Chapter 10: Rising Tide

Walker had been in odd situations before. Disarming a bomb using porn. Using video game analogies to talk an amateur through landing a helicopter. Cosplaying as Princess Leia in her metal slave bikini to avoid blowing her cover. But this was probably the weirdest. Currently, she swung through the air, hanging on for dear life to a white unicorn, whom was in turn dangling beneath a blue pegasus with a rainbow mane. The unicorn was wiggling her leg furiously, trying to shake her off. Walker could barely make out the words over the sound of the wind rushing in her ears, but the unicorn was definitely yelling something at her.

"Get off! Let go! You're hurting my leg and it's going to ruin my hooficure!"

Walker looked down, and then looked immediately back up. They seemed to be heading back in the general direction of Mahora. The pegasus swooped, and Walker could feel her fingers start to burn. She hoped they would land soon. She couldn't hold on forever.

"Chuck, can you stop that? You're going to wear a hole in the floor." Morgan looked over the top of the comic book he was reading and watched Chuck pace back and forth across the room. The two of them, along with Casey, had been put up in what appeared to be an unused dorm room, which was inexplicably located in one of the wings of the shrine. It was a bit odd, but it beat getting put in one of the dorms.

"Well, I can't just sit here and do nothing," Chuck answered. He reached the end of the room and turned quickly on his heel. "Sarah is out there somewhere, I know it! She might be in danger. We have to find her!"

"If you want to find her, then go find her!" Morgan tossed the book onto his bed. "You aren't going to find her in here, so if you're going to pace, you should pick a direction and just pace that way. You know, to somewhere that you haven't seen already where she actually might be?"

"I can't, because of this thing!" Chuck held up his hand and pointed at what looked like a rather elaborate tattoo pattern on his wrist. Both himself and his two compatriots had received them shortly before being put on security detail. "If I leave the campus, it'll trip this magic tracking thing and we'll have Hawkgirl and the Punisher's illegitimate daughter tracking us down. If that happens, I'll never get a chance to look for her. At least if I get on their good side I might get a longer range on this thing. I can't do anything suspicious or I might not ever get the chance to look for her."

"And clearly, going on a sightseeing tour of the campus would count as suspicious?" Morgan rolled his eyes. "Seriously, dude, I spent like all four years of college playing video games, and even I think you need to get out more. Like that giant tree thing. Have you seen that? You should totally go see that. It's really cool."

"You aren't helping!"

"All I'm saying is that there are really only a couple things you can do. You can go look around the campus and have the chance of stumbling across something useful, or you can mope around here and accomplish nothing other than leaving scuff marks everywhere. I mean, it isn't like she's just going to drop out of the-"

There was a tremendous crash; the ceiling above Chuck's bed collapsed in a cloud of dust. Almost immediately, a feminine voice with a mid-Atlantic accent began to speak.

"Rainbow Dash, was it really necessary to land in such an inelegant manner? It'll take forever to pick all this debris out of my mane."

"Good to see you, too," another female voice answered. This one sounded vaguely familiar. "You'll have plenty of time to clean your mane."

"And you!" the first voice continued. "Let go of my tail! You're going to ruin the curls!"

The dust finally began to settle, revealing two ponies and a young woman sitting on the bed. Chuck's eyes bulged as he recognized the woman.



He rushed forward, and she sprang off the bed to meet him, sharing a tight hug.

"What are you doing here?" he asked. "I mean, how did you end up-"

"I don't know! We trying to infiltrate that mansion, and-"

"No, I'm talking about the...well..." Chuck gestured at the massive hole in the ceiling. "That."

"Oh, that. It's kind of a long story, Chuck."

"What on earth is going on in-" Mana froze as she saw the destruction, and the unfamiliar faces. She sighed and reached for her cell phone. "Setsuna, let the principal know that he's going to have to have another meeting."

"You're back already? I remember his speech being a lot longer than that when we had to listen to it," Morgan muttered as Mana escorted Sarah, Rarity, and Rainbow Dash into the Tatsumiya Shrine's courtyard.

"At least you didn't have to listen to it twice," Rainbow Dash grumbled. "I still don't know why I had to be there."

"Consider it punishment for damaging the roof," Mana sniffed. "You're rather lucky that the principal isn't forcing you to pay for that. And tempted as I am to pry into exactly why you were flying around out here, carrying two new arrivals around with you, he's given me the order not to pry into this incident. But keep in mind that I'll be keeping an eye on you, and I will not be so lenient if something else happens. I suggest you watch yourself from now on."

She gave the rainbow pegasus a sharp glare before disappearing into the shrine. No sooner had she vanished than two familiar faces popped out of a nearby bush.

"Twilight! Fluttershy!" Rarity rushed over and all but jumped onto her two friends. "I was wondering what happened to you!"

"So were we!" Twilight said. "Fluttershy lost track of where Rainbow Dash was flying, and by the time we found you guys, that dark skinned girl was leading you away. We figured that they'd bring you back here eventually."

"I'm so glad you're okay!" Fluttershy gave Rarity a squeeze. "When I saw that hole in the roof, I was afraid that you had gotten hurt."

"Yes, it was quite miraculous that I was not injured," Rarity answered. "At least Rainbow Dash has plenty of experience crashing into things."

"Hey, you try flying in a straight line with that much weight on you!" Rainbow Dash snapped.

"Just what are you trying to imply!-?" Rarity said with a gasp.

"I'm not talking about you," Rainbow Dash said. "I'm talking about her!" She thrust a hoof at Sarah, whom was in the midst of having her own reunion moment with Chuck and Morgan. "She totally threw off my aerodynamics, and she weighs a lot more than a pony does!"

Sarah sensed that she was the subject of conversation, and turned around to see Rainbow Dash stalking towards her.

"What exactly were you doing anyway? Trying to kidnap Rarity for some reason?"

Sarah sighed. She had never been one to blab about a job, but these were some pretty exceptional circumstances. Add in the fact that she had been hired by a high school student, she didn't have quite the usual incentive to keep quiet. At least not about everything.

"Someone on this campus paid me to retrieve her. I know it's not my usual line of work, but after getting dumped here I had to take whatever jobs I could get. I never had any indication of hurting any of you."

Rainbow Dash continued to glare suspiciously.

"Then what was the gun for?"

"Those were tranquilizer rounds. It would just knock you unconscious for an hour or so. I didn't even want to use it, but when all of you showed up I had to at least try to complete my mission."

"I don't know, I still think that's a bit suspicious," Rainbow Dash continued. "I mean, yeah, Chuck attacked us too, but he was just trying to rescue his buddy there." She waved a hoof at Morgan.

"Rescue him from what?"

"He kinda got captured by the ponies and some of the school's students," Chuck answered.

"Yeah, I kinda...well, when I appeared here it was kinda, sorta, inside a girls' dorm," Morgan mumbled. "So they thought that I was trying to do something...unseemly, let's call it. Really crappy luck."

"See!" Sarah dropped to her knees so she could look the ponies in the eyes. "It was just that sort of misunderstanding. If I would have known everything that was going on, I probably wouldn't have tried to do anything." She turned to Rarity. "For what it's worth, I'm sorry for trying to kidnap you."

"Don't worry yourself about it," Rarity answered. "After showing up in a completely unknown world, it's only natural that you have to scramble a bit."

"Wait wait wait." Twilight stepped forward. "Am I the only one here who's a bit worried about that fact that somepon- somebody paid...what's your name, again?"

"Sarah Walker."

"Good to meet you. I'm Twilight Sparkle. This is Fluttershy, that's Rainbow Dash, and the pony you were trying to kidnap is Rarity." She waved her hoof at each pony as she introduced them. Sarah waved awkwardly at each of them, trying not to think about how bizarre the situation was. "But we can have introductions later," Twilight continued. "Right now, I'm a little concerned that there's somebody out there who wants to kidnap Rarity."

"That is a bit scary..." Fluttershy mumbled. "Do you have any ideas about who it might be?"

"Well, I don't know anything, obviously, but I think Nightmare Moon might have something to do with this."

"Nightmare Moon!-?" All the other ponies gasped in unison.

"But we zapped her with the Elements of Harmony, remember?" Rainbow Dash began to flutter back and forth in a rather nervous manner. "She turned back into Princess Luna. And she's pretty nice."

"Nightmare Night, notwithstanding..." Fluttershy muttered.

"Well, yes. I don't know all the details because Princess Celestia never liked to talk about it, but I think that some outside force may have corrupted Princess Luna and turned her into Nightmare Moon."

"Um, excuse me." Morgan raised his hand.

"Yes?" Twilight said, feeling a bit like a teacher.

"Who's this 'Nightmare Moon' person? Are they like a monster or something or what?"

"Nightmare Moon is the evil side of Princess Luna, one of the two Princesses of Equestria." As Twilight began to speak, the other ponies groaned. They knew her well enough to recognize when she was going into lecture mode. "Princess Celestia is the princess of the day, and controls the sun. Princess Luna is the princess of the night, and she controls the moon. Princess Luna became corrupted somehow and became Nightmare Moon. To keep her from taking over Equestria, Princess Celestia sealed her in the moon. A thousand years later she escaped and tried to throw the world into eternal night, but my friends and I used the Elements of Harmony to defeat her and purify her of the corrupting influence, turning her back into Princess Luna."

"So, these two princesses control the sun and moon?" Chuck asked. "That's..actually pretty badass. It kinda violates pretty much every law of physics though."

"Are you calling the princesses donkeys!-?" Twilight snapped. "And bad donkeys at that?"

"What? No, it's just a figure of speech," Chuck said babbled. "Like an idiom or something."

"An idiom?" Twilight cocked her head.

"Yeah, if somebody is badass it means that they're really cool or strong or something," Morgan answered. "It's a little vague, but it's a good thing."

"Okay, if you say so." Twilight cleared her throat and re-entered lecture mode. "Nightmare Moon demonstrated several powerful magical abilities when we faced her, and it might not be outside of her ability to cause something like what's been going on. I'm not sure why it affects humans and others who aren't from Equestria, but I think it fits. This whole thing started with irregularities in the night sky, and since she knows that the Elements of Harmony are her weak point, she might have ordered the kidnapping to break up the element bearers. Something may have caused whatever it was that corrupted her in the first place to return."

"Um, I'm pretty sure that it wasn't an evil pony princess who hired me..." Sarah said.

"Well, she's probably just better at covering her tracks this time." Twilight pensively stroked her chin. "Last time she was quite blatant about the whole thing and it didn't really work out for her."

"I suppose that might be possible," Sarah admitted. "Maybe tomorrow I could take you all to see the person who hired me. I was supposed to meet her tomorrow morning."

"Why not now?" Rainbow Dash zipped back and forth. "We should go track them down! Nobody tries to kidnap one of us and gets away with it."

"No, we should probably wait," Twilight said. "It's getting kinda late."

"Yeah, and I want to have a some time to actually, you know, talk to my girlfriend before we go off on some mission to bust an evil pony princess." Chuck looked at his watch. "It's only, what? For in the morning."

"We probably should leave them alone for a bit," Fluttershy offered.

"And we need to introduce Rarity to everybody in the dorm," Twilight said. "Besides, I want to hear about she's been doing since she got here."

"Fine, put saving the world on the back burner so we can catch up..." Rainbow Dash muttered to herself.

"It's dark enough that we should be able to get back to the dorm without any trouble," Twilight said. "We'll meet you tomorrow outside the dorm, okay?"

A few minutes of detail ironing later, the ponies began to slink off towards the dormitory.

By the time the ponies had made their way back to home base, the Mahora clock tower's short hand was just passing the four. The polite desire to not wake up their hosts combined with the fact that adrenaline no longer tempered their fatigue caused all four ponies fall asleep mere moments after returning to Negi's room. Asuna was naturally quite confused to wake up to find even more ponies scattered about the room. Fortunately enough, Konoka was too busy fawning over and introducing herself to their new guest that she didn't mind having to make extra pancakes. Negi was also confused, but it took him mere minutes to get over it and join the conversation, listening intently to Rarity's account of how she had ended up in Mahora. The first half wasn't particularly interesting, as whatever it was that had happened happened, she had been curled up in bed, completely unaware that anything odd was going on. The second part was marginally more interesting.

" I found myself upside down in some sort of topiary; I believe it was one shaped like some sort of bird. My mane and tail were all tangled up in the beak part of it, and I couldn't get free. I had only been in there for a few minutes when a girl appeared. She seemed quite afraid of me for a bit, but after I talked to her for a few minutes she was willing to help me out of the bush. She said she was going home for the weekend, and that I could stay at her house until we figured out what's going on. Speaking of which, I should probably let her know where I disappeared to."

"What was her name?" Konoka asked. "Maybe we could help you find her."

"Oh yes, of course. Her name was Ayaka; I didn't get her-"

"Ayaka!-?" Asuna was utterly taken aback. The world was too big for stupid stuff like this to happen. "You have got to be kidding me. She's in our class."

"Oh so, you can help Rarity get back in touch with her?" Twilight, ever practical, didn't really notice Asuna's surprise; if she did, she ignored it.

"Yeah, yeah... Let me get my phone. I can't believe all you ponies have been cramped up in the dorm while she probably has an entire damn wing of the house all to herself."

"That house we found you at really was quite nice," Fluttershy said. "It almost reminded me of the palaces at Canterlot."

"Yes, Ayaka really does have a quite exquisite house. When I told her that I was a fashion designer she went to the trouble of setting an entire workroom for me. I must admit it's been difficult adapting to designing human clothes, but once I figured it out, it's actually quite fun to do something different. Besides, it gave me something to focus on outside of my unfortunate plight. Of course, now that I know all of you are here, I don't have to worry about that quite as much." Her smile flagged for a moment. "I don't suppose you know where Pinkie Pie and Applejack are?"

"Unfortunately, we don't," Twilight answered sadly. "Although if they are here, we may be able to find them using the locator spell we used to find you. I'll have to tweak the parameters a little to pick up Earth Pony magic, but-"

"Hey, Rarity!" Asuna interrupted, quite obviously not paying attention to the conversation. "Ayaka's gonna be on the phone in a moment..." She put the speaker on and the rings became audible. There was a beep and Ayaka's voice spoke up, quite shaky and ornery.

"What is it, Asuna? I have some very important business to attend to. This had better be important!"

"Let me guess, you lost something important?"

"You could say that," Ayaka barked.

"Well, I found it." Asuna held the phone out towards Rarity. "Here you go."

"Ayaka, are you there?" the white unicorn asked.

"Rarity! What happened? Fonsworth called me last night and said that you had been carried off somewhere!"

"It's quite a long story. Needless to say that I'm quite alright. I apologize for causing you to worry. So much happened that trying to get in touch with you last night simply didn't cross my mind."

"Well, I'm just glad that you're alright. I was afraid that some government agency had taken you away for some reason. Where are you now?"

"I'm in the dorm, with your friend."

"You're in Asuna's room?"

"It appears so, I guess."

"Just a moment." The phone beeped and went silent.

"If we ever get back to Equestria, I really need to figure out how to make one of the those," Twilight said, examining the phone. "It seems much more convenient than sending-"

The door burst open, and Ayaka charged in.

"Rarity, what on earth are you doing in Asuna's-" She froze. She just acclimated herself to the fact that a unicorn, singular, existed. The sudden introduction of another unicorn and two pegasi was a bit much for her sleep deprived brain to process. "What...what is going on?"

"I'm not sure either," Asuna said. "Maybe we could get Negi to explain things." She turned to her teacher, whom had been doing his best attempt to not be drawn into the chaos.

"Hey, it looks like that kidnapper and her friends are here!" Rainbow Dash called from her position hovering in front of the window. "Looks like they've got a van or something."

"Ah, yes. We have a brief errand to run," Rarity told Ayaka. "We will hopefully be back in a few hours. Perhaps while we are gone your classmates and teacher can explain the situation in more detail."

"Yes, we should probably get going," Twilight said as she levitated her saddlebags onto her back. "I'm sorry we don't have time for proper introductions. Maybe when we get back." She trotted past Ayaka into the hallway.

"It was nice to meet you," Fluttershy said as she fluttered past.

Ayaka just blinked a few times.

"You should probably sit down," Konoka said, guiding her towards the sofa. "You'll probably faint when you hear everything, and it'll hurt less if you're already sitting down."

Out in the hallway, Fluttershy awkwardly tapped on Twilight's flank.

"What is it, Fluttershy?"

"Um, I was just wondering if it would be okay if I stayed here." She rubbed her hooves together awkwardly. "I mean, I don't really have anything to do there, and it might be dangerous..."

"You're probably right..." Twilight answered. "Whoever this guy is did tell Sarah to kidnap Rarity after all. It might be a good idea for you to stay here. If we don't come back or contact you somehow in the next...let's say three hours, you can tell Negi and Asuna that we went to the science building, okay?"

"Oh, okay..." The prospect that such a thing might be necessary freaked her out a little.

"I doubt we'll have to do anything like that, but it's just a little extra precaution. Don't worry, okay?" She patted Fluttershy on the head. "You have stuff to do while we're gone?"

"Yeah...I have some things to do.."

"Well, I'll see you later, then." Twilight turned around and trotted after the others.

Both Chao and Chisame had headaches. Chisame had a headache because she knew for a fact that computer science was the one area in which she possessed expertise that Chao did not, and, as a result, Chao's constant refusal to accept that fact frustrated her to no end. Chao had a headache because she, reluctantly, knew that as well, and, as a result, it aggravated her immensely that Chisame's considerable skill, even when assisted with her shiny new technopathic artifact, had resulted in absolutely nothing. Of course, her relative inexperience didn't change the fact that she had more resources in the form of numerous computers that were specifically built to interface magically. Chisame didn't officially know about them, but she had made an educated (and correct) guess that they existed, and had quite unceremoniously shown up at Chao's laboratory to request their use.

"I'm telling you, it's utterly impossible with my current equipment," Chisame complained. "Even with my artifact, my computer just isn't designed to work with magical computers. I don't know much about them, but I know this guy is using one, and I need one myself if you expect me to find him."

"I'm quite sure that your artifact is more than sufficient in that regard," Chao retorted. "A magical computer is little more than a mundane computer with a magical adapter that allows it to interface with spell programs. You're artifact is perfectly capable of that."

"In terms of interface, yes. In terms of processing power, not so much. I have to run a lot of info mining programs to get any data on this mysterious stalker of yours, and regardless of how well my artifact function as an adapter, it still uses up a ton of processing power. If you're trying to tell me that a computer built specifically to utilize magic isn't more efficient than a mundane computer with an adapter on it, I gotta question why you'd bother with a magic computer in the first place."

"Okay, fine, if I get you some magical hardware, will you stop bothering me and get back to your search? Whoever this person is, they somehow know-" Chao caught herself. At the moment her priorities were clear. She needed Chisame out of the lab. Walker would likely be back any minute now, and she really didn't want Chisame seeing a mysterious person delivering a pony to the lab. "You know what? It doesn't matter. I'll give you some hardware. I'm sure that you can put them to good use."

"Good," Chisame said triumphantly. She hadn't expected Chao to crack so easily. Hopefully the stuff wouldn't be crap, and she'd be able to keep it after this whole debacle was finished. Chao vanished into one of the lab's many closets and began to rummage. A few minutes later she emerged with several boxes of various sizes."

"A Maho-net compatible laptop, and several spell-compatible components," she said, all but shoving the boxes into Chisame's arms. "I'm sure you can find some use for them." She was just about to shove Chisame in the direction of the door when a buzzer went off. Chao punched a button on one of the tables. "Who is it?"

"It's Walker. I have your unicorn," a speaker crackled.

Chao groaned. Hopefully she could come up with some sort of story to spin to keep Chisame from getting too suspicious. She pressed the button to open the door, and immediately that task became several orders of a magnitude more difficult. Walker was there, and she had the unicorn, an eggshell white specimen with an elaborately styled violet mane. All well and good. The issue was the other, more familiar unicorn, the pegasus, and the two other humans.

"What do you think that you're doing!-?" Chao gasped, all but shoving Chisame out of the way.

"You never said that I had to make the dropoff by myself," Sarah answered, smiling. "Rookie mistake." She put a hand on her delivery's head. "Here's the unicorn you ordered. Her name is Rarity. These are some of her friends."

"Oh, so you know these other ponies..." Chao said, her lips forced into a false grin. Twilight was already stomping towards her, and she could make quite a good guess as to what was about to happen.

"You're the one who hired Sarah to kidnap Rarity!-? Why would you do that? I thought you were trying to help us!"

"Relax, relax." Chao raised her hands in a gesture of supplication. "I assure you I had no intention of hurting her in any way." That much was true. "I was surveying the magical patterns in the area around the campus, and I noticed one that very closely resembled your own. I figured that I'd retrieve her." That was also true.

"So you were looking for her for us?" Twilight's eyebrows unfurrowed and her eyes widened. "Thank you! That's so sweet!"

Chao just smiled. Her actual intent had to been to devise some means to keep the unicorn at the lab while she monitored the magical interactions. Twilight didn't need to know that. This was hardly ideal, but that ship hadn't completely sailed yet. This was certainly an inconvenience, but compared to all the other roadblocks, this one was refreshingly simple.

"Well, I'm glad to see that you all found each other again; however, that happened," she said. She half-looked at Twilight. The blue pegasus that hovered impatiently behind the unicorns dominated most of her attention. Wings that small should not be capable of supporting that much weight unless they flapped a lot faster than they already were. Either the pegasus' body was made of balloons (unlikely, Chao thought), or else there was some other form of magic. Luckily enough, she had already activated the magical sensors in the laboratory in expectation of the unicorn's arrival. Hopefully they'd pick up whatever the heck it was that the pegasus was doing. "While you're here, would you mind if I made a request of you?"

"I suppose..." Twilight answered.

"Well, after you made your pactio with Chisame, I couldn't help but notice that you have quite a unique magical signature. It's quite unlike any naturally occurring magic around here." Chisame's face flushed, and raised the stack of boxes slightly in an attempt to hide it.

"Well, that's to be expected," Twilight said, starting to slip into lecture mode. "After all, we did come from an entire other world. The fact that my magic is compatible at all with your magic is quite surprising."

Morgan tapped Chuck's shoulder and leaned in.

"Do you have any idea what the heck they're talking about?"

Chuck just shook his head.

"I don't get it either." Both of them turned to see Rainbow Dash dangling in the air next to them, eyes slack with disinterest. "I used to try to understand it, but now I just sorta tune it out." For a few seconds, she was entirely motionless except for the flapping of her wings. "Yeah, this is boring. I thought we were going to do something cool."

"Actually, I may have a good opportunity for you," Chao said, addressing the blue pegasus. "I assume you like flying?"

"Do I like flying? HA!" Rainbow Dash all but vanished as she zipped back and forth across the lab, leaving prismatic contrails in her wake. "I'm the fastest pegasus in all of Equestria! The only pony to ever perform a Sonic Rainboom! Twice! I'm a living leg-" Greatest flyer or no, her aim was slightly off. She barreled straight into Chisame.

The girl came out of the multicolored spin to see her computer boxes hanging in the air. Two of them were surrounded by magical glows, caught by the unicorns. The largest, most important box was still falling.

"Catch it!" she shouted.

"Got it!" Chuck dove forward in an overly elaborate roll. With an unnecessary flourish, he snatched the box out of freefall just inches above the floor.

"Thanks," she mumbled as she stood herself back up. Rainbow Dash was flopped awkwardly against the wall. Both Chao and Chisame glared daggers at her.

"I would appreciate it if you wouldn't do that in here," Chao chided. "Lot's of expensive equipment. Although...I am rather curious about how you managed to propel yourself so quickly and leave that afterimage behind you. Would you mind coming back here some time so I can run some tests?"

"Tests, what kind of tests?" Rainbow Dash asked. The last time she could remember anyone running tests on her had involved Twilight and a lot of electrodes. It hadn't been fun. "Sounds boring."

"Hardly," Chao said. "I'm curious about your flying ability. All you have to do is fly really fast and let me record some information about it."

"You have someplace for me to fly?" Rainbow Dash perked up. "I haven't been able to really fly since I got here."

"Of course."

"Sure, I'll do that!" the blue pegasus answered.

"And while we're on the subject," Chao continued, "I would love to get a chance to analyze your unicorn magic more. Is there any chance that I could convince you two to come back some time so I could further study the magical interaction? After seeing how well it worked with that Pactio, I'd love to see you cast some spells in more detail."

"So what's this 'pactio' thing I keep hearing about, anyway?" Rainbow Dash interrupted. "Twilight wouldn't tell me what it is."

"Well, I need to get going!" Chisame blurted, her face flushing. She strode over to where Chuck was holding her box. "Can I have my computer back please?"

"Sure." As Chuck held the box out, the logo on the corner of the packaging caught his eye. His eyes rolled back for a moment and his whole body shivered. "Whoa..."

"Chuck, are you okay?" Sarah asked.

"What? Yeah, I'm fine." He shook his head. "I just flashed on that computer box. I know all the specifications of that computer."

"Okay, I guess it's a bit weird that you flashed on something so minor, but it's not really a big deal," Morgan said.

"No, it's not that." Chuck took a second look at the box to confirm his suspicions. "The Intersect is telling me that it's a magic computer that's based off of a popular mundane model. The thing is, the model that it's supposedly made from doesn't exist in our world."

"Huh?" Morgan cocked his head.

"It says that that computer model has sold millions of units in North America and is one of the most popular models among businesses. It doesn't exist in our world. I fix computers for a living and I've never even heard of it."

"So, what's the big deal?"

"Morgan, the big deal is that this information cannot be in the Intersect! It does not exist in our world. Something added information to the Intersect!"

"What's this Intersect thing?" Chisame interrupted. She could tell from the context that it was something vaguely computer-related, and it piqued her interest. "And what's so bad about people adding information to it?"

"The reason it's bad is because it's in my head!" Chuck pointed at his head, as if he were afraid that his words wouldn't be understood. "And you can't just modify the Intersect without specialized computer training and all sorts of advanced technology. It took my father years of research to even get it to work at all! And nobody has every been able to modify it while it's in somebody's brain. Ever! It shouldn't even be possible."

"Wait." Twilight scratched her head. "So he has one of those computer things in his head? How on earth does that work?"

"I'm not sure..." Chisame answered. "I've never heard somebody getting a computer in their head before."

"Well, it's really more of a database," Morgan interjected. "I mean, it's not like his brain runs on Linux or anything."

"That's beside the point!" Chuck interrupted. "I want to know who on earth managed to modify the Intersect while it was still in my head!"

Chisame was about to answer when a loud beep echoed through the lab. Chao groaned. She knew exactly what it meant. She punched one of the many buttons on her console, and a massive screen popped out of the wall, showing a computer screen, with a large chat window visible.

jackassTranscendance messaged temporalJellyfish on May 29 at 10:22 AM.

JT: That would be me.

Chao angrily slammed her fist down on another button and a keyboard popped out of the console.

TJ: What the hell are you doing?

JT: I'm answering his question.

TJ: I know that.

TJ: I want to know why you are hacking your way past my block to do so.

TJ: You do realized that I have blocked you, right?

JT: It's simply because he doesn't have an account.

JT: ;)

Chisame shoved Chao out of the way and took over the keyboard.

TJ: You bastard!

TJ: Do you know how much sleep I've lost trying to find you! :(

TJ: You must be cheating somehow.

JT: Relax, relax.

JT: At least you're getting paid for it.

TJ: How do you know that?

JT: I know a lot of things.

TJ: That doesn't answer my question.

TJ: At all.

JT: Believe me, if I answered you wouldn't believe me anyway.

TJ: awefpoijwepoijfapowj ojwaeofj

Chao grabbed Chisame and dragged her away from the keyboard. Chuck stepped forward.

"Uh, do you mind if I..." He gestured at the keyboard.

"Go right ahead," Chao answered.

"Thanks." He began to type.

TJ: Chuck here.

TJ: So what exactly did you change when you modified the Intersect.

TJ: I'd kinda like to know.

TJ: Given that it's my brain and everything.

JT: Don't worry, your brain will be fine.

JT: All I did was update the data in the intersect so that it would be more useful.

JT: As you've inevitably figured out by now, this universe isn't quite like your home universe.

JT: So I modified the intersect a bit so that the information is accurate to this world.

JT: That's all.

TJ: When exactly did you do this?

JT: While you were in transit.

Chuck stared at the screen, not quite sure of how to respond.

JT: In any case, if you really want to understand the Intersect better, you should probably take up Chisame's offer.

JT: I know she hasn't technically made it yet, but she will.

JT: She'd have to be an idiot not to.

JT: She's very much interested the idea, and she's just acquired the perfect means to further explore it.

JT: No way is she passing up that opportunity.

"Okay, that's enough." Chao shoved Chuck away and re-assumed control of the console.

TJ: So what do you want, anyway? I assume you have a reason for interrupting.

JT: Two things.

JT: First, unless you and Chisame want to be my messenger girls, I suggest you set up accounts for your friends.

JT: At the very least, you guys ought to be able to connect to each other more easily. It's very convenient.

TJ: Duly noted.

TJ: And the other thing?

JT: Aim for the head.

TJ: What?

JT: You'll understand when the time comes.

JT: Talk to you guys later.

JT: Bye.

TJ: Hey, wait a minute!

jackassTranscendance is offline at 10:33 AM.

Everyone stared blankly at the screen for a solid minute. It was Rainbow Dash who broke the silence.

"What the hay was that about?"

Fluttershy was quite happy with how everything had turned out. Her friends almost certainly believed that she had stayed behind because she didn't do well in large groups, and because she was scared of being the same room as whoever it was who had hired Sarah to kidnap Rarity. And for the most part, they were totally right. The only incorrectness here was that it wasn't her sole motivation.

As soon as her friends had piled into the van and been whisked off to wherever they were going, she had made a beeline for Homura's room. Ever since the mysterious girl had taken her up on her invitation to watch a movie with them, she had held it in the back of her mind to talk to her again. After all, Fluttershy had her other friends around; Homura didn't seem to have anybody. After sticking together for those hours after their arrival, Fluttershy couldn't help but think that she was the closest thing to a friend Homura had at the moment.

Sure enough, when she poked her head into the room, Homura was sitting by herself, watching some sort of TV show that involved unnaturally excited people spinning a large wheel with lots of flashing lights on it.

"Um, excuse me."

Homura turned around, her face betraying no indication of annoyance or happiness. Fluttershy was tempted to back out of the room, but she forced herself to continue.

"I was just wondering if you would mind if I came in. I just thought that you might be a bit lonely."

"I don't mind."

"O-okay." Fluttershy hovered slowly across the room and took a seat on the couch. "So, uh, what are you watching?"

"It's called a game show. People go on it to play a game and the winners get money and prizes."

"Oh, that sounds interesting."

"It can be, I suppose. I'm really only watching it because there isn't anything else on. It's sort of odd to watch though."

"Odd, why?" Fluttershy asked. It wasn't much, but in the short amount of time she had spent with Homura, this was the first time the girl had volunteered any information about herself.

"Well, my world is similar to this one, but it's quite different..."

Homura went on to explain that a large portion of the show was made up of trivia questions, and that the world that she came from was different enough that she couldn't answer many of them. Nothing drove home the fact that she was in another universe like the realization that all the details were different. It wasn't a world that was almost entirely the same except for one or two things; the noticeable differences trickled down and changed everything else.

The two of them spent the next hour or so flipping through the channels, Homura making reserved attempts to explain to Fluttershy exactly what was going on. Both of them were lost, to various degrees, but the knowledge that they were in the same boat made the confusion more palatable. The conversation was almost bordering on fun when Makie returned from her gymnastics practice.

"Hey, Homura. What have you been up- A PONY!" Makie vaulted over the couch and latched onto Fluttershy, cuddling the started pegasus aggressively. Fluttershy couldn't really respond outside of a few startled squeaks.

"Makie, you're scaring her." Homura tapped Makie on the shoulder a few times.

"Oh, sorry." Makie loosened her grip. "It's just that ever since we found you I had wanted to talk with the ponies but I never really got a chance."

She traded introductions with Fluttershy, expressing several more times just how adorable the pony was. Homura watched on, finding the scene vaguely familiar. It reminded her of someone that she had known meeting a cat for the first time. The memory felt melancholy, but at the same time she couldn't help but smile a little.

"So have you two just been watching TV all day?"

Homura nodded.

"That's so boring!" Makie sniffed. "You need to do something more active than that! Sure, you're all svelte now, but if you keep sitting around like that you won't be that way for long!"

Homura nearly jumped off the couch as Makie playfully poked her in the stomach.

"What do you want to do, then?" Fluttershy asked. This Makie person was a bit too energetic, but she seemed nice enough. She certainly reminded Fluttershy of one of her as-of-yet-unfound friends.

"Good question," Makie answered. She began to stroke her chin as she attempted to look pensive. "I know! Let's play Twister!"

Ten minutes later, Fluttershy found herself stretched awkwardly across the Twister mat. If not for the fact that one of Homura's legs was underneath her, she would have fallen over quite a while back. Makie was completely entangled around the two of them; Fluttershy wasn't entirely sure how Makie could bend that way and still have a spine. She was puzzled even more by the fact that Homura had accepted the idea so readily. Sure, she didn't know the girl that well, but she just didn't seem like the type who would have been drawn into a party game so easily. When Makie had explained how the game worked, Fluttershy had expected Homura to reject it; she wasn't really what one would call touchy-feely. Yet instead of recoiling, she blushed a little and said, "Sure, if that's what you want to do." Weird.

"Left foot, blue."

Fluttershy felt Homura start to move. A moment later, her support was gone. A moment after that, she was collapsing, dragging the two girls down with her into a tangle of limbs. The three of them lay still for a moment, unsure of how to proceed in extract themselves from the pile. Then a scramble began, ending with Makie lying on the mat and Homura and Fluttershy standing red-faced next to it.

"So does this mean I won?" Makie said. "Both of you two fell over before I did."

"I...suppose so," Homura mumbled.

"You're a lot more flexible than I thought." Makie stood up. "I mean, when you got that right hand yellow spin and you had to like do that pretzel thing around my leg...I didn't think you'd be able to do it. I mean, you're just as flexible as I am." She kicked one of her legs up, and with a grunt shoved her foot behind her head, balancing precariously on one leg. "Have you ever done any gymnastics before?"

"No," Homura answered, gawking at Makie's elasticity.

"You should give it a try. I bet you'd be good at it."


"Yeah, you have good balance and everything. Can you do a split?"


"A split!"

"Um...I don't know, I've never tried."

Fluttershy wasn't entirely sure how to react as she watched Makie grabbed one of Homura's legs and began to lift it. Her other hand was on Homura's back, supporting her. The pony knew that it probably wasn't anything untoward, but the intensity with which Homura was blushing each time Makie readjusted her grip made her question whether she should be watching.

"Okay, so maybe you aren't quite as flexible as I am," Makie said, oblivious to just how red Homura's face was. "But still, if you trained a bit, you probably could be."

"I-I'll think about it," Homura stammered.

"Hey, Fluttershy!" Twilight's head poked into the room. "Konoka said you were in here. Turns out that Rarity wasn't going to get kidnapped. She and Rainbow Dash are still at the lab doing some experiments on magic and flight. They'll be back tonight." She paused and noted Makie and Homura's odd position. "What are you guys doing anyway?"

"We're playing Twister!" Makie exclaimed, releasing Homura. "Do you want to play?"

"Sure, why not!"

A short time later, Makie emerged from the bathroom.

"Are you sure you're okay?" Twilight asked, a mix of concern and apology in her voice.

"I'm fine, I'm fine," Makie said. "It's just a bit sore." She put a thick pillow on her chair and sat gingerly on it, being careful to lean a bit so the majority of her weight was on the left side of her bottom. "Thanks for helping me bandage it up, Homura."

"T-think nothing of it..." Homura mumbled.

"I'm so sorry," Twilight said. "I should have been more comfortable."

"No, don't worry about it." Makie waved the concern away with her hand. "I'm the one who sat on your head, after all."

"Are you sure this is the right way, Rainbow Dash." Rarity looked up from the map of the Mahora tunnel system that Chao had given her. "I'm quite sure that we were supposed to turn left back there."

"Nah, we're good. I know exactly where we're going."

"Yes, but do you know where we are?"

"Yeah, pretty much. I think." Rainbow Dash scratched her head.

"I don't think so," Rarity said. "According to the map, there should be an exit right there." She pointed a hoof at a nonexistent opening at the apex of the cavern.

"Well, crud." Rainbow Dash zipped up to where the exit was supposed to be. "Just sit tight for a minute, I'm going to backtrack a little and see if I can find where we took a wrong turn."

"You're going to leave me here?"

"Of course not. I'll be back in like two minutes, tops. You know I'd never leave you hanging."

"Fine, just hurry up."

"Will do." Rainbow Dash buzzed down the tunnel and disappeared around a corner.

Rarity turned her attention back to the map, largely to distract herself from the macabre of surroundings. The tunnel system was indeed convenient; Rarity could already tell that it would be invaluable to get herself and her friends around campus without having to sneak everywhere. But still, the dank darkness reminded her a bit too much of her various encounters with subterranean monstrosities. Who knew what creatures might be hiding in the darkness? Not to mention that the whole place stank as if she were walking through a sewer. How disgusting. Although the thought might not be an exaggeration, given the channel of water flowing down the center of this particular passage.

Speaking of which, her eye was naturally drawn to a faint glimmer in the dirty water. She took a step forward, to the edge of the channel. It almost certainly wasn't a gemstone, she could tell. But the object had piqued her curiosity, and she might as well examine the object. She extended her telekinesis into the water and grasped the object. A coin. A rather large gold coin with red detailing and a square hole in the middle. It certainly wasn't her usual kind of gaudiness, but it had a certain flair that she could see herself building an outfit around; give her designs some variety. She withdrew a handkerchief and wiped the coin off, tucking both the coin and the piece of cloth in her mane.

"Hey, I found the exit!" Rainbow Dash popped out of one of the connecting tunnels. "Told you I'd be back. Follow me." She disappeared again.

"Will you slow down?" Rarity called as she trotted after her friend. She rounded the corner and saw a shaft of pale light pouring from a circular hole in the top of the tunnel. A metal ladder was built into the wall under it. "You realize I can't climb that, right?"

"I'll carry you out, don't worry about it," Rainbow said. "I'm just gonna look over here real quick, I think I heard something."

"Fine, fine," Rarity grumbled. "Make it quick. I want to get out of this place." She rolled her eyes. Rainbow Dash was most likely just trying to scare her. Her suspicions were confirmed as Rainbow Dash barreled into view, screaming.

"HOLYCRAPHOLYCRAPHOLYCRAP Rarity we gotta get out of here!"

"Please, Rainbow Dash, this is no time for-" She froze as she saw something behind the pegasus in the shadows at the end of the passage. Something with tentacles.

"Jump up and I'll carry us out of here!" Rainbow Dash called.

Rarity braced herself as Rainbow Dash came closer. She had to time this correctly. She took a deep breath and leaped towards the pegasus with all the strength her legs could muster. As she left the ground, she realized that she had jumped far higher than she had thought she was capable of. She wasn't jumping; she was flying. She shot upward, slammed into Rainbow Dash and kept going. The two ponies crashed into the ceiling with a crunch. Rarity landed unexpectedly lightly on the floor, Rainbow Dash splayed out on top of her.

"Rrrrrgggggh..." Rainbow Dash gritted her teeth and let out a long low squeal of pain. Rarity looked back and saw that the her friend's wing was bent rather awkwardly. They weren't flying out of there. She looked back down the tunnel. The thing was coming closer; tentacles, teeth, red eyes... Rarity swallowed and looked up at her only chance of escape. If she could somehow jump high enough to hit the ceiling...

"Hold on, Rainbow Dash." She felt Rainbow Dash's forelegs grip her body. Rarity took a few steps back, hoping that her jumping skill was as precise as her telekinesis. "Here goes. A hop..." She started forward. "A skip..." She braced herself. "And a jump!" She flung herself towards the hole. Cool, clean night air blasted her face as she shot through it. She flipped over a few times in the air, miraculously landing on her hooves. She spun around to look at the manhole she had just emerged from, and shoved the cover back into place. Feeling a bit safer, she held still long enough for Rainbow Dash to crawl off. "What was that thing?"

"I have no idea."

Fluttershy fidgeted nervously with the curtains in the Library Girls' room, trying to shove them out of the way long enough to get a good view of the outside.

"Do you think Rainbow Dash and Rarity are alright?" Fluttershy asked. "Weren't they supposed to be back a while ago."

"I'm sure they're alright," Twilight answered. "They can take care of themselves. Chances are the tests just took longer than they thought."

"Yeah, I bet Rainbow Dash could beat up anything that messed with her," Haruna said with a laugh.

"Um, excuse me..." Fluttershy began to say.

"I wouldn't go quite that far," Yue said. "I'm sure she's competent in her area of expertise, but isn't claiming that she's capable of handling anything a bit much?"

"It's just an exaggeration, Yue," Haruna grumbled. "Right, Nodoka?"

"Yes, I don't think Haruna meant for her statement to be taken literally."

"Excuse me!" Fluttershy spoke loudly this time, which was still quite soft, but at least this time they heard her.

"Yes, what is it?" Twilight said.

"Um, I can see Rainbow Dash and Rarity out there, but there's something else. I'm not sure what they are."

"Let me see." Haruna shoved Fluttershy away from the window. "Oh boy."

"What is it?" Nodoka asked.

"You wouldn't believe me if I told you."

"Well, given that there are talking ponies running around, I suppose I can't be too skeptical," Yue answered.

"Okay, then. Just remember that I'm not making this up or exaggerating or anything."

"Fine, what's out there."



I guess I'm a bit evil for cutting off the story there, especially since I'm leaving on vacation soon and won't be back for about 3 weeks, so I probably won't be posting much of anything during that time. I may or may not be writing during that time, but my internet access will be...spotty.

Anyway, I'm glad that I finally got around to having the Chuck crew interact with the other characters, which I've been meaning to do for a while. I have plans for them.

Thanks for reading; reviews are welcome.