- Gloria Steinhoof
She was precise. Organized. Rational. She certainly was NOT an 'old fuddy-duddy McFuddy pants' nor was she in the least 'Captain Clockwork of the Prissy Pony Fussy-Gussy No-Fun Patrol'. That last one had been Dash's, but the first was unmistakably Pinkie's work. Rainbow wouldn't have said the second slight if it hadn't been for Pinkie initially saying hers. Twilight calculated that logically, she should be angry first at Pinkie Pie, to the amount of seventy-two kilo-grumbles, and only secondarily annoyed with Rainbow Dash for the remaining twenty-eight kilo-grumbles... no, make that only twenty kilo-grumbles, eight could decidedly be reserved for that apple muffin that wasn't setting well in her stomach. Yes. That was it. Exactly.
Twilight had left Sugarcube Corner - in a properly calibrated rage - at precisely two forty-six in the afternoon. Not that anypony could tell from the clock tower, of course. The Ponyville clock tower had been six minutes slow for the last three days, and this had annoyed Twilight no end. Worse, this was not the only instance where such an inaccuracy had occurred - last month the clock had been fast by eight minutes for nearly two whole weeks! It was Twilight's intent to lodge a formal complaint with Mayor Mare at precisely two minutes past three, a time she had carefully reckoned her grievance would receive optimal attention and response.
The Mayor would be stepping off the train at that moment, back from her visit to Canterlot. Doubtless her first act would be to check the clock tower to see if her arrival was on time. That would certainly be the first action Twilight herself would naturally take upon arrival. The discrepancy would be immediately obvious, of course, and this could be exploited to maximum effect. Attention to detail was everything.
"So what if the clock is slow? That just means more time to have fun!" She wasn't sure if Dash actually believed what she had said, or if she understood the fallacy and had intended the statement as a jest. Rainbow had sounded quite serious, in her way. Twilight knew Pinkie had understood - Pinkie Pie was far more intelligent than most ponies gave her credit for - but yet she had agreed with Dash and even suggested deliberately altering the clock in the tower so that they could live the whole day over and have twice the fun. The notion was absurd. Pinkie must have been joking. Of course she was joking, Twilight finally decided. Pinkie might be odd, even quite bizarre, truth be told, but she was not actually irrational.
The worst of it all, though, had been Rainbow's suggestion that Twilight was fundamentally unable to act with spontaneity. Dash hadn't put it that way, of course, it was unlikely Rainbow could even spell 'spontaneity' much less use it in a sentence, but that was the jist of the entire row. Why was it so important that she 'loosen up'? She was 'loose'. All of her joints bent smoothly. She was 'loose as a goose', as someponies were known to say. But, Twilight thought, loose or not, at least she wasn't unhinged.
Chuckling softly at her clever internal jibe, Twilight resolved to put her spontaneity to the test. Rather than taking the most obvious path to the train station, which was Stirrup Street just off of Horseshoe Lane, she would... take a shortcut! Twilight shivered with the exciting feeling of such daring exploit! Yes, a side path, perhaps one that might be just a miniscule amount more expeditious because of being a more direct overall angle than the main thoroughfare. But which side street? Twilight had memorized every map of Ponyville that was in the library. She searched them in her mind.
There were many things Twilight appreciated about Ponyville, and one of them was that it had a simple, relatively straightforward layout. Unlike Canterlot, with its endless maze of twisting roads, secret passages, roundabouts and corkscrew tower paths that wove above, through and upon the living rock of the mountain, Ponyville was simple. It was a roughly oval town with a large central plaza, and a very uncomplicated layout. Set on a wide, flat, river plain between mountains, with the only change in elevation being very low, rolling hills, Ponyville comfortably reclined on the rich farmland, unlike the tight, twisted-up, multilevel labyrinths of Canterlot.
Twilight grinned. She would not take the main path, not this time! Pinkie and Dash were wrong about her. She would just... arbitrarily choose a street. She would pick the street on a... whim. Yes! A whim! Twilight couldn't help but chuckle - it was all so exciting, to deviate from her well crafted plans in such a manner. It felt... almost naughty! She couldn't wait to tell that annoying Pinkie - and twenty-percent less frustrating Dash - about her adventurous turn of attitude. She knew what fun was, by Luna!
She didn't even see what street she had turned onto. She always checked the signs, this time she hadn't! It was exhilarating to just... go... down a street and not know what street it was. It was almost scary! It could be any street... no, that was not correct at all. In point of fact, she mentally noted, the street she was on could only be a subset of the total number of streets within Ponyville, defined by the fact that they specifically branched off of Stirrup Street, where she had previously been. That meant that the number of possible streets she could potentially now be trotting upon had to be exactly...
No! No cheating! If this experiment in spontaneity was have validity, she could not ruin the data by coloring it with the bias presented by her own knowledge of the town. That was why she had deliberately stopped running the maps she had memorized through her mind moments ago. The street she was on must remain unknown in order for maximal whimsey to be achieved. This street must be... indeterminate.
She was on 'Indeterminate Street'. That was the name she would use to identify it. Of course, she mused, in giving the unknown street a name - even an arbitrary name, a label she herself had chosen - had she not in fact just defined the street, making it in actuality 'Determinate Street'? Twilight stopped suddenly and shook her head. AUGH! Now she was thinking just like Pinkie. She did not want that. Sweet Celestia, she definitely did not want that.
The time! What was she doing? Twilight Sparkle looked up to check the face of the clock tower - which she would correct within her mind - but there was no way to see the tower. The tudor-styled buildings were just too high. The street was lined with tudor cottages, inns, and shops, all two to three stories high, with no gaps or gardens or open areas. It would help if there were a commons filled with some pavilion tents - they were simple to look between, and the clock tower face would be easily visible. But this street was all close construction, thatched roof buildings rising above the cobblestone street. Occasionally a cart containing produce or trinkets to sell blocked the way.
Oddly, there seemed to be nopony around. This was a market street, yet it seemed completely empty. The air felt curious and oddly stale. Twilight felt the hairs of her withers rise. Even the lighting seemed strange, somehow. Was it sunset already? What time actually was it now?
Suddenly, the cobblestone gave way to a very strange surface. The surface was flat, smooth, and looked like it had been sculpted, or poured. It was gray and flat, with tiny cracks in parts of it. Here and there in the occasional cracks, the odd stem of grass poked through. Whatever this strange walkway was, there was precious little drainage to it, it was nearly of one piece, divided into large, square, flat slabs that abutted one another. Was it some kind of clay? No, it was very hard. It must be rather rough on hooves, Twilight thought.
The gray stuff started just after a cleft in the ground. It was a crack, about five hooves wide, that ran from somewhere between the buildings on the side of the street where Twilight was, all the way across the hard-packed earthen road, where it vanished into the small gap between the buildings on the other side.
The buildings on the far side of the crack in the ground were odd, too. They seemed to be much taller, four or five stories, and not all of them had thatched roofs. Some had... something unusual... tile perhaps? It was hard to tell. They seemed to be built with more than just wood and wattle and plaster... the beams were braced with metal! The bases were made of the same gray stuff as the walkway there. And the firefly lamps one normally saw had no openings or hatches in them. The poor insects would suffocate, and if the lamps had been made for candles, the problem was just as bad. It was very perplexing indeed.
There was an odd smell coming from that part of the town, too. It smelled like oil from a lamp, only more intense. And there was faint smoke in it, but not from fireplaces, and the scent of metals in it as well. It was then that Twilight noticed the signpost.
She decided to countermand her previous rule and find out where she was. The sign said that it was 'Shark Street'. Shark street? Impossible! Twilight knew every single street in Ponyville and there was no Shark Street. More than that, no pony would ever name a street after a predator - and in any case, the ocean was hundreds of miles away. The only way to even know what a shark was would be to look in a book. Twilight knew her books well, and the image on the sign was definitely a member of the clade Selachimorpha, the caudal fin was a definitive indication.
Shark Street. There was no Shark Street! Was this a joke? The thought of Pinkie Pie-like city planners and builders existing in the world confounded Twilight. Whatever all of this was, it had been here for a long time. The road sign was far from new, the strange walkway was old and cracked, and the extra-tall buildings beyond the cleft in the ground had sat there for many, many seasons.
This was beyond bizarre. Worse than that, none of it fit into Twilight's neat and tidy understanding of Ponyville. Nothing bothered the purple unicorn mare more than things not fitting, not making sense. This did not make sense in the least, and the deep horror of this challenge to normalcy, organization, and outright order instantly placed Twilight's original goal to accost Mayor Mare far down on her internal list of Things To Do Today.
This needed to be dealt with. This needed to be understood. This... improper street had no business existing, and Twilight resolved to get to the bottom of it. This sort of disruption of proper topography needed serious redressing, and she was just the mare to do it. Just how big of an insult to cartographers was this? How much of her current maps would need to be completely redrawn? This decidedly required a reconnaissance to find out.
The first issue was the crack in the ground. Twilight peered over the edge. It was dark and ran down as far as her eyes could see. It wouldn't do to let a leg slip down there. There was only one thing for it, if she wanted to continue - a gap of five hooves was too large to comfortably and safely step over. It would require a light hop. A 'Hop, Skip, and a Jump' as Pinkie would put it. Not that Twilight was particularly well disposed towards Pinkie right at the moment, but it really was what she would say.
Twilight decided that the hop and the skip were entirely superfluous and went straight for the jump. She stepped back a few paces to get a slight running start, then gave a little leap and found herself safely on the other side. It was easy, foal's play really. Now she was entirely on Shark Street. The smell in the air was even stronger now, and she began to hear strange noises coming from all around her. Busy noises, like hammering, only much faster and much more powerful. Metal on metal sounds. Pumping purrs like steam devices, only far more fierce and insistent. And voices, many, many voices.
Twilight followed the sounds around the corner, which banked sharply to the left. Her hooves hit hard on the flat, gray walkway that bordered the road on both sides. It felt uncomfortable, and sent shocks up her cannons through her fetlocks. She decided to walk in the road instead, at least it was the hard-packed earth she knew.
The area ahead widened out. It was a flat green, the grass nibbled... no, cut... close to the ground. And in the middle, jutting out into it, was something vastly more disturbing than a street that wasn't on any map.
It was a street high in the air, on what looked like the cliff-edges of a narrow mountain, right smack in the middle of Ponyville. It was utterly impossible. Ponyville was a rural town set in a flat river valley. But there, without any question, was a terribly tall, high cliff, on the top of which was a road which descended rapidly from some other place higher up. Very high up. And that was not the worst of it - the narrow, precipitous road itself, after a steep curve, ended in an abrupt and improbably unsafe, unguarded, utterly deadly... cliff.
Twilight gawked at the impossible cliff-road far above her. She stared, open mouthed in sheer incredulity. There were no mountains in Ponyville. Ponyville was flat, with low rolling hills. It was a river plain. That's what made it such good farmland. Worse than that, a mountain in the middle of the city would have been noticed. Somepony would have definitely put it on a map. She herself would have noticed a mountain in the middle of Ponyville over the last year, no question. She looked around her - had she somehow been teleported somewhere else?
The clock tower was there, she could see it now. There was the city hall, she'd know that anywhere, it was unique to Ponyville. She could see the leafy top of her own home, the Books and Branches Library. This was Ponyville. There was no question this was Ponyville, and it was impossible, and her mind began to break, and it hurt.
It was as the headache began that her heart skipped a beat, fear rising in her soul. There was a carriage, some sort of a conveyance, heading down the narrow, high, impossible road that ended in an abrupt cliff. The ponies in the carriage were screaming, filled with horror and dread. The narrow road they were on was deathly steep, without any way to turn off of it that did not end in a fatal drop. But this, in itself, was not the reason the ponies in the carriage were screaming, though it was certainly a very good reason indeed - no, the reason they were screaming was that the carriage was picking up speed in that certain way that Twilight easily calculated as Having No Brakes.