"...huh," Spike said, blinking at the deep sinkhole which had just appeared where Pinkie Pie had been. "I did not expect that."
"Neither did she, which is a bit strange," Twilight agreed, looking down the hole. "Huh. Diamond Dogs, I think."
"Well, of course we have to save her," Spike pointed out. "I mean, the mines are no place for a pony."
Twilight gave him a look. "I can't believe you said that with a straight face."
"Neither can I..." Spike admitted. "Right. Plan?"
The ground erupted.
"You keep pink po-ny!" a Diamond Dog said, throwing a chattering Pinkie out of the hole. "She too talky."
With a rumble of earth, he sealed the hole again.
"Hiya!" Pinkie beamed. "Hey, you're upside down!"
Twilight facehoofed. "So much for that."
Spike picked up Pinkie and flipped her back over onto her hooves. "There you go."
"Thanks! Hey, want to go get the others? I want to give those dogs a party! The place they live is so dull and brown, and I know just how to brighten up a dull brown earth place!"
"This is going to go wrong," Twilight said calmly. "I can tell."
"Don't be a silly parade-raining pony, Twilight!" Pinkie replied, grinning. "Okay, RD, go!"
Pinkie's theory, such as it was, could be summed up as follows.
She was at a rock farm, and she was miserable.
Seeing a Sonic Rainboom cured her.
Therefore, seeing a Sonic Rainboom would cure Diamond Dogs of their nastiness.
All things considered, it was probably a good thing Dash could manage hairpin turns at supersonic speed.
Twilight and Spike looked over the huge sinkhole.
"I can't tell if this went wrong or not..." Twilight muttered.
On the one hoof, the Diamond Dogs were all deafened by the explosion.
On the other hoof, the Rainboom had shaken gems and other useful rocks and crystals out of the walls of the Dog tunnels.
On the third hoof, it had made the tunnels all collapse.
And, on the fourth and final hoof, they didn't know who to either blame or thank.
"Is there a lesson in this?" Twilight asked.
"What about, don't let Pinkie plan things," Spike deadpanned. "Especially not when she's on the hyper end of her baseline."
Applebloom's eyes didn't want to open. Her pulsing headache might be a clue as to the reason, as might the fact that what little she could sense of the rest of her body suggested she was sprawled half-off some sort of furnishing. Her wings were crushed under her, and her horn appeared to be in contact with something.
Her throat felt dry, and her mouth felt like a phoenix had died in it without cleaning up after itself later.
After at least three tries, she cracked an eyelid. The light streaming through it had the intensity of a laser, and she closed it again with a wince.
There was a quiet moan, followed by a slithering sound of fur on satin which ended in a loud thud. The sound of the impact set up industrial steam-powered triphammers inside Applebloom's skull.
Several seconds of as much mental preparation as one can manage with a headache trying to remove one's head followed, until she gave opening her eye another try. This time, the light had dimmed somewhat from "laser" to "direct sunlight while in space", which was theoretically encouraging.
And so time passed.
After about ten minutes had elapsed, she finally managed to get her eyes open long enough to see something. The bleary picture which emerged was of a deep pile carpet, from a distance of about five inches.
That let her get some of her bearings. She was lying half off one of the couches in the living room. One she shared with... her sisters? Oh, the other Crusaders. Who, like her, were alicorn princesses this loop.
Finally, she worked out what was going on. This was a hangover.
With the name came the realization of a solution. Three tries, and she'd managed to drink one of her hangover cures from her Pocket.
Suddenly feeling much better, Princess Applebloom rolled carefully off the couch and stood up. "That must have been a great night..."
"Shut up, please," Diamond Tiara said in a distant voice. "I think you're using the Canterlot Voice again."
"Nah, DT, you're just hung over." Applebloom stepped around a large stuffed chair to find Tiara lying awkwardly on the floor, face down, a blanket imperfectly covering her. "Here, anti-hangover potion."
Tiara snatched it and drank it in seconds. "You are a lifesaver, 'bloom."
"Right, where are the others?"
"Well..." Applebloom peered out the window. "If I'm not mistaken, that's Scootaloo dangling from the limb of that tree. Hi, Scoots!"
A crash, a cloud of leaves, and a litany of muffled cursing interspersed with pained moaning drifted up from the courtyard.
"Whoops..." The yellow alicorn blushed. "As for Nyx, I think she was fixin' to get out that self-propelling chariot again."
"That sounds about right," Tiara agreed, pointing to a mass of splinters on one of the tower roofs. An alicorn-shaped hole in the tiles marked where the driver had gone, into what they'd made a storeroom last year.
"Ah, fiddlesticks." Applebloom shook her head. "Ah just fixed that."
"The roof or the chariot?"
The door opened.
Princess Sweetie Belle stepped through, flanked by two guards. "I see you're awake."
"Hi, 'Belle," her sisters chorused.
"How'd the evening go?" Applebloom asked. "I can't quite remember it all..."
"Well, the highlight was probably when you challenged the Gryphon Ambassador to a duel..." Sweetie said critically. "Good thing was, he was drunk too, so he just suggested a drinking contest."
"I remember that now," Tiara said, wincing. "Including that I won."
"Ah'd have won if it were cider," Applebloom said defensively. "But y'all slipped in that banana gin..."
"Nyx went a bit mad with that stuff," Sweetie giggled. "Anyway, Diamond is now the Gryphon Ambassador to Equestria."
"How does that work?" Tiara asked.
"No idea." Sweetie shrugged. "I assume you should find out, though."
"So, what did Scoots do?" Applebloom got back to the original topic. "And why was she in a tree?"
"Well, after the absinthe ran out and the dances were over, she got that Fokker Triplane you made last month out of storage and she and Nyx had a race." Sweetie shrugged. "Long story short, Scoots managed to accidentally solifidy a cloud as she dove through it and landed in the tree after the Fokker disintegrated. I think the bits are still up there..."
"Right." Tiara counted under her breath, then nodded. "Okay, I think it's my turn to be Designated Ruler tonight. Usual catch-up meeting?"
Both the others present nodded. Whoever was in charge on a given night had to be kept abreast of the events since last time they were the ruling Princess.
Otherwise it was just irresponsible.
Twilight was playing around with international law again, this time with the full connivance of an interested Mayor Mare. (In return, Twilight had to do her paperwork for her next time she looped – cheap at the price.)
So, the Books and Branches was an independent micronation. So, she'd engineered Cadence as the Element of Magic again.
On the other hand, some things were new.
"Twilight," Celestia began... then stopped, blinking at the surreal scene within the main room.
"What?" Twilight asked, floating serenely about six inches off the floor, with a lidded cup of coffee floating in front of her.
Then, as though nothing was amiss, she sipped some of the coffee from the cup with a straw. It floated gently off once she released it, until a flicker of telekinesis brought it back to rest.
"Hey, Twi?" Spike said from one of the bookshelves, his tail lashed around a convenient handle and his body oriented sideways. "What was that book you were after?"
"Edgar the Griffin's Decline and Fall, please," Twilight replied. "I'd like to take the opportunity to read it without undue strain."
"What is going on?" Celestia asked, a little plaintively.
"Oh, well, you know I made the library an independent nation?" Twilight checked, and Celestia rubbed her forehead with exasperation.
"Well, I put it to a plebiscite, and a two-thirds majority of Librarian citizens-"
"Meaning both of us," Spike added helpfully, pushing the huge book over towards Twilight.
"Exactly," Twilight picked up the thread again. "Anyway, there was concern that there were some outdated laws still in the statutes. So we repealed the Law of Gravity."
Celestia frowned. Then, carefully, she picked up a small pebble from the floor outside and tossed it into the room. Sure enough, it floated slowly along with the momentum it had started with.
"I see. Well..." The alicorn stopped, and tried a new tack. "I was going to try to persuade you to give up the independence issue, actually. It really is quite a headache, not to mention that I don't particularly see the point."
"Why?" Twilight asked. "I mean, trade and tourism have both picked up substantially."
"Yeah, some pegasus filly came in here to float around a bit yesterday," Spike volunteered. "And also loaning books from the library now counts as trade."
The book finally reached Twilight, and she braked it with a hoof before opening it. Then she looked back at Celestia. "Sorry, I'm being very rude. Would you like some zero gravi-tea?"
She proffered a bulb with a nozzle. The liquid within it did indeed look like tea with milk.
Twilight felt the customary moment of disorientation.
Okay, so, taking stock.
First off, she was human. Female, which was nice, but with long black hair which only vaguely approximated her normal mane. That was annoying.
She was on the limber of a covered wagon, with a horse hitched to it. Sapient horse? No, earth-mundane variant. Pity, it'd be nice to have a companion on the road.
That thought touched something off.
Ah, the loop memories. So she did have a companion. In fact-
The head of a Northwest Coast Indian woman poked out of the wagon, two triangular ears perched atop it. "Hi, Twilight."
"Leah, it's good to see you." Twilight smiled. "Any idea where we are?"
"I think so, actually..." Leah paused, thinking. "There were a few loops where I read anything remotely connected to werewolves I could get my paws on, which seems to have been a good choice given where I keep ending up. Remind me to tell you the time I was Moony once. But anyway, this looks like the world of Spice and Wolf."
"That's handy." Twilight said, nodding. "What do you remember?"
"Well, loop memories wise, I'm the local harvest goddess – wolf in form, this is my human guise." Leah waggled her ears, winning a giggle from Twilight at her expression. "We're off to find my homeland, I think?"
"Dovetails with what I know," Twilight assured her. "Anything else?"
"Yeah, the books could have been first year economics history course material at any college you'd care to name."
A mischievous expression came over her face. "When I taught undergrads once, I did actually use them as course material. That was fun."
"So you've done economics?" Twilight took a moment to make sure they were on the correct road, and turned back to the fellow Anchor. "Somehow, I wouldn't have thought..."
"Hey, unlike some people my home loop doesn't have crazy super martial arts or hermetic magic or something like that." Leah pulled a small notebook out of the air, and passed it over. "So, for training, I often go for the more... structured choice."
Twilight opened it. "History... Politics... Economics... Architecture... Leah, is this a list of degrees you have?" She flipped through the book, discovering there were at least sixty entries. "That's pretty impressive."
"Yeah, what can I say." Leah shrugged, grinning. "So, how would you improve the economy of this place, given what you know?"
She shrugged again. "Hey, the books are all about discussing economics, why not live up to it?"
Twilight shook her head, hiding a grin. "I'm a bit negative towards thieves, you know."
"Yeah?" The leader of the bandits chuckled, his men echoing him. "Well, we'll just have to cope with the weight of your disapproval."
"Right, right." Twilight raised her voice slightly. "Loss Prevention to the front desk, please."
There was a snarl, and a one-tonne wolf erupted from the covered side of the cart.
"You're fixing that!" Twilight shouted after Leah, as the latter put the fear of Her into the bandit gang. "Leather doesn't grow on trees!"
"No, it grows on bulls," Leah agreed readily, padding back and shifting. "Where's the sewing gear?"
"I don't know, I never need to use it," Twilight replied. "You're the one who keeps wrecking her clothes."
"Hey, if you ever find a way to make a tunic not explode when your body mass goes up by a factor of fifteen, I'm interested." Leah threw a blanket around herself. "Right, can we stop for a bit?"
"Only if you go hunting." Twilight shrugged. "We were planning on stopping in a tavern, if you remember, but if we're going to sleep rough..."
"Sure, sure. Anyone'd think I didn't just save the cargo..."
51.5 (Masterweaver and misterq)
"Please tell me you know why we're centipedes."
"Look at me! I'm a grasshopper!" Pinkie Pie bounced around like a pinball.
Applejack hopped onto a fallen crab apple. "Any idea why.."
"No!" Twilight pre-empted.
"Oh my goodness! Oh my goodness!" Fluttershy, the butterfly, flew past her friends happily.
"At least I'm still colorful," a bright, but grumpy Rainbow Dash followed.
"This feels so weird," Spike said as he landed onto a leaf and waved his dragonfly wings, "But at least I still have 'dragon' in my name."
"The night shall last forever!" Nightmare Firefly shouted as she suddenly shut off her glow, "Or at least until daytime. But it will be a little bit darker without my butt light."
"I.. I just don't know anymore," Twilight face palmed with six of her legs at the same time.
"Just look at the bright side, Twi," Rainbow Dash flapped overhead with the butterfly equivalent of a grin on her face, "At least you're not a bookworm."
"What sorcery is this?"
Macintosh took a moment to gather his bearings as he Awoke, glancing over to his... well, not his sister this loop, and from the looks of it more a Replacement then a Genderbent. "Hello there. Welcome to Equestria-"
The white stallion started, whirling into what Macintosh recognized as a martial art stance. "This realm is named Equestria? And how have I come to be in this form?" Impressively, he managed to maintain his stance without shifting too much.
"Huh." The farm pony sighed and rolled his eyes. "Ah take it this is yer first fused loop then?" He shut his eyes. "Hrm. 'Cordin' to mah loop memories, yer supposed ta be mah younger brother."
"Right, Ah should probably explain things..."
"So... the constant repeating of time I have been through is not some trick of Aku?"
Macintosh chuckled. "Not 'less this Aku fella's responsible fer breaking Yggdrassil in tha first place. Granted, he seems like tha type ta do it, but from what Ah understand he's just not high enough ta actually have the power." He shrugged. "Anyway, since yer replacing mah sister, that means we've got a bit of farm work to do. Oh, and yer gonna want ta see Twilight. Equestria's a sanctuary loop, but... well, we do have our own dark forces ta deal with. It's yer choice if'n ya want ta help or not."
The white stallion narrowed his eyes. "A samurai always protects the innocent."
"Not impugning yer honor," Macintosh drawled. "Just saying if ya want ta relax, it's fine. We take our hospitality and status as a sanctuary seriously here, and yer a guest. If'n you reckon you need to keep a hoof in to not go spare, fine. If'n reckon you need ta spend the whole loop meditating on a field of flowers, then we'll see nothing nasty interrupts ya." He smiled. "By tha way, what's yer name?"
"...They call me... Jack."
Twilight's head tilted so sharply she felt her neck crack. Ponyville had looked completely normal when she'd arrived there. No-one else had been awake, so she'd decided to take a mild vacation and run a vanilla loop.
Now, she was kind of regretting that idea.
The Castle of the Two Sisters was... rather different from what she'd expected. Instead of the graceful lines and elegant style of the Castle she was used to, this castle was...
...well, rather obviously actually a castle. In the sense of a fortified structure, with all the heavy, rugged stonework one would expect from a place designed to withstand an active siege. A forty-foot tall rampart guarded the interior buildings and towers, with sturdy battlements and wall towers at the corners providing cover for the massive (though rusted and, unfortunately, closed) iron portcullis at the gate.
Toss in that the whole thing was actually on a massive promontory sticking out over a lake that didn't exist in the baseline and Twilight was suddenly sure she was sitting in a fused loop.
Right about that moment was when she caught notice of several fliers inbound, coming from the castle. A howl split the air, and Twilight's head jerked down to see what seemed to be a massive diamond dog jump off the walls and run towards her and her friends. Answering cries came from above as five pegasi descended.
Even before they got close, Twilight could clearly see that the approaching pegasi were.. not the normal type. For one thing, their eyes were all glowing a brilliant green-tinged white. A quick glance down showed that the approaching diamond dog had the same eyeshine.
"Do you think Nightmare Moon has them under a spell, Twilight?" muttered Rarity. "Pony eyes don't... glow that way."
"I think a better question," Dash butted in, "would be why do they have wings like a bat?"
Twilight shook her head, though the combination was niggling familiar in the back of her mind. Glowing eyes, bat wings, howling...
Four of the fliers stayed above as one descended to land. Twilight set herself, ready to take action... only to realize that the pegasus just kept getting bigger. A moment later, the massive black-maned pegasus landed, and Twilight shivered.
The bat-winged pegasus was even taller than Celestia. More, it was massively built, to the point that in comparison Snowflake was a starveling half-grown colt, though this one had wings appropriate to the great mass of the pegasus.
The eyes flared slightly brighter for a moment before the light faded away, leaving a pair of dark, yet otherwise normal eyes. "What brings you to this Castle?" The voice was deep, powerful, and male.
Twilight barely kept from yelling aloud. And just as tightly kept her body tense; suddenly relaxing as she now knew (well, 97% certain) that these newcomers weren't a danger to her or her friends would set off suspicions everywhere.
"I am Twilight Sparkle, student and protégé to Her Highness Celestia. I have journeyed here with my friends in search of the magics needed to defeat Nightmare Moon."
The pegasus growled low in his thoat. "I and my clan will aid you then. This... Nightmare Moon is our enemy as well." He motioned to those above, who likewise descended.
"Yay!" cheered Pinkie. "So what's your names? We need to get the party planned for new friends!"
"Ach, always with names," grumbled an old brown pegasus with a scar across one eye. "Everything must always have a name."
"It never fails," chuckled the red pegasus with a white mane. He, and the last two pegasi, were all clearly younger, about the age of Twilight and her friends.
Twilight let her gaze wander from a chubby blue pegasus to the last, a green pegasus slightly smaller than the others who had no mane, as their leader nodded firmly.
"I am called Goliath. And this is my clan..."
The bar was relatively quiet, especially with Berry spending the day at the park introducing her daughter to the wonders of Mac's Own Apple Sorbet Ice Cream.
"It's a nice thing you're doing, making ice cream for the fillies like Ruby, Mac." Cheerilee said from her seat at the bar.
The big pony himself glanced down at her own dish of the confection and rolled his eyes. "Eeyup. For the fillies. Right."
She giggled. "Well, it's still nice. What about Berry though? Are you two…?"
That got a snort from the big red. "Yeh know Ah'm not lookin' t' settle down anytime soon. Neither are you for that matter."
Cheery grinned, idly stirring her sorbet. "Doesn't stop a mare from wondering. Berry Punch has gotten to be a fine mare herself after she cleaned up in the loops, you know."
Mac gave her a deadpan look. "Y'all just want more li'l fillies an' colts to school."
"Guilty." She replied with a giggle. It went without saying that there wouldn't be any new little ones until the loops were over, but it didn't hurt to look forward to what could happen then. "Still… isn't there any mare that's caught your eye at all?" She said with fluttering eyes.
Mac was about to scold his old friend for her teasing at his single nature when the door slammed open.
"My matchmaking senses are tingling!" Princess Cadence proclaimed as she ran into the room.
The stallion wasn't amused. "Yer 'senses' weren't right the last three times you barged in sayin' that, and they aren't right now, dangit!"
"Oh, darn. You're not going to budge on this are you?" Cheerilee faux-moped. "Single to the end, that's our lone stallion Big Macintosh!" She ended in an overdramatic swoon, from which Cadence caught her.
"You like finding ponies their special somepony too, dear?" Cadence asked with a grin.
Cheerilee rolled backwards the rest of the way out of her seat and came up hugging the alicorn. "Do I ever! I love the love that lovingly loves little love-bundles into the world!" Which she would then teach to lovingly love the lovely world they were loved into being on.
"And I love the love that lovingly loves two lovers into lovingly loving for love's own sake!" The princess chimed.
The two grinned madly at one another before shouting "MATCHMAKING MARES OF EQUESTRIA, AWAY!" and stampeding out the door to find poor saps to match together.
Mac stared blankly at the door they'd left through.
"…Ah really could've stopped this." He muttered with a sigh. "Seems that bein' involved in settin' up the first permanent non-baseline Looper wedding ever ain't enough for her..."
Nothing bothered Pinkie Pie. This was a fairly well known fact about the party pony about town. So when said mare calmly walked into Mac's bar - not hopped or skipped or trotted or sproinged in, but ambled in like a normal pony that was dragging her hooves; he knew that something was not right in Ponyville. The way her mane was twitching - alternating between poofy and straight, was also a massive indication.
It was empty except for the two of them. Cheerilee and Cadence had left a while before and Berry Punch was off with her little one, so that left Mac to place Pinkie's order of an Extra Sugary Pony Colada on her table and take the seat across from her.
After watching her use the straw to stir her untouched drink for several minutes, he finally spoke up, "You want to talk about it?"
Pinkie looked up at him, "Hmm? Hey Maccie. It's nothing really. You know me. Nothing ever upsets me. Unflappable Pinkie Pie. I never even ever had a flap installed."
Mac snorted, "I may not be the element of honesty, but I can smell the road apples from here."
"No, it's true. No flap anywhere on me," the pink mare said with a small smile, which slowly fell as she looked up at her friend, "Fine. It's just.. it's Candy Cane."
Big Mac didn't say anything. Most times, he considered more can be said with silence than with any amount of words.
"It's the way he looks at me. He's scared, terrified," Pinkie continued, "I don't really dislike much of anything, but if I did, then others being scared of me would be on top of the list. I worked really, really hard to change my image when I was in Cane's loop. I was the goddess of bright chaos, of joy and parties and celebration. But the way he looks at me, it just reminded me of growing up, when I was a little Pinkie. I thought I managed to overcome all that with the amount of time I've had in the loops. Guess I hadn't yet."
Mac nodded, "What was it like growing up? You've never done mentioned it much."
Pinkie sighed, "It was.. it wasn't fun. 'If you have the energy to dance, sing, play, talk, laugh, slack off; then you have the energy to work harder,' my dad used to say. They didn't really know what to make of me and my abilities. They didn't know if they had dug too deep or some ancient evil infected me at birth or what. My sisters were mostly normal, but they had each other and kept to themselves"
"My family celebrated the day I got my cutie mark not because I found my special talent, but because it wasn't one of the many, many they feared it could have been. They never said so, but they were all scared of me. My family, my teachers, my schoolmates. I would also say my friends, but I didn't have any friends that weren't inanimate objects. That's the real reason I moved to Ponyville."
"You thought you were done with other ponies being scared of you, but then Candy Cane freaked out?" Macintosh Apple conjectured, getting to the core of the situation, "And it reminded you what you had worked so hard to overcome?"
Pinkie looked up at him and just nodded.
"Did you know that when I was young, I dreamed of going to Canterlot to study Agricultural Magic on a hoofball scholarship? I wanted to explore new frontiers of Earth Pony magic; or failing that, become a locomotive engineer." Big Mac looked at the pink mare. She was looking at him in understanding, but not with surprise. He made a mental note and continued, "Applebloom was just a little thing when we lost our parents. Granny Smith was getting on in years and we took the help of any of the extended Apple Family that had some free time and a hoof to lend. Apple Jack alternated between being despondent and angry at the world. That came to a head when she left the farm for Manehattan."
"In school, I was also faster and stronger than the other colts. But I had the opposite of your problem. Every pony wanted to be my 'friend'. When I realized that all they wanted was to either bask in my popularity, use me as a social stepping stone, or use me to win the championship game; where the place that truly needed me for me was back home on the farm - that was when I got my cutie mark."
Pinkie sat there thinking, before she asked a question with a small smile, "Is it true that Apple Jack went all Apple Goth for a while?"
"Well, she didn't wear no black make-up or compulsively listen to 'Bauhorse', but eeyep," Big Mac chuckled. Then he looked directly at Pinkie, "But you already knew all that. Just like you knew about my early days - or the fact that you need to keep trying to show Candy Cane that he shouldn't be scared of a pony that once controlled a place that used to be called the Eye of Terror. How did you even wrest the power from Slaanesh?"
"It tried to read my thoughts, so I shredded its mind until it believed that it was a fantastic idea to turn itself into a cupcake. Then I ate a chocolate frosted chaos god," Pinkie waved her hoof dismissively.
"Eeyep, because that ain't terrifying at all," Big Mac collected his thoughts, "So if that isn't the reason, why did you come in here, Pinkie Pie?"
"Because talking to you always makes me feel a little better," said pony looked up at Big Macintosh, "Plus, the awesome drinks."
There was a bit of silence as the stallion-turned-bartender processed the new information. Then he spoke up, "Pinkie, before I was Awake.. Were there loops where we were together?"
Pinkie's wry smile turned into a genuine grin as she slowly leaned over and whispered seven little words into Big Mac's ear.
"I know what you like, Mister Smartypants."
Then she finished her entire drink with one long sip of her straw; and with a half-lidded stare, slowly sauntered out of the bar - her tail swishing provocatively behind her.
Big Mac just stared at the door for a few moments. Then he turned around and started climbing the stairs.
"Eeyep, now's a good time for that cold shower, I reckon," he said.
Cheerilee awoke in a little flat in London. As her memories started to filter in, she could tell this was going to be one of the weirder ones. She was human once more, and that her name was Cheryl Lee and that she was a music teacher, the sitar on the stand in the corner of the room told her what instrument she was proficient in. But that wasn't the source of her confusion.
Her second observation told her she had something on her head. She reached towards it, feeling something cold and metal protruding. Two somethings, one on either side of her head. She panicked for a moment thinking that she was a cyborg, but her loop memories told her that those were EBEs or Electronic Brain Enhancements and that they were detachable. Experimentally, she removed one of the two she was wearing. There was a slight tug, as if she were pulling on a magnet. Once it was free, she felt a noticeable decrease in her mental acuity, as if she'd suddenly experienced a mild hangover. She put it back on her head, it reattaching with a snap, and the fog cleared up again. She also remembered that she could attach more, but that those who did tended to become paralyzed as they became consumed by contemplating the infinite. 'Go easy on your EBEs, indeed.', she thought to her self.
Glancing at the clock, she could tell that if she didn't hurry, she was going to be late. She finished her sandwich, which her third observation told her was made of moths and butter and grabbing her bag, she headed to the window, did some quick calculations and flew off.
Cheerilee landed a block short of her destination, St. Heathen's Girls School and Conservatory. Thinking of whether to recalculate and fly off, or walk the rest of the distance, her eyes caught site of something. Two kids were spray-painting calculations on the wall. Worst of all, their calculations were wrong.
"Hey! A cosine is adjacent divided by hypotenuse, not the opposite." She said, running towards them. They ran off, leaving their spray cans nearby.
Instead of giving chase, she considered the wall. Picking up one of the cans, and shaking it, she sprayed a strikethrough for the errant formulae, and put the correction above. Satisfied with the result, she put down the spray can and continued on to her destination.
It only took a few more minutes before she arrived at her destination, her classroom.
"Hello, class. Sorry I'm late. I'll take attendance and then we can begin".
She started calling out names until she came to one in particular.
"Twilight MacSparkle." She looked over in the direction of the purple haired girl.
"Here!" She winked and Cheerilee nodded her head in acknowledgement.
Proceeding from there, she began her usual music lesson by firing up the Harrington 2000, the songwriting computer and let the students take turns creating music on it. After waiting her turn, Twilight walked up to the machine and spoke into it.
"The song's key is M." pausing between each sentence to allow the computer time to process the input.
"The tempo is slow."
"The song title is 'List Mania'" The computer hummed along before finally spitting out a paper with the lyrics and melody on them. Twilight took a look at the results before her face pinched into a frown as she returned to her seat.
"Very nice, Twilight. You got a perfect score of 9.2." Cheryl Lee said as she handed out graded papers. "The rest of you need to polish up on their grasp of negative reasoning."
The rest of the class groaned as they got their papers back.
Cheerilee drew a problem on the board.
"Train A left London 10:30. Train B is traveling on parallel tracks to train A and left Yorkshire at 12:30. If train A is traveling 20Kmph and train B is traveling 30Km, when will they cross each other?"
"What's the train's engine type, and what is the color of each conductor's socks?"
"Good question! Lets say both trains are electric, and Train A's conductor's socks are brown. Train B's are white, while the toes and heel are plaid."
"Does anyone know the answer? Yes, Twilight?"
"Train A had an engine failure, and all passengers were held up for a couple of hours. Train B experienced no problems and rolled into the station at London at 3PM."
Class was over, and as the students filed out, she signalled for Twilight to remain behind.
"What's your take on all this?" Cherilee asked.
"It's very bizarre, but everything I've read seems to indicate that its experimentally verifiable."
"Even the socks?"
"Especially the socks."
"Thanks for doing this, Twilight," Sweetie Belle said with a smile. "I'd take her with me, but, well, Baltimare's no place for a filly."
"Not a problem!" The librarian waved in the unicorn foal. "Come along, Rarity, say goodbye to your big sister!"
Rarity gave Sweetie Belle a final hug and a quick peck on the cheek. "I know you'll be fabulous in Baltimare. Just don't forget us little ponies!"
"Haha, like I'd ever forget my favorite little sister!" The elder unicorn nuzzled Rarity briefly, before walking out the door. "You behave for miss Twilight now!" She waved at them as she ran for the train staion.
"...aaaaaand she's gone." Twilight rolled her eyes, turning toward the stairs. "Spike, it's okay to come down!"
Rarity smiled as the young dragon walked down the stairs, her youthful mask melting way into a wistful smile. "Hello again, dear. Sorry for... well, the separation."
Spike waved a dismissive claw. "It's not your fault. We should have been more discreet. Um, Twilight, do you mind if-"
"Just keep it PG," the librarian replied with a faint smile. "Remember, as far as anyone else knows, you're both still children." She rolled her eyes and turned away, giving the pair a little privacy as they engaged in a long, deep kiss.
51.12 (Kris Overstreet)
Twilight Awoke sitting at a desk, notebook in one hand and pen in the other. Human again, she thought, glancing down and noting the pale pinkish flesh tone of her skin. More or less in front of her, sitting in profile from her point of view, sat a bulky human male in a dark gray suit, light gray hair in a buzzcut, perched on the front edge of an expensive-looking red leather chair.
As Twilight watched, the scowl that appeared built into the face began to loosen. The process began with the eyes, which went from narrow and suspicious to open, then wide, then goggling. The clenched jaw didn't drop so much as slowly cantilever downwards. The lines between the man's brows relaxed as the furrows in the forehead deepened. The red flush to his face faded to white. His hand, which held a piece of paper folded in half extended forward, slowly dropped back into his lap.
When Twilight followed the man's gaze to her left, she felt like goggling a bit herself. Sitting behind a large desk, much grander than the one Twilight sat at, rested a bulk of human femininity. The figure wasn't grotesquely fat, but she had definitely reached the stage where one could refer to her weight in fractions of a ton without being nonsensical. She wore a ladies' suit, brown with thin pinstripes, the shirt a brilliant yellow offsetting the ruff she wore in front of her neck. Everything about her appearance reflected pride in appearance…
… except the poofy, tangled, impossible shock of cotton-candy pink hair, shot through with a touch of gray.
Pinkie Pie looked a bit shocked herself, but unlike the man and Twilight she wasn't staring at anything in particular. Her blue eyes stared off over the man's head, lips trembling at something horrible that only she could see. The Loop memories must be really bad, Twilight thought. I wonder who we've replaced this time?
"I can't take this."
The voice wasn't Pinkie's chirp. The gravelly growl would have fit the man perfectly, except for the razor-edged tremor Twilight recognized at once as coming from a pon- a person on the edge of a mental breakdown.
"You're not supposed to be there," he continued, jabbing a finger in accusation at the bloated humanized Pinkie. "And you're not supposed to be there, either." He turned and jabbed the finger at Twilight. "Part of me says I've known you both for years, but most of me knows damn well I should be talking to Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin. And you aren't them."
The man lunged to his feet, raised a fist to slam it on the desk, and stopped in mid-swing. Instead both hands hit the table as he leaned forward, swaying, then flopping back in the red leather chair. "Over and over I've seen things. Sometimes they're different, sometimes they're the same. Once I saw Goodwin behind this desk and Wolfe behind that one. And I didn't say anything. At first I thought it was a prank, and I wasn't going to be caught out. Then I thought I was going nuts, and I didn't want to let on.
"But it just keeps COMING and COMING and COMING… and now you two. You two!" Now the man did hit the desk, slapping with an open palm instead of a closed fist. "Tell me!" he shouted. "Tell me what the hell is going on!"
Pinkie had slumped back in her own chair, a hand over her eyes. "Twilight," she said, "can you handle this? I need a few minutes."
Twilight nodded. A simple calming spell would keep the man stable long enough to explain the Loops to him. She tried to cast the spell… and nothing happened. No magic. She tried to reach into her subspace pocket for something useful, and that also failed.
Wonderful. A man slumped forward in his chair about to crack up right in front of her, and a friend who, from all signs, wasn't that far from a crack-up herself, and here she was with her magic and Looper abilities blocked. Talk fast, Twilight, she thought, because that's all you've got left.
"Sir," she said, and her Loop memories brought forward a name, "Inspector Cramer, this is not a joke, and you're not going crazy." Yet. "You have been repeating some period of time over and over. One day you wake up and it's a year, or two, or however long in your past, and nobody around you remembers anything differently. Is that right?"
Inspector Cramer took a deep, shuddering breath and flopped backwards into the chair again, relaxing. "Yes," he rasped. "God, yes, that's exactly it, except it's a lot more than just a year. More like twenty-five. Sometimes it's longer, sometimes it's shorter. Sometimes it starts one year, sometimes another, and sometimes it's hard to tell, but it's generally about twenty-five years."
One of the longer Loops, then, and less regular. Maybe there was some pre-existing temporal distortion in the universe.
"All right," Twilight said. "Pinkie and I have experienced the same thing. I'll be glad to explain it all, but first I think you could use a drink."
"Yes, Twilight," Pinkie murmured, her hand still shading her eyes, rubbing the bridge of her nose between thumb and fingers. "Will you have beer, Inspector? Or coffee?"
"Whiskey," Cramer rasped, "and then the beer. Please."
Twilight finished assimilating her Loop memories as she explained the Loops to Inspector Cramer. Cramer was the head man at Homicide Manhattan South and had been for as long as Twilight's Loop memories of him extended. The relationship between Cramer and the occupants of a certain brownstone two blocks east of the Hudson River was… fraught. The mixture of mutual respect and loathing, trust and distrust, antagonism and camaraderie stood beyond Twilight's ability to sort out. She suspected that most of it came from the fact, while Cramer was paid a modest salary to uphold the law, Pinkie- or Wolfe, whichever- demanded and got outrageous sums of money to do what was basically Cramer's job. Furthermore, when Pinkie- or Wolfe- took a hand, she often flouted the law Cramer was sworn to uphold if it was in her client's- or her own- best interests. (Or his. Whatever. Replacing people in a Loop gave Twilight a headache.)
Twilight's explanations omitted a few details, most notably the fact that she and Pinkie were magical quadrupeds from a magical kingdom ruled over by magical princesses. Both Loop memories and common sense suggested that a man like Cramer wouldn't appreciate such things, especially not in his current state.
Twilight peppered her explanations with a few questions, and got some interesting answers. Cramer had lost exact count of how many times he'd Looped, but according to him it wasn't more than about thirty or so. Leaving aside Wolfe's intelligence and Goodwin's luck, both of which tended to the phenomenal to hear Cramer tell it, he hadn't seen or even caught a glimpse of any extraordinary talents or gadgets or anything of the sort. With a few changes which Twilight regarded as minor, all his loops up to this one had been baseline- no fused loops, no crossovers, no alternate histories, nothing. Twilight put the minor deviations Cramer mentioned down to Looper activity.
The inspector, in all that time, had stuck as rigidly as he could to what he remembered. He'd gone through his repeated life scared livid that something horrible would happen if he didn't play his part precisely to script. He spent a lot of worried nights lying awake wondering if he'd screwed up when his memory of past Loops failed him or when he encountered one of those minor alterations.
Cramer obviously wasn't the local Anchor. Twilight strongly suspected she'd replaced the local anchor, this Archie Goodwin, but Nero Wolfe's name nagged at the back of her mind. This was her first time in this setting, but she might have read or viewed some fiction in another Loop about the character.
When she explained the role of Anchors and her suspicions to Cramer, he smirked for the first time. It was a bitter smirk, but any form of smile under the circumstances was improvement. "And of course he didn't say anything about it to me," he muttered. "Either one of them. When one's involved, both are."
"Consider a Looper's perspective, Inspector." Twilight jumped at the sound of Pinkie's voice, so different from usual. Instead of her usual rapid-fire chirpy chatter, she spoke with a soft, smooth confidence… and, she noticed, a very slight accent under a crisp, clear diction. "Suppose that you had not, in fact, experienced dozens of iterations of the same day, the same year, the same life, over and over. Suppose then that someone in that position- in the position all three of us are in, and presumably Mr. Wolfe and Mr. Goodwin- suppose that someone told you they were repeating the same events again and again. You are a sensible man. Your common sense is deep and strong. And common sense would tell you that the person telling you about this repetition of time had taken leave of his senses."
Pinkie blinked and took a deep breath, and when she spoke again it was in her normal voice, cheerful and swift. "I figured you'd feel better if I used the kind of voice you're more used to hearing here. You know, I could say that in Serbo-Croat if you like. Or French, or Italian, or German, or Russian, or Spanish, or Albanian, or Greek. I might even be able to manage it in Arabic, but that feels a bit rusty. That's neat! I'm going to get a whole bunch of languages out of this loop- and so many words in Eques- er, in English I never knew before!"
Cramer's jaw dropped, and Twilight, amused as she was, couldn't blame him. Thankfully Pinkie noticed that she'd lost her audience before Twilight had to say anything. She shut off her digression, took another deep breath, and went back to the Loop-local voice. "You'll notice that most of us Loopers are a bit insane anyway. Loco in the coco, as I usually put it. But we're also telling the truth."
"And besides," Twilight added, "Wolfe and Goodwin may never have had the opportunity to tell you. If your baseline relationship with them is like what my memories tell me it is with us, you're not on close personal terms. Did Mr. Wolfe discuss his secrets with you?"
"Wolfe didn't discuss secrets with anybody," Cramer said. "Not even Goodwin if he could help it. I knew a couple of them, but not because he ever told me." He shook his head slowly. "Wolfe keeps secrets better than any man I ever met."
"I think he may have good reason to." Pinkie's voice was back to Pinkie-normal, but sad. "If his baseline memories are anything like the Loop memories I got, he had a lot of really sad, horrible things in his past."
"Um… Pinkie? Would you like to talk about it?" Twilight asked gently.
The pink-haired edition of New York's greatest detective shook her head. "I promised myself I would leave all of that behind," she said. "I didn't want to remember… and I still don't, really. But it's really, really hard. The Pinkie Pie of this Loop loved hosting guests and making them feel comfortable, but she was hurt so bad she decided to shut out the world except for a handful of very close friends." She tapped her obese body and added, "This was part of that; insulation against pain from both without and within- er, I mean inside and outside." She smiled and added, "I really like words, this Loop."
Cramer snorted. "Wolfe loved words almost as much as he loved food," he muttered. "He definitely didn't like having guests, except for a few special people, but he took pride in his hospitality. Even with people he didn't like."
"Well, I do," Pinkie said. "And that's the wonderful thing about the Loops, Inspector; you don't have to keep doing things the same old way!" It was Pinkie's turn to slap her desktop, and it made quite a bit of thunder. "I don't care what this Loop's memories are telling me. I don't care what this world wants me to do. I'm Pinkie Pie! Parties and laughter and making people happy is what I am!
"In this world I mingled in the highest society of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. I made the soldiers of Montenegro laugh even as the Germans drove them out of their homeland. I managed to organize an Easter party on the Western Front during the German offenses of 1918! I can sing two dozen different birthday songs in ten different languages, and I know over a thousand different cake, pie, pastry and candy recipes from around the world!"
Pinkie thumped her desk sternly, but not as hard and before, and added, "And that's before I Awoke and remembered more party skills from more Loops, more worlds, than you can imagine! And I'm supposed to turn all of that off just because the local narrative structure wants me to? I don't think so!"
And then Pinkie stood up. She had to use her hands to push against the arms of her chair- custom-made for her, Twilight's Loop memories told her- to gain her feet, but she did it with surprising grace. As she stepped around the desk, again with much more grace than Twilight expected for someone of her bulk, she said, "I need to talk with Fritz about planning a party. We'll invite Mrs. Hewitt and Sally and Freida and Ori and your friend Mr. Cohen, Twilight. And Inspector, you're invited too- you and your Mr. Stebbins."
Her nose wrinkled as she added, "But not Lieutenant Rowcliff, because…" Her eyes crossed for a moment before she added, "The Loop wants me to call him an unmitigated cretin, but I like Meany McMeanypants better."
A bit of shock was returning to Cramer's face. "Wolfe never invited me to dinner," he said. "We never even spoke unless the subject was murder."
Pinkie nodded. "Your world is a bit of a sad one," she said. "I can't change that… at least not this Loop. I'll play along with the Loop a bit- I'll be the great detective, and solve your tough cases, and squeeze big bags of cash out of rich people.
"But I am not Nero Wolfe, and I'm not going to be a female copy of him, either. I'm going to be Pinkie Pie in whatever Loop I end up in, and that means those fees will be spent on making friends… and making friends smile." She extended a hand to Cramer. "And you and I, Inspector, are going to be friends from now on… not this touchy-grouchy frenemies thing. Let Wolfe do that, if he thinks being Grouchy Sadderson is so much fun."
Cramer sat staring at the hand, but he couldn't avoid chuckling at 'Grouchy Sadderson.' "I… I'm not the best in the world at making friends," he said. "My whole life is enforcing the law. Wolfe never much cared about the law if it didn't suit him." He tilted his head and added, "And neither do you, I seem to remember."
"Pinkie usually doesn't even care about the laws of physics," Twilight giggled.
"They care about me, this Loop," Pinkie muttered. "I can't get at my pocket, and I don't think I have a Pinkie Sense here. Apparently all I have is what I have here," she said, tapping her temple. "That and whatever's in the pantry. Please pardon me, Inspector; I'll call you later to arrange a date for your party. I can't call it a You're-Not-Crazy-You're-Just-Looping-Through-Time Party, but I'll think of something. Maybe a Let's-Not-Be-Such-Grumpy-Grumpersons-And-Work-Together-To-Catch-All-The-Baddies Party?"
Cramer shook his head. "Pie, you are definitely crazy."
Pinkie looked down at him, and her smile retreated to a modest upturn of one corner of her mouth. "Inspector Cramer," she said, "it takes a crazy mare- er, man- to remain sane in an impossible world."
Cramer smirked again, this time with a little bit of warmth. "I'll shake on that," he said, and gave Pinkie's hand one solemn shake.
"Remember," Pinkie said as she released Cramer's hand, "you don't have to keep doing the same thing all the time. The Loops give you the opportunity to try new things, to have fun, to go a little bit cuckoo. Use it. Who knows?" Pinkie grinned, and her eyes were almost as wide and innocent as the pony she usually was. "Maybe some Loop you'll be genius detective Fergus Cramer, and you can drive Inspector Wolfe nuts!"
Cramer's smirk this time had a large dose of malice in it. "Oh, if only I can live to see that day."
At the door, as Twilight helped the inspector on with his coat, he asked, "I've just got one last question: if you two are here, where the hell are the real Wolfe and Goodwin?"
"Search me," Twilight said. "There are an infinite number of worlds. They could be in any of them. They could even be here somewhere. When Loops cross over, there's no telling how they play out."
"Thanks, gentlemen," the lavender unicorn said as he stepped off the chariot onto the streets of Ponyville. "I'll put in a good word for you two with the Princess."
As the pegasus guardsmen lifted off again, the unicorn and his companion, a short, squat baby dragon, looked around the small town. "No street signs, no lights, nothing," the unicorn muttered to himself. "Boy, am I a long way from home."
"It's not that far from Canterlot," the dragon said, pointing a claw at the city perched on the mountainside in the distance. "We could probably walk there in a day. And by we I mean you with me riding."
"Well, it sure wouldn't work as well the other way round," the unicorn said. "All right, short stuff, which way is it to the party coordinator's office?"
The dragon opened a scroll and looked at it. "Says here the town librarian's in charge of preparations for the Summer Sun Celebration," He pointed a claw towards a large tree not far off the town's main square. "That's the library over there."
The unicorn noted the large greenhouse built onto the rear of the tree-house library, and for the first time this Loop he felt an honest stirring of optimism. I'll bet I can guess what kind of plants are in that hothouse, he thought. In fact, I can spell their names. Heaven knows I've done it often enough.
A sign on the library door read NO VISITORS, but the unicorn opened it anyway. A deep voice bellowed, "BLAST YOU, CAN'T YOU READ?" The owner of the voice, a pony so overweight that the unicorn didn't see how his barrel didn't drag the ground, glared at the newcomers from over an open book. The earth pony's coat was solid black, with a light brown mane and a bright yellow necktie. The unicorn noted with satisfaction the cutie mark; an orchid bloom. Of course.
"Certainly I can read," the unicorn said, floating a business card from his tailored suit jacket over to the librarian. "I trust that you can do likewise, or else the Equestrian Civil Service has made a grave error in staffing its libraries."
"This is a private library," the black pony muttered. "And I am quite busy on a matter of urgent research, Mr…" The pony's eyes widened as he read, "Arch Swiftlegs?"
"That's me," Swiftlegs nodded. "Personal student of and troubleshooter for Princess Celestia herself. And I've been sent here to make sure that preparations for the Summer Sun Celebration are going according to schedule."
"Ah," the earth pony nodded. "I, um, am Black Mountain. Good to meet you." His attention turned to the little dragon. "And is the noble dragon hatchling with you as well?"
"Oh, yes," Swiftlegs added, "this is my assistant Spike. We've been together since he hatched. It's a long story."
"No doubt," Black Mountain nodded. "I must apologize for my lack of hospitality. Normally I enjoy having guests- a guest, you know, is a jewel on the cushion of hospitality- but I really have been very busy indeed. However, if your assistant knows how to brew tea, perhaps we can get started at once on the inspection."
"Sure thing!" Spike said. "Which way to the kitchen?"
As soon as the kitchen door closed behind Spike, the fat pony's mouth curled up marginally at one corner. "It is good to see you, Archie," he said, "even in that ridiculous form."
"Likewise, I'm sure, Mr. Wolfe."
"What is that design on your rump? My own is quite straightforward, of course."
"What, this? The magnifying glass is obvious, but I haven't figured out what the five white stars are for yet."
The fat pony grunted. "No matter. We can discuss this bizarre Loop later. While your assistant is out of the room, we must discuss an urgent matter I was apparently researching just before I Awoke. Did you know that tomorrow is not only the longest day of the year, but the precise thousand-year anniversary of the sole reign of Princess Celestia?"
"I hadn't thought about it, but I suppose I knew. Is that important?"
"Possibly. Possibly even urgent. Have a look at this tome…"
51.1: A Dog And Pinkie Show.
51.2: Princess Diaries.
51.3: Also the Law of the Jungle, the Law of Supply and Demand, and several rules of thumb.
51.4: Sparkle and Wolf. (Leah's been getting educated.)
51.5: Some loops, you just don't know.
51.6: Specifically, you don't know Jack. Mac does, though.
51.7: Let's hope Xanatos didn't plan for this.
51.8: Cadence has certain issues.
51.9: Pinkie Pie is not all about the party.
51.10: (In case anyone's mind-meltingly confused, look up the series Look Around You.)
51.11: Certain difficulties.
51.12: Nero Wolfe.