by Sharp Quill

Chapter 2: 2. Chaotic Enlightenment

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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—

Next Chapter: 3. Strangers in a Strange Land Estimated time remaining: 11 Hours, 37 Minutes
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