Edge of the Everfree Forest, Equestria
It was a normal fall day in the Everfree Forest, or at least as normal a day as you could ask for from that strange place.
The sun was shining brightly from its position at the top of the sky, the most terrifying of the creatures that dwelt within its crowded bushes and trees were either hiding from the brightness of the day or sleeping, and all varieties of beautiful flowers were blooming along the main path, and, remarkably, not counted among them were the bright blue blossoms of the troublesome Poison Joke that liked to plague the forest floor...
But at the same time there was a quiet hush over the whole region, as if both the plants and animals were waiting in anticipation for something to happen...
Something wonderful... and terrible...
Los Angeles, California, United States of America, Earth
It was like so many other alleyways in Los Angeles.
Bordered on one side by a small store made of brick, and on the other side by the steely exterior of an office building, the heat caused by the office building's reflection of the sun's rays meant that even the homeless avoided it in the waning and warm days of that particular autumn. Trash was strewn about, much of it gnawed on by rats and other stray animals, the rest left to rot or provide breeding grounds for insects.
And the fact that the alleyway would likely be empty was a large part of why it had been chosen for something special that night.
The lights flickered in the alleyway as two beings walked into it. With the two of them standing at about three and half feet in height, their pointed ears standing nearly straight up from the tops of their heads, and the prominent spines on their backs and heads, there was no mistaking them for humans. True, the more obvious features were covered by the hoods and coats they had worn in an attempt to get into the alley without excessive attention. But even then, it was just possible to make out that they were a famous duo: Sonic and Shadow, the anthropomorphic hedgehogs that had become heroes to the people of Los Angeles.
Sonic, with his prominent cobalt blue fur, was never one to shy away from the spotlight and would have been recognized easily if not for his hood and coat. Shadow, black fur with red markings and a prominent white patch on his chest, shied away from attention, but he was still well known enough that he would have drawn stares without the disguise.
They had no worries about the criminal element that sometimes showed up in the neighborhood. They had put so much fear into the "dark side" of Los Angeles that even the gangs that troubled the city knew better than to try something with them around. Still, Shadow's Chaos sense was standing his fur on end. Something was watching them.
A light gust picked up and blew some of the trash in the alleyway towards them as they removed the outfits.
"Alright Shadow," said Sonic, as he held up a blue Chaos Emerald. "You ready to try this?"
"On your mark, Sonic," acknowledged the black and red hedgehog, holding his red Emerald up to Sonic's. "Let's hope this doesn't cause time to stop completely or speed up uncontrollably."
"Hey, the Boss finally gave us the go-ahead to try. It can't be that big a risk, right?" Sonic asked with a little snort.
"Fine, but it's not my head if the Boss has to send someone to fix things," retorted Shadow.
Sonic just laughed before letting his smile fade; replacing it with a seriousness that his features usually lacked.
"Alright Shadow, it's time."
"CHAOS CONTROL!" the hedgehogs yelled in unison.
The shouting was unnecessary, but it made it easier to coordinate something like this. And what a something it was. As each Emerald started to glow, projecting their color onto the walls of the alley, an arc of what could only be described as green lightning shot from Sonic's blue Emerald to Shadow's red Emerald, illuminating the alley with its eerie light instead of that of the Emeralds. The arc maintained itself as both hedgehogs focused their concentration on tapping into the power of the Emeralds.
Suddenly, two small orbs of the same green light formed at the edge of each emerald. They pulsed along the arc; reaching the center at the exact same time. The orbs united as one and shot a beam of the green light straight towards the center of the alley.
It reached the center and stopped. Then, without warning, it exploded into a glowing green... portal? That was the only word the two hedgehogs could think of for the strange circular thing floating a foot off the ground in front of them. Shadow's fur started to stand on end again and shudders raced down his spine. He could not shake the feeling something was watching them. In fact, it only grew stronger. Whatever it was had taken sudden interest in this turn of events.
"I'm going in," Sonic said suddenly. Shadow started out of his brief reverie; he had not expected Sonic to say that. Even if the blue hedgehog was reckless, he did not typically think about doing something like this. He was not stupid.
"Sonic, are you sure you want-" he started to say, but Sonic cut him off.
"We need to see what this... portal... thing does," he said. "Based on what the Chaos Emeralds can do alone, it's probably a form of time travel or a way to jump dimensions, and neither of those is something we want to let fall into the hands of any of our enemies, whether it's a complete monster like Metal Sonic or someone as weak as Beamer. I'm going in."
Sonic carefully handed his Emerald to Shadow, making sure it never lost contact with either one of them, and walked towards the portal. It seemed to have at least a small amount of suction power; his fur pulling towards it as if he had a light wind at his back.
"Leave the portal open as long as you can maintain it," he said. "I want a way back, after all!"
He gave Shadow a two-fingered salute. Then he jumped in.
A minute passed.
Shadow's Chaos sense went crazy.
The shadows behind the black hedgehog suddenly shifted and took human shape. The black hedgehog heard the thing's footstep and immediately knew it intended to attack him, but it was too late.
The blow came just above his back spines, where he had nothing to guard his back or neck. As he collapsed, the figure ripped the Emeralds out of his hands and jumped through the portal with them, barely making it through before the portal closed.
"S-sonic..." was all Shadow could get out before the blackness clouding his vision took him into the brief, unnatural sleep of unconsciousness.
Sugarcube Corner, Ponyville, Equestria
"It's the perfect day for a picnic!" Pinkie Pie yelled with her usual enthusiasm as she and her friends met up to talk about what to do for the get-together they had planned for that day. The pink mare had been looking forward to this day for weeks; it was an excuse to party, and, as everyone in Ponyville knew, she loved parties.
"It is a beautiful day today," said Twilight Sparkle as she looked up from her book on weather and turned to face the mare with the rainbow-colored mane. "The weather team has sunshine scheduled for the whole day, right Rainbow Dash? My book says the best picnics happen on days with no clouds."
"Yep! There's not gonna be a cloud in the sky today!" Rainbow Dash said, then winked at the group, not able to help but boast a little; it was part of her nature. "The best young flyer in Equestria saw to that!"
"Always so modest," joked Rarity with a smile from underneath her stylish new sun hat.
"Alright, so ya'll agree we're gonna have us a picnic," said Applejack. "Where's it gonna be? Ah'd offer up Sweet Apple Acres, but it's Applebuckin' season an' Big Macintosh told me to skedaddle since we had this here get-together and said that if he caught me on the farm he'd put me ta work, friends or no friends."
"And with no clouds around we can't exactly have it in the sky, cloud-walking spell or no cloud-walking spell," remarked Dash.
"Well, um... if it's okay with you... maybe we could, um, have it by the meadow near my cottage?" asked Fluttershy in her usual soft-spoken manner. "I mean, it's a bit close to the Everfree Forest, but as long as we don't get too close, it should be fine... If that doesn't bother any of you, that is..."
"That sounds like a great spot, Fluttershy!" said Twilight. "Do you girls agree?"
They all nodded their heads in agreement.
"It's settled then! We'll all meet at Fluttershy's cottage," Twilight said. "Pinkie Pie can bring dessert, I can bring the dishes, Rarity can bring the blanket, Fluttershy can bring some vegetables, and Rainbow Dash can make sure none of the Everfree Forest's clouds drift over us."
"An' what about me?" asked Applejack with a confused look on her face.
"Er... well... Applejack, I figured you could just come along to hang out," Twilight said with a sheepish smile. "You did say you couldn't go back to Sweet Apple Acres.
"Hey now!" exclaimed Applejack with a stamp of her hoof. "Just because Big Mac said no goin' back to Sweet Apple Acres, it don't mean Ah didn't come prepared! Ah've got a big ol' bushel of apples Ah brought along just in case!"
"In that case, great! We all have a job to do then! See you all at Fluttershy's cottage!"
With that, they all walked outside together, then split up to do their tasks.
Meadow near the edge of the Everfree Forest, Equestria
Everything was prepared. The blanket was down next to a tree on top of a small hill in the meadow, the dishes were arranged perfectly, and the food was all ready for eating. Now it was time to eat, relax, hang out, and have fun!
Fluttershy, on top of bringing the vegetables, had also convinced some of her birds to provide music for the picnicking ponies. Blue jays, robins, and finches all crooned out sweet tunes as the ponies played games and ate, while Fluttershy hovered near them, making sure they sang the right song.
Pinkie Pie had brought her favorite game of Pin the Tail on the Pony and was having a good laugh as Rainbow Dash stumbled this way and that as she tried to find the tailless pony.
"Am I getting warmer?" asked the rainbow-maned pony as she waved her arms wildly trying to find the tree.
"Nope!" said a laughing Pinkie Pie. Rainbow Dash just grunted in frustration and kept feeling around.
Twilight and Rarity were both relaxing on the finely stitched blanket Rarity had made just for the occasion. It had a symbol in the center that looked like a circle divided into six different colored sections, each section containing one of the Cutie Marks of the six friends. This was surrounded by gold and placed on a plain white background, while the four corners had small golden tassels.
"This really is a beautiful blanket, Rarity," said Twilight. "Was it very hard to make?"
"Oh not at all, Darling!" responded the white mare. "It was just a fun little side project that I happened to have the materials for!"
"Well, regardless, I love it, it's a very generous act," said Twilight, winking at the reference to Rarity's Element of Harmony.
Applejack, however, was off by herself, down the hill, staring at the Everfree Forest like it had somehow affronted her. Pinkie Pie was suddenly right next to her, startling the orange pony out of her trance.
"Hey! Whatcha lookin' at Applejack? See some kind of spoOOoky creature in the forest?" she asked in her usual silly manner. "Oh! Oh! Or did you think you saw Zecora?"
"Huh? Wha? Naw. Ever since we got here, Ah just can't shake the feelin' that somethin's gonna happen there soon," Applejack replied as she pointed at the main path through the forest.
"Oh come on Applejack," said Rainbow Dash as she removed the blindfold, having somehow gotten lost enough to end up at the bottom of the hill. "If anything was gonna happen, Pinkie's Pinkie Sense would be going off like crazy!"
"Ah know that's what usually happens, but still, what if it don't go off and something happens? Ah trust Pinkie Sense, but Ah don't think it foolproof. That's whah Ah believe in mah gut just as much as Ah believe in Pinkie Sense. Mah gut's never wrong."
Twilight, Fluttershy, and Rarity, having noticed the other three mares gathering at the bottom of the hill, trotted down to the others.
"Is something wrong?" asked Rarity.
"Applejack thinks something's gonna happen in the Everfree Forest," said Dash. "Even though Pinkie's Pinkie Sense isn't going off."
"Well, you can never be too careful!" said Twilight. "Come on girls; let's go have a look, just to be sure."
They arrived at the edge of the forest just as a green portal opened up about ten feet in front of them.
"Oooooh, what a pretty color!" said Pinkie, just before a figure came through and crashed to the ground.
In hindsight, it was a lot like stepping through a door.
Sonic had hit the portal and, as if he had simply gone into another room, suddenly he was in a completely different world. He had expected as much. What he did not expect was how exhausting the act would be. He collapsed, feeling drained and weak, as soon as he hit solid ground. His thin legs quivered with the effort as he stood to his feet.
Then he noticed the six ponies standing around him with shocked looks on their faces. Ponies he recognized.
"What in tarnation is that thang!?" the orange one asked as she looked at Sonic.
"I have no idea, Applejack," said the purple one as she looked him up and down. "In all my studies I've never come across a creature that looks like this."
"I don't know what it is," said the white one, before she noted Sonic's shoes and gloves. "But I must say, its accessories complement each other quite well."
Sonic tried to speak but the pink one cut him off.
"Whatever it is, I bet it likes to party!"
Everyone started to talk at once, which meant the conversation quickly dissolved into arguments as the ponies tried to figure out what he was. All except, strangely enough, the blue one with the rainbow mane, who just hovered there, looking at him as though she felt some sort of connection to him.
"I bet it's a porcupine!"
"No, no, no, it must be an echidna..."
"It could be a creature whose appearance is comprised of two different animals, that's not unheard of!"
It kept going, and, after about a minute of it, Sonic decided he could not take it anymore. He whistled sharply.
"Girls! Girls!" he shouted. They shut up when it registered that he was addressing them. "If you want the answer to your questions, let me talk."
They sat down and waited for him to begin.
"The name's Sonic. Sonic the Hedgehog. I come from a completely different world, that's why you don't know what I am, and it's also why I came through that portal. But even if you don't know me, I know who you are," he said, and started pointing to each of them in turn.
"Twilight Sparkle, the Element of Magic."
"Applejack, the Element of Honesty."
"Rarity, the Element of Generosity."
"Fluttershy, the Element of Kindness."
"Pinkie Pie, the Element of Laughter."
"And last, but certainly not least (and, for me, the most important): Rainbow Dash, the Element of Loyalty."
The ponies' mouths were hanging open; Pinkie's, in typical physics-bending fashion, was literally on the ground. Rainbow Dash was the first one to recover and respond.
"How-how do you know our names and our Elements?" she asked.
"Where I come from, you six are the focus of a very popular, not-so-fictional television show, each episode dealing with the lessons you learn about friendship," he said. "I say not so fictional because until now I thought it was fictional. Someone was obviously able to find a way to follow certain events in your life, and then broadcast it."
"Er... Certain events..." Rarity said hesitatingly. "They didn't happen to catch any of the more embarrassing moments we've been through, did they?"
"Tom," said Sonic. Rarity's face flushed and she smiled nervously at the mention of the rock she had once mistaken for a diamond.
"But the only one I think any of you should be embarrassed about is the Mare-do-well incident," Sonic continued. "Do any of you realize how much that hurt Rainbow Dash?"
"Hurt her?" asked Twilight. "It was for her own good! Sure, she may have gotten a bit angry, but she was fine after we talked..."
The last portion of Twilight's statement caused her voice to waver a little bit, as though she was not quite sure she believed her assertion. An awkward silence followed. It was thirty seconds later, three minutes after Sonic first stepped through the portal, that someone broke that silence.
"No. I wasn't," Rainbow Dash said in a quiet tone, causing Twilight to bow her head a little bit. "But we can talk about it later, now's not the time."
Sonic walked a few feet towards the ponies, shocked at how much of an exertion such a small act seemed. Twilight noticed how wobbly he was and thought back to Applejack's near-disastrous attempt at solo-bucking Sweet Apple Acre's orchards.
"Look," Sonic said. "It's been nice to meet you all in person, but I need to get out of here before something bad happens. Where I go, trouble tends to follow, and I don't want to cause trouble here."
"No," said Twilight, causing the blue hedgehog to raise an eyebrow at her. "I can see how exhausted you are after one trip through that portal. I don't think it's a good idea for you to go back before you're rested."
Sonic just hung his head and sighed. It was true, and the fact that he was too exhausted to come up with a good counterargument just highlighted it.
"Okay, you win," he said with a sigh. "But I obviously have no place to stay. Are any of you willing to donate a bed?"
"I will," said Rainbow Dash with characteristic quickness. "Twilight can just cast a cloud-walking spell on you and you can stay with me until you have to go."
"And how will I get down without breaking a leg once I'm up there, exactly?"
"I have a ladder you can use to get down from -- and up to -- it."
"Alright. Then I guess it's settled, I'm staying with Rainbow Dash," Sonic said, then smiled. "Maybe when I'm rested up we can have a little race somewhere where there's a nice long stretch of flat ground, Dash."
"A race?" Rainbow Dash asked before laughing. "You ca-" she stopped and snickered again. "You can't be serious! If you know anything about me, then you know I'm the fastest flyer in Equestria! And you don't even have wings!"
"And where I'm from I'm known as the fastest thing alive," Sonic replied with one of his side-of-the-mouth grins. "And my lack of wings is precisely why I suggested a long stretch of flat land, that way your wings don't give you any major advantage."
"Hah!" she laughed as she gave him a grin of her own. "You're on!"
"Alright you two," interrupted Twilight. "Come on, I think Sonic needs his rest. You can talk more later."
They started to walk away when they heard a snap as the portal closed behind them, followed by a thud and an oddly strained groan. They looked back and saw a completely black human-shaped figure trying to struggle to its feet, but it only managed to roll over and prop itself up on its elbows. Living shadows rose from its body like smoke from an extinguished fire. In front of it were the two Chaos Emeralds Shadow and Sonic had used. Sonic stared at them for a moment before he walked over and grabbed them as fast as he could, then moved back to the ponies.
The thing's face was... unnerving, to say the least. It was completely blank except for two shining white slits in the approximate place where eyes would go on a normal human's face. When it spoke another white light appeared at about the same spot as a mouth would be expected to appear.
"Hel-hello... Sonic," it began in a choked yet sinister male tone, before being interrupted by a coughing fit. "L-long time no see..."
"Shade," said Sonic as he dropped into a wobbly combat stance. "I thought I was through with you."
"Beaten bu-" Shade began before another coughing fit. "But not destroyed... Now put down your hands. I'm exhausted and I'm defenseless, and I know you will not attack or kill a defenseless opponent... Besides, I can see how exhausted you are as well, so imagine how much worse it is for me: I've been cut off from my source of strength, plus the trip through the portal. I cannot control the shadows here, I'm too weak."
Shade gestured at the shadows under the trees to prove his point. Sonic returned to a more neutral stance, but kept himself ready to spring if he needed to.
"Then what are you going to do?" asked Sonic.
"I will retreat into the forest until my strength is returned to m-" another round of coughing interrupted Shade. "-e. I give you my solemn vow that I will do no harm to this world until you seek me out... or depart without me."
"And I'm just supposed to believe you?"
"For now that's all you can do. These ponies obviously can't or won't help you yet or they already would have attacked me."
It was true. Sonic took a calming breath.
"Fine. Just tell me what you did to Shadow."
"Nothing permanent. He'll wake up in a couple minutes," replied Shade. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm leaving."
With that, Shade stood shakily to his feet and limped off into the Forest. Sonic turned around and looked at the Chaos Emeralds. Then he looked at the six mares before him.
"What was that thing?" asked a cowering Fluttershy. "Just being near it was scary..."
"One of the reasons I wanted to get out of here," said Sonic. "He used to be a friend of mine, but he had an... accident. My friends and I thought he was dead, but he wasn't, and a very evil robotic version of myself found him and changed him into that... that thing."
"Do you think he'll actually stay in these woods until you seek him out, Sonic?" asked Rarity.
"For now, at least," replied Sonic. "He's probably waiting to regain his strength, like I am."
Sonic turned and stared after Shade for a moment, and then he suddenly noticed just how exhausted he was. He had left Los Angeles at about eleven o'clock at night. Based on what he could see, it was about four o'clock in the afternoon in Equestria. The hedgehog guessed that the time difference was causing something similar to extreme jet lag, not to mention the unknown factor of the dimension jump.
"Alright, looks like I'm stuck here for a bit," he said and turned to Dash. "I can make it to your house, Dash, but I'll need help making it up the ladder to the house itself."
"That won't be a problem," she said.
"Wait," said Twilight. "Don't forget the cloud-walking spell!"
Twilight lowered her horn and quickly launched a magic blast from it at Sonic. He noticed that it felt an awful lot like... Chaos energy. Sonic quickly decided it would be better to investigate the matter later. He thanked Twilight and started to follow Rainbow Dash.
"See?" said Applejack, turning to Pinkie Pie. "Ah told ya, mah gut never lies!"
The five mares laughed and walked back up the hill to pick up the leftovers from the picnic.