“So what is the purpose of-”
Rainbow shoved her hoof into Twilight’s mouth, cutting off the latest in her series of questions. “Look, the whole curiosity thing is cute, but I’m not the girl you should be asking, alright?” Twilight nodded, feeling that warmth rush to her cheeks again. “Seriously, though, the questions. Stop. Okay?”
“Okay,” she said, as the pegasus removed her hoof. “Sorry. I’m just … uh … curious. And everything is so new!”
Rainbow chuckled, ruffling the unicorn’s mane. “No worries, kid. Just maybe keep a little more rein on things, eh?”
Twilight blinked. Rein. Noun. A long narrow strap attached at one end to a horse's bit, typically used in pairs to control a horse in riding or driving. Or verb. Cause a horse (or other animal_ to sop or slow down by pulling on its reins. It was clearly a figure of speech, but what significance did it have?
She figured it out just as they reached the top of the hill. “Oh! To keep a rein on something is to control it! I get it!”
Rainbow stopped dead in the air, staring at her. Twilight stared back, then looked on in confusion as the pegasus fell to the ground, paralyzed by laughter. “What? What’s so funny?”
“Y-heh-you! You were - that whole time - you - Oh Luna that’s hilarious!” Twilight blinked, starting to grow worried. Had something gone wrong? Should she investigate? Laughter she understood, but this seemed out of place. Surely, something was wrong.
She focused, and her vision began to shift, the surface images blurring as the underlying code came into focus once again. The terrain around her changed with alacrity, but the pegasus, who had gone curiously still, remained distinctly defined as herself. Frowning, Twilight focused harder.
Rainbow’s face intruded in hers, the fuchsia eyes burning, and she lost the focus, the glow winking out. “What do you think you’re doing?” asked the pegasus, her voice low and angry. Twilight gulped.
“Um. You … it looked like something had gone wrong. I … I was going to look to see what it was.”
Rainbow held her gaze for a long while, before slowly backing away. “Alright. But, Sparkle, seriously, don’t try to fix things. And whatever it is you were doing … don’t try it on me. Or other AIs. Or users.”
She nodded, shivering a little at the deadly serious tone of the pegasus’ voice. “Um … I won’t, but … why?”
Rainbow shook her head. “I’m not sure I’m the one to explain it. I don’t even know what you were doing, but I know it felt weird as hell and I did not like it. You get a pass this time, kid, but only this time.”
“Okay,” she said, her voice small and her eyes downcast.
“Ah, don’t feel bad, kid. You didn’t know. And anyways, look up. We’re here.”
Twilight did so, and stared, jaw going slack. Her companion chuckled, and gently prodded her forward. Still staring, the unicorn allowed herself to be guided, slowly walking down the hill and past the large, floating sign that loudly welcomed her to Everfree.
Her mind boggled as she attempted to absorb everything she was seeing. That same basic knowledge that told her that Rainbow’s wings weren’t big enough to let her fly told her that, as communities went, Everfree seemed rather small, but that was not nearly so interesting as the sights of the community itself. The buildings were every shape and size and color, holding to no one architectural pattern that she could think off, and in many cases, completely eschewing even the very idea of obeying the laws of physics. She stopped dead in the street as her eyes locked on one particular structure, trying to figure out the completely impossible design, before Rainbow’s prodding moved her on once more.
The inhabitants were no less diverse, putting her instantly in mind of the snapshots of the world that the sun and moon had shown her. Flying creatures abounded, though most were of smaller build - pegasi and faeries and eagles and gryphons and gargoyles, walking and flying and intermingling with unicorns and ponies and dogs and goblins and in one case a four-armed, four-legged, eight-eyed green creature with an egg-shaped head that had her staring for nearly a full minute. She shook her head and forced herself to look away, lest it catch her, and stumbled into someone as she turned.
“Oh, sorry, I did … n’t … mean …” Her voice trailed off, as her eyes traveled up to meet the creatures. It was some kind of bipedal canine, dressed only in its fur and loud red vest, its facial features droopy and its ears large and floppy. It reached up with one massive paw to lower its sunglasses, and peered down at her with mean yellow eyes. She gulped, and took a step back. Its shoulders were impossibly broad, and its arms were about as thick as her torso, and she could not help but wonder what it could do to her. As a digital being, she would not die, certainly, but she knew she could still feel pain.
“Oh, hey there Marty!” The creature looked up, and smiled, reaching out with a fist to meet Rainbow’s outstretched hoof.
“Hey, Rainbow Dash, my main mare!” it said, lightly tapping her hoof from first the top and then the bottom. “‘Ow you been, girl?”
“Awesome as always, dog,” the pegasus replied, her voice taking on a tone rather similar to the one Marty was using. “I’ve been kickin’ it over at the arc, pulling off sweet moves like no one else can, you know? How about you?”
The dog bobbed its head, a great goofy grin on its face. “Righteous, girl! I been doin’ my usual thing, droppin’ sick beats and givin’ people a good time, you know?”
“Sweeeet. You still workin’ at the Scratch?”
“You know it! But hey, girl, you forgettin’ somethin’! Are you gonna introduce me ta this fine filly friend o’ yours or am I gonna have to do so myself?”
“Oh, right!” said Rainbow, slapping her head with a hoof. “Marty, this here is Twilight Sparkle. Twilight Sparkle, meet Marty the Mastiff, best DJ to ever come out of Hundo Urbo.”
The Mastiff extended a paw, and Twilight tentatively placed her hoof within. Marty’s shake was surprisingly gentle. “Self-proclaimed, o’ course,” he said with a wink, his sunglasses still hanging low on his snout. “So ‘ow do you know Rainbow, then?”
“Oh, I found her a ways out of Everfree, talking to a river,” the pegasus replied, her tone completely casual.
“Hah! And did it talk back?”
“Yes.” Marty quirked an eyebrow, and an ear along with it, eyes narrowing at Rainbow. He gave Twilight a glance and scratched his head.
“She joking, right?” he asked, and Twilight shook her head. “What, for serious? You sure it weren’t just a water sprite havin’ a laugh?”
Twilight shook her head again. “No, it was the river. Or, well, the Flow Manager.”
Marty stared at her some more, his brow furrowing and making his face even more wrinkly than normal, while Rainbow snickered at his confusion. “Well, alright then,” he said with a shrug of his shoulders. “If you talk to it again, ask it where my hat went, yah?”
“Uh … okay.” Was it really that odd? The way Rainbow had reacted, it seemed that her ability to look past the surface wasn’t exactly common at all … and possibly scary. She really would have to watch that.
“So if she new to the Everfree, you likely showin’ her round, eh girl?” he said, looking at Rainbow.
“Yep! We’re headed over to the admin hall now,” the pegasus replied, and the Mastiff nodded.
“I’ll let you at it, then. See you at the Scratch later, then?”
“Wouldn’t miss it! Peace, dog!” she said, and they repeated the odd little ritual.
“You come too, Miss Sparkle,” he said, extending a fist towards the unicorn. “Be a good place to meet the town.”
“Uh, alright,” she replied, and extended her own hoof, doing a passable imitation of Rainbow’s movements. Marty nodded in approval, and then was off, waving as he left. The ponies waved back, and continued on their way down the street.
“It’s some place, huh?”
“Um. Yes,” Twilight replied, nodding her head and resisting the urge to resume her gaping. “We’re heading to the admin hall?”
“Yep!” Rainbow said, floating past with a single push of her wings. Twilight did a double-take - Rainbow was flying upside down, eyes closed, head resting on her forelegs, and a smile on her face. She stared for a moment, then shook her head. She was quickly coming to realize that certain things just weren’t worth asking about.
“What’s at the admin hall?”
“Oh, Everfree’s admin team. Also community database access. They can get you set up in a niche and linked into the local feeds. First stop for every newcomer.”
“That makes sense. So where is it?”
“It’s the big one at the center of town,” Rainbow replied, lazily waving at the road in front of them. Twilight looked straight ahead, and then up, managing to keep her jaw from dropping, this time. The admin hall was impressive, almost a work of art: two shining towers stretching up to a partial sunburst, which hung, impossibly, in the air above them. It immediately put her in mind of Celestia, which was, she decided, intentional.
“So in there … I’ll find my home?”
“You got it!”
The unicorn looked at the tower again, and smiled, a bounce in her step. This day just kept getting better.