Twilight Sparkle's eyes slowly opened as she stirred, feeling very dizzy at the moment. She groaned and shook her head, trying to make the dizzy feeling go away as she pressed her front hooves against the ground to push herself up. As she stood up, she looked around and realized that she had no idea where she was. "What in Equestria…?" she muttered as she looked around.
She was standing on a wooden stage that appeared to be square-shaped. Beyond it, all she could see was blackness. Scattered around her on the floor was the large head of a pony statue, a broken stone column, a set of shelves that were taller than she was with an equally tall umbrella leaning against it, some strange-looking books, and an enormous grandfather clock. Looking around a little more, she noticed a pair of doors that appeared to have vines growing on the stone frame around it and a large window that was seemingly being held up by nothing. Looking out the window, she could see Celestia's sun curtained by a cloud covering. It appeared to be setting, so she guessed it was early evening. Close to twilight, to be exact.
"What's going on…? What happened…?" she wondered to herself as she continued looking around. Forcing herself to stand still for a minute, she took a deep breath and thought to herself, "Okay, just calm down. How did I end up here, wherever here is? Let's see… Today was the third day of our visit to Canterlot. My friends, parents, and I stopped at a café for breakfast." She raised a hoof to her head and rubbed it, remembering that she was hit by something and thinking about it made her feel the slight pain again. She then continued, "Then we decided to split up for a little while before going to visit Mr. Brum like we planned. I was just about to meet up with my friends when…"
She froze in mid-thought as she remembered what happened next. She whirled her head around to look at her back. "It doesn't look like I was stabbed… But I could swear…" She then slowly looked forward as realization began to set in. "Am I… dead?" she asked.
An unfamiliar voice that sounded like it belonged to a male answered her, "Bingo."
At the sound of the voice, she whirled around and asked, "W-who's there?" Her eyes scanned everything she could see, but there didn't appear to be anyone else besides her in this strange location.
"How does it feel to be dead, Twilight Sparkle…?" the owner of the voice asked.
Twilight began to grow anxious; the way the voice sounded like it was right beside her yet it seemed to echo at the same time made it impossible to discern where its owner was or what he was implying. "That's enough, who is this? Is this a joke to you?" she demanded.
The voice gave what sounded like a dry chuckle before replying, "Not at all. I beg your pardon if I've offended you, Miss Sparkle. It's just that you are strongly fated today. You see, you are destined to die…"
Twilight's eyes went wide; even though she had figured out that she was dead, hearing that was an utter shock to her. "What?" she asked.
The voice spoke again, "But if you have the will to somehow reverse that fate yourself, I can lend you some measure of strength to help… How about it? Will you deal with me?"
Twilight thought about it for a moment before replying, "Thanks, but… I don't know…"
The voice inquired, "Why? Can't you trust me?"
Twilight answered, "That's the thing. This seems a lot like the games Discord played on me and my friends. We played along thinking he was telling the truth, but it was all trick for his own amusement."
The voice asked, "Discord? Oh please… You would compare me to that overgrown child? Well, if I did have something in mind, it's that you survive and remain with your friends. Who knows? Discord could be breaking free of his stone prison right now because the bearer of the Element of Magic is dead. You are the crux of the Elements of Harmony, after all; Princess Celestia would surely need to find a replacement for you if he does get free. Does that sound like something you or anypony you know would want?"
Twilight sighed; whoever she was talking to was quite persuasive. "Can I have a minute to think about all this?" she asked, bowing her head.
The voice answered, "Of course, of course. Go ahead. But don't think about it too hard. I don't much like to be left hanging." When Twilight offered no response, he pressed, "Well? What reason is there to procrastinate? You either die here and now, or you try to prevent it. It's that simple. What have you got to lose?"
Twilight, while sitting on her haunches with her back pressed against the statue head, looked up and said, "…All right. I'm sorry about accusing you of being a trickster like Discord. I… I don't want to leave my friends. Or die. Can you help me, please?"
The voice answered, "Of course I can my little pony." She stood up at that and trotted a few steps away from the statue head. The voice continued, "However, I want you to be aware of something: you have to understand that the destiny that awaits you is a potent one. Which means just because you managed to avoid death once doesn't mean you're free of the threat. Unless you tear out its very root, destiny can't be cheated."
Twilight thought about this before saying, "So coming back to life isn't the hard part, huh. Wow… Well, I guess that makes sense, in a way."
The voice replied, "You're right, but that's also where your own strengths come into play. Are you ready? I'm going to give you some of my time-shifting powers." Twilight tensed up at that, wondering what was going to happen.
Suddenly, there was a loud clatter behind her and she turned to see something lying on the floor in front of the grandfather clock. "I'm going to give you this Z-pad. Please, use it well," the voice said.
Twilight walked over to the device and picked it up with her right hoof. It was small, not being much bigger than her hoof, and it was a reflective silver-blue color. Except for its reflective surface, it didn't seem like the kind of thing somepony would think of when thinking of a time machine. "This will allow me to travel through time?" she asked as she looked it over.
The voice answered, "Exactly. But it's not as though you can use it anywhere or anytime you want. This will respond to some phenomena that have some relevance to you as its user. As soon as it begins to respond, it's usable and you can use it with your magic. The energy contained within the Z-pad will react to your magic and send you to the specified destination time. Did you get all that?"
Twilight levitated the device out of her hoof and looked up, saying, "I think so. I can only travel to time periods that are relevant to me and only after it starts to respond, is that what you're saying?"
The voice answered, "Yes, exactly. You can't solve the real problem by just using it when you're about to die. It's better to make use of it to remove the underlying cause of your death. Oh, and one more thing."
Twilight asked, "There's something else?"
The voice replied, "Yes, and it's very important. If you begin to receive a response in the time period you've traveled out to, please come back immediately. Other ponies and objects can be just left in another time and stay intact, but that doesn't apply to you as the user. If it starts to respond, you need to come back quickly or you won't be able to get back at all. Just be careful of that. It looks like time is something even more serious than I know. Good luck… Twilight…" As he said those last words, the doors behind Twilight gave a metallic clang as they swung open.
Twilight stared at the doors for a moment before making her way around the statue head, the Z-pad floating right beside her, surrounded by her magic's bright magenta glow. When she reached the doors, she looked between them, seeing more blackness beyond them. Remembering the words of her friends, she took a step forward, ready to make a leap of faith. As soon as her hoof touched the blackness beyond the doors, it rushed her, causing her to lose consciousness…
Twilight groaned as she swam back to consciousness, feeling somepony's hoof pressing against her shoulder and shaking her. She heard a male pony say, "Miss, please wake up. Are you all right?" Aside from the pony shaking her, she could also hear two upper-class ponies complaining about something and Rarity fuming at another pony. She felt another shake, "Miss?" Twilight let out another groan as she began to stir, pressing a hoof to her head as she felt a dull pain there. She sat up a bit, rubbing her hoof against her head as the pony shaking her backed off.
Twilight suddenly shot to her hooves, looking around frantically as she remembered what just happened. After a moment, she noticed the pony that had been shaking her: a slightly dark red unicorn stallion about her height and build with a light yellow mane and tail and dark blue eyes. His mane and tail appeared to be brushed, although there were a few points where the hairs appeared to be sticking out near the back, and his outfit told her he was a waiter. He also had a blank flank. He was looking back at her curiously; a quick sweep with her eyes revealed that her parents, friends, and some of the patrons at the outdoor café were doing the same. Looking back to the unicorn, she stuttered, "Oh, sorry. Yeah, I'm okay."
The colt looked at her for a moment before bringing a hoof up to his mouth as he tried to muffle his laughter. He couldn't help it; he thought the mare looked cute when she was flustered like that. Spike, Rainbow Dash, and Pinkie Pie did the same thing when they noticed that Twilight was blushing with embarrassment. The owner of the café, an older unicorn with a white coat and gray mane and a cutie mark that consisted of a red heart surrounding a restaurant, soon came over to their table and spoke sternly to the red earth pony, "Dante. That will do."
The red unicorn stopped snickering and turned to the owner, muttering, "Okay." Dante then followed the older unicorn as he headed back inside, looking back at Twilight over his shoulder before he took his place next to the door that led inside the café.
Back at the table, Twilight took her seat next to her mother and Applejack, noticing two familiar aristocrat ponies leaving the restaurant soaking wet. She also noticed Rarity coming back to the table after having a talk with Hayseed Turnip Truck. Twilight then noticed a cup of tea sitting on the table in front of her. Using her magic, she raised it up to her face and gave it a sniff. "Why do I feel like I just had a cup of tea here earlier?" she thought to herself before shrugging and drinking it, not wanting to seem rude. As she set the cup back down, she noticed Pinkie Pie grinning across the table at her. "What?" she asked.
Pinkie Pie continued to grin, "Oh nothing! You're just such a silly filly, Twilight!" She giggled while the unicorn gave a half-hearted sigh at that.
A few minutes passed and everypony finished what was left of their breakfast. As they stood up, Twilight's father looked over at the waiter from before and said, "I'll just leave what we owe for the meal here, okay?" Dante gave him a nod, trying to act the way his boss expected him to act. Twilight's father levitated the exact number of bits owed for the meal out of his saddlebags and left them on the table. He then led everypony out of the café after Twilight gathered up and put her saddlebags on, Spike hopping up on her back as she started walking.
As they walked down the street away from the café, Twilight's mother turned to look at her daughter's friends and asked, "So what do you girls say? Are you all ready to go to the art museum?"
Rarity spoke, "Oh yes, most certainly, Mrs. Sparkle. However, may I ask that we not head for the museum just yet? I have a little shopping I need to do today. It shouldn't take long."
Everypony came to a stop at that, Applejack asking, "Shopping? Ah thought ya did all yer shopping yesterday, before we went to see Hoity Toity's fashion show."
Rarity replied, "Yes, but yesterday was light shopping. This is the real shopping. I simply must get it done as soon as possible! I cannot go back to Ponyville without taking care of this!"
Twilight looked a little nervous at that; even though she had called it 'light shopping', she still returned to her castle suite holding up many shopping bags with her magic. Sure, she didn't have the same bellpony that she had had before, even though she was staying in the same suite in the castle, but how much more shopping was she planning to do? "What are you going shopping for?" she asked the white unicorn.
"Oh, just for materials, darling. Fabric, feathers, ribbons, maybe a gem or two. The usual," Rarity answered.
Out of the corner of her eye, Twilight could see Spike perk up at Rarity's mention of gems. She turned back to her mother, who said, "Well, I suppose we can wait for you to take care of that then, dear. Just so long as we don't lose track of the time; we promised Eckart we would come over today. Would you like us to help you with your shopping?"
Rarity waved a hoof, "That's very nice of you to offer, but there's no need. I'm sure I can find everything I'm looking for and get it back to my suite just fine."
Twilight glanced back at Spike and suggested, "Well, maybe you could take Spike with you. He can probably give you a helping hoof, er, claw."
Almost immediately afterwards, Spike exclaimed, "Really? I can go?"
Rarity said, "I suppose it would go a little faster if I had somepony with me. Are you sure it's all right, Twilight?"
The lavender unicorn nodded, "Sure. I don't mind."
Rarity smiled, "Well, thank you then, Twilight. Come along, Spike." Spike jumped off of Twilight's back and ran over next to her, little hearts popping out of his head as he stood by her side.
Applejack chuckled under her breath, "Lil' varmint…"
Twilight's father spoke, "So, what should the rest of us do in the meantime?"
Pinkie Pie perked up, "Ooh! I know! Let's go look around Canterlot a little! Maybe we can find something fun to do!"
Rainbow Dash replied, "Good idea, Pinkie Pie. Maybe we can brighten up the day for some of these ponies, Ponyville style! What do you guys think?"
Fluttershy murmured, "Oh, um, I like the idea of looking around, but I don't know about having fun like that… I don't want to accidentally anger somepony…"
Applejack came up beside the yellow pegasus pony and placed a hoof on her back, saying, "Ah, don't worry 'bout it none, Fluttershy. If ya want ta look around, you can stick with me. Ah'll make sure nothin' happens to ya, especially after that whole rodeo thing." Fluttershy smiled at the orange earth pony at that.
Twilight's mother turned to her daughter and asked, "What do you want to do, Twilight?"
Twilight replied, "I was hoping I could go with you and dad, mom. Is that okay?"
Her father smiled, "Of course it is, honey." He then turned to her friends and said, "Since we all want to do something different, let's meet up in the Canterlot square in about half an hour. Does that sound okay?" Spike and the girls nodded in agreement and everyone went in different directions, Twilight going with her parents, Spike skipping after Rarity, Rainbow Dash flying alongside the bouncing Pinkie Pie, and Applejack staying close to Fluttershy.
As she walked with her parents, Twilight's thoughts turned to what just happened to her, or what she thought happened to her anyway. "First the tea, now this splitting up… Why does all this feel like déjà vu? It feels like I've experienced all this already. And that… place I was in. Did I just dream that? I must have. I had to be shaken awake after all. I must've just dreamed the whole thing. Yeah, that's probably what it was."
As if challenging her thoughts, she suddenly felt something shift in her right saddlebag. Obviously, she was carrying a few things in both of her saddlebags: a Sweet Apple Acres apple, an emergency quill and inkpot, a few blank scrolls, a postcard with a view of Canterlot, but this didn't feel like something she had packed. Glancing down at her saddlebag as she came to a stop, she used her magic to lift the flap and to feel around for the object. When she felt her magic grip it, she lifted it up and her eyes widened. It was the Z-pad! She was so shocked that her magic let go of it, causing it to fall back into her saddlebag before anypony else could see it.
Twilight's parents stopped when they noticed she had stopped in the middle of the road. "Twilight, is everything okay?" her mother ventured.
Twilight looked up at her parents and walked up to them, saying, "Uh, I'm not sure. It's just… Maybe I… I don't know…" She knew she didn't have anything with her that looked remotely like the Z-pad she had been given. That had to mean she had in fact been killed and, now that she had the device, she had been sent back to a point in time prior to her death. Of course, how was she supposed to explain that to anypony and expect them to believe her? Even her parents and friends would probably think she was crazy and say as much, or worse…
Twilight's father spoke, snapping her out of her thoughts, "Dear, if something's troubling you, you know you can talk about it with us, even if you aren't comfortable talking about it with your friends. We'll understand and do anything to help you, because you're our precious little star."
Twilight smiled and blushed softly, "Dad… you're embarrassing me." She then said, "I think I need to clear my head for a bit. Is it okay if I go for a walk?"
Twilight's mother nodded, "Of course, Twilight. If we don't see you before then, remember that we're meeting up in the square in half an hour. And be sure to come and find us if anything comes up, and I mean anything."
Twilight nodded, "Okay, mom." She then took a right turn at the next street while her parents went the other way, both of them glancing back at her for a moment and worrying about what could be bothering her.
As she walked, Twilight stopped paying attention to the road as she got lost in her thoughts. "Is this really something I should bring up with my parents? Forget whether they'd believe me or not. Talking about how you died, asked a mysterious voice for help, received the power to travel through time, and are now alive because of it probably isn't what my parents were thinking of when they said to talk to them." She audibly sighed to herself. "I've gotten better at keeping secrets when I'm asked to keep them, but I don't think I can keep this all to myself. But who can I talk to about something like this anyway?"
She came to a stop as she looked up and realized she was just about to walk into a building. Taking another look at the building in question, she noticed a sign hanging next to the door. "Hm…? 'Fortunes told'? I didn't know there was a place like this in Canterlot." Taking a quick look around, she realized she had wandered into one of the city's back alleys. "Of course, I usually never went into the alleys when I lived here," she admitted to herself. It seemed like she was the only pony in the alley.
Taking another look at the building, she mused to herself, "I've never really thought much about fortunetellers. I don't know; even with everything that's happened in Ponyville, it just seems so unusual to me." She then sighed, "But then again, what just happened to me isn't exactly normal, no matter how I look at it. I guess I could give it a try. It would be nice to talk to somepony about this. Just have to remember to keep an open mind…" She walked up to the door and raised a hoof, pushing against it. It opened and, after a moment, she stepped inside.