The day which would go so wrong started as so many days did in Ponyville: simple and pleasant. It was, in fact, a holiday- Plowpony's Day, a day set aside since olden times to honor the hard work done by the earth ponies that tilled Equestria's endless farmlands. As such, most of Ponyville's businesses were closed, and the great bulk of the population had gathered in the radiant green parkland just beyond the city gates for a mass picnic and celebration.
Twilight Sparkle had of course enjoyed Plowpony's Day before- it was a day off from classes at University in Canterlot- but never in the company of such good friends as she had now. She had never, in fact, celebrated the day with the earth ponies for which it had been created. It was an entirely different experience from the lazy day off she was used to. She had been roused early by frantic beating on her door, Pinkie Pie insisting that she come out and help with the preparations for the day of celebration. She had breakfasted at a long communal table in the company of her friends and nearly every other able-bodied pony in Ponyville. Then had followed a long stretch of physical labors: baking bread, plucking hay, inflating balloons, making kites (apparently flying them was a Plowpony's Day tradition), constructing a stage out in the park, hanging up streamers, even marking out dance grounds for the dance competition! Twilight had assisted in them all, having much greater success than her disastrous attempts at helping during Winter Wrap-Up. She had of course been helped by all of her wonderful friends, not just Pinkie Pie but Rarity, Applejack, Rainbow Dash, and Fluttershy as well.
Now it was the stroke of noon, and the park was ready to receive its multitudes. From old mares to young colts to giggling fillies and strapping stallions, young ponies, parents and their foals, all the townsponies had come out to eat good food and frolic in the warm spring sun. Twilight and her friends were nestled under the shade of an old oak tree that towered above them, its branches letting in dapples of golden sunlight amid a haze of wild green. They were lazily munching their way through a simple lunch of bread, hay, and apples. Pinkie Pie had started on dessert early: grilled sugarcane surged and splashed through her mouth as she chewed. Fluttershy, lying in the grass by the tree trunk, was trying to convince her small rabbit, Angel, to eat some hay, to little avail. Rainbow Dash was perched in the branches of the tree, gazing down at her friends with one eye while the other surveyed the sky for any sign of troubling weather. Applejack sat near the bushel of apples she had brought, watching with some amusement as the two remaining friends were engaged in an attempt at... education.
"Rarity, you can do it! I know you can. Stop being a fear-filly and give it a try!" Twilight Sparkle said with a smile. Her deep purple eyes shone with excitement.
Rarity pawed the ground with a front hoof and flinched away. "Now, darling, I appreciate your trying to help me, really I do, but I'm just not cut out for it. I'm no sorceress."
"Rarity, I keep telling you- teleporting isn't something you need special talent in magic for. Okay... my talent makes it easier for me, but every unicorn can do it! You just need some practice. Let me help you work on it."
The white unicorn blinked her brilliant blue eyes and betrayed a nervous expression. "I'm just... I've no particular need to learn to teleport, Twilight. There's no place I'm in that large a hurry to get to. And if I ever am in such a hurry- why, I have you."
Twilight shook her head amusedly. Her lavender coat was brilliant in the sunlight, and her cutie mark- a pink sparkle surrounded by small white stars- actually shone in the warm white rays. "Rarity, I'm not always going to be around to help you. And you know doing magic is like doing anything else- the more you practice it, the better you get. Learning to teleport will help all your other magic too!"
"Well..." Rarity wavered.
"Look, you already know telekinesis magic, right? Teleportation works on the same principle. Instead of moving something else, you're moving yourself- and instead of moving through the air, you're moving through space and time. Easy!"
Rarity gave Twilight a very despairing look.
With another smile, Twilight trotted close to Rarity until she was right in front of her. The lavender unicorn touched her horn to her friend's, and suddenly their minds were joined. Rarity, this is actually very simple, especially for a creative pony like yourself. You've got a good imagination, right?
Rarity was caught off-guard. She was uncomfortable when other ponies poked around her thoughts, even though she had long since learned to trust Twilight with them. Well, I happen to think I do, she thought. She fluffed herself a bit. I have a great reputation, you know.
Right, Twilight's thoughts echoed through her mind. Rarity then found herself looking into Twilight's mind, where a simulacrum of the lavender unicorn was standing in a field. A small area of the field was fenced off with white picket wood. Teleportation magic relies on your ability to use your imagination. You have to put yourself mentally in a place before you can put yourself there physically. First, a unicorn imagines the place where she wants to go- she forms a picture of it in her mind. The image of Twilight in the field zoomed in on the fenced-off area. Then, the unicorn imagines herself in that place. A flickering ghost of Twilight faded in and out of the fenced-off area. The real-fake Twilight's horn began to glow, sending off a brilliant shower of sparks. Suddenly, she vanished in a burst of white light, and with another burst of white light appeared inside the fenced-off area. The real Twilight Sparkle in the real world pulled her horn apart from Rarity's, and each pony was once more alone in her head. "So like I said- it's all in the mind. That's the hard part. Once you can expertly picture yourself in places, you just need to channel that mental image through your horn, and the spell almost performs itself."
Rarity sighed. "Twilight, darling, as much as you exalt my powers of imagination- and rightly so, I like to think- there's a great deal of difference between imagining how a dress will look on a pony and imagining oneself suddenly appearing in a separate place."
"Here," the lavender unicorn said, trotting over to the picnic. She plucked a napkin from a stack and walked a few feet away into the field. She set the napkin down and looked back toward Rarity. "Just start with short distances. Teleport from where you are right now to this napkin."
"Come on, Rarity, do it!" Rainbow Dash called down from the tree. "It'll be awesome!"
Rarity noticed all her other friends were looking expectantly at her. Even Fluttershy was smiling and nodding. She swallowed hard. "Well... I suppose I can give it a whirl."
"Just use your horn, and picture yourself standing on top of the napkin," Twilight said. "Think hard- really concentrate on standing on top of the napkin. Focus your entire mind on it!"
Rarity narrowed her eyes and put the napkin squarely in her sights. She began to focus, thinking of what she would see and where she would be if her hooves were on top of the napkin. Her horn began to glow. Rarity concentrated harder, thinking of nothing else but being on top of the napkin. Sparks began to shoot from her horn, and the white light began to pulse in waves down her flank.
A small mushroom cloud of white energy rose above the treetops. Rarity lay flat on her belly, her perfectly-coiffed purple mane frizzing in every conceivable direction. Her tail was likewise sprung into coils every which way. A small burn circle cut through the grass beneath her.
"Well... that was a good first try!" Twilight said.
Applejack, Rainbow Dash, and Pinkie Pie burst out laughing, Dash cackling so violently that she actually fell out of the tree. She hit the ground in a crash of branches and leaves and rolled over on her back, clutching her sides as she laughed.
"Golly, Rarity, you're not gonna be teleportin' anywhere but the doctor's office like that!" Applejack chuckled.
"Hmph!" Rarity huffed, getting to her hooves. Her horn shimmered again, and the saddlebags that she'd piled by the tree flipped open. A mirror and hairbrush floated from its contents, the former stopping in front of Rarity while the latter began to brush her mane back into its normal curled state.
"Come on, Rarity," Twilight said, trotting over to her. "Every unicorn misses their first teleport. It's nothing to get discouraged about. If you just keep trying, I'm sure you'll get it!"
"I have got about as much as I'm willing to tolerate, thank you very much," Rarity said. "You University unicorns may be able to master teleportation, but I've got no need of it. It just seems too... dangerous."
"Yeah!" Pinkie Pie chimed in, finally finished with her sugarcane. "Think of all the nasty accidents you could have if you teleported wrong! You could teleport different body parts different directions-"
Rarity's eyes bulged.
"Pinkie, that's not-" Twilight began
"You could teleport yourself right into a wall-"
"You could teleport right where somepony else is walking-"
"There are safeguards-"
"You could even teleport waaaaaay up into the sky and come crashing down!"
"PINKIE PIE!" Twilight yelled. Pinkie blinked at her, then gave her a massive grin. Sighing, Twilight turned back to Rarity. The other unicorn was staring into space, eyes wide and unblinking. "Rarity, the Equestrian Ministry of Transport puts a blanket teleportation assistance spell over all of Equestria. It prevents... accidents. They're extremely rare."
Rarity slowly turned her eyes to Twilight. "... but not impossible?"
Twilight smiled through her teeth. "Well..."
"I mean it's not unheard of..."
"Aah!" Rarity shrieked. "That does it! No more teleporting!" She threw her mane back over her shoulder, stuck her snout in the air, and walked purposefully back toward the tree.
Sighing, Twilight trotted back to her friends and laid down in the grass. "Pinkie, why did you have to scare her like that?"
Pinkie shrugged. "I dunno! I just figured I'd be honest, and you have to admit there are all sorts of crazy things that could happen to somepony trying to teleport!" She thought for a moment. "It sounds fun! I wish I could try it!"
"Well I think Rarity's wise to wanna keep her hooves on the ground, so to speak," said Applejack, plucking another apple from the basket with her mouth and taking a careful bite of it. "Twilight, you big-city types may get a lotta use out o' teleportin' every which place, but here in Ponyville we like to take our sweet time gettin' places. As my Aunt Cider used to say, it ain't the destination that's important- it's the journey."
"Wow, that's so true," said Rainbow Dash, stretching her legs out and yawning. "Especially around here in Ponyville. There's only so many times you can see something new in this town- but getting places! There's a new adventure every time you take off!"
"See? Rainbow's got the right idea," Applejack said. She raised an eyebrow. "'Least I think she does."
Twilight narrowed her eyes. "Teleportation is a useful enough skill that I think every unicorn should learn it. Rarity just needs some practice, is all. Every unicorn does at first. She'll get the hang of it in no time." Twilight didn't mention that most unicorns started learning to teleport when they were a few years younger than Rarity's current age. Given the white unicorn's painstaking attention to detail, Twilight felt she could pick up the nuances of teleporting without much trouble. If only she had some help... "Oh! I remember!" She rose to her hooves and galloped off.
"Hey, silly! Where are you going?" Pinkie Pie called after her.
"I just need to get something from the library!" Twilight called. "I'll be right back!"
"Be sure to get back in time for the line-dancin'!" Applejack yelled. She couldn't be sure if Twilight had heard her or not. "That filly can get so excitable sometimes..."
"Like you said, she grew up in the big city," said Dash, "where there's always something happening." The sky-blue pegasus rolled over onto her belly, propping her head up in one hoof. "Must be nice, sometimes."
"Well, I'd never want to be anyplace but right here in Ponyville," Applejack retorted, taking another big bite of her apple. "I'm not the adventurous type."
At the trunk of the oak tree, Rarity had just finished brushing her restored hair. Fortunately, she always took very good care of it, and it sprang easily back into shape. Fluttershy watched her work, her own long pink mane pooling on the grass around her. "You know, Rarity," she said softly, "Twilight just wants to help you."
"Oh, darling, I know that," Rarity said, keeping her eyes on the mirror as she brushed the ends of her tail. "But Twilight has got to understand that not every unicorn is as... ambitious as she is. Not in the way she is, anyway. I've got no grand designs to be a great sorceress, like that wretched Trixie; I want to make my mark designing the crème de la crème of Equestrian fashion. I do one thing," Rarity brushed the last of her tail with a flourish, then sent her mirror and brush spiraling around each other in an artful spin, "and I do it well." The two tools spun themselves back into her saddlebag, which was closed with further magic.
Meanwhile, Twilight had reached the great window-pocked tree that was Ponyville's library, her home for the duration of her extended stay in the lovely town. Pushing the door open with her head, she trotted through the ground floor to a door cut between two enormous bookshelves. Twisting it open with magic, she walked inside and nudged the fireflies in the little lamp to waking. As soft yellow light filled the small room, she began to scan the numerous boxes piled from the wooden floor up to the gnarled tree-trunk ceiling. These were a few of the belongings and supplies she had brought with her from Canterlot when she had decided to stay in Ponyville, and she had yet to unpack them. Among them, she knew, was a box of magical supplies from her younger days at the great University. All she had to do was find it. She used her magic to levitate the boxes one by one, passing them in front of her eyes to examine what had been written on the side. "Not this one... not this one... aha!" Twilight exclaimed as she found the box she sought. The medium-sized cardboard box floated out of the closet, the others returned to their stacked places. Twilight closed the closet door and then pried open the box, rummaging through it with her hooves and looking for what she knew was in there... somewhere. "Ah, here it is!" she said. Just what she'd been looking for, right in the same cyan-colored tube. "Lube!"
Mystical lubrication, designed to increase the 'slickness' of unicorns as they teleported through space-time. It was an excellent aide for new teleporters, taking some of the strain off of their magical powers and allowing them to spend more energy focusing on destination control. She unscrewed the cap with her magic, then raised the tube to her nose and took a sniff. It was still good- she'd kept it tightly sealed, and it hadn't separated out at all. That was quite fortunate: teleportation lubricant had incredibly potent magic woven into it, and when the stuff expired it could be dangerous. She made sure to screw the cap back on again-
"Twilight?" Spike's voice called down from the upper level of the library. The small purple-and-green dragon waved at her as he came down from the bedroom. "What are you doing here? I thought you were at the festival in the park."
"Oh, I am- er, I was," said the lavender unicorn. She walked out of the closet, closing the door behind her. "I just needed to pick up something for Rarity. I'm about to go back." She gave him an eager look. "Are you sure you don't want to come? It's going to be a lot of fun! There will be dancing and apple-bobbing and even karaoke!"
Spike raised an eyebrow at her. "No thanks, Twilight. I didn't get a lot of sleep last night."
"All those reports for the Princess, I know. I don't know why she's saddled you with the soil studies; it's not even your job."
"Probably because I can get the results to her instantly," Spike said with a shrug. "I don't mind- it means I get to hang out with Big Macintosh. Do you know how refreshing it is to pal around with another guy, after all you..." he stopped. He grinned. "Not that you girls aren't... I mean that I have a perfectly good time with..." He sighed. "Sorry."
Twilight laughed. "No offense taken, Spike. I understand. Go get some rest; I'll be back later this evening."
"Roger Wilco," Spike said, giving her the thumbs up. He turned on his heel and began to trudge back up the stairs.
Twilight was about to head for the door when a thought struck her: direct demonstration was always the best method of instruction. What better way to show Rarity that teleportation was perfectly safe than to teleport right in front of her? Twilight Sparkle thus began to focus on her destination, the soft cool grass beneath the oak tree in the park. Her horn began to glow and spark as she readied the teleport spell. She made all the necessary caveats and precautionary measures- a Shift spell to automatically move her if there was some other object in her way, a Whole spell to keep her body together in the event of unstable terrain- then grabbed the tube of mystical lubricant in her mouth.
Unfortunately, in talking to Spike, Twilight had forgotten to finish screwing the cap on the tube. It hung loosely over the opening, exposed to the air becoming rapidly charged with Twilight's magical energies.
Rainbow Dash's head was craned far back, peering up intently into the heavens. She always kept an eye on the sky when she was bored, trying to find some cloud, some threat of rain or shade that she could use as an excuse to blast off with her wings at full speed. She hated staying still any longer than she had to, except when she was tired. She blew a tuft of her short, rainbow-striped mane out of her face. "Is Twilight coming back yet?"
"I don't see her," said Pinkie Pie, glancing up from her bag of gummy worms. Pinkie Pie's love of junk food hadn't been deterred at all by the Plowpony's Day tradition of cooking all the food in wood-burning ovens on-site. She'd just had to fill her saddlebags with processed treats from her home at Sugarcube Corner. She had a batch of cupcakes ready to go after she was finished with these, though she hoped at least one of her friends would ask her for one of them. As much as she loved eating sweets, she loved even more when others ate sweets with her; it doubled the tasty goodness. It was like a little party-
The explosion was so powerful it rattled the bones in everypony's chest. Applejack, Pinkie Pie, and Fluttershy were on their feet in moments; Rainbow Dash was in the air, flapping up to see past the crowds suddenly silent and confused. A tall cloud of shimmering energy was rising over Ponyville, coming somewhere from the center of town...
"The library!" Dash exclaimed.
Fluttershy yelped. "Twilight!"
Dash blasted through the air, leaving a rainbow trail in her wake. She felt sick in her stomach: she'd wanted an excuse to fly around, but not this! What if Twilight was hurt? Fluttershy followed behind her. Rarity, Pinkie Pie, and Applejack ran as fast as their legs could carry them.