity did not, could not, slow down photons of light. So what kept them from escaping?

After spending time searching that thick tome of a book, she got her answer: space-time was so twisted inside a black hole, there was literally no path from the inside to the outside. You couldn’t even point towards the singularity at the center of a black hole. Once inside, no direction in three-dimension space led to it, or away from it; the singularity was in the direction of your future, and you couldn’t avoid it anymore than you could avoid next Tuesday.

“And they actually believe such objects exist,” she droned as she closed the book. Assuming they did exist, all she had to do was get her hooves on one and throw the doll into it, crushing it along with the hole to a mathematical point. The flow of magic into this realm would be stopped.

Somehow, she doubted it would be that simple.

22. Your Public Awaits

“There’s about twenty… twenty-five minutes remaining,” the moderator said, as he looked at the wall clock at the back of the standing-room-only auditorium. “Let’s open the floor to questions.”

Meg wasn’t sure how many were packed in, but it had to be at least a thousand bronies. Long lines were already growing behind the two microphones, one for each aisle. They were all here to see the first person—and, to date, one of only two—to have been ponified. Who knew how many were watching the live streaming video over the Internet?

What questions would they ask? Try as she might, she couldn’t completely suppress the slight nervous twitching of her wings.

At least the interview portion was well enough received. Everyone ate up her descriptions of Equestria and the ponies as they actually existed, as opposed to how the cartoon portrayed them. On the large projection screen above them was still displayed the photo of her and Twilight posing in front of the Tree of Harmony, now washed out from the lights having been turned back up.

The moderator examined both lines, and decided they were long enough. “We’ll start with the filly on the right,” he said, pointing at a young girl, maybe nine, wearing a Fluttershy t-shirt. “Then we’ll alternate microphones.”

The microphone was lowered by a gopher, though it couldn’t go quite low enough. The little girl gave the helpful volunteer a smile as she stretched on her toes to put her mouth up to the microphone. Looking at the orchid pegasus, awkwardly seated on a folding chair next to the moderator, she asked, “Do you have a cutie mark when you’re human?”

What a nice simple question to start with, Meg thought, relaxing a bit. And it had a nice simple answer, too. “No, I don’t. But even when I’m human, I still feel that it’s my cutie mark, a part of who I am.” It will all be over before she knew it, if they were all this nice and simple.

As the little girl turned around and went back to her seat, accompanied by who Meg assumed was her mother, the moderator pointed at the young adult man standing in front of the other microphone. He wasn’t wearing any sort of costume or t-shirt, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t a passionate brony.

“When will we be able to meet the ponies from the cartoon?” he forcefully asked, his mouth a little too close to the mic.

Meg found she had no answer to give him. That didn’t seem right. Shouldn’t the other ponies be at this convention? She had no clue as to their present whereabouts, nor could she recall any decision having been made regarding their attendance. That was disquieting, to say the least.

The man was staring at her, waiting for an answer. She had to say something. All she could do was give as vague and noncommittal a response as possible. Fortunately, the question itself was a clue: if the ponies had been scheduled to appear on a panel, this fellow would have known about it. “They weren’t able to come to this convention, but hopefully they’ll appear at a future convention.” It was a lousy answer, but what else could she say?

He turned around and walked away from the mic, clearly not happy with that answer, but at least accepting it was the best he was going to get. A woman at the other mic got the go-ahead. “Can you drive a car?” she asked.

“Sure, when I have hands.” That got some light laughter. “With this—” she held up a hoof “—I haven’t actually tried, but I can’t see how, really. My legs are too short to reach the pedals. Maybe if I was a unicorn and had telekinesis.” Putting her hoof back down, she smirkily added, “But why drive when I can fly?” Her wings flared momentarily for emphasis, eliciting laughter and scattered applause.

A teenaged girl wearing a Luna hat was next. “Could you explain why the princesses didn’t do anything about that frozen cloud at the Equestria Games,” she said in an annoyed tone. “We saw Twilight use magic earlier.”

Someone had to ask that. Once she had wondered the same thing; and while Rainbow Dash finally had explain what had happened, it was on the condition that they not reveal it to other humans. How to let her down gently…

“It’s true the princesses did not have the unicorn magic disabling spell imposed on them.”

The teenager adjusted her hat, as she realized there was a “but” coming.

“But I’m afraid that’s all I can say about that,” the pegasus concluded with a sheepish grin.

Discontented murmuring spread throughout the room. “Come on, everypony,” the moderator chided them, “you can’t expect the ponies to let us know everything.” He pointed to the other mic. “The girl in the Twilight wig, you’re next.”

Not just a mane, it also included a very nice set of pony ears and a horn—rather fancy for a girl who couldn’t be more than eight. Her father removed the microphone from the stand and held it in front of her.

“Why are you naked?”

Meg blinked. Did she just ask that? She scanned the audience, but found no indication that anyone thought it odd a little girl just asked that. Maybe she was overreacting. Ponies did wear clothing for special occasions, and perhaps she thought this qualified. “As you know from the cartoon, ponies don’t usually wear clothing,” she said, hoping that would satisfy her.

It apparently did. As the child and her father returned to their seats, a middle-aged woman in an full-body Applejack costume, one that she probably made herself, asked her question. “Have you shipped with any of the canon ponies?”

Meg’s jaw dropped. Hadn’t she mentioned that the only other person to be ponified was her husband? “No,” she bluntly said.

The woman gave a “well, excuse me” shrug and left. The moderator pointed at a twenty-something guy at the other mic.

“Is Rainbow Dash a lesbian?”

All Meg could do was stare at him, dumbfounded. What the hell is going on? Once more her eyes scanned the audience, and, again, no one else seemed to think the question was out of line. She glanced at the moderator, who seemed utterly unconcerned.

She didn’t want to make a scene, not when the whole thing was both being recorded and broadcast live to the world; regardless, she had no intention of answering questions like that—even if she knew the answer, which she didn’t. It was none of her business. It certainly was none of theirs.

The voice actors had a way of avoiding questions they weren’t supposed to answer. What was it? She knew what it was… oh yeah… “Look!” she said, pointing in some random direction. “There’s a moose!”

He was still at the mic, unimpressed. “Are you saying that an unaired episode of a cartoon aimed at little girls is going to explore Rainbow Dash’s sexuality?”

Wait, what? After blinking a few times, she replied, “No, I’m not saying that, or anything. I have nothing to do with the cartoon.” Her frustration growing, she dismissed him. “Next question.”

He wouldn’t go away; having sensed blood in the water, he went in for the kill. “But you have experienced the events in Equestria those unaired episodes will cover, have you not?”

Not necessarily… not yet anyway, but she wasn’t going to open that can of worms. “No comment,” she said with uncompromising finality.

He finally took the hint and relinquished the microphone.

“Is there any shipping amongst the Mane Six?” asked someone at the other mic.

Really, people? To buy some time, she grabbed a plastic bottle of water with her hoof and brought it to her mouth for a drink. Even though it wasn’t the first time she’d done that, the audience couldn’t get enough of seeing a pony actually hold something with a hoof. She put the bottle back on the table and looked straight into his eyes.


He immediately took the hint. Next up was a college age woman.

“Which do you prefer: ‘doing it’ as a human or as a pony?”

Meg couldn’t help gaping at her. This was simply unacceptable. How could she think that was an reasonable question. Why was no one objecting? On the contrary, the audience was eating up the innuendo, like drunk frat boys, eagerly awaiting her answer. Her only consolation was that some idiot was standing right in front of the camera, blocking the world’s view of her slack-jawed expression.

She found her voice. “Next question,” she rebuked.

Scattered boos and hisses came from the audience. Well, tough.

“How do we know you aren’t a changeling?”

How do I know this entire audience aren’t changelings? she wanted to retort. That would make more sense than this nonsense. There would then be a motive behind these offensive questions: to fatten her up for a meal. No question it was effective—assuming changelings could feed off of emotions other than love.

She considered giving a sarcastic “you don’t,” but figured that wasn’t fair to the rest of the viewing world. They were suffering enough as it was, what with that guy still standing in front of the camera—why doesn’t someone do something about that?

Having decided on giving a real answer, she said, “Because changelings can have no interest in a world that lacks magic. It would not be possible for them to change forms or to feed.”

Could they even feed off of non-magical creatures, even in Equestria? She hoped she never had the opportunity to find out.

“How did you feel when Discord dressed up as Santa Clause and gave you those presents, right after you became ponies?” It was another girl, pre-teen, dressed up as Apple Bloom.

Meg blinked some more. It was becoming a bad habit. “How could you possibly know about that?” She hadn’t mentioned Discord at all.

“It was on the season five animatic preview Hasbro posted on youtube,” ‘Apple Bloom’ patiently explained.

A horrible sinking feeling welled up in her stomach. She was going to be in the cartoon. Who else? Steve? Obviously; he was present at their ponification. Susie?

Shouldn’t they have contacted us first? Get some kind of release? Wouldn’t their lawyers have insisted on it? A shudder went through her. What if they thought we were as fictional as Twilight? But don’t they now know she’s real? They’re watching this right now, aren’t they? And why didn’t I already know about this youtube video?

The more Meg thought about it, the less sense it made. At least that was an event that had already happened—no time loop, yet. She needed to talk to Twilight about this ASAP—if only she knew where the hay she was.

The girl was looking at her expectantly.

“Like he was truly reformed,” she said without a whole lot of conviction.

What did they expect her to say?

A military-looking brony in a Discord t-shirt—what perfect timing—adjusted the mic way up. He was quite the hunk, or at least she assumed she would have thought so if she hadn’t been the wrong species at that moment.

“First it was alicorn Twilight,” he bluntly stated, “then it was Rainbow Power and that castle. Is your addition to the cartoon the final nail in the coffin?”

As if she was responsible for or had any control over any of that. Yet what was most irritating was the premise behind that question, that it was just a work of fiction, a work driven by less than pure motives. Hadn’t she made it clear it was real? The evidence suggested otherwise. A quick glance towards the back revealed—finally!—that the world would have an unobstructed view of her clarification.

“I know some of these things haven’t been popular, but you have to understand they actually happened. Twilight is an alicorn princess; I know, I’ve met her. That castle exists; I’ve been inside it. I’ve seen—experienced—their Rainbow Power forms. Their reality does not care how popular it is over here. Their lives will continue just fine when the cartoon finally ends, as one day it will.”

Her speech did not go down well with a sizable minority of the audience. Too bad. It’s reality; deal with it.

Next up, a teenaged boy. “Since you are now part of the cartoon, and I’m talking to you right now, does this mean I’ll be in a future episode?”

She mentally face-hoofed. “The writers panel is in a few hours,” she tried to say without sarcasm. “Why don’t you go ask them?”

How much longer do I have to put up with this? Oh great, a different idiot is standing in front of the camera.

“Have you met the voice actor who plays you in the cartoon?”

There would have to be one, wouldn’t there? They certainly didn’t hire her to play herself! “No. I didn’t even know I was in the cartoon until just now.” Probably sounds exactly like me, too.

An older brony steps up to the mic. “How do you report your Equestrian income on your income tax returns?”

Meg blinked yet again. She hadn’t thought of that before. All income had to be reported, regardless of where it was earned. What was she supposed to use for an exchange rate? “I’m waiting for the IRS to issue regulations on reporting income from other universes,” she punted, praying an IRS agent wasn’t watching. Great. My destiny now includes an audit.

“In that preview clip, you weren’t even aware at first you had become a pony. Are we supposed to buy that? Was it animatic limitations, or just bad writing?”

“Look at that moose.” What was the point in giving the honest truth?

The questions seemed to come with increasing rapidity, one after another, like widgets coming off an ever faster conveyer belt.

“Are you worried that the government will capture you, take you to Area 51, and experiment on you?”

She tried her best to avoid rolling her eyes and treat the question seriously. “That would not be constructive in establishing relations with Equestria.”

“Does Celestia plan on establishing Conversion Bureaus?”

The changeling audience hypothesis was becoming disturbingly plausible. This utterly insane question was resonating with a lot of other people; some seemed to hope it was true! “No magic here, remember? And what little that can be brought over can’t turn people into ponies.” She gave a knowing smile. “Trust me on that one.”

“As you were new at the whole pegasus thing, how could you possibly fly well enough to pass Cloudsdale’s flying test, thus avoiding the Rainbow Factory?”

The pegasus stared at the man for a few seconds, grim faced. “I couldn’t,” she said with dripping sarcasm. “Oh, look, a moose. Next question.”

The questioner opened his mouth, about to point out the absurdity of that answer, but then thought better of it and left. Meg wondered if something illegal was being pumped in from the air vents. Granted, she didn’t seem to be affected by it, but maybe it didn’t affect ponies. Okay, that was stupid, but what other logical explanation was there? At least the viewers on the Internet wouldn’t be affected, and at this point they were the only reason for her to continue this farce.

As she was pondering that, the microphone was being lowered for yet another little girl. There seemed to be a large number of them today for some reason. Whatever, at least her question should be refreshingly innocent. Probably.

The mic stand didn’t go that low, so the gopher took the mic off—wait, didn’t he have to do that once already, so why did he even bother trying to lower the stand?—and, crouching, held it in front of the child’s face. Her mouth opened, but no words came out; she was too nervous.

“Go ahead, don’t be nervous,” Meg said encouragingly. And please let it be a nice, simple question!

The little girl brushed the mane from her Fluttershy wig out of her eyes as she worked up her courage. “Did you… um… try one of Pinkie Pie’s… special cupcakes?”

Meg stared at the child, unable to even blink. What is wrong with these people? Who would let a little girl read something like that!? Or read it to her. Or whatever. Illegal airborne substances in the auditorium couldn’t explain that one. Somehow she managed to break her eyes from the child and once more scan the audience. No reaction. Everyone was waiting for her to answer that question, as if she had merely been asked to state her favorite color.

She looked to her side, to demand that the moderator do something about it, about all of this, only to discover he was gone. When did he leave? Come to think of it, he had stopped managing the flow of questions some time ago. How could she not have noticed?

She looked up to the camera broadcasting this to the world. Screw it. They saw what was happening. No one would blame her. Enough was enough. Meg invoked the return spell.

Nothing happened.

The little girl continued to look at her with those innocent eyes, wanting to know if she ever had a cupcake made with a less than innocent ingredient. Meg repeated the return spell, being extra careful to get it right.

Nothing happened.

Her heart started racing. Fortunately, there was more than one way to get out of that loony bin. She lifted her wings high and forced them down hard.

She remained seated in her chair.

Her heart was now pounding like a jackhammer. How could I’ve run out of magic? What about the failsafe? She knew the failsafe worked; Rainbow Dash had proved it, if unintentionally. Fine, she would gallop out of there.

Her legs wouldn’t move.

What is going on here!” she screamed.

“The kid asked you a question,” someone from the audience shouted back. “Answer it already.” That was followed by murmurs of agreement spreading across the room like a wildfire. The little girl was still there, patiently waiting with those innocent eyes.

A different voice spoke, not from the audience, her left ear swiveling to lock in on it. “You are having a nightmare.”

Where have I heard that voice before? Meg jerked her head to the source of those words and saw Princess Luna standing far off to the side. As that statement of fact registered, relief flooded over her. It’s only a dream. She hopped off the chair onto the floor, her legs now working just fine, and trotted over to the Princess of the Night.

Luna gave her a warm smile. “Twilight had asked me to keep an eye on you tonight, in light of the events of the preceding day. Her concerns were well-founded, it would appear.” The alicorn’s starry mane flowed in a cosmic stream, looking quite out of place here on stage in an auditorium filled with over a thousand humans.

Meg wasn’t sure how to take that. On the one hoof, she certainly appreciated being rescued from this nightmare; but on the other hoof, what about all the other dreams she had that night, the ones she couldn’t remember? What might Luna have observed? Nightmares were unpleasant, but they weren’t exactly life-threatening.

There was only one to way to find out, as awkward as it might be, and that was to look a gift horse in the mouth. “Have you been watching all of my dreams tonight?”

“That was not necessary,” Luna said, reassuring her. “I can sense when a dream is about to turn dark. I’ve been here only since the start of the questions. I did not intervene sooner because these are fears that you must confront.”

Meg looked at the people. They were all just patiently waiting, even the ones standing in line, as if this was just a scheduled intermission or something, apparently unaware that she was talking to an alicorn princess. Even the ones dressed up as Luna were oblivious to her actual presence.

The fears I must confront. She slowly walked back, in front of the tables, looking out over the becalmed sea of bronies. Obviously, even without Luna’s intervention she would still have awoken eventually, but what if only to experience this all over again the following night? Well, she did help Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo with their nightmares.

But which fears, precisely? She considered the little girl, still waiting for her answer, not in the least bit bothered standing in one place all this time. Certainly not being asked about absurd grimdark scenarios, or even about the sex life of ponies.

She turned around and walked back to the princess. Might as well start at the top. Besides, the subject of this particular dream did concern the princesses.

Sitting down on her haunches, she began explaining. “Let me start with where we are. This is a brony convention, where fans of the cartoon gather to experience their shared joy in all things Equestrian. They get to meet the script writers, voice actors, and buy lots of pony-related merchandise. As you can see, many of them even dress up as ponies from the cartoon, yourself included.”

Luna nodded, seeing for herself that last point.

“It would make perfect sense for me to introduce the reality of Equestria at a convention like this. Many of these people would like it all to be real. They’d want nothing more than to meet Twilight and the others in the flesh, yourself included. I’m a volunteer at a convention like this, so I can even help make it happen. I can see many challenges in pulling it off successfully, but once done, all of humanity would have to accept that you are real, not merely fictional characters.”

Meg again looked at the audience, all of whom were still ignoring their conversation. They were all just sitting or standing, doing nothing but occasionally blinking or shifting weight from one foot to another. It was surreal how they were all put on pause, as if waiting for someone to press play. “It’s not those questions that I fear. Most would never be asked in reality, or tolerated if they were.”

She paused for a moment, then continued in a near whisper. “It what comes after… this,” she said, waving a hoof at the audience, “that terrifies me. My life as I know it would be gone. I’d become a very public figure, maybe even a celebrity, with no privacy to speak of. Too many to count would try to get something from me… entry to Equestria, access to famous ponies, including you princesses. A few may use less than scrupulous means to persuade me to get them what they want. Those who fear or hate you will find me a convenient target. It could make it impossible to hold a job.”

Meg slowly shook her head. “But what’s worse is that it will also affect everyone close to me.” She lifted her head, to look into Luna’s eyes. “I, at least, can escape to Ponyville if things got too crazy—for a while, anyway.”

The princess looked across the sea of humans with a thoughtful look on her face. “It is fortunate, then, that this shall not happen.”

“I… I don’t understand.”

Luna addressed the audience, using her Royal Canterlot Voice so that all would hear. “How many of you would visit Equestria if given the opportunity?” The vast majority raised their hands.

“I could’ve told you that,” Meg said quietly.

Luna turned her head back to the pegasus, her face bearing a smile. “Indeed, you just did. This is your dream; they are figments of your imagination, behaving in the fashion you expect of them.”

“I still don’t follow.”

“If all these people visited Ponyville, could they be trusted to keep that cartoon a secret?”

Meg remained silent, understanding dawning on her.

“You experienced first-hoof Twilight’s reaction to watching her ascension. My sister has superior self-control, but she was no less unpleased when Twilight informed her of its existence.”

That answered that question. Of course Twilight would have kept her mentor in the loop. How she wished she could have been a fly on the wall for that briefing, the irony being that she probably would be present if something similar happened again. So Celestia wasn’t happy learning about that. Fair enough.

Of course, it wasn’t just the private lives of the main characters being exposed. What about all the other ponies featured in the cartoon, even if only for a single episode? How would Flim and Flam, Snips and Snails, Cheerilee, Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon, Derpy, the Wonderbolts, or Prince Blueblood react? What about the non-ponies, like Cranky Doodle, diamond dogs, breezies, buffalo, dragons, and Chrysalis? And she could only hope Discord already knew about it, as was likely, and thus had already reacted however he was going to react.

As unfortunate and inconvenient it may be, Meg could understand why the princesses wanted to keep this under wraps. Could thousands of humans be trusted to keep it secret? Tens of thousands? Hundreds of thousands? Not every last one, obviously. Even ignoring that, could Ponyville survive hundreds of thousands of humans passing through, all trying to eat at Sugarcube Corner? She imagined Pinkie Pie dying from exhaustion giving every last one of them a welcome party.

It was a small town, not a theme park. They may have been more humans in this room than there were ponies in Ponyville. At least Discord would have loved the ensuing chaos.

“I get the picture,” Meg said with a sigh. “And for the same reason, very few ponies can be allowed to come to my world.”

Luna nodded. “That is correct.”

She slumped to the ground. “What does it mean to be the bridge between our worlds if no one and nopony is allowed to cross?”

“The path towards fulfilling one’s destiny is often shrouded.” The alicorn put a comforting hoof on her withers. “Perhaps you are the one to solve this predicament. It is not our intention for us to remain forever separate.”

Not that an appearance at a convention was an option anyway. Twilight had already effectively ruled that out, for good reason.

Perhaps it was a blessing in disguise. Sure, government officials and the like will know the truth; but so long as Twilight and the others refuse to do public appearances, they would have little choice but to keep it under wraps themselves. Without the hard evidence, they could never publicly admit the ponies were real. Everyone would think they were crazy. That didn’t mean her life wasn’t about to change, just that it might be a more manageable change. Luna didn’t know her world; she was, perhaps ironically, taking this dream a little too literally. Meg didn’t feel like giving a lecture on the subject right then.

One of the questions came back to her, about a season five preview. There probably would be one released soon. Did she dare watch it? It should be of the first episode of the season, so it probably covered events that have already happened. There was nothing she could do about it now; she’d just have to wait and see.

The thought of Discord a few moments ago reminded her of something else. This seemed like a good opportunity to do something about it. “If you don’t mind me changing the subject, I had a private encounter with Discord yesterday—I guess it’s now two days ago.”

“Indeed?” She had her attention.

“I asked him how he knew so much about my world, and he said that I was much too young for that type of knowledge and to ask him again in a few centuries. I figured he was being creatively non-responsive. Humans do not live anywhere near that long.”

Luna tilted her head in contemplation. “He is well aware of that, I’m sure.” A smirk broke out on her lips. “I wonder what excuse he would give if I or my sister asked him that question?”

Meg smirked in turn. “I was hoping you’d say something like that.” It seemed unlikely Discord would reveal his secrets even to Celestia, but she didn’t mind him squirming just a little under the Solar Princess’ cross-examination.

“We shall let you know what happens.” The auditorium and the people within it began to slowly fade away. Luna took notice, saying, “This dream has reached its natural conclusion. If there is no further business, I shall depart and let it end.”

Meg wondered what would happen next. Would she immediately wake up? What time was it anyway? Maybe she would remain asleep and eventually start a new dream. Hopefully a more pleasant one.

She then realized she had an opportunity to send Celestia a private message—well, private enough—but was it a good idea? Who was she to stick her muzzle into the relationship between Celestia and her student, who she practically treated as her own daughter?

I am the Royal Advisor on Human Affairs, and this concerns Twilight’s frame of mind in dealing with the human world. She has to stop treating it as a damn test, a test assigned by you and on which you’ll give her a pass/fail grade.

Still, she couldn’t prevent her ears from flattening a bit. “Before you go, I’d like to ask a favor…”

“I shall consider it,” the princess simply stated.

“Maybe it’s none of my business,” Meg began, as she nervously pawed the floor, “and I’ll understand if the answer is no, but I’d like to have a private meeting with Princess Celestia concerning Twilight.”

Color and contrast continued draining from all around them as Luna listened.

“Obviously, Twilight can’t know about it. It concerns the events of the last few days. I’m a bit worried about her.”

The dreamscape had nearly faded to a featureless gray by the time Luna answered. “I’ll pass on your request.”

23. It's One Thing After Another

“Yes, they certainly do exist,” Steve explained, struggling to maintain his patience, “but that doesn’t mean you can have one.”

Twilight gave the unicorn an annoyed look. “Why not?” Surely with all their advanced science and technology, they wouldn’t have any problems creating and controlling such objects.

Outside the observation lounge, a squad of crystal ponies was transporting a large wagon full of raw crystals to the construction site. It was only mid-morning, but the ground had already been cleared of the wild grasses and the crystalline floor was almost complete. Under the efficient direction of her brother, the enclosure for The Mirror should be done before sunset.

Twilight had only been able to spare a few minutes for watching their magic at work, growing and shaping the crystals with their hooves. It was a good adaptation to this treeless environment. She had made a note to ask Pinkie Pie if there were any similarities to rock farming.

Steve’s patience was clearly wearing thin, mystifying Twilight. Why wasn’t he jumping on board? It’s not like he had a better plan—or any plan.

“Because the nearest one we know of is over a thousand lightyears away—that’s on the order of ten to the sixteenth power miles.”

The alicorn’s jaw dropped. “Ten to the…” Just how big is their realm? “Can’t you make one?” she weakly ask.

The unicorn slowly shook his head.

If they can’t make one, and the nearest one they allegedly knew of… “How can you be so sure they actually exist?”

“The evidence was mostly circumstantial,” he admitted, “until recently when a composite radio telescope spanning the entire planet successfully resolved to a disc the event horizon of the supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy. The observations were consistent with theory.”

They can do that?

She shoved her curiosity aside. Now was not the time.

There had to be some way to make it work. She didn’t have any alternatives. “Do you think I could make one using magic?” she suggested. “A small one?”

Steve stared hard at her before replying. “I doubt there is much that is beyond your abilities,” he said. “But don’t go down that path, I beg you. Maybe you can create a black hole with magic, but once you do, I seriously doubt you can control it, never mind get rid of it.” He turned away, looking outside at the construction site. “This is an object that could literally destroy our world.” He looked back at the alicorn. “We also have no idea what would happen when that trans-dimensional junction hits the singularity.”

Twilight turned to Meg, her hopes desperately clinging to a lifeline. “Can’t you simulate that with your computers?”

The pegasus shook her head. “No, for two reasons. First, we have no mathematical model for whatever it is that’s transporting magic from your universe to ours. Second, the laws of physics as we understand them break down at the singularity. The equations produce infinities—infinite density, infinite curvature, stuff like that. What happens when the density of magic is infinite within an infinitesimal volume?”

She had no idea; the equations describing the magical field also broke down under those conditions. And, she was forced to concede, she probably wouldn’t have control over a block hole once it was created, simply because time stopped at the event horizon. Without time, there was no possibility of change, her magic powerless. Even if her magic did pass through the horizon, in its own frame of reference, it would become disconnected from her, no more under her control than an amputated limb.

Her frustration boiled over. “What am I supposed to do?!” she demanded, punctuating with a hoof stamp.

Meg cringed, and Steve blinked.

Twilight inhaled and exhaled. “I’m sorry,” she exhaled again. “We’re running out of time, and I’m out of ideas.”

Steve walked away from the panoramic window, pulled over a cushion, and laid down upon it facing Twilight. “Quite honestly, we don’t know enough to offer suggestions. It was never obvious to me that closing the hole on our end would solve the problem on yours. I simply assumed you knew what you were doing.

“That magic is entering our world under incredible pressure. Sure, a black hole would present an impermeable barrier, but what if that only caused the… whatever between our universes, through which the magic flows, to burst open and spill it there? Our world would be spared—maybe—but what about yours? How did you plan on closing that hole on this side? Why must you close it on our end first?”

Twilight’s ears folded back as she turned around and plodded to the back of the lounge. He has a point. She never did pass on to them what Discord had told her and her friends. If it had ever made sense to withhold that information, that time had certainly passed. Perhaps with their different perspective, they could see something she had missed.

The alicorn turned around and walked back, pulling over her own cushion and setting down upon it. “Here’s everything I know…”

She told them everything Discord had said concerning The Mirror, including his own inability to fix it. She also mentioned her brother’s failure to black the flow, that no magical shield can long survive the magic vacuum on one side. Nor did she leave out that it was her actions, using the Element of Magic to defeat Sunset Shimmer, that caused the problem in the first place.

They took that part a lot better than she had expected. Apparently, that battle was in one of the cartoons as well—not one belonging to the four seasons she had already seen, for some reason, even though those events took place between three and four. Watching it was now on her todo list.

“So, the idea is,” she said in conclusion, “that once it’s closed on your end, even if it doesn’t fix it on our end, the flow would back up long enough for there to be enough magic for Discord to open the portal, enter, and fix it.”

Outside, a gentle breeze drove waves across the endless sea of grass. The floor of the enclosure had been completed, and work had begun on one of the walls. Inside, silence reigned as the two ponies digested what they just learned.

Obviously, they weren’t going to come up with something right this instance, and there was stuff that needed to get done. “Think about it, and let me know if you come up with something. For now, let’s go get that synthetic rope.” She headed out of the lounge, going to where she had secured the pill dispenser.

“Uh… I just realized there’s a problem,” Meg said.

Don’t we have enough already? Twilight stopped and turned around.

“Our car is sitting on the balcony of your castle.”

Twilight blinked, then face-hoofed. It’d take too long to go back to Ponyville, and the Zephyr was needed here until the construction was finished. “You do know where the store is that sells it, right?”

“Well, sure, but wouldn’t I have to take a pill for that to work? I can’t walk into that store as a pony.”

Did she have to spell it out? Wasn’t it obvious? “Only one of you has to take the pill; the other can enter the store.”

Meg nodded. “Right… that would work… except the only places I can think of are in public view, and it wouldn’t do for a person to suddenly appear out of nowhere.” She tapped her chin with a hoof. “We’d have to go there to do reconnaissance, find a suitable spot with no people around, come back, then bring one of us there as a human.”

Fine, whatever. She just wanted to get this out of the way so she could deal with the FBI knowing she had an alternative. The scheduled time for her checkup on the doll was approaching. “You two decide who’s taking the pill, while I go get them.”

Twilight left the lounge, went down a corridor, and into a small kitchen. Flapping her wings, she lifted herself to an upper row of cabinets. She released the magical lock she had placed on one of them, opened it, released the lock on the always-full dispenser, and turned the knob twice, receiving two plaid pills.

The alicorn hovered, wondering if it was worth the bother securing it again. She would have to come back in a few minutes for another. Maybe it was safe taking the extra pill for a roundtrip to the other realm, but she didn’t know that for a fact. Nopony knew the dispenser was in that out-of-the-way cabinet anyway.

Sighing, she turned the knob one more time; one of them could look after it while the other did reconnaissance with her. That being decided, she relocked the dispenser, closed the cabinet door, then relocked it. With the pills levitating in her magic, she returned to the floor and trotted back to the lounge.

As she entered, Meg informed her of their decision. “I’ll take the pill, Steve will buy the fishing line.”

That sounded reasonable enough. As both of them had wings, they could stay off the ground and avoid accidental contact as they waited for Steve to come out. She floated one of the pills over to Steve. “Hold onto this until we come back.”

“Will do.” The glow surrounding the pill went from lavender to teal.

Another pill floated over to Meg. “Remember, you’re selecting the destination. Wait until we both have a pill in our mouths.”

“Right,” she confirmed. “We’ll cross over hovering well above the ground.” The pegasus wrapped her mouth around the floating pill, then began hovering.

Twilight followed suit. Crossing over hovering was a good idea; she approved. Meg closed her eyes, briefly concentrated, and swallowed. As she vanished, the alicorn did likewise.

They were above the parking lot in front of a really large building, perhaps the equal of a Manehattan skyscraper, if laid on its side. Twilight looked around, but could not see any spot obviously out of view. “Any ideas?”

Meg looked towards the building, inside of which were presumably all the stores, considering the options. “There’s a parking lot on the roof over there. It should be empty this early.”

On the roof? There was no evidence their cars could fly. Curious as to how that would work, Twilight followed Meg as she climbed above the building and flew over the roof. Far from being flat and featureless, there were numerous panes of glass, leaned against each other in pairs along the midline of the roof, forming prism-shape windows that illuminated the interior with sunlight.

She caught a glimpse of the interior as they flew over, which only whetted her appetite for more. Don’t get your hopes up, she told herself. She might not have the option of going inside.

Meg found what she was looking for on the far side. A few cars were already there, clustered around what looked like an entrance to the building, a small enclosed space on top of the roof. Twilight assumed there were stairs inside, leading down to the levels below. The parking lot itself was a long strip of concrete, with various projections sticking out to one side providing additional parking. Lines had been painted, marking the parking spots, just like below. Some of those side projections had spots with limited visibility—perfect, so long as they didn’t fill up with cars.

At one end, the strip ended in a ramp that descended into a multi-level structure, each level also a parking lot. No need for flight capability, it would appear. It was also clear why this lot was virtually empty: getting up here was a bit inconvenient, something to be done only if the others were full.

Meg had selected a spot, far away from the building’s entrance and further still from that ramp, and touched down. “This looks like a good spot.” She looked around for something, and having found it, pointed at it. “Security camera. But those are going to be everywhere. I guess they’re recording everything, but no one is going to bother to look at them without a reason. They’re there to deter crime.”

It wasn’t the only one. Now that she knew what to look for, Twilight could see others. The coverage was quite thorough. How ubiquitous were these things? Could the actions of everypony in public be recorded and viewed by Celestia knew who? She was willing to bet they weren’t just outside either.

No, Twilight corrected herself, Celestia would not know, not here, not in this realm. Was this the sort of technology ponies should welcome in Equestria? And, yet, she would also bet the technology that made this sort of universal surveillance possible shared much with the technology ponies ought to welcome.

Regardless, here and now, Meg didn’t think they’d be a problem. That made sense. There must dozens, if not hundreds of them. It would take a small army to review every minute recorded by every camera. Unless somepony reported a crime, why should they bother? As her eyes scanned the empty lot, the odds of a crime happening then and there seemed quite low.

“Okay. I’ll fetch Steve.”

Twilight invoked the return spell and found Steve in the same spot, still levitating the plaid pill. “I’ll take that back now,” she chirped, as she magically grabbed the pill and brought it into her mouth. A few seconds later, an alicorn and a human appeared next to Meg.

“Ah, the rooftop parking lot,” Steve said, recognizing where he now was.

“The entrance is to the right,” Meg said.

The invisible ponies followed Steve as he walked the short distance to the road running along with roof, turned right, and followed it to the entrance. “Are you coming inside?” he quietly asked, all too aware it looked like he was talking to himself.

Twilight’s eyes lit up, not that he could see that. “It wouldn’t cause any problems?” she hopefully asked.

“I don’t think so,” replied Meg, “as long as no one else tries to use the elevator at the same time.”

Elevator? Like what skyscrapers in Manehattan have? This building hardly seemed tall enough to bother with that. And wouldn’t there be stairs anyway? They were approaching the entrance. She would find out soon enough.

The entire wall, including the door, was made of glass. Nopony else was around. It slid open by itself as they approached. Steve paused briefly at the threshold before entering. They were in a small room that contained nothing but an elevator. No stairs. Steve pressed the button as the glass doors behind them closed. Mechanical noises erupted and shortly the elevator door opened. He held the door open until he heard two sets of hooves enter, then entered himself and pressed another button.

The door lethargically closed, and they began sluggishly descending. I sure hope the elevators in their skyscrapers go a lot faster than this! Not that it needed to go faster when it was only descending two dozen feet or so. It came to a stop. The door opened only slightly faster than it had closed.

“I’ll keep it open,” Meg nearly whispered. She stood on her hind legs as she put a hoof against a button.

Steve exited first, with Twilight right behind him. They were on the upper of two floors. It hugged the walls, leaving a vast open space between much of the ground floor and the ceiling. Meg joined them, the doors closing behind her.

“Go get the fishing line,” she told him. “We’ll meet you back here.”

“Okay.” He purposefully began walking towards the sporting goods store.

There weren’t many humans around this early, but it was still a good idea to get off the floor. Twilight went airborne and drifted over the railing, coming to a hover halfway between the walls. Meg joined her. “Wait a second,” she quietly told the pegasus, as she reactivated the inaudibility feature of their magic bubbles. Switching to a normal voice, she then said, “We can talk freely now; nopony can hear us.”

“It won’t take him long, only a few minutes,” Meg said. “We could simply fly from one end to the other, so you can see the selection of stores.”

There wouldn’t be time to do much else; she could always come back later. “Let’s do that.”

There were dozens and dozens of stores of various sizes, lining both walls on the two levels. At either end were really huge stores, and another huge store off to one side in the middle, though they didn’t go into those. Hanging from the ceiling, in a few places, were gigantic screens showing… well, it didn’t make any sense to her, but the sheer size of those things was impressive enough.

It was now clear the images were formed from tiny individual lights, lights that must have been really tiny, too small to be individually seen, on their portable devices. Their technology never ceased to amaze her. No doubt she would be spending years studying it.

A surprising number of the stores sold clothing—but then, humans did wear a lot more clothes, so that did make sense. What Rarity would give to browse those stores. Other stores sold eyewear, chocolates, jewelry, perfume, and many other things that she could and could not recognize. Two of the larger stores sold computers, tablets, and phones of the sort Meg and Steve had. Curious that one was far busier than the other.

There were also toy stores, one of which had on its window a prominent My Little Pony poster featuring an ecstatic Pinkie Pie. Below that, there was a lavender doll looking back at her with those absurdly large eyes, head, and short barrel. Also wings. At least she now had an answer to Pinkie’s question.

Nor was there a shortage of restaurants; indeed, there was an area devoted to them. It was too early for lunch, but they were open nonetheless and a few humans had taken advantage of that. Some of the food available looked quite enticing, others… well, she knew humans were omnivores. It honestly wasn’t worse than anything back home catering to griffons—better actually, since humans did not care for raw, uncooked flesh with the skin still attached. The meat was so processed, it was hard to tell it had ever been part of an animal. Nor was there any evidence of the animals being kept nearby.

Eventually, they completed a loop, returning to the elevator. Steve was already there, leaning against a wall, waiting for them. He was holding a bag… Twilight didn’t know what that bag was made of. Certainly not any kind of cloth or paper. Maybe she could keep it and analyze it later.

She switched off their bubbles’ inaudibility. “We’re here,” she whispered to him.

He responded by pushing off against the wall, walking over to the elevator, and pressing the up button. The door immediately opened; it was still at the floor. Nopony else was around who might also take the elevator. They all entered.

Once the door closed, Twilight said, “We can return right now.” She took the bag with her magic, just in case it’d be tied to his human form and vanish with it, and invoked the return spell, taking the bag and Steve with her back to the Zephyr’s observation lounge. Meg popped into existence by her side a moment later.

Twilight opened the bag she was levitating and pulled out a spool. “So this is it, huh?”

“Yep,” Steve replied. “One thousand meters per spool, rated for one hundred pounds.”

Over half a mile long, and yet it weighed practically nothing. It was hard to believe something so thin could be so strong, especially without magic to assist. What could it possibly be made of?

Even so, a single line might not be strong enough; but if it weighed this little, there was no reason not to use several lines, one per pegasus. Or possibly loop it around two or three times. The magic free zone wasn’t that big. Not yet, anyway.

The alicorn continued twirling the spool around various axes of rotation, though her attention was focused inwards.

“So… what are you thinking?” Steve asked. “Do we still need the helicopter?”

Need… probably not.” She put the spool back into that strange bag. “I’m keeping our options open for now. We still don’t know if we’ll have use of one.”

Outside, one of the walls had been completed and work begun on another. It was on track to being completed by mid-afternoon.

“We should be returning to Ponyville before dark, so you can get your car back home.” She’d immediately come back here once that had been done. With luck, they could move The Mirror tomorrow. “Would you be available tomorrow?”

Meg and Steve walked away to have a private discussion. After a few whispered exchanges, they came back. “If necessary,” Meg said. “We already called in that we had to work from home today due to car troubles. It looks like it might take an extra day to fix the problem.”

“Maybe we should leave the car where it is for another day,” Steve added. “It’s not being worked on if it’s home.”

Perhaps she wouldn’t have to go back to Ponyville after all. Guess it all depended on what the other girls wanted to do. Right now, they were all enjoying themselves back in the Crystal Empire. Spike, for that matter, was doing more personal appearances today. She’d touch bases with them later.

“It’s time to pay the doll a visit,” Twilight declared. “I’d like you to come along, Meg, to advise me.”

The pegasus scrunched her muzzle in indecision, then exhaled. “I suppose… I guess they’re past treating us as ‘persons of interest.’”

“How do you want to cross over? They can’t imprison you as a pegasus.”

Meg shook her head. “No, becoming a fugitive is not going to solve anything. That was true for Steve, and it’s equally true for me.”

“Don’t worry.” Twilight gave her a smile. “If it came to that, I would make Equestria’s position on the matter very clear.”

“If it’s all the same,” Steve said as he walked over to a box in a corner, “I’ll stay here and get some work done.” He pulled his laptop out of the box. “We are supposed to be working from home today.”

Twilight went to the kitchen to retrieve another plaid pill. It wasn’t long before an alicorn and a human appeared out of nowhere in a desert, not far outside a circle of vehicles. She figured it would be best not to appear amongst them, taking them by surprise; they had weapons.

It was surprisingly overcast and a stiff wind was blowing. Could it actually rain? She wished Rainbow Dash was there to offer her professional opinion, even if it wasn’t clear how useful it’d be in this place. An umbrella spell to repel the rain was easy enough to cast, if needed.

The wind carried voices from the other side of the RV a few dozen feet in front of them, her ears trying to lock in on them. “I think I hear Fowler.”

Meg shrugged. “Let’s not keep them waiting,” she said, and they walked towards a gap in the circle of vehicles.

Agent Fowler was, indeed, there, talking to somepony Twilight remembered seeing before, though his name escaped her. The agent heard them approach and looked in their direction, lighting up as she recognized them. “Go get the doll,” she told her associate, and walked towards the approaching visitors.

As they came to a halt in front of each other, Fowler gave Meg a once-over. With a raised eyebrow, she asked, “No wings?”

Meg held up her hands in response and wiggled her fingers.

“Yeah… too bad you have to choose one or the other.” She turned around and slowly walked back to where she had been, expecting Twilight and Meg to follow. “By the way, did you remove or turn off that GPS tracker? It’s been off the grid for a while. If you wouldn’t mind, we’d like to have it back.”

“No, we haven’t touched it,” Meg informed her. “I imagine it’s because our car is still parked on the balcony of her castle.”

She looked at her in surprise. “Oh?”

“We haven’t returned to Ponyville yet,” Twilight said. “We’re busy building a new site to house The Mirror.” With an expectant look, she added, “it’ll be finished this afternoon.”

The associate—Eduardo, that’s his name—came out of one of the RVs, holding the doll, and quickly walked towards them.

“We’re still working on that… though there has been a… development,” Fowler uneasily said. “Put the doll on the ground here,” she instructed Eduardo.

He did so, and Twilight began her measurement ritual.

“Speaking of surveillance devices,” Meg said as she moved a few feet away from the busy alicorn, “you didn’t happen to leave any inside our home?”

“We didn’t see the point. We were right next door, after all, sharing a wall. We did have something on the wall listening in, but it never picked up anything. We assumed you were on to us and were keeping quiet.” She shifted uneasily on her feet. “That didn’t make you look innocent.”

Twilight looked up long enough to admit, “That was my doing. I cast a spell to prevent sound from passing through the wall, so you couldn’t hear what we were talking about—or hear me talking at all.”

Fowler inhaled deeply. “Well… that’s all in the past. That apartment is now empty, by the way. I suppose even if we had left bugs in your place, you could find them all with a spell anyway.”

“Not yet,” Twilight replied as she wrote down some numbers, her magic keeping the pages of her notepad from being tossed about by the wind. “Otherwise Meg wouldn’t have had to ask you.” Presumably, “bugs” referred to those surveillance devices. She looked up once more at the agent. “But Princess Celestia is right now forming a team of our best mages to create those spells.”

She had received a scroll from Celestia via Spike that morning informing of that. They would all have to be sworn to secrecy, of course, and they needed to get their hooves on some of these devices—or, at least something close enough in the ways that mattered—but Meg could help with those details.

“I’m surprised you’re not working on that yourself.”

Twilight moved the flow meter away from the doll. “I’m only one mare, and besides—” she waved a hoof at the doll “—I have more important things to work on.”

A movement caught Twilight’s eye. It came from a window of one of those RVs. The curtains were closed, but she was sure somepony was watching them. “Is that Agent Holmes in there?”

Fowler turned to look at the RV. “No…” she said uneasily, “he’s not here right now.”

A musical tune began playing. The agent pulled out her phone, looked at the screen, touched it, then brought it to her ear. “Hello.” For half a minute, she listened without speaking.

Twilight could not make out any words, to her surprise. Whoever was speaking was doing so quietly—as if aware equine ears were present? That wouldn’t be possible, unless…

“Will do.” Fowler put her phone away and turned to Meg. “The person in that RV wishes to speak to you.”

Meg did not move. Twilight looked up at them, wondering what was going on and if she should be concerned.

Fowler glanced briefly at the curtained window, not sure how to handle this. “Did your husband ever tell you that we had mentioned that this had attracted the attention of people with a sufficiently high pay grade?”

Meg nodded.

“I strongly recommend you talk to him.”

Meg looked at the RV, but did nothing more.

“You’re not in any trouble, if that’s what you’re worried about. I give you my word.”

Is her word worth anything? Twilight decided it wouldn’t be tactful to ask, and pointless besides. If it wasn’t worth anything, then neither would be her claims to the contrary.

Meg remained still for a few seconds more, but she then began walking towards the RV, picking up speed as she went. Twilight had put her tools away, and began to follow, but Fowler shook her head. “Just Meg, for now.”

24. This Is Getting Real

Meg climbed up into the RV and looked inside. A tall man, with slightly graying hair but still in good shape, casually dressed in jeans and a polo shirt, stood up from the sofa.

“Mrs. Coleman, I presume?”

She carefully walked towards him. “And you are?”

No one she recognized at first glance, or even at second glance. Certainly not the President or the Secretary of State. Probably some midlevel bureaucrat. Well, one step at a time. Let’s just get this over with.

He pulled out something from a back pocket and flashed her a badge. “Agent Paul Reubens, Secret Service.”

That was… unexpected. Why would this be in their jurisdiction? And shouldn’t he be wearing dark sunglasses or something?

Sensing her confusion, he said, “I’m sure you have questions you’d like answered, as do I. Why don’t you take a seat.” He held out his arm, pointing at the table opposite the sofa.

She did so, as he sat down again himself, still wondering why he was here. It was rather unlikely they suspected ponies of counterfeiting U.S. currency, and he certainly wasn’t protecting the President. If he was here, there’d be a much bigger presence.

That seemed as good place to start as any. “Why is the Secret Service involved with this?”

He leaned back. “That’s a very interesting question,” he stated. In a rather nonchalant tone, he added, “There is some concern there could be a threat to the President.”

Meg looked at him askance. “A threat?”

“The word is that the… ponies… can cross over to our world anywhere they want. Is that correct?”

She wasn’t sure she liked where this was going. “It’s more complicated than that, but, theoretically, yes.”

“Including the White House?”

“Uh…” Definitely didn’t like where this was going. And they didn’t even know they could be invisible.

He quickly added, “Not that we’re saying they’re planning to attack us or anything, but it’s our job to consider all possibilities.”

Which reminded her of what Shining Armor had said; but then, they were in the same profession. “It could be happen, yes,” she reluctantly admitted.

Or, I could be here to provide protection to a visiting foreign dignitary. That pony is a princess, correct?”

The sudden shift in direction caught Meg off guard, only deepening the mystery of his actual purpose. “That’s right.”

The air conditioner finally kicked in. Solid cloud cover or no, it was still rather warm outside, and getting warmer. Speaking over the considerable drone, he said, “A lot of wild stories have been floating about, too fantastic to be true. They’ve worked their way up to the President, and… well, he thinks it’s either the mother of all pranks, or everyone’s gone insane.

“Fowler’s trip report, filed late yesterday, complete with photos and video, was the final straw. I’ve been tasked, by the President himself, with getting to the bottom of it. I took a red eye flight out to Vegas.”

It was starting to come together. There was no question he saw Twilight out there, probably heard everything she had said too. “So what are you going to tell him.”

“That it’s all true, of course.” That prospect evidently did not fill him with joy. “As unlikely as he considered it, he did give me instructions for this contingency.”

For a moment there, it looked as if his instructions were to sit there and do nothing more than keeping an eye on Meg. More likely, he didn’t quite know how to proceed, or ever believed that those instructions could become relevant.

“I am not a diplomat, Mrs. Coleman, but I am authorized to ascertain their intentions. I know their immediate concern has something to do with that doll… which apparently has rather interesting properties of its own. But what comes next? Embassies? Trade agreements? Will Twilight do the talk show circuit?”

Shouldn’t you be asking Twilight that? It wasn’t her place to speak for the princesses, but she could understand why he would want to deal with her first, as a way of gently breaking in this new reality.

“Quite honestly… they’re still figuring that out themselves. Right now, they have no interest in advertising that they’re real—not that they won’t talk to you, unofficially you might say, but no public appearances.”

That came as a huge relief to the agent. “The President will be pleased to hear that. It’s the second best possible scenario.”

“Second best?”

“No, I take that back. Second best would be that once their business with this doll has concluded, they all went away and never came back. Then we can forget this ever happened.”


“The best possible scenario would be for all this to have been a massive prank. Then he could just fire a bunch of people and be done with it—civil service rules and regulations be damned.”

“Surely you’re joking?”

He fixed his gaze on her. “Can the ponies place one of our nukes inside the Kremlin?”

Meg blinked. If it was his goal to unsettle her, he succeeded. “They have no interest in our politics, and they certainly won’t fight our wars.”

“Think you can convince the Russians of that? The Chinese? I noticed that Twilight out there speaks English with a perfect American accent.” He was silent for a moment. “Quite honestly, I’d think it would have been much easier if a spaceship full of little green men had landed on the White House lawn. It certainly would have been more believable.”

It was more about what a potential enemy could do to you than what they intended to do, as it had been made clear to her, and an Equestrian alliance would grant massive first-strike capabilities against which there was no advance warning or defense. Put military command and control in Equestria, and it would be untouchable by human militaries.

And who would be the natural allies of Equestria? Only an idiot would fail to notice the common language, the common accents, the similar geography, even similar city names. The cartoon was an American creation. Maybe that wasn’t a coincidence; how could it be explained otherwise? Not that the Equestrians felt that obligated them in any way whatsoever, but this wasn’t about what the ponies thought.

Admittedly, there were important differences too. The United States was not ruled by an absolute diarchy of immortal beings. Nonetheless, the point was that such an alliance was possible and there was no way to prove it didn’t exist; or rather, the only way a foreign power could prove it didn’t exist was by forming an Equestrian alliance of its own—and when they couldn’t… well… enough said. It made a complicated world even more complicated.

Just like the existence of the cartoon becoming public knowledge would complicate the Equestrian world.

Meg fixed her own gaze on him in return. “I’d say the President and the Princesses have more in common than you’d might think.”

Ruebens quirked an eyebrow. “Indeed.”

The air conditioner switched off, enveloping the room in an oppressive silence.

Meg looked out the window, through the curtains. Twilight was patiently waiting for her turn with the mystery man, passing the time chatting with Fowler. Her phone took that as its cue to ring.

She quickly got it out. It was Steve. “It’s my husband. Probably wondering why we aren’t back yet.”

He waved it away with his hand. “By all means.”

She accepted the call. “We’re okay, but there’s been an… interesting development.” Hopefully, he’d take the hint and not press for an explanation. She really didn’t know herself what to make of this yet.

It was a few seconds before he replied. “I’ll call again in thirty minutes if I don’t hear from you.”

“Okay… bye.”

As Meg put her phone away, he asked, “He’s in Equestria?”

She looked at him. “That’s right.”

“He can call you from a different universe,” he droned disbelievingly.

“He just did.” Didn’t Fowler include her phone conversation with Tom in her report?

“And right now, he’s a unicorn,” he said, not really believing he just uttered those words.

“You certainly did your homework.”

The agent stood up and paced towards the back of the RV. Upon reaching the door to what was probably the bedroom, he stopped and turned around. “I have to admit I still find it hard to believe,” he sighed. “I don’t suppose you could turn into a pegasus right now?”

She shook her head. “That kind of magic doesn’t work in our universe. Sorry.”

“Magic…” he slowly said, as if it left a bad taste in his mouth.

“That’s what they call it,” Meg tried to rationalize. “It’s not supernatural or anything—at least, not to them. To Twilight it’s science, no different than, say, magnetism. For some reason, it’s a part of their universe but not ours. They can bring some with them, like we can bring air with us to breath underwater, but our universe… puts it on a short leash? I dunno. Whatever, magic is not stable here and is limited in what it can do.”

“Magic’s how they come to our universe?”

Meg nodded. “Yup. Magic of the highest order.”

“There’s no way for us to go to their universe without their assistance?”

“Not by any means I’m aware of; it could be impossible.”

“And your husband is a physicist, so he would know about these things.”

Meg just nodded some more.

“That would put us at a rather significant disadvantage.”

“It is what it is.”

He silently stood there for a moment, digesting the implications. “Would it be possible for me to briefly visit this other universe?”

Meg couldn’t tell what answer he was hoping for. Probably felt it was his job to confirm its existence—or non-existence, as the case may be. “That would be up to Twilight, but I see no reason why not.” She looked out the window again. The pony in question was inspecting some equipment Fowler had brought out. “Are you going to talk to her?”

He sat down again on the sofa. “Soon.” He folded his hands together and rested his chin on them. “Let’s talk about you.”

“About me,” she droned. Here it comes…

“You appear to have established a strong relationship with them, earned their trust.”

It suddenly seemed a good idea to volunteer as little as possible. “I guess.”

“Would you be willing to assist us in handling them?”

And there it is… Not that she wasn’t willing to help—”handled,” really?—but she was already working for Princess Celestia. Wouldn’t that be a conflict of interest? Yet how to justify turning them down? It didn’t seem wise to tell them of her prior commitments. For the moment, she would play along, digging for more information.

“You mean I’d become, like, an Ambassador?”

He frowned. “I wish I could say ‘yes.’ Maybe one day that’d even be possible, but today… Any kind of high-level position requires a public vetting, possibly a Senate confirmation hearing. I’m sure you can understand.”

Not surprising, really. Difficult to keep it all under wraps when it’s being broadcast on C-SPAN 2. At least this gave her an excuse to say no. “Anything that involves compensation?”

Direct hit. Before he even opened his mouth, the answer was obvious. “We’ll see what we can come up with.”

At least Celestia was paying her; but then, she had the advantage of being an absolute monarch.

And speaking of keeping it under wraps… “Just how long do you think you can keep this all ‘under wraps?’”

Reubens gave her a grim smile. “For as long as we can. Everything about this has been classified. At first, it was to avoid becoming the laughingstock of the world, but now…” He shook his head.

Hearing the word “classified” filled Meg with dread. “And what about me? I don’t have a security clearance.”

“You and your husband… are in a rather unique position. We can only insist that you don’t mention it to anyone else.”

And they had just got released from their Pinkie Promise too; at least that had come with a party. Not that they had any intention of doing the talk show circuit either. One not-so-small problem, though…

Meg considered not bringing it up. Unfortunately, it seemed like the sort of thing that could backfire horribly if the Feds found out anyway—and the odds were too good that they would. “A few of my relatives already know.”

He did not immediately reply. “We’ll work out the details later. Just keep them from talking about it. I suspect that isn’t a problem.”

“No, it isn’t.” They didn’t want to be locked up for their own protection, after all. As for Susie, well, that was easy enough to rationalize away as an overactive imagination, and it had been made very clear to her that she’d be able to visit Equestria again only if she kept it a secret. So far, it was working.

“But seriously,” she asked, “how can you stop this from leaking out?”

He smiled. “That’s not my department.”

The agent pulled out his phone and made a call. “You can send her in now.”

Meg turned to look out the window and saw Fowler putting away her own phone while saying something to Twilight. The alicorn proceeded to walk to the RV. It wasn’t long before the door opened and a set of hooves clambered up the steps. Meg got up to meet her halfway.

Twilight gave her the once-over. “Everything’s alright?” she asked quietly.

“Yeah, I think so,” Meg replied in kind. “Let me make introductions.” She turned around and walked back to the table. Twilight followed, her eyes locking in on the man sitting on the sofa.

Meg held out an arm to the agent. “This is Agent Reubens. He’s a… his job is to protect the leader of our nation.”

Twilight gave him a subtle nod. “Pleased to meet you.”

Turning to the agent, Meg said, “And this is Princess Twilight Sparkle of Equestria.”

“Your Highness,” he said, giving the princess a slight bow.

“Twilight, Agent Reubens has expressed a desire to make a brief visit to Equestria. I figure we can have our conversation in the Zephyr.”

The alicorn cocked her head at the Secret Service agent. “I see no reason why not. If you would stand up, please, we can be there in a few seconds.”

Her request did not immediately register. After he finally got up on his feet, he said, “A few seconds? Just like that?”

Twilight’s horn was already glowing. “Pretty much. You might experience some disorientation. Closing your eyes helps.”

Meg put her phone into Twilight’s saddlebag and stepped away from the alicorn in order to give her the space needed by her equine form. She informed the agent, “I’ll be a pegasus when we arrive on the other side.”

“Just like—”

They were in the Zephyr’s observation lounge.


An orchid pegasus gave him a big smile. “Yep, just like that.”

Reubens was looking at where Meg’s head used to be. He lowered his gaze to from where her voice now came. Just realizing they had, indeed, crossed over, he spun around, quickly taking in his surroundings: Twilight studying his reaction, the various plush cushions on the floor, a box in the corner with a notebook computer lying beside it. He finished up scanning the activity outside, as a team of crystal ponies began work on the third wall of the enclosure, growing and morphing crystals into shape with their hooves.

He seemed to be handling it well enough—better than her brother did, anyway. But where did Steve go off to? She couldn’t see him outside.

“Hey, Twi.”

At the sound of Rainbow Dash’s voice, they all turned around. She was entering the lounge from the corridor. Behind her was Spike, carrying a large, nearly square package, on top of which was a scroll.

“Rainbow Dash? Spike?” Twilight inquired. “What are you two doing here?”

“Well, you see, Spike got a message from the Princess—er, Celestia, that is—and Cadance decided to get that awesome rope and start experimenting with it right now—did you get it yet?”

“We got it,” Meg said.

“So I offered to fly out here—shopping isn’t really my thing, and I really needed to stretch my wings—and Spike thought you might want to send a message back, so… well… here we are.”

The scroll glowed lavender as it floated over to Twilight and unrolled. “And the package?”

“It’s from Pinkie Pie,” Spike answered. “Her Pinkie Sense told her you’d need it.”

Need what, exactly? What had Pinkie sensed? Did Rainbow Dash really carry Spike and the package on her back the whole way?

Twilight was more interested in reading the scroll than opening the package, so Meg decided to take care of that. “Why don’t you put the package down here?”

The baby dragon waddled over to Meg and carefully set it down. It was wrapped in a pink ribbon, tied in a bow on top. Ruebens was standing beside her, also eyeing the package. Meg was a little scared to open it. It was from Pinkie Pie.

She sat on her haunches in front of the package, lifted a hoof and brought it to a loose end of the ribbon, and pulled. The bow came undone.

“How did you just do that?”

Meg looked up at the agent. “You haven’t seen the cartoon have you?”

“No… I know of it… relatives, you know… but, no, I’ve never actually seen it.”

She returned her attention to the package. Putting her hooves on both sides, she prepared to lift the top. “Consider this your introduction. It’s from Pinkie Pie. Anything could happen. She may pop out herself for all I know.”

He looked at her like she was crazy. “That is way too small to hold a pony.”

“Still wouldn’t put it past her,” Rainbow Dash casually said. The pegasus was now standing next to the package as well.

Meg was procrastinating. Stop being silly. It can’t be dangerous. With a jerk, she removed the top. An explosion of confetti and streamers blew up in their faces to the sound of party favors being blown.

Miraculously, none of it got into her eyes. She looked down inside the package and saw two dozen cupcakes, neatly arranged. No Pinkie Pie. No confetti either. Somehow, none of it fell back into the package. How does she do that?

“Don’t ask,” Dash said. She was looking up at the human.

Ruben got down on his knees and scanned the cupcakes, picking up one that caught his interest.

“Don’t eat that one,” Meg warned. “It has gemstones.” Its surface was peppered with them, of various colors, glittering in the sunlight from the windows.

“What’s the point of…” he started to say, until he noticed Spike next to him, holding out his claws, practically drooling. Looking back at Meg, he said, incredulously, “Seriously?”

“Seriously. Dragons eat gemstones.”

He carefully placed the gemstone-laden cupcake into Spike’s claws. “Thanks!” the baby dragon said. He lost no time biting into it, crunching the gems with epicurean delight.

That’s a dragon?”

“A baby dragon,” replied Twilight as she joined them. “Meg, there’s a note on the underside of the lid.”

“There is?” She turned it over. Sure enough, there was. It was from Pinkie. “Uh, it says that half the cupcakes, the ones on the left side, are safe for humans to eat.” One would assume Spike’s cupcake was on the right side. Other cupcakes on that side were covered in flower petals. Meg helped herself to one that she guessed was covered in rose petals.

Just before she could bite into it, Reubens said, “Are those flowers?”

“Yep.” She took a bite. The rose petals had a nice, tangy flavor to them.

Rainbow Dash helped herself to one covered in candied hay. The agent picked out one, from the safe-for-humans side, that looked like a chocolate and vanilla swirl.

“So, what did the scroll say,” Meg asked Twilight as the alicorn perused the remaining cupcakes.

“A non-magical heat source for my balloon is on its way by special courier from Canterlot. It should arrive in a few hours.” She picked out one sprinkled with alfalfa. “Probably why Cadance wants to get started right away with that fishing line.”

“Speaking of which,” Rainbow Dash said, “I should be heading back once I finish this.” She took another large bite.

Where’s the bag? It wasn’t on the floor anywhere. Meg’s eyes fell on the box in the corner. First putting down her half-finished cupcake, Meg walked over to it and looked inside. “It’s in here.” She stuck her head in and grabbed it with her teeth, pulled it out, and dumped it on the floor.

Twilight did the rest. Using her magic, she extracted the reels from the plastic bag, floated them over to Rainbow Dash, opened one of her saddlebags, placed them inside, then closed it up. Reubens observed it all, as impressed with Twilight’s telekinesis as he was unimpressed with Meg’s use of her teeth. But that was not what he choose to comment on.

“A hot air balloon?” he said uncertainly. “What about the helicopter you asked for?”

Twilight gave him a stern look. “Which we have yet to see,” she pointed out. “Naturally, we are pursuing alternatives.”

“I’m leaving now.” Rainbow Dash began hovering, waiting a bit to see if Twilight actually wanted her to stick around.

Instead, she addressed her number one assistant. “What about you, Spike?”

“Me?” he said. “I’m sticking around. You might still need to send a message, and… well…” He nervously clasped his claws together. “Honestly? I’m starting to get tired of all the attention.”

That was enough for Rainbow Dash. “C’ya,” she said, as she flapped her way out of the lounge. Once outside, she vanished as if shot out of a cannon, leaving only her rainbow trail behind.

Reubens watched the fading prismatic contrail, mouth agape. He turned to Meg. “Can you do that? As a pegasus?”

“Fly? Yes.” She proved the point by lifting herself off the floor. “Like that? Not even remotely. Rainbow Dash is the fastest living pegasus. Very few come close.”

“But how?” He studied her flapping wings. “There’s no way those small wings are flapping fast enough to keep you in the air!”

Meg landed on the floor and folded her wings. “You’re absolutely right. It’s more of what the ponies call ‘magic.’”

Twilight was starting to get a bit annoyed with the diversions off topic. “Agent Reubens,” she said, re-asserting control over the conversation, “let’s get down to business. You have the ear of the leader of your country, correct?”

“That is correct.”

“Can she authorize the helicopter for us?”

“He’s, uh… he’s a ‘he,’ actually, but, yes, he can authorize it. The problem is, as of this moment, he doesn’t believe you are real.”

“Did he see the pictures and video that Agent Fowler took,” asked Meg.

“Yes, and he thinks they have to be incredibly good fakes.”

”Did any experts check them out, pointing out that they’re beyond state-of-the-art photorealistic CGI?”

“Not my department,” he shrugged. “My guess is that since cartoon ponies cannot be flesh and blood, the experts will ‘discover’ that the state of the art had recently advanced by leaps and bounds.”

Twilight gave a frustrated sigh. “Okay, I get it. Do you think there is any chance that a helicopter could be made available to us tomorrow.”

He seemed to chose his next words carefully. “I don’t know, but you shouldn’t depend on it. Tomorrow, either it will be there or it won’t.”

“Fine,” she said in resignation. “Let’s change the subject and talk about the future. You’re very interested in the effect of magic on what you call radioactivity, and we’re interested in your science and technology. That sounds like a basis for trade to me.”

The agent rubbed the back of his neck. “I know this must be frustrating, but I’m not the person to address those issues. I’m not a diplomat. All I can do is inform the President this is real and needs to be taken seriously.”

“When could I meet with him?”

He didn’t answer for a few, terribly long seconds. “I don’t know. Even in the best case scenario, there would be… complications.” He looked at Meg. “I suspect Meg here would be better able to help you understand.”

Twilight looked at Meg, who replied, “I’ll talk to you about that later.”

“But I can easily think of some of the concerns the President would have. You don’t have to address them now—that’s not my job—but you will need to eventually.”

“Fair enough,” the alicorn replied.

“First, there’s the fact that, technically, you’re entering our country illegally. You do not have a visa, you are not passing through customs, and so on.” He held up his hands, acknowledging the absurdity of it all. “Now, obviously, this is an unusual situation, and I’m not saying we’re going to arrest you or anything. But going forward, ponies can’t just pop into our world whenever or wherever they want. We have a right to secure borders, even with other universes.”

“I can appreciate that,” Twilight conceded.

No, not yet you don’t. It was Meg’s top priority to make her understand how “ponies crossing over whenever and wherever they want, possibly while being invisible” translated to the human nations as being potential military threats of the worst kind.

“Second, it’s not just about you ponies. I saw that video of a full grown dragon flying alongside…” He looked around. “I guess it was this ship? Anyway, would they be coming to our world too? Have they already been to our world? Is that where our myths of dragons came from?”

Meg wondered how much magic a full grown dragon needed. Would one of those pills be enough? But then, surely Discord could make larger pills.

“There are many sapient races here,” Twilight confirmed. “Right now, only I have the means of traveling to your realm.”

That was a half-truth, of course. Meg assumed Twilight didn’t want to explain Discord.

“If—hypothetically speaking, of course—these means fell into the hands—hooves, whatever—of these other races, could they be a potential threat to us?”

Twilight took the time to consider her answer. “If your realm had magic, then, potentially, yes. Since it doesn’t, they couldn’t have much interest in it. It would be like…” She sighed. “Meg?”

It wasn’t hard for her to come up with an appropriate analogy. “It would be like humans trying to invade, conquer, and occupy a nation of intelligent squid at the bottom of the ocean. Yeah, we can bring some air with us, but… you get the idea.”

The agent nodded. “Even if possible, the costs would vastly exceed the gains. There are better options, unless pointless destruction was the goal.”

“And it wouldn’t be. Regardless,” Twilight continued, “we’d be willing to discuss a defense agreement that covered that unlikely situation.”

“You didn’t answer my question, by the way. Have dragons visited our world in the past? Come to think of it, we have legends of unicorns and pegasi too.”

“I honestly don’t know,” Twilight said with a frown. “I wish I knew that myself. I’ll probably study your mythology at some point looking for clues. For what it’s worth, there are no humans in our mythology.”

“Many mythological creatures exist here,” Meg added, “like hydras, manticores and minotaurs, and many others that are not in our mythology, like timber wolves and ursa minors.” He was about to ask what those were, but she preempted him. “I can suggest specific episodes of the cartoon to watch.”

“I don’t think that’ll be necessary. I’m sure some people will be tasked with watching every episode.” It was obviously a task to which he wouldn’t care to be assigned.

He gazed out the window, as he thought of other questions. Meg followed his line of sight and, to her surprise, he was looking at two unicorns stallions that weren’t there before, holding a conversion. What’s he talking to Shining Armor about?

“I can think of one more question,” he said, still looking at the unicorns, “then I ought to be returning to my own world.”

“Whenever you’re ready,” Twilight assured him.

He turned around to face the alicorn. “What are your intentions with regards to the other nations of our world?”

Twilight blinked. “Our intentions?”

I wish Celestia was handling this. This was just too important for a novice to be handling. Every word Twilight said was going to be parsed carefully. It didn’t help either that the subject of other nations had never come up.

“It would be premature to answer that,” Twilight smoothly replied, as if reciting a memorized answer to a question on a test. “We are currently ignorant about human nations, after all. That being said, I think it’s safe to say we do not wish to become entangled in human international affairs.”

Whether you’ll have that luxury remains to be seen. Still, there were worse answers. Celestia surely had been giving her princess-related lessons.

“Fair enough,” Reubens conceded. “I’d like you to take me back now. We’ll see what happens tomorrow.”

“I have to get something first. I’ll be back in a minute.” Twilight left the lounge, going to wherever she kept the pills.

It has just Meg, Reubens, and Spike. The agent looked at the baby dragon, a question forming in his mind. “Do dragons actually breath fire?” he asked the drake.

Spike broke out in a huge grin. “Sure can!” He proceeded to demonstrate, shooting out red flame—in a safe direction, naturally. Unlike the green flame he used to send messages, this was the real deal, radiating copious amounts of heat.

“Good for you!” he said with somewhat less than genuine enthusiasm. He turned to Meg. “Is there some way of reaching you when you’re here?”

“Just call me; my phone has been enchanted to get a signal here.”

“You’re joking,” he droned. “Right?” he added, with a hint of desperation.

How did you think Steve called me? Maybe he didn’t believe it at the time.

Twilight returned. No pill was floating beside her. It was already in her mouth, apparently.

“Twilight, could you give my phone to Reubens.”

The alicorn looked at her questioningly, but only for a moment before levitating it out of her saddlebag and over to the agent.

Reubens woke it up and got the lock screen. But that was all the proof he needed. “Not many bars here.”

“It varies,” Meg unhelpfully offered. She left the floor, drifted over to the agent, and held out her hoof.

Reubens looked at it, no doubt wondering how she was supposed to take the phone back with it. He slowly extended his hand out towards her, and once it was close enough, Meg grabbed it with a hoof and attached it to her other forelimb.

He let his hand flop down to his side. “I see it, but I’m still not sure I believe it.”

The pegasus gave him a smile as she returned to the floor. “I’m only just getting the hang of doing it, myself.”

Twilight trotted over to them. “Ready to go back?”

“As I’ll ever be,” he replied.

“I’ll be back in a minute,” she told Meg and Spike. Her horn lit up, engulfing Reubens in her magic. She swallowed the pill, and alicorn and agent vanished.

That left just Meg and Spike. The silence grew awkward.

Meg decided to break it. “Spike?”


“How did Rainbow Dash fly you out here? You didn’t ride on her back the whole way while holding that package, did you?” It was too big to fit in the pegasus’ saddlebags. Too big to fit in Pinkie’s either, not that that would have stopped the party pony from pulling it off.

He waved his claw dismissively. “Of course not. We found a small wagon she could pull.”

“Ah.” That actually made perfect sense. What would it be like to pull a wagon while flying? She’d have to extend her flying magic to the wagon, obviously. Did that require special training, or would it come naturally? Her gut told her the latter; even Fluttershy could do it, after all.

Meg looked outside, to see her husband and Twilight’s brother still conversing. “Let’s see what they’re up to.”

25. Moving Day

“Do I get to keep my job?”

Agent Fowler was waiting for them in the RV, sitting in the driver’s seat. That was a rhetorical question, right? Twilight wondered. Rain was splattering against the roof, adding its noise to the drone of the air conditioner.

“I guess this is your lucky day,” Reubens facetiously acknowledged her. “Twilight, before you go.”

The alicorn looked up at him expectantly.

“I’ve already told Mrs. Coleman what I’m about to tell you. Your existence has been classified. We must ask that you do not reveal yourself to anyone else.”

Just like we’re keeping your existence a secret. Probably for similar reasons.

That reminded her of the private conversation between those two. What else had he told Meg, had asked her to do? It was an uncomfortable reminder that she and her husband were not their subjects, but subjects of this “President.”

“I understand,” she said, acknowledging his request. She wasn’t there to stir up trouble for this realm’s government, and it wasn’t as if she’d planned on making public appearances anyway.

“Also, about tomorrow,” she added. “Even if there’s no helicopter, we could still use some helping hands—emphasis on hands. I’m sure Agent Fowler here would be willing to volunteer?” She looked at the FBI agent for an answer.

“Of course!” Fowler enthusiastically replied. “I’ll see what we can arrange.”

Twilight was hoping for something firmer than that, but she supposed it all depended on what this President decided. That was the price for getting his attention.

“I’ll be back tomorrow morning.”

She returned to the observation lounge, to find it empty of ponies and baby dragons. Looking outside, she spotted everypony talking to her brother. Curious as to what was going on, she teleported over to them.

“Ah, Twily, you’re back. You’ll want to hear this.” Shining Armor looked at Steve, inviting him to explain.

“Perfect is the enemy of good enough,” he profoundly stated.

Twilight cocked her head. “Perfect what now?”

The lifelong student didn’t get it. Of course perfect was the enemy of good enough. It ought to be. What was “good enough” supposed to be anyway?

“You’ve found that a shield to block the flow of magic can’t last. You’ve been attempting perfect shields, so perfect that there’s no magic on the other side, inevitably causing the shield’s breakdown.”

All quite obvious, but it was missing the point. “Assuming a leaky shield could be sustained,” she countered, “that could only delay the inevitable. It doesn’t fix anything.”

“Twily, you’re pursuing the wrong objective.”

Huh? If those words hadn’t come from her own brother… Slowly and carefully, she said, “The objective is to stop the flow of magic.”

“No,” Steve declared. “The objective is for the mirror to be embedded in enough magic that Discord can open the portal, go inside, and fix it.”

And a perfect shield guarantees that objective cannot be met. It would be a stalemate, at best. Okay, that could not be disputed. But she was still missing something. “A leaky shield won’t do it either. There’s no magic around the mirror right now; cutting back on the flow won’t change that.”

“And that’s where the doll comes in,” Steve continued. “A black hole, if it could have been managed, would have been the ‘perfect’ barrier. We only need ‘good enough,’ a sufficiently powerful gravitational field that would squeeze the junction to a small enough size. A leaky shield on this end would reduce the pressure of magic against that junction, making that easier.”

It was becoming clear. Once that had been done, let the shield get even leakier until there was enough magic surrounding the mirror. Maybe the shield could be dropped altogether. With the squeeze on the junction being maintained in the other realm, the flow ought to remain sufficiently staunched to give Discord the little time he needs—emphasis on sufficiently staunched. They were right. There was no need to completely stop the flow.

“Shiny, how leaky does it have to be for it to last indefinitely?”

He answered, uncertainly, “I don’t know. We’ll have to experiment.”

Twilight closed her eyes in thought.

I’m not sure I like the sound of that.

Could an experiment gone wrong make things worse? He had tried perfect shields already, and nothing bad seems to have happened when they collapsed, but how did they know nothing bad happened? Nopony was taking measurements at the time.

Why couldn’t they’ve brought me in sooner?

Even if nothing bad had happen, the hole was a lot smaller then. It had to be riskier now—though, obviously, less risky with a leaky shield than with a perfect shield.

She reopened her eyes. “Meg, can this be simulated on a computer?”

The pegasus gave a shrug. “I don’t know. You’re the domain expert.”

“Touché,” Twilight meekly replied. “Give me another minute to think it over.” She wandered off into the un-trampled, foot-high grasses, away from the construction.

They had been able to simulate a sonic rainboom and that perturbation. It ought to be possible to simulate a leaky shield as well; yet there was an important difference: this shield was the consequence of an actively cast spell, a continuous act of will, external to the underlying equations of the magical field. She would have to conduct experiments, gathering data, in order to properly model the effect of that spell on the field. Only then could they run simulations, verify they were accurate, and arrive at an optimal and safe solution for a leaky shield.

They didn’t have time for any of that.

With a sigh, she teleported back to the others. “As much as I hate to do this, we’ll have to play it by ear. We can start with a shield that barely impedes the flow and slowly work our way up—after we move The Mirror here, naturally.”

If this actually worked, and could be perfected, perhaps there was no need to move the mirror. But that was a big if. Too many uncertainties, and not enough time left to eliminate them. Better to ensure the safety of Crystal Heart and the city first.

“What about the doll?” Steve asked. “Same thing? Start with a weak gravitational field and scale up?”

Twilight smiled at him. “You’re the domain expert there.”

“I’m not so sure,” he said, closing his eyes as he thought. “The usual, non-magical means of generating a gravitational field aren’t relevant here. The magical means are a mystery to me, but I can still see problems with creating a field out of nothing. Our conservation laws may prohibit it.”

Of course. Every time it seemed like there might be a solution, it got snatched away. She tried to remain optimistic; maybe there was a way around it. “For example?”

“Well… any object inside the new field loses energy due to time dilation. Under normal conditions, that ‘lost’ energy was turned into kinetic energy as the object fell; but that wouldn’t happen in this case.”

Twilight had to suppress a groan. I’m beginning to understand how Discord feels. Sure, there was nothing wrong with being organized, but how does anything work in that realm with all the gratuitous, fanatical, and unavoidable bookkeeping?

Yet, to her relief, there did seem to be a loophole. “What if the spell could avoid time dilation?”

Steve had a ready objection. “Then it would be accelerating stuff, creating kinetic energy and momentum out of nothing.” He face-hoofed, realizing what he was saying. “Telekinesis already does that, and we now understand how that actually works in our universe.”


Oh, it wasn’t quite that simple, of course not. Telekinesis works on objects in space, not on space, but she had studied enough of Star Swirl’s spells to be confident that was a technicality she could work around.

The sun was setting as Rainbow Dash and two other pegasi struggled to position the hot air balloon, tied to them hundreds of feet below, over the balcony of the Crystal Palace. A strong breeze had kicked up, driving the balloon to swing like a graceful pendulum. They had spread out, forming a tripod, and with some success damped out the languid swings. The balloon’s weight was increasing as it cooled off, also helping.

What could not be done, though the weather pony dearly wished she could, was to position other pegasi so as to generate a canceling breeze. A pegasus needed magic to do that—never mind that experienced weather ponies were scarce in the Crystal Empire. These two, a mare and a stallion, served onboard the Zephyr. They were in good physical shape, as would be expected, but they were not professional weather ponies.

On the balcony, Twilight and Cadance observed as Spike lazily swung back and forth three dozen feet as the balloon slowly descended. There wasn’t much the alicorns could do. They had no telekinesis, and even grabbing onto the basket would have been challenging. At least humans, with their hands, would have better luck; they could also hope for the stillness of tomorrow morning’s air.

“Abort!” the prismatic mare hollered. All three pegasi pulled up, while Spike upped to maximum the non-magical heater that was installed only an hour ago. Once it was high enough to clear the palace, they began pulling the balloon to an empty grass field outside the city.

It took around fifteen minutes to get the hot air balloon safely to the ground. The stiff breeze was much less of a problem at ground level. No sooner did Rainbow Dash land, as far away from the basket as possible to keep the line straight and untangled, Twilight and Cadance teleported in front of her.

“What’s your verdict,” Twilight asked.

Rainbow Dash finished removing the harness before replying. “Seems up to the task, if there’s no wind.”

Twilight gave the harness a close inspection. The local engineers had done a good job, but perhaps she could come up with improvements. It had a beam that extended well past either side of its wearer, with loops on both ends. The “fishing line” went in the loop on one side, across the beam, and out the other. The line was free to go in just about any direction without interfering with the wings of its bearer.

Without making any comment, Twilight then teleported over to the basket and began inspecting the modifications. Cadance quickly followed suit, and the pegasus flew over to join them. Spike was occupied with deflating the balloon; with dusk falling, there would be no more test flights that day.

Mounted above the basket was a large crystal ring, wide enough to pass all the ropes tying the balloon to the basket. On this ring were three pairs of fused loops. One loop encircled the large ring, while the line threaded through the other. The same line threaded through all three loops and harnesses. The pegasi would be just over five hundred feet away from the mirror; that was considered adequate, as a greater distance came with its own problems of controlling the movements of the balloon.

“So what d’ya think?” Rainbow Dash asked, for Twilight had yet to say anything. “I know you wanted to be involved in the design, but, ya know…” After all, it was her hot air balloon.

“What?” Twilight had been focused on one of the loops, where instead of passing through, the two ends of the line were tied directly to the loop. “No, it’s fine.”

She sighed as she gave her full attention to the pegasus. “You had the right idea, spreading out to dampen the swinging; it was just too little too late. You need to do that before the wind starts it swinging.”

“The air should be still tomorrow morning,” Cadance offered, “so that ought not be a problem.”

“Just remember to keep it slow and steady,” Twilight said. “Go too fast, and the mirror will toss about.”

Dash rolled her eyes. One needn’t be an egghead to know that! “I kinda figured that out already.”

There wasn’t really any rush getting it to its new home; the rush was in getting it away from the Crystal Heart. It’d take a half-day at a safe speed, with the Zephyr following at a safe distance. If necessary, they could set the mirror down on the ground so that a fresh set of pegasi could take over.

“Have you given up on using one of their flying machines?”

“Yeah. What about that new dude you brought over?”

“I wish I knew.” Twilight gave them a weak smile. “The uncertainty makes it hard to plan and organize.”

Her former foal sitter touched her withers with a wing. “I’m afraid the life of a princess is full of uncertainties.”

Twilight dipped her head. “I need to work on that.” She began folding up the deflated balloon with her magic. ”I guess we’ll find out, one way or the other, tomorrow morning.”

“Well look at that,” Meg said as she looked down far below. “Will wonders never cease.”

Hovering beside her, Rainbow Dash scrunched her muzzle. “Doesn’t look that different from Pinkie’s, if you ask me.”

This one doesn’t depend on magic for its operation.”

“Yeah, yeah, I know,” she replied dismissively, waving a hoof. “Should I go back and let everypony know?”

That last question was addressed to Twilight, who was also studying the desert below. In the center of the RVs was the fabled helicopter, which indeed did look much the gyrocopter Pinkie Pie sometimes flew.

“Not yet,” she decided. “Let’s make sure there aren’t any strings attached.”

The three ponies drifted down in a spiral, coming to a hover next to the flying machine. None of the humans were outside at the moment, giving Twilight a chance to inspect it.

It was a bit larger than she had expected. Looking in through the open door, it was apparently designed to carry cargo. The Mirror could easily fit inside behind the front seats with plenty of room to spare. There were some ropes inside that could be used to secure it to the various hooks on the floor near the walls.

Hanging outside and above the door was a hook. Assuming it could be lowered, that would be perfect for picking it up. It may even be possible to lift it up to the door and move it inside while flying. That would allow for much faster flight. How fast can these things fly anyway?

She poked her head inside to look at the controls. They looked very complicated. Why was that complexity needed?

After backing out the door, she drifted around the flying machine, looking for anything that might be a weapon. There wasn’t anything obvious. Meg was hovering beside her; she would know. “What’s your verdict?” Twilight asked her.

“Couldn’t ask for anything better. I’m impressed.”

Their arrival had not gone unnoticed. Agents Fowler and Reubens exited one of the RVs and walked over to them.

“No hands?” Fowler called out to the orchid pegasus.

“One less person for Twilight to carry across,” Meg explained. “Who’s the pilot?”

That was a good question, Twilight thought. It could be another unknown variable, somepony who didn’t know Equestria was real until today.

“I am,” replied Reubens. “I flew Apaches in the first Gulf War, and I’ve been keeping in practice since.”

First Gulf War?

At least the pilot was a somewhat known quantity. “Who else will be going with us?”

“Myself, of course,” Fowler responded, “and Eduardo.”

So there would be up to four humans to handle The Mirror. That seemed more than enough.

“Where’s Special Agent Holmes?” Meg suddenly asked. Twilight had noticed herself that he hadn’t been around for a over a day.

Fowler did not immediately respond. “He’s in Washington right now. It’s not clear when he’s coming back—or if he ever will.” It was obviously an uncomfortable subject for her. “This has evolved into something not normally under our jurisdiction, and there’re some power struggles going on to decide who does have jurisdiction.”

Reading between the lines, the agent’s concern was clear: this might be taken away from her, too. Regardless, it wasn’t really any of her business, and whatever the outcome of those power struggles might be, right here, and right now, the helicopter was being offered for her use.

“Rainbow Dash, tell everypony it’s on.”

“On it.” The pegasus vanished as she returned to Equestria.

Eduardo came out of a different RV carrying the doll—which was missing its gemstone collar. “I figured you’d want to do your measurements first,” he said as he approached them.

If they’d rather study that collar than let it do its job, that was their choice. “Thank you.” Taking it in her magic, she set the doll down on the ground. Her ritual of measurements gave her a chance to mull things over.

There was the incidental mentioning of multiple wars in some nameless gulf. Equestria has had its own wars in the past, of course; but, it would seem, not as frequently, at least in the recent past.

Her brother would certainly desire information on their military capabilities. Yet however impressive they would be—and she had little doubt they were incredibly impressive—they were also completely defenseless against magical attacks, nor did they have any means of independently crossing between realms.

Could she be certain of that? I need to talk to Discord about this. She’d bet he could sense them crossing over, and he would make an excellent first line of defense. As Reubens had said, nations were entitled to secure borders; Equestria actually possessed the means to secure its own. Just give the Spirit of Chaos royal permission to “have fun” with any invaders, and he’d do the rest. Or maybe she should run that past Celestia first.

The measurements were completed. No surprises, just the expected gradual worsening. Tomorrow, maybe even this afternoon, they could start experimenting with leaky shields.

“I’m done,” she declared. “Every… one who’s coming, please gather inside the helicopter.”

Aaron, who had joined them while Twilight was taking her measurements, picked the doll up off the ground. He was staying behind, the designated caretaker of the camp while the others were away.

Fowler, Eduardo, and Reubens all climbed aboard the helicopter. Twilight began concentrating, pouring her magic into the flying machine and its contents. It was quite a bit larger than Meg’s car, if not that much heavier, but nothing she couldn’t handle. It floated a few feet off the ground, to the surprise of some of the occupants.

Twilight invoked the return spell, and found herself standing in the exact same spot where she had swallowed the plaid pill, a hundred feet away from the nose of the Zephyr. The helicopter slowly lowered onto the grassy plain, and the lavender glow surrounding it evaporated.

Three humans hopped out and looked around.

“I figured it’d be more… interesting,” Eduardo said, as he scanned the endless grasslands.

Fowler walked past the nose of the helicopter and found what she was looking for. “Over here,” she said, pointing in the direction opposite to which Eduardo was looking.

Eduardo and Reubens joined her.

“That’s definitely more interesting,” Eduardo said as he gazed upon the Zephyr.

“So that’s what it looks like on the outside.” Reubens turned to Twilight. “What does E, R, S stand for?”

“Equestria Royal Ship. The Zephyr is on loan to me from Princess Celestia.”

His eyes scanned the ship from one end to the other. “I’m guessing it’s a dirigible of some sort, but what pushes it?” There were no propellors, no jets, nothing obviously a means of propulsion. “Don’t tell me: magic.”

“Okay, I won’t,” she replied teasingly. She hovered above the tall grass and pointed at the completed enclosure for the mirror. “The crystal floor extends past the entrance. Set the mirror there, and we can then roll it inside.”

“Sounds simple enough. And all I have to do is follow you to the city?”

“Right,” Twilight confirmed. “We’ll land in a field outside the city, you’ll pick up Steve, then he’ll guide you to the balcony and then on to The Mirror. How fast can you go?”

“I can cruise at a hundred miles an hour easily.”

“I’ll inform the captain of that. Shall we be on our way?”

“By all means,” Reubens said, and made his way back inside the helicopter.

“Would it be okay if I rode with you?” Eduardo asked Twilight.

“You certainly may,” she replied with a smile.

“I’ll join you,” Fowler said. “Helicopters are sorta noisy.”

Meg popped into existence, catching their attention. “Sorry, but Aaron had the usual questions he just had to ask me.” She rolled her eyes. “You know, hooves instead of hands and stuff like that.”

“Maybe you should—”

Fowler was cut off by the roar of the helicopter’s engine firing up. Twilight’s ears flattened in self-defense, and they all rushed over to the Zephyr, distancing themselves from the ear-splitting whine.

So much for riding in the helicopter. Twilight had wanted to observe its operation, but it wouldn’t be this time. Turning to look back, she noted Reubens was wearing some sort of headset. Magic-based technology was so much quieter.

The helicopter made its presence known long before it could be seen, the lack of noise pollution within the Crystal Empire making sure of that. Steve scanned the sky and found the far larger Zephyr approaching. Eventually he could make out the helicopter as well.

“There it is,” he said, pointing it out to Shining Armor.

“It must be awfully loud to be heard that far away,” he said disdainfully.

“It is, unfortunately.” The helicopter wouldn’t need to go lower than that balcony, which is well above every other building in the city; but even so, the crystal ponies wouldn’t fail to notice it. We just have to hope they’ve been sufficiently prepared for this.

A few minutes passed, and the helicopter, being much smaller and more agile, landed on the manicured grass field first. The turbine continued idling, Reubens having decided it wasn’t worth shutting it off for only a few minutes. He exited the vehicle and walked over.

“You’re coming with us, right?” the agent said to Steve. “I figured you’d be human for that.”

“And I will be, once Twilight gets here.” He nodded his head to the white unicorn beside him. “Allow me to introduce Prince Shining Armor. You two have something in common: Shining Armor was once the Captain of the Royal Guard, entrusted with the security of Canterlot in general and of Princess Celestia in particular.”

“It is a pleasure to meet you, Agent Reubens,” the prince said with practiced formality.

The agent gave a modest bow. “The pleasure is all mine, Your Highness.”

The Zephyr had landed and its passengers were disembarking. As the two ponies and two humans made their way across the field, Steve pulled his phone from his saddlebag and presented it to Shining Armor. “Could you hold onto this for a few minutes?”

“Sure thing,” he said, as the phone was passed from one telekinetic field to the other.

They waited for Twilight and the others to arrive. Once they did, the alicorn got down to business. “Ready to transform?” she asked Steve.

He stepped to the side, giving himself some room. “Ready.”

Twilight closed her eyes, concentrating hard, her horn glowing brightly.

Everything was suddenly smaller, his first clue the transformation had happened. His phone floated over to him and he picked it out of the air with his hand and put it in a pocket. A key floated over next from the remaining unicorn and he took that and put it in a different pocket.

“Okay, let’s go.” He started walking to the helicopter, but then noticed no one else was following. “Something wrong?”

They were all looking at him like they had seen a ghost. Eduardo spoke first. “Doesn’t that, like, faze you… or something?”

That was what had freaked them out? “You’ve seen me transform before, Agent Fowler.” The agent seemed as shocked as the others.

“Not exactly. I didn’t actually see you change.”

“And I didn’t see Meg change either,” Reubens added. “For all I knew, she could have been left behind, and a pegasus claiming to be her was waiting for us to arrive.”

“Yeah… that,” Fowler added.

Was I at your camp when you returned, or did you think I ran off into the desert?

No, that wasn’t being fair. He had gotten too used to all this. It was a bit scary, too, that very first time, when he had witnessed Meg being zapped by rainbows.

“Well… no,” he patiently explained. “It doesn’t faze me, or anything, really, not even the first time. It’s a property of the spell, something I can thank Princess Luna for, I guess, though Twilight here does an excellent job of casting it.”

“This wouldn’t happen to be the same spell you used to become breezies, would it?” Fowler asked the beaming alicorn.

The beaming eroded just a bit. “It is.”

Now why would that question bother her? The obvious follow-up question then came to mind: Have any ponies been turned into humans?

There were none to his knowledge. It had never even been suggested as a possibility, not even when it might have made things easier.

But for now, it was a possibility that the feds did not need to consider. They still didn’t know ponies could be invisible. They didn’t need to worry about ponies hiding in plain sight as humans. They already had enough to lose sleep over.

“We really should get going,” he said as he resumed walking towards the idling helicopter. This time, the others followed.

Once they were all inside, Steve took a seat up front, the one next to Reubens. He found a headset waiting for him on the seat, already plugged in, and put it on. The other two agents were handed noise-blocking earmuffs as they went into the back, where they would have to stand for a lack of seats. At least there were handrails for them to hold on to, and it would be a short flight.

Reubens powered up the turbine and the helicopter began to rise.

“Climb first,” Steve instructed. “We’ve been asked to remain above the tallest building while over the city. That’s also our destination.”

“Climb first, remain above tallest building while over city,” he repeated.

The flight was uneventful. The crystal ponies far below were certainly aware of them passing by overhead, but they did little more than pause and look up. Whatever Princess Cadance had told them, it seemed to have done the job.

Soon they were above the Crystal Palace. “There’s the balcony,” Steve pointed out. Where there ponies down there? Orange, pink, cyan… not hard to figure out who those could be. That wasn’t part of the plan, but if they wanted to observe, no reason why they couldn’t. Hope they can handle the noise…

They slowly descended. The rotor was wider than the balcony, so they had to set down near the railing, which being so low there was no chance the rotor could hit it. Princess Cadance, Applejack, and Rainbow Dash watched from a respectful distance, all three wearing earmuffs, the kind that protected against cold weather. That’s one way to handle the noise… barely. At least they could fold their ears as well.

Fowler lost no time in sliding open the door and hopping out, Eduardo close behind her. Steve unplugged his headset, but leaving it on for the noise protection, and hopped out as well. The rotor was still turning rapidly, the howling downdraft adding its noise to the turbine whine.

Steve acknowledged the mares’ presence, giving them a wave, but otherwise ignored them and walked briskly after the other two. Fowler knew where the mirror was kept and was making a beeline for it. If the ponies wanted to talk to him about something, they would have no trouble catching up. That was the advantage of being a quadruped.

Indeed, he was soon accompanied by a trotting pegasus and earth pony. He removed his headset and hung it around his neck, almost instantly regretting it. The crystalline walls of the ballroom reverberated the noise from the balcony. Fortunately, it sounded much worse than it actually was.

“What’s up?” he asked the mares. “Is something wrong?”

“Nah,” Rainbow Dash replied. “We figured somepony ought to keep an eye on things.”

Cadance was still out on the balcony. Was she keeping an eye on the helicopter?

“And lend a helpin’ hoof if’n it’s needed.”

How they could lend a hoof wasn’t at all clear—that was the whole point of this exercise, after all—but their presence didn’t hurt either.

They reached the door to the storage area. Laying nearby were a pair of dollies, and also a harness to be slipped around the mirror so it can be lifted by a hook.

Steve fished out the key from his pocket and used it to unlock and open the door, revealing the mirror, reflecting his image back at him.

They kicked the dollies over to the mirror. With quick tilts, the dollies slipped underneath the mirror without difficulty. The light was better in the ballroom, so they first rolled it out of the storage area. There the harness was assembled, by the threading of straps under and around the mirror, and the attaching of the ends to a crystal loop that went at the very top.

So far, so good. Steve closed the door, locked it, removed the key, and pocketed it.

The next part was the time critical part. They were about to move the mirror closer to the Crystal Heart. They pushed it as fast as they dared back to the helicopter. By the time they reached it, a hook had already been dropped from the unit above the door. They attached it to that crystal loop, then signaled Reubens to lift it. As soon as it was level with the door, they signaled him to lower it again, while simultaneously pushing the mirror inside the cabin.

Eduardo tied the mirror down as Steve unhooked it and Fowler put the dollies inside. She slid the door closed, but not before Rainbow Dash jumped inside. There wasn’t time to deal with that. Reubens opened the throttle and they began to rise.

Dash immediately hopped into the seat besides Reubens, who did a double take but decided to focus on flying. They climbed a hundred feet then headed back to the field where the Zephyr waited.

Holding onto a handrail, Steve poked his head up front, giving the pegasus a dirty look. “Need I ask why?” he asked, loudly, competing against the muffled but still considerable noise

“I wanna see this thing fly,” Dash simply stated, a big grin gracing her face.

He pulled back his head. “Whatever,” he mumbled.

Looking ahead, the Zephyr was already high in the sky and accelerating, on its way back to the enclosure. “Remember to stay far back, at least a thousand feet.”

“Magic, gotcha.”

Steve got down on the floor and tried to get comfortable, exchanging awkward smiles with the others. It was only for a half-hour or so.

He looked at the mirror. Maybe he should have brought along some of Twilight’s measuring devices. They were moving through full-strength magical field. She didn’t believe that would be a problem. It was full-strength, yes, but also high viscosity. It’d take time for that to break down, time it wouldn’t have as they rapidly flew through it. Yes, magic in the flight path would get scoped up, resulting in a flow higher than before, but not enough to be dangerous.

The space-time continuum hadn’t ripped open, so apparently she was right.

That viscosity also meant the Crystal Heart’s recovery wouldn’t be quick, but at least it would recover.

The flight back was uneventful. Rainbow Dash did not make a nuisance of herself, content to just observe.

There was one small problem when they arrived: they couldn’t land on that crystalline platform, which extended out from the mirror’s new home, because it didn’t extend far enough. The rotor would hit the enclosure.

It was easy enough problem to solve. While still above the ground, the mirror was hooked once more, pushed out the door, and lowered in front of the enclosure’s door. More line was let out, allowing the helicopter to land away from the enclosure.

Then it was a simple matter of getting the dollies under it once more, unhooking it, and rolling it inside. All during this time, the Zephyr remained a safe distance away, high in the sky. The harness was removed and the mirror tilted one last time as the final dolly was removed.

Mission accomplished.

“Rainbow Dash, what are you doing here?” Twilight was at the door. “And why are you wearing those? It’s summer.”

The pegasus shrugged. “I just wanted to see that thing fly, okay?” Her eyes briefly looked up. “And these are for the noise.”

Twilight looked skeptical. “Those can’t be very effective at blocking noise.”

“Yeah, not really,” she admitted. “But once the doors are closed it’s really not that bad.”

“It’s not?”

Oh, no…

Twilight had that look in her eyes.

No comfy chair for me on the flight back.

Fowler went to retrieve the doll as Twilight levitated her measuring devices out of a saddlebag.

The flight back had been fascinating. She tried restraining herself the best she could—it wouldn’t do to distract the pilot too much—but there were so many questions that simply demanded answers. Whether those answers would be relevant to other ponies was difficult to say; however ingenious their technological solutions may have been, they were merely workarounds for the lack of magic.

The helicopter was no longer there, on its way back to… from wherever they had acquired it.

The agent returned with the doll and set it down on the ground. Twilight looked at the meter and frowned, even if it wasn’t unexpected. The flow was higher, worryingly higher. It had a fresh, full-strength field to suck dry. Hopefully, it would diminish once the nearby magic was gone. At least the Crystal Heart was saved, she thought, sighing.

No. She couldn’t rely on just hope. She needed to find her brother and begin the experiments with a leaky magic shield as soon as possible.

26. A Higher Authority

A few dozen feet in front of them, the crystalline enclosure looked dull and lifeless, a passing cloud momentarily blocking out the sunlight. The sky was a patchwork of drifting clouds that late afternoon; no pegasi managed the weather out here in the middle of nowhere.

Shining Armor was projecting his shield, his horn almost invisibly glowing. This shield barely impeded the flow of magic, not that there was much flow where they were standing. The Mirror had yet to suck out the magic even this close. When Twilight had flown from the Zephyr to the enclosure earlier that day, even at the door she could still remain in the air.

That was no longer true, of course. The flow had diminished somewhat in the past two hours, as she had hoped, but it was still much higher than before the move. She had left her measuring devices with Agent Fowler and instructed her on their use, and she was on Meg’s borrowed phone right now, ready to receive immediate feedback.

“Okay, now shrink the shield—slowly—to half its present diameter.”

Her brother complied. The slightly shimmering and nearly invisible shield slowly shrank, the two ponies moving in lockstep to remain at the boundary. Twilight reinserted a probe through the shield and kept an eye on its meter; a second probe was placed just outside.

Nothing happened at first. From her earlier measurements, this was the point at where the field strength started to drop sharply.

The two probes’ measurements began diverging, the inner one dropping a bit faster than the outer one. The shield, as weak as it was, had begun to have an effect, blocking maybe five percent of the flow.

There was no point asking if the shield was holding up. There was still too much magic on the other side for it not to. “Now try to block half of the flow.”

His horn brightened to a dull glow. The effect on the probes, this time, was immediate and substantial. The field outside the shield strengthened, replenishing faster than it was being drained; the field inside at first dropped sharply, but then slowed its descent. After a minute had passed, it stabilized at about a quarter of normal.

“Any change on your end?” The phone hovered in Twilight’s telekinetic field, set to speakerphone mode.

“Nothing yet.”

It was unknown how long it took the magic to flow between the realms. Much of the mechanics of the flow was a mystery. All she really knew was that it left her realm at a high-speed and low density, and entered the other at a sluggish speed and extremely high density. If nothing else, these experiments should illuminate some of those mechanics.

“How’s the shield holding up?”

“So far, so good. I don’t sense any decay.”

“I guess we hold at this level for a while and see what happens.”

It took a few more minutes, but finally Fowler said, “It’s starting to drop.”

That wasn’t too bad. Conceivably it might have taken days, or even longer.

“Let me know when it stabilizes.”

On the one hoof, this was good news. They could try more variations as they didn’t have to wait too long to see the effects. But on the other hoof, it didn’t really change anything. The day was getting late, and she needed to get everypony back to Ponyville and to return the car to the other realm; the shield could not be maintained overnight. The flow will go back to where it was.

That probably wouldn’t be a problem. It was already slowly diminishing on its own, back to the pre-move levels, and if it wasn’t high enough to cause a catastrophic failure now, it wasn’t going to do so before tomorrow.

Still, if only there had been a way to drag the magic-free zone along with the mirror, so that there wouldn’t have been an accelerated flow.

Twilight’s eyes went wide. Could it work?

“Hey, Shining, do you think you can use your shield to push magic away from the mirror?”

“Uhhh… you mean by expanding the shield?”

“Yeah. I want to recreate the magic void that existed back at the palace, to get the flow back down to where it was. Unless you want to stay awake out here all night.”

They hadn’t planned on doing that. Taking turns wasn’t an option, since she had to leave, and they both needed to be fresh and wide awake tomorrow, when she’d focus her attention on the doll.

“I suppose that would work. It is impermeable in one direction to magic—partially impermeable, right now, I guess. I don’t know if half-impermeable is enough.”

She didn’t bother pointing out that the term “half-impermeable” was nonsensical. “Is it holding up? Any signs of decay?”

“Nope. Looks like it’ll last indefinitely at this strength.”

“Then let’s try something stronger, once the flow stops dropping at the doll, to see how far we can go. At the first signs of decay, gradually scale it back.”

“Okay, I’ll block two-thirds next.”

They waited patiently.

“It’s about leveled off at half the previous flow,” Fowler reported fifteen minutes later.

That was his cue. His horn glowed brighter, and the shield shimmered a bit stronger. It was still way below his limit, so that wouldn’t be a problem. The probe measurements confirmed the increased effectiveness of the barrier.

Again, after the passage of several minutes, Fowler reported, “It’s dropping again.”

Repeatable behavior was a good sign.

This continued for the next one and a half hours. They were up to blocking nine-tenths of the flow when Rainbow Dash and Meg glided in to a landing.

“Hey, guys,” the prismatic pegasus said. “Almost done here?”

Shining Armor looked at her in mock shock. “Are you actually bored with flying?”

Meg answered for her. “It’s not her, it’s me. My wings feel ready to fall off.”

Rainbow Dash must have been putting her through training exercises. I’m overdue for another of my own.

“Besides,” Meg continued, “shouldn’t we be leaving soon? It’s getting late.”

Twilight looked at the western horizon. The clouds couldn’t hide the low sun. Even if they left right now, it’d be dark by the time they got back to Ponyville. Everypony else aboard the Zephyr were probably getting anxious to leave too.

“One more thing, and we’ll go. We’re going to try and push the magic away from here, to get the flow back down to where it was before we moved it.” She turned to her brother. “How’s it holding up?”

“Still good. I think we can do much better.”

That was good to hear. The smaller the flow, the better, for what she was going to attempt tomorrow.

She retrieved the probe poking through the shield and floated it next to the other one. “Okay, start expanding the shield.”

Her brother backed away from his shield and his horn grew brighter. The shimmering shield began expanding, at a moderate walking speed at first, but it got harder and harder. Sweat started soaking through the fur on his forehead as he slowed to a crawl.

Finally, he stopped. “I have to rest for a minute.”

The shield hadn’t even doubled in size. They were not going to clear out enough magic like this. Twilight walked to the shield, a probe in front of her. It was as she suspected. Magic had piled up in front of the shield, like a snow plow pushing snow, increasing the force needed to push it further away from the enclosure. This was temporary—the magic was already dispersing, flowing like cold molasses to the lower density regions further away—but it was slowing things down too much.

Fortunately, this magic pileup can be put to good use. “Try standing just outside the shield. Magic is very dense there, and that’ll help you.”

“Worth a shot.” He walked up the the shield, almost touching it. His horn flared, almost unbearably bright, and he walked backwards, seemingly pulling the shield back by a direct physical connection. It was working.

But he was now grimacing in pain. After going maybe another dozen feet, the pain became so bad he was forced to back away as if the shield was red hot.

“The magic’s too intense,” he said, shaking his head.

Twilight approached the shield with a probe. It was off the scale. The sheer power there made simple telekinesis challenging. She could handle it—being an alicorn had its advantages, not to mention magic being her special talent—but this clearly wasn’t going to work, not unless there was some way to lower the viscosity so the magic would quickly spread out into the distance.

She didn’t know of one.

She walked back to Shining Armor. “It’s better than nothing,” she said in consolation. “Just keep it here for a while until the magic has a chance to flow away from here. Can you do that?”

“Yeah, it’s not a problem if it stays the same size. How long?”

That was a good question. “I’ll take another measurement in a minute and extrapolate from that.” She brought the phone closer. “Agent Fowler?”


“I think we’re done here for today. I’ll be there tomorrow morning to continue the experiments.”

“Okay, see you then. Bye.”

Twilight placed the phone on Meg’s foreleg, then walked over to the shield and took another measurement. It was still off the scale, but she could tell it wasn’t quite as strong; alicorn or no, it still wasn’t exactly pleasant. She returned to the others.

“I’d say give it a half-hour, a full hour if you can manage it. When you lower your shield, do it gradually over a minute.” She considered his ride back home, a pegasi-drawn chariot. “It’d probably be best if they were farther away before they tried to take off.”

“I’ll let them know.”

“And don’t get any ideas about keeping that shield up all night,” she warned him. “You need to be fresh and recharged tomorrow.”

He responded with an exaggerated bow. “Yes, Your Highness.”

Twilight gave him a mild punch with a hoof. “I mean it.”

“Okay, okay, I got the message.”

She turned to the other two mares, rolling her eyes, then looked up at the Zephyr. “Let’s go home.”

Meg was checking the news the next morning when Twilight appeared in their home office. She preemptively answered the question the alicorn was about to ask. “He’s still sick and not seeing anyone.”

After returning home last night, the subject of when Twilight could expect a communication from the President came up. Meg obviously had no idea, but she did notice in the news that he had come down with a bad case of the flu. All meetings and appearances had been canceled.

Their car had been returned home as well, but not before the tracking device was located and removed. It was now in Canterlot, being used to test the detection spells under development. Meg had made it clear that the FBI would demand their device back sooner or later.

“No real rush, I suppose,” Twilight replied. “We got higher priorities right now anyway. Speaking of which…”

Meg got up from her chair. “Right…”

But before she could leave the room, Steve came in. “We’re out sick today,” he informed her. How much longer can they come up with excuses?

He hung his saddlebags around his neck. “I’m ready.”

Meg did likewise. “Me too.”

Twilight transported them to the field outside the Crystal Empire. “I’ll be back in a second with more pills,” she told Steve. “The Zephyr’s up there,” she informed Meg, and she launched into the sky.

Meg followed at a more relaxed pace. It always felt good to stretch her wings after not having them for a while. The door to the lounge was already open. By the time she reached it, Twilight already had the pills and was on her way out, giving the pegasus a mysterious smile.

Wondering what that was about, she entered and, to her surprise, saw Princess Celestia resting on a pair of cushions.

“Captain Shooting Star, we shall be departing now.”

The captain was at the panoramic window gazing at nothing in particular. He turned around to address his diarch with a bow. “As you wish, Your Highness.” He purposefully left the lounge and into the interior of the ship.

The Princess of the Sun serenely focused on the other occupant of the lounge. “Please take a seat, Meg.”

“I… didn’t expect you to be here.” She laid down on a cushion that wasn’t too close to the princess. What was she doing here?

The Zephyr began turning, the view of crystalline buildings being replaced with distant snowcapped mountains.

“You requested a private audience, did you not, to discuss your concerns about my faithful student?”

Oh, right, and Luna did say she’d pass it on. She had to give them credit. They arranged this meeting with Twilight being none the wiser, if the young alicorns’s mysterious smile was any indication. What did she think was going on?

So here they were. Now what? It was incredibly difficult to read Celestia’s face.

Sensing her apprehension, Celestia tried to put her at ease. “But first, let me offer our appreciation for your role in saving the Crystal Heart.”

“I’m glad we could be of assistance,” she replied reflexively.

Meg didn’t know where to start, or if this was even a good idea. Granted, Celestia seemed to have an open mind, that she wasn’t looking for an excuse to proverbially banish her to the moon, but how could this not be treading dangerous waters?

Her resumed silence did not go unnoticed. “You may speak freely, I assure you,” she said with a gentle smile. “I am under no illusions my protégé is without flaws. I’m sure I’ll find your rather… unique perspective informative.”

The elder alicorn’s ears were at full attention, eager to receive her observations.

“Yes, I know about the Smarty Pants incident.”

Assuming that really happened. By now, though, Meg knew the odds were very good it did, certainly in the ways that mattered.

Celestia nodded in confirmation.

“Nothing that bad, at least.”

Clouds in a hurry drifted by outside. There wasn’t that much time before they arrived.

Might as well cut to the chase. She took a deep breath. “Twilight views this as yet another test she’s supposed to pass. When she nearly got my husband in serious trouble with our authorities—completely unintentionally and from ignorance of our world,” she hastily added “—she became depressed, convinced she had failed for the first time. I tried to talk some sense into her, and let me tell you it wasn’t easy.”

That got a chuckle out of the diarch. “No, it isn’t.”

So this isn’t something you didn’t already know. That was a relief.

Is this all another test of yours?”

Celestia responded with mock shock at the accusation. “You mean, did I cause this magic leak, placing both our realms in mortal danger, just to see if Twilight could manage relations with another realm?”

Meg just blinked.

“No,” she sighed, “this is not one of my tests. The tests ended when she became a princess—which is not to say I’m not looking for ways to increase her responsibilities, to help her grow into a ruler of Equestria that I know she can be.

“Unfortunately, the difference between that and a test is mostly lost on her. I must assume some responsibility for that, I’m afraid.”

The audience was going better than Meg could have hoped. It emboldened her to ask questions she would never have dared to ask before.

“I know this may be way out of line, but maybe she wasn’t ready yet to become a princess?”

Celestia looked away from Meg, to gaze out at the passing cloudscape. “I did grant you permission to speak freely,” she conceded, as she continued staring off into infinity. “And you wouldn’t be much of an advisor if you couldn’t say what you thought.”

She faced Meg once again, her trademark serene expression not quite as serene as before. “I had my reasons for her to ascend when she did, and that is all I’ll say.”

Message received loud and clear: don’t dig any deeper.

But the point still remained, that Twilight was not up to this task.

“The leader of my nation has become aware of your existence. I don’t know when, but eventually there will be negotiations to establish relations between us.”

Celestia didn’t miss a beat. “You’re concerned Twilight isn’t up to that.”

Meg nodded. “I think it would be best if you handled that. This is too important to be treated as a learning exercise.”

“I’ll take that under consideration.” She gave a warm smile. “And thank you, Meg. I treasure advisors who tell me what I need to hear, not what they think I want to hear.”

The Zephyr began descending.

“I have a request,” Celestia said, changing the subject. “When Discord enters the portal to fix it, I would like you to accompany him inside. If you should encounter my former student, please send her outside to me.”

“You mean, Sunset Shimmer?”

Celestia silently nodded.

Why not ask somepony else? Why her, specifically? Maybe because there wouldn’t be an analog of her in there? But why not have Discord do that? Didn’t she trust him now?

She obviously was trusting him with me.

And what would Discord look like in there? He was absent from Equestria Girls, not so much as a cameo in the background. Was that significant?

She was curious, and she had no real reason to refuse. Never mind Discord, how would I look inside there?

“Okay, I’ll do that.”

But on second thought, there was something else odd about Celestia’s request. She made it as if there was no doubt it was going to happen today. That seemed optimistic, to say the least.

“Do you have visions?” Meg blurted out.

She got a practiced titter in reply. “I choose not to answer that question.”

The pegasus scrunched her muzzle. “You know that’s as good as a ‘yes.’”

“If you choose to believe that.”

Fortunately, Meg had an ace up her non-existent sleeves. “In the cartoon, you had a vision of Tirek, which led you to send Discord after him.” Let’s see you get out of that!

The Princess of the Sun was not fazed. “Then wouldn’t I have known that Discord would join forces with him instead of capturing him?”

According to Twilight, yes, and you would have also known what would have happened as a consequence, though you are omitting that part.

“Anyway, does that cartoon not take poetic license with certain events?”

There was little point in playing mind games with an alicorn who has been perfecting her game for millennia. Except… what if she was in one of those visions. Was that the real reason she was appointed an advisor? Was that why she needed to accompany Discord into the portal?

Except nothing. It didn’t matter. Celestia was not going to admit it. Assuming the visions were an actual thing. Which they might not be. The possession of such incredible experience could be mistaken, to those who lack it, for the possession of knowledge of future events.

The Zephyr had landed. Celestia gracefully rose and headed to the door. But when she reached it, instead of opening it, she turned towards Meg.

“I did have a chat with Discord, by the way, about his reason for not telling you how he knows so much about your realm.”

That got Meg’s full attention.

“He lacked tact in explaining it to you, there’s no denying that, but I can’t say I disagree. Some knowledge does require… how to put it… a certain level of maturity to handle.”

Meg’s jaw nearly hit the floor. This was the last thing she expected. “Humans don’t live that long,” she flatly said.

“And neither do ponies,” Celestia added, “apart from alicorns.”

The princess opened the door. “It is what it is,” she said with compassion.

At least Twilight would find out one day, though it may well be academic—literally—by then.

Celestia stood at the open door, remembering something. She looked back at Meg. “What’s a ‘conversion bureau’ and why would I establish one?”

Luna told you about that?! What else about her dream did she mention?

“I’ll, uhm… I’ll explain later.”

She accepted that answer, for the time being anyway, and walked out the door. Meg followed, stepping out into the expansive grasslands. The enclosure was distant; obviously, the Zephyr wasn’t going anywhere near it. A chariot was nearby, and Celestia took the time to greet the pegasi standing by it.

After that, the princess took wing and flew to the enclosure, staying low to the ground and no faster than a gallop. Probably a good idea, Meg thought, as she did likewise. Who knew the point where flying magic would fail?

As they got closer, a shimmering bubble surrounding the enclosure became evident. Shining Armor was already there, projecting his magic-not-quite-blocking shield. Had he been there all night, despite Twilight’s wishes?

They were able to stay in the air the entire way. Cadance was also there, standing beside the prince. Meg half expected Discord to be there too, but he was nowhere to be seen.

“Hello, Shining Armor; hello, Cadance,” warmly greeted Celestia. “You are making good progress with the shield, I see.”

The former Captain of the Guard turned away from the shield, though his horn remained glowing. “Indeed I am,” he replied enthusiastically. “I got it up to ninety nine percent effectiveness, and it’s still holding up fine. It really doesn’t take much leakage to keep it from falling apart. I think it can go even higher.”

“I’m sure Twilight will be pleased to hear that, but I imagine she’s already noticed. Speaking of Twilight, Meg?”

“Uh, right.”

The pegasus sat on her haunches, freeing up her forelimbs, and made the call. Steve answered it. “Putting you on speakerphone.” Meg did likewise with hers.

Twilight’s voice next came over the phone. “The flow’s been reduced to a trickle. Can you keep it up?”

Meg held the phone up to the unicorn.

“I can do even better.”

If the flow was cut much more, their magic containment bubbles would switch on. Twilight had already made sure they wouldn’t go invisible if that were to happen.

“The more the better,” she said into the phone resting on the table.

She stared at the doll in front of her, feeling optimistic for a change. Steve and Agent Fowler were also seated at the table, their eyes glued to the doll.

“I’m going in.”

The alicorn closed her eyes and focused. Without the overwhelming “glare” of the previous flow, it was relatively easy to locate the center, the tiny spherical volume from which flowed the magic.

Using the spell she had researched the previous night, she applied a compressive force to the region, trying to shrink the junction.

Something wasn’t right.

The junction did seem to shrink a little, but the stuffing it occupied also compressed, adding its own resistance. That shouldn’t have happened. This spell should completely ignore any physical substance.

Even worse, when the spell stopped, the stuffing, released from the pressure, sprung back to its original size and took the junction along with it.

She tried again, and the same thing happened.

Her eyes opened, her mouth grimacing. “Something’s not right here and I don’t know what.”

“What do you mean?” Steve asked.

“If I didn’t know better, I’d say the junction was physically tied to the stuffing of this doll. I can’t squeeze one without squeezing the other, and the stuffing doesn’t want to stay squeezed.”

The air conditioner switched on, already having to fight against the outside heat.

“Well, isn’t that obviously the case?” Fowler asked. “I mean, it does follow the doll around when we move it.”

Well, duh. How could she not see that? That still begged the question, though, of how it was bound to the doll.

A quick look at the probe showed the flow was falling rapidly again. The magical glare would be even lower now.

Twilight closed her eyes once more. It was time that question was answered.

It was getting easier and easier for her senses to examine the region of the junction, looking for anything out of the ordinary, magically speaking, that could be responsible for the bonding.

And gradually, as the magical glare continued to fade, she spotted it.

Her head slumped onto the table, eyes squeezed shut. “I don’t believe it.”

“Don’t believe what?” the unicorn next to her asked.

Twilight lifted her head and sighed. “It’s not important,” she lied. “What matters is I know what to do about it.”

Nopony could know about this, certainly not before she could to talk to Celestia about it. Once again she closed her eyes and concentrated, focusing on the junction and carefully dismantling the spell that bound it to the doll’s substance. She would have to rebind it once she was finished, to keep it from drifting loose. That would not be a problem; there wasn’t a pony alive more familiar with Star Swirl’s work than she.

The implications were horrendous. Who cast this spell? It had to have been done shortly after she had caused the damage in the first place. Somepony had to have known about that, was able to find the terminus in this realm—knew about this realm—and chose this doll to bind it to. Why would they do that?

Discord was an obvious suspect; but even if he lied about being able to exist in this realm, this spell was not his work.

The junction was unbound from the doll, now held in place only by her magic. She began applying pressure to it, and this time it shrank as expected. It’s working!

She opened her eyes and checked the probe. The flow was still falling. Their bubbles must have come on by now. She continued upping the pressure, and that reduced the flow even more.

It soon reached the point of diminishing returns.

“Shining,” she said to the phone, “I need you to block the flow as much as possible. Push it. I’ve succeeded in shrinking the junction here, but I need the flow to be reduced as much as possible to shrink it even more.”

She was on the clock. Now that she was on the plaid pill’s magic supply, she needed to finish this as soon as possible.

“I’ll see what I can do.”

Which was not inconsiderable. It turned out the flow could be cut much further while maintaining the shield integrity. And once that point was finally reached, he tried using a perfect shield, backing off when it began failing, letting it recover, then resuming full blockage once more. After several cycles of this, the pressure at the junction had become a shadow of its former self.

Even that reached diminishing returns. Twilight switched to maintenance, rebinding the junction to the doll and applying only enough pressure to keep it from expanding.

“I think this has gone as far as it can. Relax the shield—gradually!—say, to nine-tenths, and see what happens.”

“Will do,” her brother acknowledged.

Nothing happened for several minutes, but that was to be expected.

The flow started climbing again, then began leveling off; it would remain far too low to turn off their bubbles. There had to be more magic than this flowing through the shield, which meant…

“Cadance, could you please take a measurement just inside the shield?”

“I knew you could pull it off!”

“Is that Discord I hear?” asked a surprised Fowler.

Meg looked at the bouncing draconequus that had materialized beside them, excitedly clapping his… paw and claw together. “Yep, you sure did.”

Celestia was unperturbed, seemingly no more surprised by his sudden appearance than by the Sun rising in the morning.

Cadance had poked one of Twilight’s probes through the shield. “It’s climbing…” she said in disbelief. “It’s actually climbing.” She walked through the shield, carrying the probe with her. It did not fall. “There’s enough magic to support levitation.”

“Are we going inside the mirror now?” asked Meg.

Discord raised an eyebrow. “We?”

“At my request,” Celestia calmly said.

The draconequus rolled his eyes. “Oh, very well,” he said in a huff. “Just don’t get in my way.” He stayed where he was. “We’ll wait until the magic reaches its peak. The more there is, the easier this will be.”

“Wait. That’s your plan? Have Discord fix it?”

A bemused smirk grew on Discord’s face. “Well, well… it appears someone’s been kept out of the loop.”

“I’ll explain later,” Twilight quickly said. “Shining, I can’t keep this up forever. Lower the shield some more to speed things up.”

“I’ll keep lowering it, gradually, until it’s gone.”

No objection came over the phone.

Cadance was standing in front of the enclosure’s door, still levitating the probe. The door had a combination lock, something that could be manipulated by hoof even without magic. She did not use a hoof.

The door having been opened, she stepped inside, her eyes on the meter. “I can’t go any further, not yet.” She poked her head outside. “But it won’t be long at this rate.”

Meg watched, along with the others, as the shield’s shimmer slowly faded, until it could no longer be seen.

“It’s down,” Shining Armor confirmed.

Meg lifted off the ground and carefully drifted over to the door. She was still in the air by the time she arrived, hovering without difficulty. Setting down, she walked inside.

Cadance was at the mirror, touching it with the still-levitating probe. Upon noticing the pegasus, she said, “The magical field has reclaimed The Mirror, and is gaining strength.”

“I think it’s enough to get started.” Discord was inside the enclosure with them. The other ponies were staring at him, the contradiction of his earlier statement not going unnoticed. “As Twilight said, she can’t keep it up forever.”

One could hardly expect the Spirit of Chaos to be consistent.

“I can keep it up long enough,” the alicorn protested. “The pressure is definitely building, but the junction is so small right now it doesn’t take much magic to keep it from growing.”

Which reminded her… Meg removed the phone from her leg and presented it to Cadance. “Probably not a good idea to take it inside.”

“I wouldn’t disagree,” the princess said as she took it in her magic.

“But then you can’t take pictures!” Fowler protested.

“Have Twilight draw you some crude pictures while you wait for our return,” Discord helpfully offered.

The alicorn’s glower was almost audible over the phone.

Discord ignored her, sauntering up to the mirror. With a snap of his talons, it ceased reflecting their images and took on a pearlescent glow. Just before stepping through, he looked back at Meg, who had not moved any closer. “Are you coming?”

The pegasus blinked. Have faith in Celestia. It was a mystery what the elder alicorn knew or how she knew it, but Meg couldn’t just disregard it. She stepped forward.

Taking that as a ‘yes,’ the draconequus stepped into the mirror. With one last brief hesitation, Meg did so too.

The imposing Canterlot High stood in front of her, with numerous pastel-colored, bipedal and fully clothed students walking about. They looked realistically human enough, apart from the coloration and their rather eclectic fashion sense.

Pastel colored.

Meg held up her hands and inspected them. They looked like her human hands—apart from the faded orchid coloring. She grabbed some hair about her neck and pulled it forwards. Not surprisingly, it matched her pony mane in color.

She looked down and found clothes, nothing that matched anything in her possession but not dissimilar either. Her cutie mark was probably on them, somewhere, but she didn’t care enough to search for it.

“I can conjure a mirror for you, if you’d like.”

At the sudden interruption of her thoughts, Meg jerked her head up and… “I didn’t expect you to look like that.”

Discord took mild offense. “What’s wrong with the way I look?” Suddenly wearing a crown and sash, like he’d just won a beauty pageant, he added, “How do you improve on this?” He went through a series of absurd poses.

How about symmetry? For the draconequus looked exactly as he always did. He had not become a humanoid reflection of himself.

“I thought using magic was a no-no here.”

With a dismissive wave of a paw, he said, “I’m a professional; I know what I’m doing, unlike certain amateurs.”

A professional what, a thought she kept to herself, as it wouldn’t do to piss off her ride home.

“What in tarnation are you supposed to be?” asked an orange-tinged girl with blonde hair and wearing a cowboy hat.

“I’ve never seen you around, either!” challenged a cyan-tinged girl with rainbow hair.

While Meg had been distracted with Discord, not to mention her own appearance, two of the Mane Six’s counterparts had found them, ready to defend the school against this new threat. Just what we need.

Discord was not in the least bit concerned by this turn of events, even going so far as to conspicuously yawn. It wasn’t helping.

She considered her options. They don’t have their memories, but the events of that movie did take place, more or less.

“Applejack, Rainbow Dash—” they showed surprise at their names being known “—Twilight Sparkle sent us. We came through this portal.” She waved her hand at the statue’s base for emphasis.

That wasn’t convincing enough. “I dun know how ya know all that,” Applejack said, glaring at them, “but I do know this here portal won’t open for at least another year.”

“I’m getting the others,” Dash said, as she turned around and sprinted away.

“Good!” Meg shouted after her. “Be sure to get Sunset Shimmer!”

That got Discord to give Meg a curious look.

“Why don’t you try telling the truth this time,” Applejack threatened.

Your lie-detection abilities fall short of the original’s. Meg didn’t say anything. She simply stuck her hand into the base of the statue and waved it around.

“Huh.” The cowgirl had trouble believing her eyes. “Look at that.”

Now that she had her attention, Meg tried to explain the situation. “We’re here to fix something. We don’t have much—”

As she was explaining, Discord rolled his eyes, and with an impatient sigh snapped his talons. Applejack vanished. Everyone vanished. “We don’t have time for this,” he said, his annoyance coming through loud and clear.

Meg looked around, frantically searching for someone, anyone. “H-how could you…”

“They’re not real,” he casually pointed out, not seeing what the problem was. “The only ones real here are you, I, and Sunset Shimmer—speaking of which…”

He snapped his talons again, and Celestia’s former student appeared in front of them, freaking out. She widely looked around until her eyes locked onto Discord. “I-I recognize you… you’re that stone statue—”

Discord had a point: they didn’t have time for this. “Sunset Shimmer, look at me!”

She did. “Who are you,” she demanded to know, “and why are—”

“Princess Celestia is on the other side of the portal,” Meg interrupted, pointing at the statue. “Go to her.”

She looked between Meg and the statue, confused. “It won’t open—”

Enough! Meg shoved her hand into the base.

Sunset was at a loss for words. “I… don’t understand.”

“Just go.” Meg was getting tired of this game. “The Princess will explain everything. She wishes to see you.”

“Princess Celestia w-wishes to see me?” Uncertain what to do, but lacking any better alternatives, Sunset Shimmer tentatively made her way to the portal, and stepped through.

A golf clap sounded, breaking the silence. “Finally! I’d have simply shoved her through, myself.”

Not for the first time, Meg was glad she was in the presence of a reformed Discord. “How are you doing on your friendship lessons?” she snarked.

To her surprise, that barb hit home. “Could be better,” he admitted. “It’s not easy for me.”

There was no transformation, no props. Unfortunately, there was no time for this either. “What’s next?” she asked, trying to get things back on track.

“We find the damage.” He began walking away in no particular direction, looking for who knew what. “Preferably before Twilight runs out of magic—unless you want to be stuck in here with me.”

The pressure was building, requiring ever more magic to keep the junction from growing. That didn’t stop the flow from increasing in proportion to the pressure. Unfortunately, it increased at a rate slower than Twilight’s expenditures.

At least Sunset Shimmer was back home. She had a chance to briefly talk to her before she left the enclosure, which only left the dazed and confused unicorn with even more unanswered questions. Celestia would provide them.

A thumping sound made itself known above the drone of the air conditioner. It was coming from outside. Fowler reached over to open the curtains, letting in the harsh desert sun. A helicopter was arriving, possibly the same one they had made use of yesterday.

Twilight shot Fowler a questioning look; she gave a shrug in return. “I don’t know.”

The helicopter landed. It faced away from them, so they couldn’t see who was inside. After a minute, the engine was off and the rotor had stopped turning. The door slid open and Agent Reubens hopped out.

Why has he returned? Does he have a message for me?

Her attention was momentarily diverted as she upped the magical force on the junction. Once that was done, she observed the agent helping an elderly man to the ground, a man who did not actually need the assistance.

“I’ll take care of this,” Agent Fowler hurriedly said as she bolted to the door and went outside.

The newcomer was rather tall, and carried a little bit too much weight; yet despite that and his apparent age, he was fit and energetic. His clothing was nothing special by the standards of this realm.

“The illness was a ruse,” Steve deduced.


Fowler had reached the arrivals and was saying something to them. The drone of the air conditioner made it impossible to hear what was being said.

“That’s the President. The stories of his sudden illness in the news must have been a ruse, so he could come out here without the press catching on.”

Fowler hadn’t even bowed to the man. She barely acted deferential at all—by Equestrian standards. And Steve’s explanation made it sound like the press were a predator and the ruler of this land its prey. How could that be true?

She hadn’t studied their institutions, how their government worked. It wasn’t her intention to deal with this until after the immediate crises was resolved. She wasn’t prepared for this. And right this instant she had her hooves full with the doll, a reality driven home as she had to up the magical confinement yet another notch.

Fowler was leading the others back to her.

What am I going to do?

27. Leak Busters

“You do know where we’re going,” Meg droned. For the last ten minutes, she and the draconequus had been aimlessly wandering around the eerily deserted school. Discord could walk surprisingly fast given his unconventional anatomy.

At that particular moment, they were inside the school library. It resembled what was shown in Equestria Girls, right down to the computer workstations. As she had suspected, Twilight was exposed to human-like technology before stumbling upon the real thing.

“Not exactly,” Discord casually admitted as he looked around a book case. “It’s been a few millennia since I was last in here, and it’s undergone some… remodeling, you might say.”

Meg pondered this so-called “remodeling.” The lights were on and so were the computers. Where did the electricity come from? Who was operating the power plants if Discord made all the “pony reflections” disappear? Just how big or complete was this reality anyway? What was that object in the sky providing daylight? An actual star millions of miles away?

As much as these questions wished to be asked, Meg figured he either wouldn’t know the answers anyway—as he said, whatever was here had come into being while he was a stone statue—or he would decline to answer. But perhaps there was a question he could and would answer.

“When all this shaped itself around Sunset Shimmer, why was it based on Ponyville? As Celestia’s student, wouldn’t she have lived most if not all of her life in Canterlot?”

While she was asking that, Discord had been scanning some random shelf. He selected a book, opened it, and stuck his head into it—literally, his head went into a page and did not come out the other side. After a few seconds, he pulled his head back out. “Nope, that’s not it,” he said, and threw the book over his shoulder. The book sprouted wings and flew back to the shelf it came from, its wings retracting back into its hardcover as it slid back in. “Homing books,” he muttered derisively, rolling his eyes.

He thoughtfully turned to Meg, tapping a talon against his chin. “That’s an interesting question, actually.”

He mulled it over for a bit, until a lit lightbulb suddenly materialized above his head. “Aha! I got it! The Element of Magic. This realm reshaped itself in the image of the bearers when she brought it here.”

She wasn’t sure she totally bought that explanation, but he did create this place. He ought to know. “Then why was there no reflection of Twilight?” she wondered outlaid.

“Hers was the Element brought in here, representing her,” he said as he stuck his paw up in the air, extending a digit, as if checking which way the wind was blowing.

The air was motionless.

“But that does give me an idea. While the portal is open, this realm is locked in form. It can only reshape itself around a visitor when it was empty when the portal opened. If the Element forced it to change when it entered, that could be the cause of the damage.”

He set about rotating his arm about in various orientations, digit still extended, searching for what, Meg hadn’t a clue. Finally, he pushed his arm down into the floor, phasing through it like it wasn’t there.

“Ah, this looks interesting…”

He waved his paw around, beneath the floor, then froze. “Found it!”

“Found what?”

He pulled his arm out of the floor. He paw was empty; whatever he had found, it wasn’t something he could grab. “Nothing you’d understand,” he said with just a touch of condescension.

Not that he was wrong, probably, but he could have been a bit more tactful about it.

Discord walked over to the other side of the library, and stuck his eagle claw into the air and… it vanished, as if passing through a portal, though none could be seen.

“Something else I wouldn’t understand?”

He seemed to be manipulating something, though whatever it was he was doing, it was invisible. He paused long enough to sigh and to say, “Yes, if you can only think three-dimensionally.”

He finished his manipulations and pulled his arm out, focusing his attention on Meg. “I know I’m not always pleasant to be around, but you could do better yourself.” His eyes held not anger or displeasure, but disappointment.

“I-I don’t understand.”

He began climbing invisible stairs, talking as he went. “You still haven’t visited me, for example.”

“But, I don’t know where you live.”

“Did you think of asking Fluttershy?”

“Uhm… she knows where you live?”

He reached the top step, or at least he stopped climbing once he was about five feet off the floor. “Why wouldn’t my best friend know where I live?” Once more his arm entered an invisible portal.

“Well, to be honest, it never occurred to me to ask her.” Which in hindsight, was the obvious thing to at least try—and she might have, too, if she had actually planned on visiting him. She hadn’t even gotten back to Fluttershy about attending one of their tea parties, though to be fair things have been rather hectic.

“If it makes you feel any better, it never occurred to Twilight either.”

Meg didn’t know if it did make her feel better or not. While Discord was distracted with his work, she tried touching the invisible stairs. Her pale orchid hand passed through empty air. Figures.

Discord finished whatever he was doing and came back down the stairs. He walked past Meg and towards the exit. “Most ponies are still afraid of me,” he said with a touch of sadness. “I’d hope you’d be different, since you’ve seen the cartoon. You know I’m not like that anymore.”

He stopped at the exit, waiting for her to come along.

“I’m not afraid, exactly,” she rationalized, “but you can be… intense.” She walked towards him. “What do you know about the cartoon anyway?”

He smirked. “Enough.”

That so begged the question. As much as she wanted a real answer, she’d have no better luck getting it from him than getting one out of Celestia—at least the princess was polite about it. I’ll tell Celestia and let her deal with him.

Assuming she didn’t know already.

It was unnerving dealing with entities endowed with thousands of years of experience.

No, better to remain on his good side, and besides he did have a point. “Once this is over with, I promise to pay you a visit. I’ll even see to it that Twilight comes too.”

He went into the corridor, and with a renewed spring to his step headed towards the main entrance. “We could make it a tea party! Kill two birds with one stone, as you humans like to say.” In a suddenly foreboding tone, he warned, “Don’t ever say that in Fluttershy’s presence.”

Yeah. That kind of went without saying.

Meg followed Discord into the courtyard and to the statue, coming to a halt not in front of it, where the portal to Equestria was, but behind it. “You might want to wait for me here,” he said, not really caring whether she waited or followed.

His head passed into the base of the statue. Another portal? Before anymore of him passed through, Meg asked, “Where does that go?”

He pulled his head back out, and impatiently said, “Into the hyperspace between our realms.” He was about to enter the portal again, but changed his mind, deciding to offer more of an explanation. “What I was doing back there, after I identified the nature of the damage, was getting this portal open.”

Enter hyperspace? Did she want to do that? How could she exist there, much less function? But then, how could Discord? Okay, silly question.

And while she currently had a humanoid body, she wasn’t actually, strictly speaking, human. Was she even physically real? Was anything in this realm physically real? It was all supposed to be a reflection of some sort, of one realm in the image of the other. However that worked.

If only Steve was here. He’d sell his soul for a chance like this, to be outside the universe.

Meg stalled while she tried to decide. “I’m surprised you didn’t teleport us here directly. That would have saved time.” Which I am now wasting… real smart.

“Teleporting isn’t a good idea while this portal is open,” he said as if stating water was wet. He stepped through the portal; he was done wasting time.

A split-second later, Meg followed.

Seconds remained before the President reached the RV.

Twilight came to a hard decision. “Cadance, please give the phone to Celestia.”

There was silence for a second. “I understand.” Her sister-in-law had been listening in, of course, and knew what was about to happen.

Fowler was the first to climb the steps into the RV, then Agent Reubens, and finally the President. They walked towards the table at which two ponies were seated, and upon which a doll rested.

Only two of them reached the table. The President froze in place as his eyes locked onto the ponies. “I’ll be damned.”

“Twilight,” Fowler began, “allow me to introduce Harold Serrell, President of the United States of America.”

Twilight gave a slight nod. “I am honored to meet you, Mr. President.” It seemed odd that the ruler of this land would go by such a plebeian title, one not much better than “Mayor;” that would have to be the subject of Meg’s next lecture.

“And, Mr. President, this is Princess Twilight Sparkle of Equestria.”

The President somehow unfroze his feet and slowly resumed walking. “You can just call me Harry. It’s not like this is an official function.”

“I second that sentiment, Harry.”

“And, uh, that’s Princess Celestia,” Fowler said.

Harry managed to make it to the sofa and plop down onto it. “You’ll have to forgive me. I may need a few minutes to catch my wits.”

“That’s okay, take your time,” Twilight said. “We’re kind of preoccupied ourselves right now.”

“Yes, so I’m told,” he said, looking at Fowler. “I’m not here to interfere with that. By all means give it your top priority.”

His gaze fell upon the doll. “So that’s the infamous doll. Gave one just like it to my granddaughter as a birthday present.”

“I’m sure Pinkie would be more than happy to autograph that one too,” Steve said. “Even throw her a party.”

That forced him to acknowledge the unicorn in the room. “You must be Steve Coleman, the human-turned-into-a-unicorn.”

“That’s right.”

He brought a hand to his forehead and rubbed it. “As much as I appreciate the offer, I cannot trust her to keep a secret.”

“I can sympathize, believe me.”

Twilight once more upped the pressure on the junction. How much longer are they going to take? She couldn’t keep this up much longer, not if she wanted to stay for a while and talk to their leader. Going back for another pill wasn’t an option either, as the Zephyr was far away from the city. She might have to use her backup plan.

The President put his hand down and looked Twilight in the eyes. “I’m sure you have high expectations, finally being able to talk to me, but I’m afraid you’ll need to lower them.”

Not exactly what she wanted to hear.

“So long as we keep your existence secret, there’s little we can do officially. I don’t know how knowledgeable you are about our system of government, but I’m sure the Colemans can explain it to you later.”

Celestia had been staying quiet, preferring to let Twilight take the lead, but she didn’t want them forgetting she was still there either. “To be fair, we have kept your existence a secret too.”

He was a bit surprised by that. “Not for the same reasons, I imagine, not that it really matters.”

“You can’t keep this a secret forever,” Steve pointed out. He was speaking to his President, though Twilight knew it applied to them as well.

“To be honest, I wish I could, even if it meant our two worlds remained separate. You can’t understand the problems your open presence here will cause. Hasbro’s reaction alone… may well be the least of my problems.”

Hasbro what now?

Questions like that could wait. “We are not here to interfere in your affairs,” Twilight tried to assure him. “There is much we wish to learn, but that doesn’t require an ‘open presence,’ as you put it.”

“And there is much you can offer us,” Serrell agreed, “and that’s our dilemma. Your ‘magic’ offers a means of dealing with our radioactive waste problem—and who knows what else. I can’t see how we can take advantage of that without revealing your existence.”

He turned to Steve. “To give you a proper answer, no, I don’t expect to keep it a secret forever. We just need time to get a handle on this, to figure out the best way to break the news, to keep the world from going berserk when we do.”

“But what about the inevitable leaks? Don’t too many know already?”

That provoked a snort. “Already happened. You know what the journalist did? He contacted his other sources; not to verify the existence of ponies in our world, oh no. The story he was after was why someone with obvious mental issues was permitted to keep his high-ranking job.

“Only himself to blame, really. He just wouldn’t admit it was a prank, that the photos were faked, no matter what.” He waved it away. “We managed to get it all sorted out, and it served as a useful lesson to everyone else.”

Twilight had to up the pressure on the junction yet again. She had hoped it wouldn’t be necessary, but she was running out of options. “Steve, I need you to take over. I can’t keep up this level of magical exertion for much longer.” It was why she had wanted Steve to cross over as a unicorn, not that he knew that.

“Y-You can’t be serious,” he stammered. “I can’t possibly cast a spell like that!”

I should’ve phrased that differently, she chastised herself. “You don’t have to cast it, it’s already there. You just have to feed magic into it.”

“Just feed magic into it,” he droned, not convinced.

It really wasn’t that big of a deal, but to be fair it wasn’t something he could have been expected to know, not having been a unicorn his entire life. “You can do this,” the alicorn said with conviction. “Consider this your lesson for today.”

Meg found herself in a void of absolute darkness. It was impossible to tell how big it was, but infinite seemed like a good bet. Behind her was the portal, a shimmering rectangle. In front of her was the draconequus, perfectly visible, somehow, despite the absence of light.

There was no ground beneath her, and she flared her wings instinctively. Wings? She looked down and back and confirmed she was her pegasus self.

“No illusions here,” Discord said. “It doesn’t get any more real than this.” He flapped his mismatched wings and drifted away.

Meg did likewise, and was half-surprised that her wings actually worked here. Where does this air come from, anyway? Nor was there any sensation of free-fall.

“And you should be very glad of that. Not even I can keep a non-magical creature functioning in this place.” He swept an arm at infinity. “This is the domain of raw, unbridled magic, and the laws of physics as you understand them are barely suggestions.”

Was he creating a bubble of “normality” for her? For himself, even? This “normality” had to have limitations, if it was insufficient for a non-magical creature.

They continued on into the darkness, the portal getting ever smaller behind them. I sure hope he knows where he’s going.

“Not even Twilight could handle this on her own—not yet anyway, not until she becomes a fully mature alicorn in a few centuries.”

Magic not even Twilight could handle. For all the speculation of hyper-dimensional string theories and universes spawning out of the quantum-foam, no cosmology ever proposed suspected that the void between universes was filled with magic. Meg once more looked into the infinite blackness, an infinity she now knew was full of magic.

Magic without end…

Three words that were awfully familiar.

But not the “tame” magic of Equestria. How did this “raw, unbridled” magic differ? Why did it differ?

They continued in silence for another minute. The portal had been reduced to a tiny pinpoint of light in the distance, a sole star in the sky.

Meg couldn’t stand it anymore. “How do you even know where you’re going? There’s nothing out here!”

Discord stopped and turned to face her. “Nothing?!” he shouted incredulously. “Your whole realm is right over there!” He pointed his… she couldn’t see the arm doing the pointing.

Spotting her confusion, he stopped pointing and his arm become visible again. “I should’ve known,” he said, shaking his head. “You can only see in three dimensions.”

“Well, yeah?”

“We’re in hyperspace, remember?” He sighed. “Here, let me rotate you.” He reached out with paw and claw and took hold of her, and rotated about some axis she couldn’t even fathom.

Once he had finished, before them was a plane seemingly extending to infinity in all directions, softly glowing a deep, practically ultraviolet, purple. It was impossible to tell how close it was or fast they were moving relative to it—for her, anyway. “That’s my universe?”

“No, that’s the barrier that surrounds it; more of a skin really.” He took on a professorial air. “When your realm underwent symmetry breaking, shortly after popping into existence from a random quantum fluctuation, it acquired a set of physical laws that happened to exclude magic. This skin is the boundary between the magic-less interior of your realm and the exterior, the point where the external magic is repelled.”

It resembled nothing more than the platonic ideal of a mathematical plane, utterly featureless and flat. Of course it’d look flat; it extended for billions of lightyears in all directions. The local space-time may be curved by gravity, but nowhere near enough to be visible.

Except, logically, this skin shouldn’t be a plane. It should be a very thin hyper volume, touching the three-dimensional volume of the universe at every point. She chalked it up to her seeing it edge-on with her limited 3D vision. She was practically blind out here.

Wait. He knows about symmetry breaking? That was something Twilight hadn’t known, of how the unified forces of nature broke apart shortly after the Big Bang, when the universe sufficiently cooled, thus establishing the laws of physics. He must have learned it from us, just like everything else he knows about human culture.

They flew along the skin for another minute. Meg idly wounded what would happen if she tried to pass through it. Probably nothing good. She’d be entering her universe like a piece of paper trying to enter a two-dimensional universe at a perpendicular angle—and that would have been the best case scenario.

They came upon a discoloration of the skin, a sort of tangerine. Discord stopped. “We’re here. Don’t move, or you might accidentally touch the wormhole.”

Meg didn’t say anything, but her face said it all.

With another sigh, Discord reached out and rotated her again. A glowing green tube came into view. Near the skin, it formed a swollen bulb, narrowing down to almost nothing as it made contact. She tried to follow it into the distance, back to Equestria, but it disappeared from view at some point.

A strong lavender glow emerged from the point of contact.

“That’s Twilight’s magic, isn’t it, constricting the flow into my universe.”

“I’m out of gold stars to give you, unfortunately,” he said absentmindedly as he closely examined the junction. He had been avoiding props ever since opening the portal to hyperspace. Was he constrained somehow?

The doll ought to be right there, at the point of contact, hyper-rotated out of her sight. “Hard to believe they’re all just a few feet away in some incomprehensible direction.”

He looked up from the junction to give her a sour look. “I need to concentrate, so I’d appreciate it if you could shut up for a minute.”

You really do need to work on your interpersonal skills. He had a point, she had to admit, so she kept quiet as he carefully tapped that bulb at various points.

Which gave her time to wonder what, exactly, she was seeing and how she was seeing it. It seemed all too likely that magic, probably Discord’s, was letting her see what would otherwise be un-seeable.

The lavender glow turned teal. Discord paused for a moment, considering this new development, then continued tapping. “Looks like Twilight has run low on magic and has gotten your husband to take over. Lucky for them I’m just about done.”

He used his eagle talons to snip the bulb from the skin and lifted it away, quickly pressing his lion paw against the skin of her universe where the bulb had been attached. He held it there for a few seconds, the tangerine discoloration fading. When he lifted his paw, the skin uncovered was indistinguishable from the rest. His claw still held the the bulb.

“Follow me.” He began flying away from the skin while carrying the bulb, back along the wormhole it terminated. “We need to get this away from your realm.”

Meg did as instructed, also remaining quiet. The absence of the expected “why” gnawed at him, until he answered the unspoken question anyway.

“Equestrian magic is strongly attracted to the magic vacuum in your realm. If I left this here, it would fall back and reattach.”

Meg figured it was now safe enough to talk. “So the Element inside the mirror realm somehow caused a magic leak at the Equestrian end, and the magic found its way to my universe.”

The bulb was beginning to shrink. With the attractive force lessening, the magic within was redistributing back up the wormhole.

A sudden thought hit Meg. “What about all the magic in Equestria itself? Is that attracted to my universe? Even if it’s far away, there’s an unimaginable amount of it.”

Discord gave her a big grin. “I do wish I had a gold star to give you.” He then muttered to himself, “though it’d be a lot more fun if you weren’t a pegasus.”

In other words, yes. And, somehow, she’d bet, that mirror realm prevented that from happening.

Meg looked back at the softly glowing, virtually infinite plane behind them, looking no different for the distance they traveled. She had no idea how far they’d come, or how fast they were moving. Or how they were even moving. It was unlikely they were “flying” in any normal sense of the word.

“Okay, perfect, you got it!”

Twilight was pleased with Steve’s progress. As she had thought, it was easy for him to lock onto that spell, being as it was related to his special talent. Sending magic into it, in and of itself, didn’t require much talent at all. She could now conserve the little magic she had left.

His horn glowed a steady teal. “I’m surprised. I thought it’d be much harder.”

The humans had been watching with rapt attention. “I can’t even begin to imagine what that must be like,” said the President.

Steve looked at them with a thin smile. “It’s a different way of experiencing reality, no question about it.”

The smile suddenly vanished, his attention drawn back to the doll. “Something’s happened… I’m not sure what…”

Twilight once again focused on the spell squeezing the junction… “It’s gone.” She looked up, not quite believing it. “They did it.”

Fowler ran over to a cabinet and retrieved the Geiger counter.

“It is gone,” Steve said, confirming Twilight’s assessment. “I can’t find a trace of the junction.” His horn stopped glowing.

Fowler shoved the specially modified probe at the doll and switched the device on. It clicked furiously. After a few seconds of the racket, she turned it off.

Twilight spoke to the phone. “Celestia, have they returned yet?”

“Not yet. It may take time for them to make their way back.”

That was a good point. She had no idea where they had to go inside that realm. “Have Cadance check the field around The Mirror.”

“I shall inform her.”

Twilight closed her eyes and let out a breath she didn’t know she was holding. It’s over. She didn’t fail. Sure, Meg and Discord weren’t back yet, but that was a technicality.


She kept her eyes closed. “Yes, Cadance.”

“The field strength has skyrocketed. It’s way above normal and still climbing.”

Her eyes shot open in alarm, then she realized what was happening. “That’s to be expected, I think. All the magic that was in transit is being forced back. Get Shining Armor to push some of it away from The Mirror, so it won’t be too intense when Meg comes back through.”

Discord, she had no doubt, could have handled it just fine.

“That’s a good idea. I’m finding it a little uncomfortable, myself.”

The fading sound of hooves against the crystalline floor came through as she left to fetch her husband.

“I find it… bracing,” Celestia said with some amusement. “I do wish my sister was here to experience this.”

It was further evidence Discord had succeeded. The newest princess turned her attention to the leader of this land. “I don’t know how much time I have left, before I’m forced to return home, but we could spend it discussing—” she cocked her head “—unofficial matters?”

He looked at his watch. “I have an hour before I have to leave, myself.” With a mischievous smile, he added, “I need to start recovering from my illness this evening.”

“Perhaps we could start with establishing an… unofficial communications channel?”

Serrell rubbed his chin. “Well, our phones seem to work in your world. I can’t even begin to pretend I understand how that’s possible, but I see no reason we can’t provide you with some of your own. Set you up with secure e-mail also.”


“We’ll help you with that,” Steve said innocently enough, but his ears were expressing caution.

It was not something humans were likely to pick up on, having immobile ears. She made a mental note to inquire about the potential problems. If all the princesses had their own phone, then they could easily contact each other no matter how far apart they were. There couldn’t be anything wrong with that, could there?

“And we should set up regular meetings,” Serrell continued. “It’s my understanding you can cross over anywhere you want?” With a touch of resignation, he added, “Even the White House?”

Twilight wasn’t sure how to answer that. Did they wish to reveal that much about how it worked? And yet, how to explain that they couldn’t cross over there, because they’ve never been there.

After a few seconds of silence, Celestia took the matters out of her hooves. “We can only cross over to places we’ve already been.”

Or to where the doll was, more or less, but that would no longer be the case.

“I see.”

The President got up and started pacing back and forth. He had a hard decision to make.

He stopped in front of the table. “Either I trust you, or I don’t; and even if I don’t, keeping you out of the White House isn’t likely to accomplish much but slightly delay the inevitable. I just pray you are all as portrayed in that cartoon.”

Steve gave him a curious look.

“I have a granddaughter,” he said in self-defense. “Hard not to have seen a few episodes.”

He sat back down on the sofa and fixed his gaze on Steve. “I highly recommend the White House public tour. Bit of a waiting list, and you’re supposed to request tickets through your Senator, but I think I can pull—”

Twilight suddenly found herself back in the grass field outside the Crystal Empire.


With one, final rotation, another flat plane seemingly extending to infinity in all directions lay in front of Meg. This one, however, was softly glowing in a deep red. The wormhole, what was left of it, swelled with returning magic, narrowing down to an approximately mirror-sized junction as it connected to the skin of Equestria’s realm. Around that junction, the color of the skin was tinted yellow.

“Equestria has magic, so why is there a skin?” she asked. It was a different color, granted, but what did the colors mean anyway? Did the skins actually radiate photons of a certain wavelength, or was it an artifact of magical sight?

Discord was straining hard against the end he held in his claw, forcing the magic back inside. For whatever reason, the magic was increasingly unwilling to flow. He paused for a moment to answer.

“Equestria’s laws of physics include magic, but not the type of magic that dominates out here. Some magic can pass through, very slowly, but most of it is blocked.”

She knew every universe potentially had a different set of physical laws. Apparently that also included the laws concerning magic.

The swelling had shrunk a bit while they were talking. He resumed pushing, keeping up the pressure.

Slowly, over several more minutes, he approached the skin, until, finally, the wormhole was no more. He slapped his paw against the yellowish skin and did something that restored the deep red color.

The draconequus wiped non-existent sweat off his brow. “That should take care of that.”

It was over. All that was left was to return to the portal. Wait a minute…

“If this is the skin of Equestria’s realm, then where’s the mirror realm? Shouldn’t we have passed through it or something?”

With a tired sigh, he rotated her one last time, bringing the portal back to the mirror realm into view, and the skin out of view. Of course it had to be there, as the two portals were right next to each other. “The mirror realm is inside the skin. It hides your realm from Equestria’s magic, letting just enough show through to keep the distance between our realms constant.”

Which implied the distance would not be constant if none showed through, cutting the attractive force to zero. And that almost certainly meant the distance would increase. The space between universes was supposed to be in a state of eternal expansion.

And it became clear why having a powerful magical artifact inside the mirror realm, with connections to similar artifacts within Equestria, was Not a Good Idea.

Discord went through the portal. Meg followed, becoming once again a sort-of-human in a somewhat-normal world. As incredible as that experience was, she had little desire to experience it again. It was not a place for either humans or ponies; it might not even have been a place for draconequi.

“I need to reset that portal,” he said. “You should go back through the mirror.”

Without waiting for a response, he headed back to the school.

Meg decided to take his advice. She went around to the front of the statue, and stepped through—

—and found herself being roasted alive from the inside. Before she could scream or collapsed to the floor, she suddenly found herself outside, far away from the enclosure.

Princess Celestia was standing in front of her, towering above the waving grasses. She must have teleported her away from… whatever that was. The pain was rapidly fading. There didn’t seem to be any permanent effect.

She looked up at the smiling princess. “W-What happened?”

“The returning magic piled up around The Mirror. You experienced a magical overload. I got you out in time to avoid injury.”

Returning magic. Of course. She should have thought of that. So should have Discord. Maybe he did, and didn’t think it’d be a problem. Probably wasn’t—for him.

Meg looked up into the trademarked serene face of the princess. It wasn’t a problem for her, either. What was it Discord had said? That apart from himself, only a fully mature alicorn could handle the raw, unbridled magic that existed between realms?

Her phone was floating nearby, glowing in the color of sunshine. “Steve! Are you there?”


Celestia returned the phone to its owner. “They were there a moment ago.”

Meg plucked the phone out of the air and looked at the screen. “No signal.” The magic that made it work appeared to have failed.

“I fear Steve’s magic was interrupted by the teleportation. A round-trip to your realm should get it working again; if not, he’ll have to use his magic once more.”

Either way, there was only one thing to do. She couldn’t leave her husband wondering if anything bad had happened to her.

“Do you know where those plaid pills are?”

Celestia smiled. Her response was to teleport them back onboard the Zephyr.

“I’ll be back in a minute,” she said as she turned to leave the observation lounge.

“It’s you, isn’t it.” A unicorn, with a mane the colors of a fiery sunset, addressed her. “The one who told me the Princess wished to see me.”

“Yes,” Meg simply said.

Sunset Shimmer returned her gaze to the endless grasslands outside. “I’d never believe any of it, if Celestia herself hadn’t told me.”

“I can imagine.”

Sunset’s reflection stared at her. “You really are a human? A real human?”


“Is that how you actually looked?”

“No, the colors were all wrong. Humans don’t have pony colorations. The rest of me… I don’t know, actually. I didn’t have a mirror.”

Celestia returned with three pills floating beside her. “If you wish to see what real humans are like, why don’t you come with us?”

Three pills? “You’re coming, too?”

“Twilight ran out of magic and was forced to return, and your phone has lost its connection to your realm, so it is only proper that I attend, so as to conclude the preliminary discussions with your President.”

Wait. What? “Did you say ‘President?’”

Celestia levitated a pill to Meg and another to Sunset Shimmer, telling the latter, “Don’t swallow it yet.”

“President Serrell?” Meg asked again. “Who just became so sick that he had to…” The pegasus face-hoofed. “Of course.”

“The reports of his illness do seem rather… exaggerated.”

Celestia explained how the pills worked to Sunset Shimmer. Only Meg has been to their destination, so she would be the one to select it. It also meant she would have to remain a pegasus. Soon they were under the broiling Nevada sun, outside the circle of RVs, their droning air conditioners working overtime.

“No offense, Meg, but the mirror version was a lot more appealing.”

The pegasus began walking to the RVs—no, make that flying. The ground was too hot. No cooling potions either. They’d be inside soon enough. “None taken. This is the middle of nowhere, a huge desert. In the summer.”

When they reached the gap between two RVs, the helicopter they used the previous day became visible. Probably flew in from Vegas. There certainly wasn’t a presidential limousine present. Or an army of Secret Service agents. There was probably just the one that piloted the helicopter.

So which RV were they in? The curtains were all closed, keeping out the sun. The drone of the air conditions made it impossible to hear conversations from inside.

She was about to knock on the door of the nearest one when it suddenly opened, revealing an excited Agent Fowler, looking from pony to pony, not sure who to address first. She choose all of them. “Come inside, before you cook out there.”

She stepped aside to let the ponies enter. “When the call dropped, we were afraid something had happened.”

Meg entered first. “Something did, you might say.”

Princess Celestia followed. “Meg returned from The Mirror, and I had to emergency teleport her away from it.”

“Super concentrated magic is no fun,” Meg added. “The teleport deprived the phone of a signal, and so here we are.”

Sunset Shimmer entered last. She closed the door behind her, and stared at Fowler, the first true human she’d ever seen, as she walked by.

“Hello, Sunset Shimmer,” greeted the agent.

The unicorn froze. “You know who I am?”

Fowler shot a quick look at the princess, wondering if she had just made a serious mistake.

Celestia was unconcerned. “There are matters I have yet to explain, my former student. Accept for now that they do know.”

President Serrell was sitting on the sofa, contemplating the new arrivals. He’s really here. Reubens was there too, standing at attention on the far side, as if he could lift a finger in defense of his President against an alicorn—not that he’ll have to, fortunately for him.

He greeted her like the politician he was, leaning forward and holding out his hand, low to the ground. “You must be Meg Coleman. I have heard so much about you!”

The pegasus closed the last few feet between them and uncertainly placed a hoof in his hand. No hoof magic was needed as the President gripped and shook it. “The honor is all mine,” she said.

He let go, and as he watched in amazement, Meg flapped her wings, went airborne, and landed behind the table next to her husband.

“You’ll never believe what I experienced,” she whispered to Steve.

Celestia stepped forward, offering up a gold-shod hoof. “I do apologize for our conversation being interrupted.” It was now the President’s turn to uncertainly complete a handshake. “I cannot stay long, but I believe we were about finished.”

His gaze was fixed on the alicorn’s long, multi-color mane, flowing in an unseen and unfelt stream. His eyes broke free. “Uh, right… I think we covered all the important points.”

Celestia politely ignored the gawking and stepped aside, exposing her former student. “I’d like to introduce Sunset Shimmer. She’ll be joining the Equestrian team that will explore how our magic can be of benefit to you.”

The unicorn was once again frozen in place. “I will?”

Celestia gave her a bemused smile. “Can you name another pony as skilled in magic as you and with as much experience with human technology?”

“Uh… Twilight Sparkle?” With an awkward grin, she added, “Maybe?”

“Nowhere near as much as you,” Meg said. If Equestria Girls was even halfway accurate. And from what she saw, it probably was.

The thought of there being something she was better at than her successor was sufficient to unfreeze her. She moved past Celestia and bowed to the President. “It is an honor, Your Majesty.”

Serrell let out a laugh, much to Sunset’s surprise. “There are Kings in this world, but I am not one of them. You shouldn’t bow to me.” He addressed the ponies at the table. “You really do need to inform them of our political institutions.”

Meg bore a weak smile. “Yeah, one of many things they need to learn.” To Celestia and Sunset Shimmer, she said, “This nation does not have nobility or aristocracy. The President, here, was elected. He has about one and a half years left in office, nor can he run for reelection, not this time.”

“I’m turning into a lame duck, losing my ability to make a real difference.” A big grin erupted on his face. “But now… this will be one for the history books.”

“For both our realms, I’m sure,” Celestia added.

“Well,” Serrell said as he stood up. “I think we’re done here. But I do have one small favor to ask.” He quickly looked at Fowler and Reubens. “I’m the only one here who has yet to see Equestria. I’d like to see it—for just a minute or two.”

“You won’t see much,” Meg pointed out. “Just endless grasslands. A magical zeppelin.” A pause. “The Mirror…”

“I see no reason why not,” Celestia said equably. “And it’s not like this shall be your only visit. You have an open invitation to visit the palace in Canterlot.”

“Just be careful around that mirror,” Meg warned. “I have no idea what concentrated magic will do to humans.” Then again, possibly nothing.

“I’m sure Shining Armor has dispersed most of it by now, but I’ll make certain it’s safe first,” she assured Meg.

It was being dispersed, and it still had that effect on me? What would have happened if it hadn’t been partially dispersed?

Serrell clasped his hands and rubbed them. “I’m ready when you are.”

He vanished, along with Fowler, Reubens, and of course Celestia.

Sunset Shimmer was still there. She approached the table. “I guess we’ll be working together.”

Meg gave her an encouraging smile. “I’m looking forward to it.”


The sonic rainboom gracefully expanded across the face of a large, 4K resolution monitor. Sitting next to Meg, a middle-aged woman with full-bodied red hair gazed in amazement.

“Twilight actually helped with this?”

It wasn’t even two months ago, but it already felt like a lifetime ago, when both worlds were in mortal danger. “She came up with the equations, after I showed her the forms they had to take. She also supplied the data for the initial state.”

“This is just… the possibilities are endless!”

Meg rotated her chair to face the newest member of the team. “Is this really that surprising to you? I saw the computers in the school library.”

Sunset Shimmer couldn’t take her eyes off the monitor. “I never saw them doing anything like this. I-I just assumed they could only do what the others were doing with them, you know, sending and receiving messages, watching videos, writing papers, stuff like that. I had no idea they were—what did you call it?—programmable?”

And perhaps they weren’t programmable. All attempts to remove physical objects from the mirror realm had failed; they simply wouldn’t pass through the portal, as if it were still solid stone. Disassembling those “computers” revealed components that sort of looked like the real thing, but clearly were not; the technology was mostly an illusion, functioning only by the logic of that realm.

“We’re working on getting one of these for each member of the Canterlot office. Not sure when, but it shouldn’t be much longer.”

The possibilities excited her. “Then ponies and humans would actually be able to communicate whenever they want through e-mail and video conferencing, like you showed me?”

Meg gave her a confident smile. “That’s right!”

But the ponies would not have unrestricted access to the Internet; both governments insisted on that, if for entirely different reasons. The princesses did not want their little ponies to stumble upon a certain cartoon. The season five animatic preview did allay some of their concerns—it had certainly been a big relief to Meg—but that did not alter the fact that the earlier seasons revealed too much personal stuff.

Meg ended the simulation and locked the computer desktop, then stood up and stretched. “It’s getting late; we should get going.”

Meg opened the door to her new, private office, and the two of them walked past rows of empty cubicles, left over from the previous tenant. The floor was now leased by the Department of Energy, in a building not far from home. What few co-workers she currently had had all had previous exposure to The Doll, back when it was the center of attention, and the office’s position within the federal bureaucracy gave it a short and carefully selected path to the White House. Best of all, her new job came with a very nice salary.

An accident blocking a lane made the commute home a disaster. It brought to mind her first solo flight across Ponyville; if only she had the option of flying available to her that moment.

It delayed them long enough that by the time they arrived, Tom was already there, waiting for them, as he had arrived a bit early.

“There was an accident,” Meg apologized as she unlocked and opened the door. “This is April,” she said, introducing Sunset Shimmer. Tom was there to interview her for the position of a judge. That wasn’t the only reason he was there, but he didn’t know that yet.

“A pleasure to meet you,” Sunset said, offering her hand.

If he had recognized “April’s” voice, he did a good job of hiding it. He politely shook her hand, saying, “Likewise.” He was the last to go inside, and gave Meg an ever so subtle “let’s get this over with” look as he went past her.

There was still a bit of bad blood from all the missed meetings, back when Meg was preoccupied in Equestria, and her lack of an acceptable explanation. Fair or not, he wasn’t terribly enthusiastic about someone Meg recommended.

Sunset and Meg sat on the sofa, while Tom took the recliner. After he got comfortable, he leaned forward and began his description of the job. “In this contest, the goal is to do the best impression of a specific pony who is being presented with a scenario. As a judge, you are expected to briefly engage them in a conversation, asking follow up questions based on their responses, which they are to also answer in character. Scoring is from zero to ten, ten being the best. There will be three judges.”

“Yup, Meg explained all that to me,” Sunset said. “Actually, if I’m not accepted as a judge, I was thinking of being a contestant. I’m told I can do a very good Sunset Shimmer.”

His hand quickly shot up and out. “Don’t. I’ll take your word for it.” He lowered his hand and looked at Meg with an exasperated sigh. “Where do you find these people?”

Meg gave him an impish smile. “You’d never believe me.”

“Ready to go home, Sunset?” asked a voice from beside the recliner.

“Not yet, Twilight.”

“You gotta be kidding me.” Tom angrily twisted around in the chair. “You’re here too?” Upon seeing the alicorn, he froze solid.

Twilight gave him a big smile. “You remember me, don’t you? We talked on the phone a while back?”

His mouth worked silently for a few too many seconds, until he was able to break his eyes free and look back at the women, his unasked question painfully obvious.

“Do we see an adorkable lavender pony with wings and a horn?” Meg asked for him.

He merely nodded his head as he struggled to keep his jaw from going ajar.

“Yeah, we see her.”

That gave him precious little solace.

Twilight trotted over to the sofa, jumped up, and made herself comfortable. “I had a talk with Lyra, by the way.”

Tom looked clueless.

“That scenario you gave me; it got me thinking. Anyway, you can rest assured she’s not plotting to kidnap any humans and do ‘research’ on their hands.”

That was a very different summary of her conversation with Lyra than the one she gave Meg. The subject of humans was never even raised, not explicitly.

Lyra did minor in archeology, and on one dig the mint green unicorn did find an ancient flute that was oddly proportioned, but everypony explained it away as having been made for minotaur children. After graduating, she stuck to music performances, having decided that field work was not for her.

Nonetheless, she had remained in contact with a fellow student and early pegasus marefriend, Guiding Star, who pursued field work with a passion. They rarely saw each other since they broke up, long ago, but she still lets Lyra know when she finds an unusual ancient musical instrument. Beyond that, Lyra wasn’t willing to say more until she could contact her—which might take a while.

Twilight found that easy to believe, as she was unable to locate Guiding Star herself. It was no doubt an occupational hazard of being an archeologist, especially one who frequently went exploring out on her own. At least her attendance at Canterlot University could be confirmed.

Tom finally found his voice. “W-What about all those… other things you said on the phone.”

Meg answered first. “You mean, like, Rainbow Dash teaching me pegasus magic? Yeah, that was all true. By the way, that really was her you heard on that second call. Her ego really is that enormous.”

“Yeah,” Twilight conceded, “but she’s still a true and loyal friend.”

“Don’t forget awesome,” Meg added.

“No, we mustn’t forget awesome.”

“The mirror version was like that too,” said Sunset.

Anyway,” Twilight said, getting back on track, “yes, everything I said was the absolute truth, and you didn’t believe a word of it.” She giggled at the memory. “Celestia found that quite amusing.”

“That was Celestia,” he muttered in disbelief.

“Uh huh.”

Suddenly he stood up. “I think I’ll be going now.” Without waiting for a response, he left. They heard the front door open and close.

“Well,” Twilight said. “That was an interesting experiment. What do you think he’ll do?”

“I dunno,” answered Meg. “Probably not much from the look of things. If nothing else, he may finally get over my missing those meetings.”

“Whatever he does, let me know and I’ll add it to the report.” Twilight hopped off the sofa. “Let’s go home, Sunset.”

“Can’t wait to get my horn back again,” she said as she stood up.

The two Equestrians vanished.

Meg closed her eyes and leaned back.

I wonder what Serrell will think.

He’d be getting a copy of that report. It was all part of cooking up a strategy for gradually waking the world up to the reality of ponies, to do better than simply shocking everyone with sudden hard proof. Perhaps let ponies become the next Sasquatch or UFO sighting craze, most not really believing it, until one day… Whatever, they’ll come up with something.

Then she’ll have to deal with the consequences, but at least she wouldn’t have to do so alone.

She went to the home office. The two pony dolls on top of the bookshelf seemed happy to see her. The one of Derpy still lacked an autograph. One day she would figure out a way to approach her for one that wouldn’t freak her out.

She sat down in front of the computer and watched, for the nth time, the season five animatic preview that Hasbro had released. That she had watched it at all had, naturally, upset Twilight—avoiding time loops and all that.

But it turned out not to be a problem. Nothing it showed had happened, nor had any reasonable chance of happening. A mysterious map of Equestria popping up inside the circle of the thrones? A map that sent the Mane Six on mysterious quests? A town where all the ponies had the same cutie mark? No evidence that any contact with humanity had ever taken place?

Twilight had it all checked out, of course. The possibility of there being such a magical map in her throne room was absurd to her, but look for it she did.

There was no map.

She had also organized a search for that mysterious town, in the general region identified by that map in the animatic.

Again, nothing.

And there was going to be a sequel to Equestria Girls? No way could that have had any connection to reality, not when the mirror realm remained depopulated to this day.

Whatever it was that had turned that cartoon into a documentary, it was no more. Why? No one and nopony had a clue; but then, there was still no clue as to how or why it ever was.

Perhaps the “how” will never be known, but as to the “why” it had stopped… Meg could never prove it, of course, but in her gut she was certain: it had served its purpose.

Author's Notes:

And with that, Destinies is concluded. A sequel is planned. If you wish to be notified when it comes out, you know what to do. It will be many months before that happens, though. There are other projects I plan on tackling first.

I might do some side stories. If that happens, they’ll be added as additional chapters, clearly marked as side stories, after this epilog. Regardless, Destinies has been marked complete and shall remain so marked.

Side Story: The Grand Galloping Gala

The Grand Ballroom of the palace opened up before Meg. Very Important Ponies, all dressed in their finest evening wear, meandered about. Classical music played in the background, competing with the susurrations of numerous, dignified conversations. At the far end was the Grand Staircase, at the top of which Princess Celestia would in due time greet her subjects, but for now was empty.

She took a picture with her phone, trying not to be obvious about it. She had promised Susie she would take many pictures at the Grand Galloping Gala; nonetheless, that didn’t mean she had to invite questions as to the device attached to her fetlock.

“See anyone you recognize?” she asked Steve, her “plus one,” in a hushed voice.

He subtly shook his head. “Not yet,” he replied just as quietly.

Not that they expected to know anypony there amongst the rich, the powerful, or the well-connected—apart from the obvious few. “Well… I guess we just wander around?”

Shrugging, he said, “I guess so. Maybe we’ll find one of those servers with hors d’oeuvres.”

They did just that, aimlessly wandering around, very much feeling out of their element. It didn’t really help that the invitation had come direct from Princess Celestia herself. The diarch had felt that, as her royal advisor, this was an excellent opportunity for Meg to mingle with the upper classes; after all, the day would come when she would have to interact with them—”put up with” was the phrase the princess had used—as part of her job.

While that was undoubtably inevitable, once humanity’s existence was no longer secret, that didn’t help her make introductions now. There wasn’t much she could say about herself, and it wasn’t as if she had experience dealing with the human equivalent of this crowd.

At least her gown was not out of its element; Rarity had seen to that. Using Meg’s cutie mark for inspiration, it had a pattern of overlapping circles, each one possessing a color gradient based on a slightly different shade of red, their perimeters lined with sapphires. She didn’t even have to pay for it, as the royal treasury covered the cost. Celestia had not given the fashionista the option of refusing payment.

Steve was the first to find a familiar, if not exactly welcome, face. “I think that’s Prince Blueblood.”

A few dozen feet away, the white stallion was talking with a griffon. With his flowing blonde mane, blue bow tie, and a red rose sticking out from a short, black vest, he looked more playboy than anything else. The griffon, the first she had ever seen in the flesh, looked like an old-school, lead-an-army-into-battle aristocrat, complete with uniform, numerous badges of honor, and a sash; about the only thing missing was a ceremonial sword. Being half eagle and half lion, it wasn’t hard for him to look regal.

Their conversation could not be heard, but it looked amicable enough.

“I’m surprised he hasn’t accidentally started a war,” Steve said.

There seemed little danger of that, if appearances weren’t deceiving. “Maybe he isn’t so bad in real life?” She took a picture of the prince and the griffon.

“He’s bad enough,” a familiar voice discreetly said. “Best to keep your distance.”

Meg turned and smiled at Sunset Shimmer. “You don’t know how glad I am to see a familiar face.” The unicorn also wore a Rarity creation, likewise inspired by her solar cutie mark; it was the latest fashion craze.

“Me too,” she confided. “I’ve been, ah, out of circulation for quite some time.”

Probably hasn’t been to one of these since she’d stopped being Celestia’s student, Meg thought. Returning to the subject of Blueblood, she asked, “How is he even a prince?”

Sunset led them away from the stallion in question. “It’s largely an honorary title, bestowed by Celestia centuries ago to an ancestor of his. Don’t ask why. I was never able to get a straight answer from her.”

She suddenly stopped. “But forget about him.” Leaning in, she whispered, “I saw the list of invitations. Discord was on it, and he’s bringing somepony with him.”

“Celestia invited Discord?” Steve said in disbelief. “I mean, sure he’s reformed, but still…”

Meg wasn’t sure what to think. “Who’s his ‘plus one?’ I know Fluttershy got her own invitation.”

Sunset shrugged. “I have no idea.”

There was a brief flash of light, jolting the three ponies, and the draconequus appeared. “It just so happens I do,” Discord said with a knowing grin.

Ugh. I hate it when he does that. It was usually best to play along, the quicker to get it over with. “So who is it?” Meg droned.

He reached his arm out. “Why it’s…” Suddenly realizing his arm was embracing empty air, he frantically looked around, then sheepishly grinned. “How silly of me. Be right back.” He vanished into thin air.

Meg looked around. Numerous ponies were looking in their direction. I better get used to that. At least the orchestra hadn’t stopped playing.

Another brief flash. Discord had returned, and this time he wasn’t alone. Next to him was a gelatinous purple blob sporting a wide, goofy grin, and wearing as an afterthought a small top hat and a green bow tie. About as tall as Princess Luna, it just slowly quivered in place. It seemed harmless enough, though the lack of eyes was… disturbing.

Discord reached his arm out, once more, and wrapped it around the blob. “Allow me to introduce my good friend, the Smooze!”

The what? Meg stared, mouth ajar, at the blob. That’s the Smooze?? This harmless looking blob was the unstoppable creature that could gobble up whole villages, the entire countryside?!

But that was the very first My Little Pony cartoon ever made, decades ago! Tirek was first generation also…

She grabbed his eagle talon and yanked it down, dragging his head down with it. “We need to talk—now.”

Sunset looked on in confusion. “What am I missing?”

If she didn’t know, there was a good chance Twilight didn’t either. Did Celestia? Meg glared once more at the draconequus. “Is that what I think it is?” The blob continued quivering in place, seemingly oblivious to being the topic of conversation.

His talon melted out of her grasp and re-solidified as he returned to his normal posture. “I don’t see how,” he replied dismissively. “That episode won’t air for months.”

“That episode…” Her voice trailed off as she hastily scanned the crowd that had formed around them, a crowd that included Blueblood and the griffon. Everypony kept their distance, but not so far that they couldn’t listen in. “Take us where we can have a private conversation,” she hissed. “Now.

Discord was about to say something no doubt clever, but a look at the furious pegasus changed his mind. With a sigh, he snapped his talons.

Darkness surrounded them. The floor—no, the ground—was… mushy? Slowly, Meg’s eyes adjusted and trees came into view. Trees with twisted and warped branches. Soft, disquieting sounds came from all around them. Her ears tried to lock in on them, to no avail.

“Where are we?” she demanded. Maybe she should have been more specific as to their destination.

“Someplace where I can assure you we are all alone,” he answered in a mildly bored tone.

Pairs of glowing, lime green eyes blinked into existence, causing her heart to leap into her throat. You didn’t…

“Well,” he airily added, “if you don’t count the timberwolves.”

Meg instinctively backed up, her wings uselessly flared in the dark and confined space, trying to put Discord between herself and the wolves. It’d be a lot easier if he didn’t have that long, serpentine tail sticking out behind him. “You brought me to the Everfree. At night!?

The glowing eyes drew closer.

Discord gave an unconcerned yawn, then disdainfully uttered, “Boo.”

The timberwolves all turned tail and ran off, yelping in terror.

Returning his attention to the shivering pegasus, he said, “No harm will come to you here. I give you my word.”

She looked around. There was no sign of them, or of anything else with glowing eyes. There was no questioning the power of his magic; somehow, she doubted they would have ran away if she had said “boo.”

Her eyes by now had adjusted to the moonlight filtering through the canopy. Forcing her wings to her side, she looked down… and lifted a hoof. Yuck. And she was wearing an expensive evening gown, now rubbing against the muddy, mossy, and leaf-littered ground. Perfect.

She’d deal with that later, not that she really had any choice in the matter. Looking back up at Discord, she said, “You’re looking at future episodes.” It was practically an accusation.

“I figured there wasn’t any harm in it, now that the time loop risk is gone.”

That elicited a sigh from the pegasus. He has a point, she had to concede. “Continue.”

“Well, I noticed I was in one of them, and I couldn’t resist. It’s where I got the idea from, to bring Smoozy to the Gala. It had great chaotic potential. I mean, my motivation in that episode was to make Flutter—”

“Spoilers!” Meg blurted out in reflex. Discord rolled his eyes as he literally zipped his mouth shut.

Besides, she didn’t really need to hear more. It wasn’t based on reality anyway. No, this time, reality was copying art. Unfortunately, that still left the question of what, exactly, was “Smoozy,” never mind how dangerous it was.

“Can this Smooze consume without limit, eating and growing until it devours entire cities?”

Discord first made a show out of unzipping his mouth. “Pfft,” he then said, waiving her question away with a paw. “He hasn’t done that in at least a millennium.”

Meg groaned.

Discord found that mildly annoying. “Look, I know what you’re thinking, but that first cartoon didn’t give him a fair shake. This upcoming episode does a better job, but…” He threw up his limbs. “It couldn’t even get his color right!”

She looked askance at him, unconvinced.

“Just give him a chance,” he pleaded. “Sure, he has some self-control issues, but he’s working on them. He’s not evil… just… he needs to get out more and socialize.”

He continued pleading with his eyes.

Meg broke eye contact and slowly shook her head. This is above my pay grade. She’d inform Celestia, or at the very least Twilight, and let them decide how to handle it. Serves her right for inviting him in the first place. Regardless, the odds were good that Discord could and would undo whatever chaos resulted, once he’s had his fun.

And maybe, just maybe, the Smooze did deserve a chance. Friendship is magic and all that. It had worked on Discord, after all.

“Fine,” she said, looking back at her gown. Rarity is going to kill me. “Let’s go back.”

With a snap of his talons, the two of them were back in the ballroom. Meg looked down at her hooves, wondering what to do about the mud, moss, and leaves she must have brought back. To her surprise, they were spotless. So was her gown.

She was about to thank Discord for his thoughtfulness when there was a sudden shriek. A quick look did not reveal her husband, nor Sunset, nor the Smooze, but a crowd had gathered around the source of that shriek. It wasn’t hard to guess where they all were.

Meg launched into the air; the easiest way of getting past that crowd was to go over them. It felt a little strange, wearing an evening gown over her coat—wearing anything at all felt strange, ironically—but that never stopped Rainbow Dash or even Fluttershy from flying. Indeed, the polychromatic pegasus was already there, hovering, gown and all, over… yep, there was “Smoozy,” and Steve, but not Sunset Shimmer.

Who shrieked?

Within seconds, she was down on the floor next to Steve. “What happened?”

He gave her a this-is-gonna-be-one-of-those-nights look. “One of the servers came by with a plate of hors d'oeuvres. The… uh… Smooze helped himself to all of them, plate included.”

The Smooze just quivered in place, still bearing that goofy grin. Did that grin mean anything? Its—no, his, as Discord had clearly referred to him as a hehis body language was impossible to read. That “grin” might be just as meaningless as the grin of a dolphin, an artifact of his… whatever. It was unlikely he had a skeleton, much less a jaw.

The server was nowhere in sight. For a terrifying moment, Meg though she might have been consumed too, but common sense kicked in: if that had happened, all those ponies wouldn’t be standing this close. Plus, Steve would have mentioned that. She must have galloped away.

The server wasn’t the only pony missing. “Where’s Sunset Shimmer?”

“She left to look for a princess, any princess,” her husband replied. “How did your private conversation go?”

“What you’d expect,” she said, sighing. “He’s probably harmless. We should try… socializing with him.”

The purple blob continued quivering in place, still seemingly oblivious to being the topic of conversation.

Could he even talk?

Discord was conspicuously absent; he hadn’t followed her here. The whole situation gave Meg a sense of déjà vu. It was just like when Twilight first brought her to Fluttershy’s cottage, then quickly departed.

Rainbow Dash landed beside her. “Uh, what is that?”

Where to begin? Did it even matter? This clearly wasn’t The Smooze of that very first cartoon. “I’m honestly not sure,” she pensively answered. “He’s Discord’s plus-one. I guess you can call him ‘Smooze.’”

“Discord’s plus-one?” Dash said, rolling her eyes. “Say no more.”

“Give him the benefit of the doubt, Dash.”

“Yeah, sure.” The pegasus kept a wary eye on him, all the same.

The surrounding crowd began to break up, everypony having decided that they needed to be somewhere else. Not that I blame them, I guess. Babysitting a chaos creature wasn’t what she had in mind, either, when she had accepted the invitation.

Any thought of ditching the blob fell apart upon seeing that goofy smile turn into a goofy frown. She had to at least make an effort. Addressing Smooze, she asked, “Can you talk?”

The frown deepened.

Meg sighed, as the orchestra resumed playing. How to make this work? At least it had some body language she could read. But then an idea came to her, and she turned to Rainbow Dash. “Maybe Fluttershy can understand him? Is she here yet?” If they were lucky, Discord had already introduced the two at one of their tea parties or something.

Dash resumed hovering. “Yeah, she’s here. I’ll go get her,” she said, and flew away.

Steve tried to put a positive spin on the situation. “Just think of the stories we can tell our grandkids someday,”

Can’t argue with that. Wouldn’t hurt to have hard evidence either. She got her phone ready. “Why don’t you pose with Smooze.”

With only a moment’s hesitation, the unicorn positioned himself by the blob’s side. Meg framed the photo, then said, “Now smile.” The goofy smile returned to Smooze, thankfully, but Steve’s eyes kept glancing off to her side. She tapped the screen, capturing the image, then she looked to her side, wondering what was so interesting.

It was Prince Blueblood.

“A most unusual camera,” the prince said with sincere interest.

This night just kept getting better and better. At least it shouldn’t be long before Rainbow Dash came back with Fluttershy, or Sunset Shimmer returned with a princess. She just had to stall until then.

“Yes, it is,” she replied conversationally. “It’s not generally available yet.” That wasn’t even false, really; it probably was only a matter of time before human technology like this became available in Equestria. She just hoped he would not want a prototype for himself.

“Ah, I see, still under development.”

The Prince turned to the Smooze, not expecting a confirmation—or refutation—of his previous observation; indeed, he seemed to have forgotten the “camera” existed. “One of Discord’s associates?” he calmly asked, not all that different from how Celestia might have said it.

Whatever Blueblood’s reputation might be—and Sunset Shimmer had confirmed it had a basis in reality—it didn’t show. He was behaving just as one would expect a cultured noble to behave in public, and that almost certainly made him all the more dangerous. I wonder what Rarity would say about him? Fortunately, Meg had friends in high places—and the sooner one of them showed up, the better.

“That’s right,” Meg cautiously confirmed, “but I think the situation is under control.”

The Prince’s eyes drilled into her. “Yes… I would expect nothing less from a mare who can talk to the Spirit of Chaos like you did—and get away with it.”

Of course he witnessed that; he hadn’t been that far away. But where was he going with this? “We, uh, sorta know each other.”

“Indeed. I can see why Celestia appointed you to the position of Royal Advisor.”

Meg’s jaw dropped for a brief moment.

The Prince gave her a calculated smile. “Meg, isn’t it? Quite an unusual name.” He got a nod in confirmation. “I do keep tabs on the Royal Court,” he continued, “and you are a most interesting addition, for the nature of the advice you give Her Royal Highness is a well-kept secret.”

Yup, just keeps getting better and better—though it might explain why he’s on his best behavior.

He didn’t know about humans, that much was clear. As a Royal Advisor, was she obligated to “advise” this “prince” as well? In all the weekly meetings she has had with the princesses, not once has he attended. Cadance and Shining Armor have attended, if they happened to be in Canterlot, and Sunset Shimmer has attended a few. One of the other Element Bearers might also attend, depending on the topic that week, and other, highly trusted ponies were beginning to be invited. Steve attended two of them.

But never Prince Blueblood.

Nor would he have to “keep tabs” on the Royal Court if he was a part of it.

It was safe to conclude he had no business knowing. “I’m sorry, Your Highness, but I’m not authorized to divulge that information.”

His smile grew slightly more calculated. “Surely you can mention the city you hail from, or the school you attended?”

Translation: he tried to do a background check on her and came up empty. There was no reasonable explanation for that to be classified. What do I tell him?

Blueblood's smile grew incrementally wider at her silence.

“Your network of informants is not living up to its reputation.” Princess Twilight Sparkle was bearing a calculated smile of her own as she joined them.

Meg wanted to hug the alicorn. I wish I could pull a bag of popcorn out of my mane like a certain party pony.

“Why, if it isn’t the prodigal student,” the prince cheerfully retorted. “Have you been authorized to share this information?”

“Cute.” Twilight dropped the pretense. “You think I don’t know you’ve already asked Celestia?”

The stallion wasn’t fazed. “Only playing my part to keep you on your hooves.” He nodded his head at the alicorn. “Twilight.” And again at the pegasus. “Meg.” He casually walked away.

Meg slowly shook her lowered head. “I’m out of my league.”

“Don’t be too hard on yourself. You just need practice, that’s all.” Twilight gazed at the purple blob, now a few dozen feet away. “So that’s the Smooze?”

Meg lifted her head and followed her gaze. While she was occupied with the prince, Discord’s—friend?—had wandered off. “Yup.” Fortunately, Steve had stayed with him. Rainbow Dash had returned with Fluttershy, and Sunset was there too. “You wouldn’t happen to know anything about him?”

Twilight briefly met her eyes. “Not really.” The alicorn headed towards the chaos creature. “Celestia did remember…” Her eyes quickly scanned from side to side. “…an incident that happened quite a long time ago, but she’s willing to give Discord the benefit of the doubt.”

That must have been the “consumed a whole village” thing that Discord alluded to. Nonetheless, redemption was always possible in this reality, no matter the offense: first Nightmare Moon, then Discord, so why not The Smooze?

No, not everypony, she corrected herself. Sombra is presumably dead, and Tirek will rot in Tartarus for a very long time.

“Well, for what it’s worth, Discord wants us to give the Smooze a chance. He, uh, thinks he just needs to get out and socialize more.”

And if he could eat anything, that could actually be put to good use.

“Well, lucky for him,” Twilight said, eagerly accepting the challenge, “I’m the Princess of Friendship.”

Meg had to resist the urge to roll her eyes. That sounds so corny, she thought, even if ponies did take that very seriously.

The other Gala attendees were keeping their distance, naturally. The closer ones occasionally glanced in their direction, no doubt curious as to what their newest princess was going to do about the creature.

The orchestra was not that far away. A gray earth pony with an opulent, dark gray mane and tail, wearing a pink bowtie, snuck a peek at Smooze as she played the cello. That must be Octavia. She didn’t allow it to affect her performance; none of the musicians did.

When Meg and Twilight had reached the others, the alicorn did not lose any time introducing herself. She walked up to the purple blob and said, “I am Princess Twilight Sparkle, the Princess of Friendship, and it is my pleasure to welcome you to Canterlot!”

The Smooze didn’t say anything, or show much of any reaction at all.

Twilight’s smile wilted as the seconds passed.

“Yeah, I don’t think he can talk,” Rainbow Dash said.

“But he does appreciate the welcome,” Fluttershy added. “…I think.”

Twilight turned to the pegasus. “Can you understand him?”

“A little bit,” she replied, “but he’s not like my animal friends. Discord once brought him to one of our tea parties, so this isn’t the first time I’ve met him.”

Dash crossed her forelimbs. “And where is Discord?”

Ignoring that question, Twilight turned back to Smooze. “Do you prefer to be called ‘Smooze’ or ‘The Smooze?’”

Maybe there’s a pattern to the quivering? Meg wondered.

After a few seconds of silence, Fluttershy answered for him. “I don’t think he cares. Discord sometimes calls him ‘Smoozy.’”

“I noticed that myself,” Meg added.

Twilight closed her eyes in concentration. “Okay. He seems to understand us. The problem is he can’t talk.” After mulling it over, she sighed and opened her eyes. “I don’t know of a spell that could give him a voice.”

Fluttershy sighed in sympathy. “I don’t think even Discord can do that.”

“It must be something fundamental about his nature,” Sunset Shimmer said.

“What about a voice synthesizer?”

Everypony turned to Steve, even Smooze—or least his goofy grin did.

“Voice synth what now?”

“Voice synthesizer, Dash.” Could it work? “We have technology that can speak words. The artificial voice sounds a bit weird, but it gets the job done.” Meg looked the Smooze over. “But for it to work, he must be able to select words somehow.”

Sunset joined her by her side. “You mean like type on a keyboard?”

“That’d be easiest, but we needn’t rule out other input devices. Even a single button can be made to work, though it’d be very slow and tedious.” She looked at Sunset. “Perhaps a magic-based sensor?”

“I don’t know,” Sunset said, scrunching her muzzle. “We’d have to research that.”

“And we’d still have to attach it to a computer somehow.” How does one connect a magical device to a USB port or pair it via bluetooth?

Steve approached the Smooze. “Can you form an arm and hand, like a minotaur?”

We haven’t met a minotaur yet. How similar were their hands to human hands? Meg hadn’t, so far, seen one at the Gala.

Something was happening below that goofy grin. A pseudopod extruded from its body. After reaching a foot in length, the tip tried to split into multiple “fingers” but they kept merging back together. A few more failed attempts, and it was all absorbed back into its body. It was safe to rule out touch typing.

“We’ll figure something out,” Twilight said to the Smooze. “I promise.”

Fluttershy beamed at her new friend. “Just think of all the stories you will tell us.”

The gelatinous being was positively jiggling in place, its goofy grin wider than ever.

A flash, and suddenly all the ponies were swept up in a powerful hug. “I knew my little plan… I, uh… the magic of friendship could come up with a solution to, uh…”

Twilight and Sunset Shimmer teleported a few feet away, extricating themselves from Discord’s hug. Rainbow Dash took advantage of the short-lived, alicorn-sized hole and made her escape. Meg and Steve were too slow to react, while Fluttershy didn’t mind.

“We get the picture,” an annoyed Dash said.

Discord released the remaining ponies, putting his arms behind his back. “Ahem, yes, anyway… I, of course, will gladly help however I can.”

“We welcome whatever assistance you can provide,” Fluttershy said.

The draconequus looked expectantly at Twilight.

“Yes, Discord, of course you’re welcome to help in our research.”

Meg wasn’t sure who was giddier, Discord or Smooze. Perhaps Discord could have been more upfront about it all, but it was for a good cause.

Another server cautiously approached, a plate of hors d'oeuvres floating ahead of him, as the orchestra began a new composition. Twilight took possession of the plate, saying, “Thank you.” The server took the hint and with a quick bow departed.

The plate floated around to each pony in turn. Meg wasn’t sure what the hors d’oeuvre was, but being composed mostly of flowers it probably was not fit for human consumption. She took a picture of it before helping herself to one.

Finally, with a warm smile, Twilight levitated the plate with its remaining hors d'oeuvres over to Smooze. He opened his mouth, and the plate floated in. Twilight watched in fascination as the mouth closed—and that was that. All that was missing was a notebook into which the scientist alicorn would have written, “no mastication.”

So this is the magic of friendship at work.

Discord wagged a talon. “Remember, Smoozy, moderation.”

Corny it may sound, but in this world not even monsters are immune to its power.

Side Story: Mythological Creatures

“Are you sure about this?” Fluttershy asked. “I mean, it is asking a lot of you.”

Rainbow Dash bucked an encroaching vine. “Come on, Fluttershy!”

“He’s already agreed,” Twilight hurriedly pointed out. She spotted another vine and with her telekinesis tied it in a knot.

“Well, yes, but he doesn’t really understand what he’s agreeing to.”

Meg tried to stay as far away from the ground and the surrounding trees as possible. “If he doesn’t understand by now, he’s not going to.” She watched as the manticore absentmindedly stabbed an invading vine with its scorpion tail. It withered away. “I’d really like to get out of here, if you don’t mind.” Why did I let them talk me into this? Was it really asking so much to bring him to the edge of the forest first?

Manny—that’s what Fluttershy called him—gave the butter yellow pegasus a nuzzle. This was the same manticore the Mane Six had encountered during their very first adventure together, when Fluttershy had removed a thorn from its paw. Meg didn’t know whether to be awestruck or terrified; it was still a manticore.

“Just make it clear to him that he is in no danger,” Twilight said, “no matter what crazy stuff he sees.” She got out four plaid pills from her saddlebag. “That last thing we need is for him to go out of control.”

Meg snatched a pill out of the air as a thought suddenly came to her. “Be sure to tell him that the cage we’ll find ourselves in is to protect him. It won’t keep him from returning here.”

That wasn’t a lie, exactly. The main reason was to protect everyone outside the cage and prevent him from getting loose. They wouldn’t be staying long anyway.

Fluttershy nodded. “That’s a good idea.”

Rainbow Dash and Twilight made one last pass to temporarily secure the area as Fluttershy repeated the message. Once that was done, everypony gathered around in front of Manny.

“Let’s go,” Twilight commanded as she magically grabbed hold of the manticore.

Meg thought of their destination, an allegedly unused warehouse in Bethesda, not far from the White House. She was there a week ago, standing inside the caged area in preparation for this. She signaled for everypony to swallow their pill.

The first thing Meg noticed, upon crossing over, were the camcorders on tripods that now surrounded the cage, recording everything. A few dozen feet away were several tables full of monitors, laptops, and other equipment.

One of the scientists got up and and nearly stumbled his way to the new arrivals. “This is… incredible.”

None of these three had seen a pony in the flesh before, much less a manticore. They weren’t skeptics, exactly, but there was no substitute for seeing in order to believe. “We shouldn’t drag this out any long than necessary,” Meg told him.

Fluttershy was making cooing sounds to Manny. “See? There’s nothing to worry about. They’re friends.” The manticore was taking it all in stride, so far.

“Uh, right,” the scientist said. He looked down on the orchid pegasus, suddenly realizing who he was talking to. “That really you, Meg?”

Meg was starting to lose her patience, but she didn’t want to spook Manny either. “Look, Ryan, we went over this last week,” she said, trying to keep her voice calm. “I’m sure you thought I was playing a huge prank on you or something, but here we are, and you’re not the one in a cage with a manticore, so could we please get started?”

Without taking his eyes off the impossible creatures in the cage, Ryan waved his arm at an assistant, who rushed over with a specimen collection kit. She opened it up and took out a syringe. “Uh… you don’t expect me to go in there, do you?”

Meg sighed. She should have seen this coming. “You want a blood sample?”

“I don’t think sharp needles are a good idea,” Fluttershy said after looking at the instrument in question.

The assistant put back the syringe and took out a brush in a sealed tube. “How about a cheek swab?”

“What’s a cheek swab?” Fluttershy asked.

“I’ll explain,” Meg said. “Twilight, I think you’d be the best one to do this. It’s important that we don’t contaminate the sample.”

“Just tell me what to do,” Twilight said with enthusiasm. A lavender glow engulfed the tube, but the assistant didn’t understand what was happening. “Please let go,” the alicorn said politely. “I’ve got it.”

Confused, she looked down at her hand. Upon seeing the glow she dropped the tube in shock. It didn’t fall, of course. Twilight maneuvered it through the bars to herself. She looked at Meg for further instructions.

“We need to scrap the inside of his mouth with the brush, along the inside of his cheek. That’s it. Then return it to the tube and seal it. Don’t let the brush touch anything else.”

“Scrape against the cheek for thirty seconds,” the assistant added, having recovered her wits. “But not so hard as to draw blood.”

As Fluttershy got Manny to open his mouth wide, exposing those awfully sharp teeth, the remaining person approached the cage. Meg didn’t recognize him, though he must’ve had the requisite clearance if he was here.

He sort of pointed at Manny. “You sure that’s a manticore?”

Rainbow Dash rolled her eyes. “I think we know a manticore when we see one.”

“Um, right.” He wasn’t sure how to proceed. “Well… it’s just… that isn’t exactly what a manticore looks like, according to Greek mythology.”

Twilight joined them at the bars. “What’s different?” she asked as she floated the sealed tube back to the assistant.

Manny also stepped forward, his curiosity overriding Fluttershy’s attempt to keep him back. The man reflexively stepped back as the manticore sniffed him. At least that barbed tail was not poised to strike.

“Uh, well, the lion body, the bat wings, the scorpion tail, those are the same. It’s the head that’s different. It’s supposed to be a human head, with multiple rows of teeth.”

“A human head?” The alicorn looked at Manny, as if expecting an explanation from the manticore.

None came, of course, unless the licking of his paw was it.

“Maybe your manticores are different from our manticores?” Fluttershy offered.

“We don’t have manticores,” Meg said. “They’re purely mythological. There is zero physical evidence they ever existed.”

“And yet, somehow, manticores got into the mythology of these ‘Greeks.’” Twilight mused. “The similarities are too many for it to be pure coincidence, never mind the other creatures.”

“Obviously, our worlds must have interacted in the distant past,” Ryan said. “The descriptions of the creatures got corrupted over time.”

Twilight sighed. “Humans are not in our mythology, your silly Lyra fan-fiction notwithstanding.”

The assistant held up the tube. “Maybe we’ll get some answers when we sequence the DNA.”

Something clicked in Twilight’s mind. “Is that why you wanted that?”

“Uh huh.” She put the tube back in the kit and exchanged a look with Ryan.

He nodded. “Uh, Meg… would you mind?”

The pegasus watched as the syringe was taken out once more. She stared at the sharp needle. “This wasn’t mentioned last week.”

Ryan looked apologetic. “We, uh… we didn’t really believe you.” He got down on his knees, the better to see her eye to eye. “We’d like to compare your blood makeup and DNA to that of your human self, to see what’s different and what’s the same.”

“You didn’t get any of my human blood,” Meg said, hoping that would get her out of this.

“An oversight we’d have to correct, obviously.”

“I think that’s an excellent idea!” Twilight chirped. “Be sure to send me a copy of the data.”

Meg shot the alicorn a dirty look. Twilight gave a what-did-I-do? look in return.

No, there might still be an out. “You don’t know that my biology is typical of ponies. I wasn’t born one, after all.”

Twilight shook her head. “You should be physically indistinguishable from somepony born as a pony. That’s what the spell does.”

You’re not helping, Twilight. The last thing Meg wanted was to be turned into a lab rat. It was a safe bet the tests wouldn’t stop with a mere blood sample. “Does the spell take the existence of DNA into account?” she asked, still hoping to derail this somehow.

“Well, no, we didn’t know DNA existed until recently, but it doesn’t have to. That’s not how it works.”

“How does it work?” Ryan asked, intrigued. “And please don’t just say ‘magic’—we get that.”

“Well…” Twilight’s muzzle scrunched as she tried to come up with a comprehensible explanation. “I don’t think I can,” she finally said apologetically. “Extremely few unicorns are capable of understanding this level of magic, and none are capable of performing it—even I couldn’t before becoming an alicorn.”

Ryan was not deterred. “Fortunately, there is a way to resolve this. There should be a second cheek swab in the kit. We simply need a second DNA sample, preferably from another pegasus.” He looked expectantly at Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy.

“I’ll do it.” The prismatic pegasus stepped up and stuck her muzzle through the bars. “You won’t find more awesome dee-en-whatever than mine.”

Meg stuck her forelimb through the bars as well. It was a lost cause. “Get it over with.”

Ryan tapped a key on his laptop. “Here we see a comparison of Rainbow Dash’s DNA and Meg’s as a pegasus.” The projected slide was gibberish to Meg. “In plain English, the differences are minor, no more than the typical variations you’d expect to find between two individuals of the same species.”

Twilight had a smug look, as if to say “I told you so.”

Meg found it strangely reassuring. It was proof she was a “true” pegasus, not that there had been any real reason to doubt that—ignoring the fact she was currently human.

President Serrell silently observed from behind his desk.

The next slide was displayed. “This is where it gets interesting. This compares Meg’s human and pony DNA. The two are eighty-two percent identical.” Ryan turned away from the screen and faced his audience. “This is both more and less impressive than it sounds.

“Less, because humans share ninety percent of their DNA with mice and about a third with fruit flies. Even plants share a surprisingly large amount with us. We need to look more closely at specific genes for a deeper insight.

“We checked some genes that appear to be shared between humans and ponies, and in most cases they both had the exact same nucleotide sequence. This was true even when multiple alleles, or variations, exist in humans. In several cases, Rainbow Dash had a different allele for these genes; with two exceptions, those alleles are also known to be present in humans.

“The bottom line: the transformation preserves DNA to the extent possible.”

Ryan paused to take a breath. “Ordinarily, it wouldn’t mean much that ponies and humans share most of their DNA. The problem is, the reason we humans share a third of our DNA with fruit flies is because we had a common ancestor hundreds of millions of years ago.”

“And ponies did not evolve on our planet,” Serrell said, looking at Twilight.

“I don’t see how,” she replied.

“There’s a solid fossil record of the evolution of equines,” Ryan added, “and none of it includes wings, horns, or skulls capable of speech or containing a large brain.”

The President dismissed it with a wave of his hand. “What about the manticore?”

Ryan brought up the relevant slide. “More of the same, I’m afraid. It’s DNA clearly places it amongst mammals, similar to felines but with non-trivial differences.

“And here is where it gets quite impressive.” Yet another slide appeared. “There’s also mitochondrial DNA, which is inherited only from the mother. It’s quite different between humans and horses. The transformation left Meg’s unchanged.” He paused. “Rainbow Dash’s is only slightly different; if I didn’t know better, I’d say it was human too.”

The silence became deafening.

Serrell broke the silence. “I can only imagine what the tabloids would make of this if it ever got out.” He met the princess’ eyes. “Even after you go public, I think this should be kept secret.”

Twilight nodded. “That’s probably for the best, at least until we know what it means.” She addressed Ryan: “What about the manticore’s?”

“Uh, definitely not human—or pony. Not sure what it is yet, but I’m guessing feline.”

Serrell got up from behind his desk and paced around the Oval Office. “This raises more questions than it answers, I’m afraid.”

“We need more data points,” Twilight said. “If you could provide us with a large number of cheek swabs, we’d be happy to collect samples from numerous ponies.” She got pensive. “We could also include samples from non-sapient animals, like cats, dogs, and rabbits, though I think we can all guess what that will show.”

“Wouldn’t hurt to confirm it,” Ryan said. “I’ll get them to you. Plant clippings would be nice, too.”

“I’ll add that to the checklist.”

“What about other mythical creatures?” Serrell asked as he continued his pacing. “The manticore seemed to go smoothly enough, based on the video I watched.”

“We could do that,” Twilight said. “The manticore was the easiest due to his relationship with Fluttershy.”

“You can leave me out of that.” Meg gave the President a wan smile. “You didn’t see the vines attacking us in the Everfree. I don’t need that kind of excitement in my life.”

“We’ve dealt with far worse in that forest,” Twilight said.

“My point exactly. You now know where that cage is, so you don’t need me for that anymore.”

Meg noticed that Ryan was looking at her, as if searching for the right words to say. It didn’t give her a warm, fuzzy feeling. “What?”

He exhaled. “I know you don’t like being researched on, but in light of these developments…”

Meg remained silent.

“We’d like to compare the functioning of your brain in both forms using a PET scan. Apart from administering a small quantity of a radioactive substance—”

Meg giggle-snorted. “Sorry… couldn’t help myself.” She rapidly got herself under control. “A PET scan won’t work on ponies.” At least not without jumping through some hoops. She hoped Twilight wasn’t eager to do that.

“Why wouldn’t it?” Ryan asked. “It’d work on any mammalian brain.”

The President, who was now back behind his desk, came to her rescue. “She’s right. Their magic suppresses radioactivity.”

“Really?” He gawked at Twilight, who nodded in response. “Uh, well, we could go with an electroencephalogram instead. Completely non-invasive.”

“I can only encourage you to do it, obviously,” Serrell said. “But surely you, yourself, must have wondered how your mind differs between the two forms.”

“Like being aware of having wings versus being aware of having fingers?” Meg couldn’t help snarking as she conspicuously flexed her fingers.

He brushed that aside with a wave of his hand. “There are obvious differences, to be sure. Perhaps I should have phrased it in terms of how similar they are.” He looked at the sole pony in the room. “On the surface, it appears that ponies have minds very similar to humans’. It would be interesting to see how deep those similarities go.”

“I don’t think this is what my cutie mark means,” Meg said under her breath. It appeared to be a losing battle.

“I’ll participate in these tests also. We need a natural born pony as a control.”

And… battle lost.

“Fine,” Meg conceded. “And for what it’s worth, I think they run pretty deep.” She looked at the alicorn seated in the chair next to hers. “In light of these developments,” she distinctly repeated, “isn’t it time you followed up with Guiding Star?”

Twilight’s ears folded. “Yes, I should.” Lyra had finally gotten ahold of her former marefriend, and she had expressed a willingness to show the princess where those odd musical instruments could be found. “It’s just that the site in question is overseas in minotaur territory, and it’s going to consume a lot of my time, and they’ll want to know why they’re being visited by an Equestrian princess…” She refilled her lungs with air and exhaled. “I’ll get started on it.”

“International politics,” Serrell said, cracking a smile. “Something else we have in common.”

He addressed Meg once more. “I think you should be there, too, as our representative. If there are any resources we can provide that will help, let me know.”

She was about to object that she wasn’t an archeologist, but then it sunk in what the words “our representative” meant. And to be fair, humanity had a vested interest in knowing whether there had been humans in Equestria’s distant past.

Twilight picked up on her unease. “It’s not like it’s going to be something out of a Daring Do book. We won’t even have to sleep in a tent.” She gave a big smile. “Just think of it as a paid vacation to a foreign land.”

The Zephyr was docked at the top of a Manehattan skyscraper. The view from the observation lounge was breathtaking, but Twilight and Meg had long since switched to other means of passing the time until Guiding Star showed up.

The pegasus sluggishly tapped away on the keyboard of her laptop with the aid of a hoof attachment. “This is the latest simulation,” she said as she brought up the data. “Sunset’s in the process of creating a suitably enchanted crystal. Soon we’ll know if this works.”

Twilight absorbed the data, her eyes going wide. “You really think this is possible?”

Meg shrugged her wings. “It should work. The laws of physics do not care which direction time flows. If you made a movie of subatomic particles interacting, you wouldn’t be able to tell whether you were running it forwards or backwards.

“According to the laws of our universe, magical energy spontaneously breaks down into photons. If you went backwards in time, you’d observe photons being being turned into magical energy. As the laws do not change when the direction of time is reversed, it must be possible to create magic in our universe.”

“Yet it doesn’t,” Twilight said, pointing out the obvious.

“That must be due to entropy. Consider a dropped glass. It easily shatters upon hitting the floor. It will never spontaneously reassemble and leap up into the air. That could happen—it’s permitted by the laws of physics—but the odds against it are infinite for all practical purposes.”

The alicorn went through Sunset’s notes, furrowing her brow. “But these spells wouldn’t do anything to photons—”

There was a knock at the door.

“Later, I guess.” With a sigh Twilight closed the lid and put a cushion on top of it. She went over to the door to let Guiding Star in.

This was the reason Meg had come across here in Manehattan and not once the Zephyr had arrived at its final destination: to avoid an awkward explanation of how she got there. Likewise, it was the reason she wasn’t wearing her phone. It had also doubled as an opportunity to bring the alicorn up to date with their research.

The door opened revealing a middle-aged pony standing on the gangway, with a suitcase in tow behind her. She had a light gold coat, mostly covered by a purple cape, and a grayish mane almost completely covered by a dowdy gray hat, a hat that was wrapped with a white ribbon tied in a bow. The pony gave Twilight a mirthless smile as she adjusted her red rimmed glasses. “May I come onboard?”

“I, uh, I mean… sure.” Twilight stepped aside to let her enter.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Meg couldn’t help herself from saying.

The newcomer gave Meg the once-over as the door closed behind her. “From what I was told, I’d assumed you’d be accompanied by the other Element Bearers, not…” She looked at Meg expectantly.

Twilight answered for her. “This is Meg, a Royal Advisor to the Court. She has our full trust, A. K. Yearling. Why are you here instead of Guiding Star?”

The disguised pony merely smirked. “Perhaps we should be on our way?” She looked out the panoramic windows at the pegasi gawking at the royal vessel from a distance. “Too many prying eyes here.”

It was apparent no explanation would be forthcoming until they were underway. Twilight stiffly went over to the intercom. “Captain, we’re ready to depart.”

“As you wish, Your Highness.”

The Zephyr detached from the dock and began leisurely accelerating towards the ocean and climbing to a cruising altitude. The surrounding pegasi, who were never that close to begin with, got the message and retreated out of the way. Within minutes, Manehattan was a rapidly shrinking dot behind them; in front of them, nothing but water and clouds as far as the eye can see.

Twilight figured they were far enough away. “Are you going to wear that this whole trip?” she asked.

She seemed to give the question serious thought. “I hadn’t planned on it, no; but then, I hadn’t expected somepony who didn’t already know me.” She fixed her gaze on Meg. “Well, I suppose you couldn’t be a more annoying fan than Rainbow Dash.”

“She can be trusted, I give you my word,” Twilight said.

Not to mention I already know. Meg wondered how she should act upon “discovering” her true identity. Not like a certain pegasus, that much was clear.

Yearling fixed her gaze on Meg once more. “Fine. Just try to keep your shock under control, okay?” With a swift sweep of a hoof, she removed her cloak, revealing her compass rose cutie mark; with another she removed that dowdy hat, revealing Daring Do’s iconic pith helmet and monochromatic rainbow mane.

“You forgot the fake glasses,” Meg droned.

Daring removed the item in question with an exasperated sigh. “Who says they’re fake?”

“It’s obvious. They don’t distort the face behind them.”

“Huh.” She looked through them at arm’s length. “Nopony ever noticed that before.” The pegasus gave Meg another look over, noticing her distinct lack of shock and awe. “You don’t seem terribly surprised.”

“I always felt those books were autobiographical in nature,” she replied with a straight face.

Daring snorted. “Yeah, right. Sure, they’re based on actual events, but they’re still mostly fiction. Nopony would want to read about the boring banality that’s the actual life of a tomb raider.”

“Ahuizotl seemed real enough,” Twilight snarked.

That freak of nature is real? Yes, those were the events of Daring Don’t, but there was always the possibility that the episode had played loose with the facts. It did happen.

Daring shrugged. “Like I said, based on actual events, just awesomely embellished.”

Twilight’s eyes bore into Daring Do’s. “You still haven’t answered the question: Why you and not Guiding Star?”

The pegasus adjusted her helmet, unfazed. “Let’s just say it was in our mutual interest.” She gave a smile that promised adventure. “Don’t worry. I’m quite familiar with the site in question.”

Daring took hold of her suitcase and headed towards the hallway. “Which way to my cabin?”

“Third door on the left,” Twilight replied, sighing.

It was going to be a long flight.

The Zephyr set down on barren ground. A massive mountain range not far in the distance, its peaks perennially topped with snow and ice, acted as a rain shield. No pegasi managing the weather here, Meg thought as she looked out the panoramic windows.

In the opposite direction, on the wide-open plain, lay a motley collection of tents, wide pits and mounds of excavated dirt and rocks. A few minotaurs were carefully removing millimeter layers of dirt in their search for ancient artifacts. One minotaur was walking towards the ship.

An alicorn, a pegasus, and a pegasus disguised as an earth pony deplaned onto the cold ground and waited for their host to greet them.

It was the first minotaur Meg had ever seen, and she tried to study his form without being obvious about it. He was humanoid in shape, unsurprisingly, a shape that was powerfully built, had a bull-like head, had two legs like a human, and possessed two large hands each with five fingers.

Greek mythology stated that the Minotaur—literally translated as the Bull of Minos, as there was only one—was completely human from the neck down, except for the presence of a tail. It appeared, once again, that mythology diverged from reality. This minotaur was covered in dark brown fur, much like a pony, and his feet… not exactly human, but not really a hoof either. Mechanically, they seemed to work like human feet, but each foot had but a single giant “toe” with a hoof-like toenail.

He was also wearing shorts—and nothing else, despite the chilly air. Meg decided she wasn’t going to pursue that line of thought.

The minotaur came to a stop in front of the princess and bowed out of respect. “I am Dr. Herodotos, project manager for this site,” he began, in an accent that Meg could not place. “I am honored, though honestly surprised, that an Equestrian princess has taken an interest in our work here.” His eyes fell on the disguised pegasus. “And I was not informed that you’d be accompanied by the renowned A. K. Yearling.”

“My apologies,” Daring Do quickly said, taking a step forward. “That was at my request. I’m sure you can understand how a pony as famous as myself would acquire a habit of secrecy.”

“Not a problem,” the minotaur said, waving it away with his hand. “Your presence honors us as well. May I assume you’re doing research for a future book?”

“No pulling one over you!” the tomb raider facetiously exclaimed.

“Indeed,” he replied likewise.

I gotta hand it to her. This ruse was all Daring’s idea. Twilight had agreed that the archeologists’ reaction to the actual Daring Do would be uncertain at best. Left unanswered was the question of how Daring had become “quite familiar” with this site in the first place. This minotaur certainly wasn’t acting as if they’d been visited by her in the past—in either identity.

Dr. Herodotos turned to the last of his guests. “And I’m guessing you’re Meg, or is it Guiding Star?”

“Meg,” she answered.

“Please excuse my ignorance.”

Meg found that a bit strange. If Guiding Star had worked here, wouldn’t the project manager be familiar with her?

“Why don’t I give a quick tour,” Dr. Herodotos said, heading off to the nearest pit. Meg couldn’t help but notice the short tail sticking out through a hole in the minotaur’s shorts.

It was only a minute’s walk for them to reach the edge of the pit. From there, one could see a series of deeper pits, one nested within the other, forming a flight of stairs that surrounded the entire perimeter. The deepest pit, in the center, must have been about two dozen feet deep. That was where two minotaurs were focusing their efforts.

“What you’re finding must be very old to be buried that deep,” Twilight said.

“Thousands of years, easily,” Dr. Herodotos replied. “It’s uncommon, but when it does rain, flash floods wash sediments down from the mountains. We can count the layers, but unfortunately we have little else on which to deduce age.”

Twilight turned her head towards Meg. “Would you happen to know of any way to date artifacts?”

“Carbon dating?” she replied, before realizing her mistake. “Uh, never mind, that won’t work here.”

“Strange,” the minotaur said. “I’ve never heard of that.”

Quickly thinking on her hooves, Meg said, “It requires circumstances that are extremely rare. I should have realized sooner that it could never work for dating artifacts.” Not in this universe, anyway. The vastly increased half-life of carbon-14 could be taken into consideration, but what would even make the stuff here? “I can fill you in on the details later,” she told Twilight.

Twilight had heard enough to know the topic of conversation needed changing. Addressing their host, she said, “I’ve heard rumors that unusual artifacts have been found, musical instruments, I believe, that had been made for unusually small hands.”

Dr. Herodotos looked like he ate something disagreeable. “It’s regrettable those rumors have reached Equestria. It’s become a somewhat sensitive subject. Obviously, they were made for children, but some choose to interpret their existence… in other ways.”

Meg had noted that these adult minotaurs possessed, compared to humans, quite large and robust hands. Yet neither had she ever heard of earthly musical instruments designed for small children—at least, nothing that wasn’t a pale imitation of the real thing.

“Would it be possible to see some of the artifacts in question?” Daring Do asked.

“I’m afraid not,” he replied a little too quickly. “All the ones found so far are in the lab back in Naxos.” He held out his hand to lead the way. “But enough about that; let’s continue the tour.”

“And I’m saying he’s not telling