Continuities are not unlike parallel lines in Euclidean Geometry; they are never supposed to intersect. Continuities, in the vast majority of cases, run next to each other without ever crisscrossing. And this is likely for the best, as continuities are also not unlike a ball of yarn or that mass of computer wires behind the desk: when they begin to intertwine, separating them is nigh-impossible unless one eventually resorts to picking a line, tugging, and hoping for the best. Needless to say, keeping things thus unsnarled is generally in everyone's best interest, both inside and outside of the continuity.
So naturally, what you are about to witness is something of a non-Euclidean electric knot of yarn comprised of continuities that should never, for any conceivable reason (save simple curiosity), have crossed paths. In that, at least, continuities also resemble a train wreck.
Chapter 1: A Hole in the Sky
Twilight Sparkle couldn't be entirely sure whether her eyes were open or closed. Most likely they were halfway between. After all, she was halfway between being awake and asleep. She blinked a few times and was just barely able to make out the gleam of starlight on the end of her bed. Apparently the lamp had gone out at some point during the night. Normally it wouldn't have been a problem, but that night had been the first of the No-Moon Festivals that Princess Celestia had established so that Equestria would actually appreciate Princess Luna's duties. It was working. There was nothing that Twilight would have appreciated more than some moonlight.
"Ow!" There was a clatter as she bumbled into the stacks of books next to her bed. "Spike, can you light a candle or something? I can't see my hoof in front of my face!" She turned back to the window, which despite the pinpricks of light in the darkness was still quite dim. Either they were due for rain that night, or Rainbow Dash was slacking again and had let some stray clouds drift in. "Spike! Wake up!"
Of course Spike would still be asleep. Just when she needed him so she could...what was it she had to do?
BANG. BANG. BANG.
Oh right. Somepony was at the door. She could hear a muffled voice; loud enough that it definitely wasn't Fluttershy. Rainbow Dash would have just buzzed the window, and if it was Pinkie Pie, it would be obvious. So it was either Rarity or Applejack.
BANG. BANG. BANG.
More knocks. And then more muffled shouting.
Twilight squinted at the door, as if it was somehow going to help her hear more clearly. Maybe it did. She could just barely make out a "tar-nation" among all the shouting. So it was Applejack, then.
"I'll be right down!" Twilight let out a disgruntled whinny as she tried to shake the fatigue out of her head. Magic was already beginning to surge through her body to the tip of her horn, where she could make it manifest as a ball of light. Why she hadn't just done that in the first place, she wasn't sure. She blamed it on the fact that at best she was maybe three-fifths awake, and began to trot down the stairs. Applejack's shouting was getting even louder.
"Twilight! We're havin' an emergency over at Sweet Apple Acres! You gotta get yerself over there now!"
The unicorn jumped the last few steps as she heard the word emergency. There was nothing Applejack liked less than asking for help. And if she was over here at whatever-o-clock in the morning, something had to be seriously wrong. With a flick of her horn, the door popped open.
"What is i-Ooof!" The breath was knocked out of her as Applejack tumbled onto her through the now-open doorway.
"We're havin' a crisis!" Applejack scrambled to her feet, nervously pawing at the floor with her hooves. "Hurry up! You're the only one who'd know what in tarnation is goin' on over there!"
"Calm down, Applejack." Twilight tottered back onto her hooves. "Tell me what's going on?" She squinted. Even in the dim glow of the light she had summoned, it was clear that Applejack's normal orange-y complexion had given way to something more yellow. "Are you all right? You don't look so good."
"Ah'm fine! The sky's the problem!"
"The sky? What about it?" Twilight fought the urge to yawn. She was eager to hear what was going on, but she knew that she hardly looked interested due to her not-fully-awake state. Yawning was not going to help.
"There's nothing there! That's the problem!"
So that was it.
"There isn't supposed to be anything there." Twilight rubbed at her tired head with one of her hooves. Explaining this again was the last thing she wanted to do at the moment. "Tonight was the No-Moon Festival, remember? Princess Luna didn't bring the moon up tonight because she wanted us to realize how important it is."
"Ah know that!" Applejack stomped. "The moon ain't the problem."
"Then what is!-?"
"It's them stars!"
"What about them!-?" Twilight snapped. What she would give for one pony in this town whom could get straight to the point...
"The stars ain't there either!"
"What!-?" Any trace of fatigue in Twilight's body or mind was immediately shoved out by an enormous surge of adrenaline. "That doesn't sound right. Princess Celestia told me that only the moon was going to be affected."
"Well, I dunno about that, but I do know that the stars are missin'. Now get out here and come take a look!" Applejack spun around and galloped down the main road towards her farm.
Twilight flicked her head in the direction of Spike's bed, flipping the baby dragon out of his peaceful slumber and onto the floor.
"Ow!" Spike tumbled into his nightstand as he fought to extract himself from his blanket. "What are you doing?" He poked his head out from the wrap of covers. "Come on, Twilight, did you really have to do that?"
"Sorry, I'm in a bit of a hurry." A quartet of books was lowering itself from the shelves, magically guided towards Twilight's saddlebags. "Applejack says that the stars over Sweet Apple Acres are starting to go out, so I'm going to investigate. I need you to come along in case I need to contact the princess."
"Stars going out?" Spike clamored his way onto Twilight's back. "Any idea why?"
"No, and if I had any idea, I wouldn't be in such a rush." She trotted out the door. "The princess said that the stars were going to be the same, even when the moon wasn't out. If the stars are being affected as well, it might mean that Princess Luna has reverted back into Nightmare Moon."
"Again?" Spike yawned. "Guess you'll just have to bust out the Elements of Harmony again, right? That solved all your problems last time."
"We'll find that out once we get there. I'm hoping that Rainbow Dash just missed a stray cloud or something. If the stars really are disappearing, all of Equestria could be in big trouble. Hold on tight."
Spike barely had time to readjust his grip before Twilight had broken into a full gallop.
"An abnormality in the sky, you say?" Konoemon, the headmaster of Mahora Academy, stroked his beard contemplatively. It was entirely possible that he knew exactly what was going on, and gears inside of that eggplant-shaped head of his were already spinning, working out a solution. It was equally possible that he had absolutely no idea what to make of this report and was merely stroking his beard in an effort to maintain his dignity despite a total lack of knowledge concerning what was going on. "I have no idea what to make of this. Can you describe this abnormality in more detail, Naba-san?"
"Of course, Headmaster." Chizuru bowed. "During the activities of the Astronomy Club last night, we were examining the night sky and realized that a certain section of the sky was wrong."
"Wrong?" The headmaster lifted a massive eyebrow. "How can the sky be wrong?"
"Well, at this time of years, certain stars should be in certain places. In this quadrant none of the stars are in the right places. It should look like this..." She held up a large poster of the night sky. "But it looked like this..." She held up another picture. "It's as if a part of the sky was removed and replaced with something else. The rest of the information is in here." There was a loud thump as she dropped a thick folder onto the desk.
"I see..." The headmaster nodded gravely. He wasn't entirely sure that the two pictures were even different. They both looked like clumps of white speckles on a black background. But still, if the head of the astronomy club had seen fit to report it, it was probably something that needed to be looked into. Besides, there were more than enough other indications that something weird was going on. "Rest assured that we will put our best efforts towards figuring this out. In the meantime, try not to worry yourself about it. You may go."
"Yes, sir. Thank you for your time." Chizuru bowed, and exited the office.
"All right, so what theories do we have?" Konoemon spun around in his chair, facing the half-dozen odd teachers that he had summoned to hear the report. He began to thumb idly through the contents of the folder, which consisted primarily of astronomical charts.
"I spoke with the head of the astronomy department this morning, and he confirmed that such an occurrence is unnatural." Takamichi plucked the folder out of the headmaster's hands. "As far as we know, there is no natural explanation." He flipped through a few pages. "According to this, the abnormality in the sky occurred at about the same time the World Tree's power began to fluctuate. It is highly likely that whatever is going on out there is primarily magical in nature."
"Of course it would be..." Konoemon sighed as he glanced out the window at the enormous tree at the center of the Academy's enormous campus. Even though the sun had not quite set, the tree's ethereal glow was already evident. The glow was, of course, due to the fact that the tree attracted magical energy like a giant magnet, and during especially strong fluctuations, caused the tree to emit light. The mundanes believed the glow was the result of some sort of glow-in-the-dark fungus, but this was the strongest fluctuation in over two decades. Whenever something like that happened, trouble always followed.
"There, look!" Applejack waved a hoof at the night sky above the orchards. "Now you see what ah was tryin' to tell you about?"
"Give me a minute to catch my breath..." Twilight panted as she staggered through the farm's gate.
"I don't see anything," Spike grumbled as he hopped off of Twilight's back. "What was the point of coming out here if there isn't anything to see?"
"Because there's supposed ta be something to see, but there ain't!" Applejack stomped her hoof in the dirt before pointing it into the sky again. "See? Right there the stars just sorta stop."
Twilight blinked, trying to get her eyes acclimated to the darkness. It did seem a bit darker than it usually did on a clear night, but missing stars couldn't possibly be the simplest explanation for that. Some of the constellations were finally starting to make themselves visible. A chill ran down her spine as she finally got a glimpse of the thing Applejack was babbling on about. Above one of the far hills, there was a dark patch in the sky.
And it wasn't a standard patch of dark either. It wasn't shaped right to be a cloud, and even if it had been, it still wouldn't have been cloud-like. It was missing a certain quality that Twilight couldn't quite put her hoof on. If it would have been a cloud, there would have been more...solid was the best word she could think of, but even that didn't seem like an apt description. If a thing more solid than a cloud was blocking the stars, it would have been more obvious. There would be starlight shining on it, casting some sort of shadow.
But whatever it was that was hanging in the sky, it was somehow even more solid than that. There wasn't any glimmer of light anywhere in it, no brightness peeking around the edges, or reflecting off. Somehow the thing wasn't even casting a shadow. As far as she could see, everything was evenly lit, if a bit dimmer than it should have been.
"Maybe Rainbow Dash let a stray cloud out or something..." Twilight was unable to stop the words from wavering as they left her mouth.
"Nah, that's not it." A bright blur dropped out of the sky with a thump, and Twilight found herself staring into Rainbow Dash's face. "Tonight was supposed to be totally clear for the festival, and I made sure that it was. You checked it yourself." Rainbow Dash sniffed as she turned away and patted herself on the chest with her foreleg. "I'll have you know that as soon as Applejack realized that something weird was going on, I flew right up there to take a look."
"Good!" If Twilight had had fingers, she would have crossed them for good luck. "So what is the thing that's blocking the stars?"
"I have no idea."
"Ugh." Spike rolled his eyes before flopping on the ground next to a tree, curling up between two of the roots. "Figures..."
"What do ya mean?" Applejack reared up. "There's gotta be something up there keepin' the stars from shinin'!"
"Chill out!" Rainbow Dash wrapped a leg around Applejack's neck and dragged her back onto all fours. "As far as I can tell, there isn't anything blocking the stars. The sky is totally clear, okay? That's not the problem."
"That doesn't explain anything!" Applejack huffed. "We still have no idea what's goin' on."
"Just relax for a minute." Twilight closed her eyes and took a deep breath. Rainbow Dash and Applejack stared at her for a moment before looking to each other. Rainbow Dash cocked her head to the side inquisitively. Applejack responded with a shrug. "Okay..." Both ponies looked back at Twilight.
"Did ya figure somethin' out?"
"A little. We know that the stars aren't shining, and we know that there's nothing blocking them..." Twilight turned back to the sky. It looked different now. Or rather, it technically looked the same, but as far as she was concerned, everything had changed, because now she wasn't looking for an object floating in the sky. That had been the problem. Because nothing was there. Nothing at all. Now she could see the sky clearly. And it looked as if someone had torn a piece out of it. "…There must be a problem with the stars. There's a hole in the sky."
"Um...Negi-sensei..." Negi knew who was tapping on his shoulder before he even turned around.
"Good afternoon, Nodoka-san." He dipped his head in her direction. "How are you doing today?"
"I'm fine, Negi-sensei. I just had a question about something...well...Yue also wanted to know, but she had to go to the Library Club right now, so she wanted me to ask..."
"Oh, is it something about the last English test? I admit I threw it together a bit hastily, and some of the questions may not have been clear. I've just been very busy preparing for the Mahora Festival and-"
"Um...it's not about that, actually..." Her face flushed slightly as she leaned in close. "It's um...about a magic thing..."
"Oh." Negi glanced up and down the hallway. It was full of students whom were moving from class to class. Not the best place for discussing such a matter. There had already been plenty of trouble keeping his magic under wraps. Asuna had figured him out only a few days in, and by the time the class had got back from their field trip to Kyoto, another half dozen students, including Nodoka and Yue, had been let in on the secret. And that wasn't even counting everyone who had turned out to be in on it from the beginning. "Um, we should probably talk about...things like that...somewhere else."
"Oh, yes, of course..." Nodoka took a step back.
"But still...I...uh..." Negi stopped for second to keep from tripping over any more words. "Exactly what did you want to ask about?"
"Well, Chizuru-san said that something strange happened in the sky last night. Haruna said that she heard it was something to do with magic..."
"Ah, that's..." He held up a hand as he whispered. "We think it might. We're still looking into it. Stop by my room this afternoon after classes let out and I'll try to fill everyone in on it at once."
"Oh, okay. I'll see you later then. Thank you." She made a quick bow before scurrying down the hallway.
"All right, Spike. Send the letter." Held up by Twilight's magic, a small scroll hovered towards the diminutive purple dragon.
"Will do." Spike's cheeks puffed up for a moment before he belched a large green flame at the roll of paper. It crackled briefly as the fire consumed it. The ponies watched as the glow faded into the night, fluttering towards the Princess's castle at Canterlot. The dragon curled back up next to the tree.
"Ya think that Princess Celestia knows what's goin' on?"
"If anyone knows what happened, it's her." Twilight patted Applejack with a reassuring hoof. As she had begun to compose her letter, the initial terror had begun to fade. There was probably some sort of perfectly logical reason for this, and they were all getting themselves worked up over nothing. "We should probably just get back to sleep. I'm sure when we get up tomorrow everything will be perfectly fine. There is absolutely no reason to worry."
"Uh, guys..." Rainbow Dash pushed her head between the other two ponies. "There kind of is..."
"Please, don't be a worrywart!" Twilight shoved Rainbow Dash's head away and smiled a little too widely at Applejack.
"You might want to take another look before you say that." Rainbow stuck her head back in between them.
"Why?" Twilight muttered through gritted teeth.
"Because that hole is getting bigger."
"...so in short, we're unsure of what is causing this distortion in the sky." Negi turned away from the image projected on the wall of the dorm room to see if anyone was still paying attention. Asuna was slumped over the coffee table, half asleep, and Konoka was distracted with making another round of tea, but Nodoka, Yue, and Setsuna were all perfectly attentive and Kaede was either equally attentive, or asleep. It was hard to tell sometimes.
"The simplest explanation is that someone is siphoning magical energy from the world tree to sustain a magical projection of some kind. The only alternative is that the sky has changed somehow, and that is quite unlikely." He cleared his throat. "Are there any questions?"
There was a rustle from the back of room as Yue raised her hand.
"What are the probable reasons that someone would create such a magical projection?"
"We're not sure." Negi shrugged. "Perhaps someone is trying to hide something. There was some other abnormality that they were trying to cover up, but the projection they used was incorrect. No other astronomers have noticed anything abnormal, so it seems to be limited to the area around Mahora."
"So you think there may be something up there?"
"That's our current theory." Every head in the room except for Asuna's turned to face Setsuna, who had finally spoken up. "The principal has requested that I perform an aerial inspection. Once this meeting has ended, I'm planning to do a flyby to see if I can confirm the presence of some kind of illusory magic."
"Are you sure that that's safe?" Nodoka cast a worried glance over her shoulder. "If nobody knows what's up there..."
"I should be fine." Setsuna folded her arms. "I will not have to approach very closely to determine whether or not there's an illusion, and that's the only reason I'm going up there in the first place. There will be a number of support mages nearby in the event that something happens. I should be fine."
"Oh...okay..." Nodoka quietly turned back to face her teacher.
"You had better be fine." Konoka chuckled as she gently bopped Setsuna on the top of the head. "If you aren't, I'm going to turn grandpa's head into an eggplant casserole for sending you up there."
"Are you sure this is a good idea, Twilight?" Applejack shuffled along nervously at the back of the group. "Ah mean, shouldn't we stay away until we know what that thing is?"
"Don't be such a scaredy-pony!" Rainbow Dash dipped out of the air to tap Applejack on the head.
"Ah'm not scared!" Applejack's mane bristled a little. "I just don't think it's all that smart to go messin' with stuff when we don't know what it is."
"I don't like it either, but it's the only way to figure out what we're dealing with." Twilight gulped as she forced herself to continue leading the other ponies toward the top of the hill. The gap of darkness was definitely larger than it had been, and if her eyes weren't fooling her, it looked like the edge of the darkness was starting to overlap with the top of the hill. It looked so out of place; sort of like someone had taken a painting of the scenery and poked a hole in it.
"Come on, Twilight!" Rainbow Dash buzzed by. "This is taking forever. I'm taking a closer look!"
"Wait! Don't go over there by yourse-" Twilight sighed as the pegasus zoomed towards the black blot at the top of the hill. Attempting to stop her would be a futile effort. "Be careful!"
The response was so faint that Twilight could barely make it out.
"Don't worry! I'll be fine!"
"I'm not picking up any magical readings, other than some sort of pulse from the World Tree." Setsuna examined one of the magical instruments strapped to her arm as she beamed the telepathic message back to the group on the ground. "If there is some sort of illusion up here, it's not magical."
"What about electromagnetic readings?" Negi's voice bounced around inside her head.
"Nothing out of the ordinary. There's something weird up here, but none of the meters are picking anything up. I'm going to move in a bit closer."
"All right. Be careful, Setsuna-san."
"Yes, please." She rolled her eyes as she heard the Headmaster's voice in her brain. "If something happens to you, Konoka will never forgive me."
"It's fine." That was mostly true. There was absolutely no logical reason to suspect danger. Which actually made things worse. Ignorance was the one thing that couldn't be defended against. Still, whatever was up there was just as likely to be perfectly benign. There was reason to be cautious, but no reason to fear. Other than that weird sort of gnawing sensation.
At first Setsuna had attributed it to a combination of nerves and that tingling sensation she always got when she allowed her youkai powers to surface. But there was something else. Not necessarily magic. She was primarily a Ki user, but she knew what magical activity felt like, and this wasn't it. It wasn't Ki either. She had never experienced electromagnetic energy, but she had shocked herself on doorknobs a few times, and this sensation was so different that she knew it wasn't related to that either.
Even worse, it was impossible to tell whether the feeling was even physical. Part of it had to be; she had to make a concentrated effort to keep her hands from shaking. But not all of it. Part of it was definitely in her mind. It reminded her of that feeling she got during her graveyard shifts at campus security, when she wouldn't be able to stop herself from looking over her shoulder to see if someone was there, even though she knew that no one was there; and that if there was, she could have definitely taken them anyway.
She took a deep breath and pushed her wings against the evening air, lifting herself up. Even though the stars weren't visible in the light, if she squinted she could just barely make out an unusual distortion in the air, as if the sky were being reflected in a funhouse mirror.
"I can make out the distortion, but other than that I'm getting nothing. I'll head back do-"
The thought vanished from Setsuna's head as something quite literally appeared out of thin air. It was only about twenty feet in front of her, and to say that it was moving quite fast was a massive understatement.
"AHH!" The object clipped her wing as it sped by, sending Setsuna into a wild spin as she plummeted towards the World Tree. She grunted as she twisted herself in the air. She was still headed down, but at least now the world wasn't spinning around her. But the World Tree was getting far too close for comfort. An ugly burn spread through her shoulders as she spread her wings as wide as they could go, catching the air beneath them. Her feet brushed the upper leaves of the tree as she leveled out, gliding along the top of the foliage.
"What happened?-! Are you all right?" Negi's voice. He had apparently been watching.
"I'm fine. Something flew out of there! I'm going to see if I can catch it."
She squinted at the horizon. Against the brightness of the setting sun, she could see the speck that collided with her. With a flap of her wings, she soared along after it.
"Uggh...what just happened...?" Twilight wasn't directing the question at anyone in particular, which was a good thing because as soon as she opened her eyes, the first thing she realized that there was no one there to talk to anyway. Where Applejack and Rainbow Dash had gone was a mystery.
The next thing she realized was that it was a good deal brighter out than it had been. It wasn't actually bright; the colors in the sky indicated that a sunrise or sunset was in progress, but there was much more light than there had been in the middle of the moonless Equestrian night.
The third thing that she realized (and was somewhat frustrated at herself that it wasn't the first or even second thing that she noticed) was that she was quite obviously not on that orchard hill in Sweet Apple Acres. Taking stock of her surroundings, she was in a treeless field. The only nearby greenery besides the grass were a few neatly trimmed hedges next to one of the many buildings that surrounded the field.
That was when the first stage of panic began to set in. Never in her life had Twilight seen buildings like this; they were enormous, and there were so many of them, all in different shapes. In the distance she could see odd towers jutting out of the landscape. The only time she had ever seen so many buildings of that size all in one place was in Canterlot, and even that seemed small compared to whatever it was she had stumbled into. In the distance beyond the buildings, she could just barely make out a series of rolling hills. And on top of one of those, silhouetted against the sun, was the largest tree she had ever seen.
"Okay, Twilight. Don't panic." She murmured. "You can do this. You may not have any idea what just happened, or where you are, but you're a smart pony. You can figure this out. You just have to think. Think. We were going up the hill, and that hole suddenly got bigger, and you were floating. Or maybe falling. Or something. And I know I saw Rainbow Dash fly by me, so she's probably around here somewhere so if I can find her we can get out of wherever it is we are, and back to Equestria, and the Princess will have figured out what happened..."
The mumble of vague reassurances continued as she hobbled onto her hooves. The book-filled saddlebags weighed heavy on her back, but she wasn't about to dump what were her only possessions at this point in time. She had absolutely no idea what to do outside of her vague idea of "find Rainbow Dash", and behind the bushes seemed like a reasonable start. She could start small. No need to worry about scouring all of those enormous buildings yet. Maybe Rainbow Dash was just behind the bush.
Twilight's heart dropped into her stomach as she craned her neck around the hedge. No Rainbow Dash. Oh well, couldn't worry about it. Just had to keep doing something or else panic would set in. There was a path next to the bush, so she might as well follow it. It had to go somewhere. Maybe Rainbow Dash had followed it too.
She had barely cantered a few steps before she heard voices from, the other side of the bush. She swallowed. Maybe those ponies were nice. They could point her in the right direction, maybe get her a map, and tell her where she was. With much trepidation, she began to saunter slowly out of her hiding place. And as soon as she saw the source of the voices she retreated as quickly as she was physically able of doing.
The books that Twilight had studied in both Canterlot and Ponyville were naturally full of all sorts of mythical nonsense. Merponies, eight-legged horses, all kinds of ridiculous ideas. But still, a few old mares' tales had turned out to be accurate. But out of all of them, she would never have guessed that such a creature existed in reality.
Around the other side of the bush, chatting nonchalantly about some indiscernible subject, were humans.
"So you didn't get a good look at the object?" Konoemon sighed. Of course his hopes of getting any sort of a lead would be dashed.
"Unfortunately not. It was moving too quickly." Setsuna shrugged. "All I could see was that it was blue. There were other colors in there, but it was mostly blue."
"I see." The Principal nodded. The description was nigh-useless, but it was all he had to go on. "I'll let the rest of the security team know. They're currently searching the area where the object disappeared. We'll let you know if we find anything."
"Shouldn't I go with them?" She began to stand up. "The more people we have searching, the faster we'll find- Oof!" She grunted as she found herself forced back down.
"They'll be fine!" Konoka poked her head over Setsuna's shoulder. "You need to relax after all of that. You almost got knocked out of the air, after all. Are you sure you're okay?"
"Well, uh...my wings do kind of hurt..."
"Okay then!" Konoka latched onto Setsuna's arm and hauled her out of the chair. "We can head back to my dorm room and I'll give you nice back rub. And maybe a wing massage."
"Wing...massage...?" The prospect of receiving that was..intimidating, to say the least. "I don't know if that's really-"
"You don't need Setchan right now, do you, grandpa?"
"No, I believe Mana will be quite alright leading the team on her own."
"Good! Let's go, Setchan!"
"O-of course, Ojou-sama." Setsuna stuttered as she followed Konoka out of the office. The other-worldly paranoid feeling in her spine was rapidly giving way to another, much more human-ish kind of tingle.
Nodoka shivered as she walked along the sidewalk outside of the dorm. There was a distinct chill in the air due to the evening breeze, but that was not what caused it. The cause was the enormous disturbance in the sky. It had taken ten minutes of staring for her to even be able to make out where the thing was, but once she had noticed it, it was impossible not to see it.
She didn't know it, but the trembling was caused by much the same feeling that Setsuna had experienced. It wasn't quite the same sensation, but they were similar enough that they could be considered two types of the same feeling; in this case, the division was along the mind/body dichotomy. Setsuna's trepidation was merely the result of proximity; she had been fine until she was actually close to whatever was up there.
On the other hand, Nodoka's uneasiness derived from the simple knowledge (or lack thereof) of something strange hovering above the World Tree. It wasn't so much the thing itself; for all she knew, it was just some sort of totally benign swamp gas. The fact that it was an anomaly to her didn't really matter. What bothered her was the fact that no one else knew what it was, either.
Sure, finding out that magic existed had turned her entire world upside down. She was no stranger to magic weirdness. Since the time she had been let in on the secret, she had received mind-reading abilities, been petrified, been kidnapped by a demon, and was currently acquaintances with at least two demi-humans. The catch was that somebody had been there to explain all that to her, and once she could accept the fact "magic is real", everything else made sense. As long as all the pieces of the puzzle were there, everything was still consistent. Unfortunately, magic wasn't helping to explain the thing in the sky, and nobody was stepping forward with answers.
Nodoka trembled again as she looked up at the sky. She didn't want to look, and there really wasn't much to see at the moment; the disturbance was almost entirely covered by clouds. That was a bit of a consolation. If not for the fact that she couldn't get the thing out of her head, it would have at least given her a bit of normality. Even so, the fact remained that even though she didn't want to look at it, she felt compelled to.
Not that it was in any way directly affecting or controlling her (because it wasn't). It was more that it was too important to ignore. There was a nagging feeling the back of Nodoka's mind that the hole in the sky was significant, and that paying attention elsewhere would be a misuse of her time.
In the future, had Nodoka remembered that precise moment, she would have ultimately agreed with her past assessment. In the long run, the hole in the sky was far more significant than anything else there. She would also have noted that in the extreme short term, her focus ought to have been not on the sky, but on the ground, because that was the location of the bush that failed to notice was directly in her path.
Now Nodoka was experiencing another somewhat strange sensation, albeit one that wasn't totally foreign to human experience like the feeling that the distortion had caused. What she was currently feeling was the rather weird experience desiring pain for the sake of relief. One of her hands was in pain, just as one would expect it to be when it is scratched up and bleeding due to being dragged through a bush. The problem was her other hand. It didn't hurt at all, and whatever it was resting on was most certainly not a bush. It was too soft, too warm, too...fuzzy.
It was unimaginably more disconcerting to find that in a bush rather than simply scratching up both hands, like what was supposed to happen when one accidentally walks into a bush. As such, at that precise moment Nodoka would have gladly taken two hedge-pricked hands in exchange for the unpleasant experience of stumbling into something that was obviously not supposed to be there. Better a familiar pain than an unknown that could be any number of things. Of course, a day later she would consider her brief experience in the hedge the highlight of that day, but hindsight is always 20/20, after all.
Nodoka bit her lip as she slowly forced her head to look down. She inhaled sharply as she found herself staring into the largest eyes that she had ever seen. They were a deep purple, and they seemed be shaking. Nodoka was so transfixed by the stare that one of the last things she noticed about it was that it did not belong to a human face.
The realization made, her first reaction was quite natural: scream. Or at least to try to scream. All she managed was a babble of nonsense as she stumbled backwards. It was just as well, as the attempted scream died in her throat as she finally got a good look at what she had found.
Halfway out of the bush, scrambling to free itself from the branches was a small horse. A small, purple horse. A small, purple horse with a horn protruding from the unusually human-esque hair that hung over its forehead. Nodoka froze as the creature looked up at her, making eye contact. And in that moment most of Nodoka's fear vanished. She was no expert when it came to horses, but she could just tell that it meant no harm. Something about the way the eyes were trembling. Never in her life had Nodoka seen a horse emote so clearly. And the emotion the horse's face was a mixture of confusion and fear.
Nodoka took a cautious step forward. Then she jumped back two steps as the horse suddenly threw its front hooves into the air.
"Please don't hurt me!"
Nodoka's eyes widened. The horse could talk. And it was a distinctly female voice.
"I...uh...don't worry, I won't hurt you..." she stuttered. "Just please stay there and be quiet..."
"Oh...okay..." The horse retreated partway back into the bush, keeping her eyes focused on the girl.
Nodoka fumbled around in her pocket for her pactio card. She had never been so happy that telepathy existed. Even in her thoughts, she couldn't help but stutter.
"N-Negi-sensei, there's something out here that you should see..."
Well, there's the first chapter. It's quite a bit unlike anything I've tried to do before, so this whole thing is basically one big experiment. Hopefully it goes well. I have a fair bit of stuff planned, but whether it turns out well, I have no idea. Hopefully what I have so far is sufficiently entertaining. Also, for the record, the little blurb at the beginning is supposed to sound ridiculous.
In any case, I'm curious about what everybody thinks of what I have so far, so reviews are welcome.
Thanks for reading.