With a shaky groan, Spike woke up. Gingerly he lifted his head and looked around. The familiar streets and houses of Ponyville laid spread out before him, but everything—the houses, the trees, even the sky—existed in a strange shade of gray. Every last ounce of color had been leached from the surrounding landscape.
Spike frowned and tried to remember what on earth happened.
There was a flash of blinding white light. He could recall that much. Oh, Celestia, did his head hurt. It was making it hard to think, but still, he had to remember …
“Spike! Spike, can you hear me? Are you all right?”
Through the pain Spike grinned. If ever there was a time that he could use a strong, smart, reliable pony, that time was now—and if ever there was a pony to fit the bill, that pony was Twilight Sparkle.
“I think so, Twi,” he called back.
And then, before he could even fully turn his head, a pair of purple forelegs was circling around his neck and pulling him tight against a warm purple chest. He just allowed Twilight to hold him for a moment, as he breathed in the wonderfully familiar scent of her shampoo, before wriggling out of her grasp. He had an image to maintain, after all.
Once he’d done so, he noticed his friends trotting up to meet the two of them—Rainbow Dash was swooping down from above with Pinkie Pie bounding right after her, while Fluttershy walked along the ground, leaning against Rarity. Applejack brought up the rear, walking with a careful gait as she glanced around nervously at their surroundings.
Spike beamed. “Hi, everypony! I’m so glad you’re here!”
“Me, too,” added Twilight, with a small smile of her own. But quickly her mouth dropped into a frown. “Although … does anyone have any idea just what happened? Or where, exactly, we are?”
“I think we’re dead,” said Rainbow Dash, sounding remarkably cheerful about it, all things considered.
Rarity gasped, loudly and melodramatically. “W-what?”
“Yeah! I mean, think about it. We were fightin’ this bad guy, then there was a bright white light, and then bam! Now we’re here.” The pegasus glanced around with a vaguely confused expression on her face. “Wherever here is.”
“Ooh, is this heaven, maybe?” Pinkie Pie considered her own question for a few moments, tapping her chin with a forehoof. “You know, I always thought heaven would be … more colorful. And have more parties.”
Rainbow flashed an impish grin. “Well, maybe we didn’t go to heaven. You ever think of that?”
At that, Fluttershy started whimpering. “We couldn’t have gone to the … to the other place. Could we have?” Her eyes went wide in horror. “Oh! Oh, no. But I always tried so very hard to be a good pony …”
Spike took a step closer to Twilight and fought back the urge to whimper, too. Maybe he hadn’t always been a good dragon—and certainly not as good a dragon as Fluttershy had been a pony—but he just knew he couldn’t have gone to … to the other place. Right?
Applejack snorted. “If’n we did end up there, it’s probably all Rainbow’s fault.”
“Hey! No way! I was a totally awesome pony!”
“Twelve!” Pinkie Pie suddenly blurted out. “It was twelve corn cakes!” She was shaking a bit, and large beads of sweat slipped down her face. “I’m so sorry I lied, everypony, I never should have lied, bad ponies lie—”
“We’re not dead,” interrupted Twilight, in a firm voice. Her “Listen Up, Everypony!” voice.
The others paused to glance at her. Spike felt his hopes lift, if only slightly.
“Are you quite certain, darling?” Rarity tilted her head thoughtfully. “It does seem plausible that we did, in fact, perish during that awful battle.”
Twilight rolled her eyes. “I’m pretty sure.”
Meanwhile, Rainbow was squinting at her, in a challenging sort of way. “Like, how sure? On a scale of one to ten, with one being ‘we’re totally toast’ and ten being ‘we’re as immortal as Celestia,’ how sure would you say you are?”
“On a scale of one to ten? On a scale of one to ten, I’d say that I am pretty darn sure, Rainbow.”
“Twilight, don’t be silly! That’s not a number!” Pinkie giggled.
For a very brief, almost infinitesimal moment, Twilight Sparkle looked like she might wish that her friends really were dead—or, at least, that they were anywhere other than right here. It was an expression that Spike knew all too well, as it was one that he used to see on Twilight’s face on a semi-regular basis, when they’d first moved to Ponyville. Fortunately, though, the darkness passed from the unicorn’s eyes fairly quickly.
“Okay, everypony and everydragon!” Twilight’s voice was all steady control and bright cheeriness, not unlike a kindergarten teacher’s. “Since we’re not dead, here’s the game plan. We’re gonna split up, fan out, and look for clues to help figure out where we are.”
Applejack bit her lip. “You really reckon it’s a good idea to break up the group, Twi?”
“I’m not so sure,” murmured Fluttershy, from behind the curtains of her long pink mane. “In books, it’s never a good idea when the heroes all split up. That’s when … when … “ She shuddered and was unable to continue.
“No one will be alone,” Twilight explained, in a reassuring tone. “We’ll go in groups, okay?”
“I call anypony but Fluttershy!” shouted Dash, though she had the good grace to flinch as the other pegasus gave her a hurt look. “Hey, sorry, but your whole scared-of-the-world thing kinda cramps my style. Nothing personal—you’re still one of my best pals and all.”
Fluttershy frowned for a bit, then nodded. “I … I guess that makes sense.”
“Ooh, ooh! I’ll go with you, Dashie!”
“No!” shouted Twilight, her eyes wide with panic. Despite the seriousness of their current predicament, Spike had to bite back a snicker.
Pinkie pouted. “Aww, but Twilight—”
“No. I’ll be the one to pick the teams.” The unicorn passed a critical eye over the entire assembly of ponies and dragon, and then, after several moments of silence, gave a small nod. “Rarity, you’re going to head out with Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy. Applejack, you’re going with Pinkie Pie.”
The five ponies traded nervous looks. There were a few muttered rumblings of dissent.
“Any problems?” Twilight put on her very best scowl, as if silently daring any of them to challenge her.
Quickly they all shook their heads, the very picture of obedience, though Applejack did seem to be glaring at Twilight just a little.
“Good! Then let’s get a move on. The quicker we figure out where we are, the quicker we can figure out a way to get back home.”
The two teams slowly wandered off, into the strange gray world beyond, and Spike just stood and watched them go. A terrible churning was starting in his belly, and he felt cold in a way he never really had before. He didn’t like it at all. Only after the others had disappeared from view did Spike turn to Twilight. She was gazing down at him with a small grin on her lips and a strangely expectant look in her eyes.
“Um, Twilight?” Spike tried to keep the tremor from his voice and mostly succeeded. “What about me? I … I didn’t get put on a team.”
“Not true!” Twilight’s grin erupted into a full-blown smile. “You’re on my team, Spike. Who better to help me look for clues than my number one assistant?”
At that, Spike straightened his shoulders and saluted. “You got it, Twi! You can count on me!”
Twilight leaned down to give him a nuzzle. “I know I can. You’ve never let me down.” Then, in a whisper and with a wink, she added, “Also? You know I love the girls, but sometimes those ponies are crazy.”
He giggled in reply. And just like that, his stomach felt better. Simply hearing the calm confidence in Twilight’s voice made him feel that, no matter what, as long as they stuck together … they just might be okay. Whether Rainbow Dash was right about them being dead or not.
Together, dragon and pony set out and began exploring the Ponyville that wasn’t Ponyville.
I’m intrigued by this concept. It could have been Starswirl’s Transparent Translocation, given that flash of light, but the grayness of the alternate space suggests Achromatic Alicornicus, although it could have been Shade’s Persistent Shadowrealm, too. How interesting!
Oh! Sorry, I got distracted there for a moment. I liked how well you captured Spike and me, that was very sweet. I think I should go give Spike a hug. He’s a good dragon, and it is almost his hatching day, after all.