Rainbow Dash lurched forward breathlessly. No matter how many times she went through it, she still wasn't getting used to the jump. However, she was fairly confident this would be the last time. She shook her head and looked around. She was lying on the floor in Twilight's basement, with some lightly glowing blue ropes around her, holding her in place. Underneath the ropes, she could feel the harder components of the suit digging into her. There was also a funny smell that she didn't want to think about. She wriggled a little, but the ropes weren't budging. Hah, on any other day... A yellow haze covered the door, and some beeping, flashing machines lined the walls. Twilight was limping around the room, going from machine to machine, making adjustments.
"Twilight!" Dash yelped. Her voice was hoarse - she guessed there wasn't much to drink down here, and hadn't been for a few days. The unicorn looked over in a lazy fashion. "Twilight, it's me!"
"Rainbow?" Twilight slurred. Her eyes were bloodshot, and her breath was uneasy.
"Get me out of this thing, I've got a plan to beat Discord!" Dash blurted, struggling some more, but just turning herself onto her side.
"How... how do I know it's you? That it's not some trick?" Twilight grunted. Rainbow Dash could tell she was running on pure determination alone by now.
"Uhm..." Dash bit her lip, and tried to think back, looking for some kind of identifying cue. Gah, sure is hard to think with these... these enchanted ropes... Her mind wandered, and she couldn't help but blush a little. And just to make sure she couldn't hide her feelings from Twilight, her wings started stiffening, one of them slipping out of the ropes. Twilight blinked and raised both eyebrows.
"Eeyep, definitely you." She gulped, and in a flash, the ropes disappeared. Dash immediately wriggled free, and rushed over to hug Twilight. She could feel how weak the unicorn was, and hear it in her wavering voice. "Ngh! So... what's your plan?"
"There's no time to explain, just charge me!"
"Trust me, I know what I'm doing!"
"I..." The unicorn panted. "... alright." She closed her eyes, leaned down to the box and wound up the spell. It took much longer than it had before, and the casting even seemed to be causing her pain. When she was done, her legs went limp, and she collapsed to the floor. The yellow membrane over the door disappeared.
"Twilight!" Dash dropped to her and put an ear to her chest. Her breathing and heartbeat were weak, but present. "Alright Twi... don't you worry. I'll get 'em." She whispered. She didn't know if her words were heard, but she didn't have time to make sure. She steeled herself, and headed outside.
Outside, the scene was of abject chaos, as bad as, if not worse than last time. Buildings sailed through the air, hapless ponies clinging onto whatever they could for dear life, and diving for the ground when every so often, the edifice would spontaneously divide into a number of pieces, or collide with another. Every so often, a tree or a bench might explode in multicoloured flames and then completely reverse, sending ponies scampering away for safety - provided they weren't blithely tapdancing along a lamppost in total defiance of gravity, or carving chunks of earth into perfect cubes and stacking them into blocky structures.
Dash kept her cool, calmly trotting down the road from the library, ignoring the mayhem around her. There was a faint pounding sensation inside her head that she couldn't quite put her hoof on, but she put it down to dehydration. She made her way to the main square, where the town hall was spinning on the point of its roof like a top. A cloud-mounted chariot was positioned above it, drawn by two ponies she could just about make out to be Princesses Celestia and Luna, and in the seat was a figure all too familiar.
"Discord!" Dash announced. After a moment's pause, she heard a crack, and the chariot surged into life, taking a spiral path to the ground. When it stopped a few lengths in front of her, the Princesses reared back, and made some unnatural whinnying noises. A throne was mounted on the chariot, with Discord sprawled over it, and Pinkie Pie happily chewing on the peak.
"Well, well! Had a fun trip? I hope you wrote postcards!" The draconequus jeered. Dash's expression remained dour. "Oh, it was one of those trips then!"
"I've got a proposition for you. You like games. I've got one for you."
"Ooh! Ooh! I love games!" Pinkie squealed, bouncing on to the tip of the throne. Discord just smirked, and slouched more.
"A wager? Do go on."
"A race around the world. I win, you turn everything back to normal. You win, and... well, I'll just back off. It should take, what..." She tapped the apparatus, and executed a deft flip. "... five minutes?" Discord just broke down in a fit of mad cackling. Before long Pinkie joined the chorus, even though she probably didn't get it.
"You want to race..." Discord clicked his fingers, and his wings were replaced with jet engines. "...me?"
"Two rules. No teleporting, and no clicky-chaos-thing." Dash continued, deadpan. Discord continued to snicker.
"Y'know what? This is just too funny. You're on!" He chuckled, and summoned a start line from nowhere. "Three-two-one-go!" He spat out quickly, and leaving a cloud of smoke and dust behind him, he tore away into the distance. Dash just smirked, and shot after him.
The gap shrank rapidly - the suit definitely pulled its weight - but Discord made sure it never closed. The headache Dash was nursing wasn't going away, and she was now experiencing some light-headedness to boot, but she certainly wasn't going to give in. As their speed increased, they rose away from the ground, into the thinner air. From up here, Dash could see the full extent of the carnage below - every part of Equestria that she could see was experiencing similar disruption. Mountains swaying in the wind, whole forests turned upside down, rivers flowing backwards... She shook her head and brought her focus back to the race. The draconequus was doing acrobatic loops and twirls, and still getting away. All Dash was getting was nauseous, and she wasn't sure why.
Boom. Ahead of her, a colourless shockwave spread out from Discord's slender, winding form. Dash braced herself to plough through it. The headache was getting worse, and the sunlight wasn't helping.
Boom. Behind her, a radiant disc of colours erupted from the air around her, as only seconds later, she broke the sound barrier aswell. The ground below whizzed past, blurring more with each passing second.
"Agh!" A sudden, sharp sting in the back of her neck distracted her for a moment, and the gap between them grew slightly. However, she was quick to correct this discrepancy, and they continued to accelerate. She quickly threw a hoof to the back of her neck and felt around - nothing seemed unusual, though the pain persisted. She figured it must be internal.
Pieces started falling into place. Headaches, light-headedness, nausea, and now a sharp pain in her brain stem. She almost dropped straight out of the sky with the shock; she was still infected. The symptoms were identical to when she jumped after getting the bite, save for a lack of painkillers, and a different site of sharp, burning pain - the centre of infection.
Dead within minutes... Her wings kept beating away on autopilot, and the gap to Discord kept growing. He was flying on his back, pulling faces and doing the occasional trick. Five minutes. She narrowed her gaze. Alright, let's do this.
She could already see her peripheral vision darkening. Whether this was from her final approach to the light barrier, or her slipping from consciousness, she couldn't tell. Regardless, the important fact remained - Discord was still ahead.
One by one, she could feel her organs failing, her extremities dying. She quickly lost feeling in all four legs, and her front legs were pinned to her sides limply. Her wings would have started to give out, but for the sheer level of willpower she was mustering to keep them going. Her heart pounded like a drum-roll, and her thoracic muscles were working at full tilt to keep her breathing. It felt as though she'd drop dead the instant she took her mind off of flying, even to take stock of the fact that Discord was still ahead.
She closed her eyes. They were essentially useless at this stage - all it did was burn. Her capacity for higher thought was dulling by the second, and before long, the only thought in her head was the urge, the duty to fly like she'd never flown before.
Everything went white.
'Hey Scoot, how you doing today?' Dash asked. The little pegasus filly was sprawled out on a hospital bed. 'Better.' Scootaloo replied with a brave face. Dash just smiled and ruffled her mane. Scootaloo's wings were growing back, and healing well. Nurse Redheart passed the bed, and Dash struck up a conversation. 'You're doing well, Nurse! What was it like being dead?' 'It was cold, and hot. And pointy.' 'Hm. Interesting. Would you recommend it?' 'Hey Rainbow!' Scootaloo interrupted. 'Wake up!' 'What?' 'Wake up!'
"Whu... what are you talking about, Scoot..."
"Rainbow Dash, wake up!"
"Aah!" Dash jumped in shock. The hospital bed was gone, and so were Scootaloo and Nurse Redheart. Instead, Twilight Sparkle was standing over her with an alarmed expression. "Twilight?" She bleated, scooching out from under her and looking around. They were on the upper level of the library. Outside they could see a bright spring day, and the Cutie Mark Crusaders playing in the park across the road. "Where... what? Did I jump again?"
"I don't know, the last thing I remember was being in the basement, and Discord was outside, then I passed out and woke up in here..."
"Wait..." Dash put a hoof to her chin. "... if you remember that, that means you're my Twilight..." She got up, and began to pace. "... so either we jumped together, or I didn't jump at all..."
"The second one is much more likely." Twilight added. "But then... what happened to Discord?"
"Well, the last thing I remember is racing Discord to trick him into doing a normal jump, which should have caused a paradox or something..."
"That... that might have worked!" The unicorn started to bounce with glee. "We just need to check a few things... Spike!"
"Ah! No need to shout..." He rubbed his eyes and crawled from his basket behind them.
"Oh, sorry... Spike, what day is it?"
"Uhm..." The dragon quirked a brow, and went over to a desk to fetch a calendar. Twilight slapped her forehead, lamenting her own ignorance. "Wednesday, April 17th, why?"
"Huh... that's the day of the first test..."
"Spike, what happened to Discord?" Dash cut in.
"Discord?" He blinked and tilted his head. "Who's Discord?" Dash and Twilight exchanged a little smile.
"Never mind. C'mon Rainbow, we've got some things to check out."
One by one, the two ponies quizzed each of their friends about Discord, only to be presented with the same answer - as far as they were concerned, he never existed. However, they were as baffled as they were relieved - why, they wondered, were the only ponies to remember Discord? They found a spot alone at the edge of the forest to contemplate this mystery. No sense trying to bring others into the discussion, they reasoned. All that would do is cause alarm about a phantom threat. For about an hour, they went over their information again and again, but only ever drew up blanks. They were about to give up, when the sound of a pegasus landing nearby caught their attention.
Twilight just looked up in mild alarm, while Rainbow Dash, scrambled off her back and into the air. The intruder was close - only about five lengths away.
"Are you two Twilight Sparkle and Rainbow Dash?" She asked. Dash's jaw hit the floor. She recognised the voice, and as she kept looking, the shape and colour.
"What the... Spitfire?" She boggled.
"That's a yes, then." The flame-haired pegasus chuckled. "I have to ask you both to come with me."
"What?" Twilight tilted her head. "Why?" Spitfire just lowered her head and smiled knowingly.
"It's about Discord." Both Rainbow and Twilight gawped incredulously. "I suppose an explanation is in order?" She asked. The two of them nodded slowly. "Walk with me." She turned and waved a hoof, motioning them to follow her. They promptly did so. "As you might know, when a paradox occurs, any universes it occurs in are completely reset, and play back again, taking the fewest number of steps to avoid the paradox. But what you might not know is that when a mind breaches the interuniversal medium, it infers a sort of... resistance to paradox resets. We're not quite sure how it works, but it's a hot research field."
"So..." Twilight screwed up her face, processing this information. "... because Rainbow was jumping between universes, and I made contact with her from here... mentally, we were unaffected by the paradox reset?"
"That means... you've jumped before?"
"How do you know all this anyway?" Dash interrupted, swooping around in front of Spitfire.
"Well, one question kinda answers the other." Spitfire smiled. "But to be more specific, I guess you could say that the Wonderbolts are a bit more than stunt fliers. A select few of us work closely with some of the top minds in Canterlot University's arcanophysics department, under personal supervision of Princess Celestia. We've been watching the whole thing, and we like how you handled it."
"So, what are you saying?"
"We want to offer both of you a job."
A/N: Finally got this thing out of my hair! If you enjoyed this story, great. If not, I don't blame you, because I did kind of rush the last few chapters, because I just wasn't enjoying writing it. The idea was kinda half-baked, the plot didn't have as much planning as I'd like, and I ended up resorting to stream-of-consciousness writing a lot more than I would have liked. I've left this open to a direct sequel that I may or may not pick up on when the mood strikes me.