Bluebelle groaned and slowly began to open her eyes, but quickly realized that made things worse as the nearly blinding light stabbed at her brain. It felt like there was a porcupine fooling around in her head. The symptoms seemed to signify 'hangover' or possibly...
"...mild concussion. She'll live." Spear went on and proceeded to check on the others. Mesmera was a bit bedazzled but quickly oriented herself and was about to scold Spear for crashing into her when she noticed something strange... something that may very well be the. Worst. POSSIBLE. THING!
The mirror was gone; in fact, there was no evidence that it had ever existed. There was no pile of dust where it should have been. There was an appalling lack of magical residue, made worse by the fact that the mirror's spell had almost completely exhausted her magical energy. There may have been just enough left to repair a broken bone or something of such a nature.
"Hay! Professor!" Spear yelled. "Pleated Skirt over here has really messed up ankle. Do you suppose you could magic it better or something?"
Of course she would...
Mesmera sighed. "Sure. Let me see it... okay, just hold still."
The professor's' horn lit up, her magic's glow enveloping the aristocrat's hoof and faster than you could say "pickle barrel," Pleated Skirt's ankle was mended.
"So..." Spear asked. "What do you suppose we do now? What even happened?"
Mesmera opened her mouth to try to answer the question, but was soon interrupted by a shout of "Halt! Who goes there?"
Some Royal Guards poked their heads into the room to see Commander Spear, Pleated Skirt, Princess Bluebelle, and Professor Mesmera looking just as surprised as they were. The ponies that stood before them looked familiar, but different enough to justify only one action from a security perspective. "You're all under arrest for trespassing in a restricted area of the Royal Palace. Get on the ground with your hooves in plain sight!"
Spear exchanged looks with the rest of her party before trotting up to the ponies who were at the door. "What is the meaning of this?"
"Ma'am, I'm going to have to ask you to come with us."
"What!" Spear exclaimed. "I am a commanding officer in this army. You may be following orders, but you don't have the authority to arrest me without a proper warrant. I order you to stop this nonsense immediately."
The guards looked a bit uneasy at this.
The unicorn of the pair turned to his companion. "What do we do now?" The pegasus replied uncertainly, "I dunno... She might be legit; she certainly looks the part. Maybe we should ask Shining Armor."
Spear was now genuinely dumbfounded. "Who's this Shining Armor? It sounds like somepony I should know, but I've never heard of him."
"Well, I suppose that settles it. You're under arrest. No one in the army wouldn't know the name of the captain of the guard."
"What! Are you saying Gleaming Shield was replaced by somepony that I've never even heard of? When did this happen?"
Octavian spoke up, "Spear? I really think that we should, you know, get out of here."
Bluebelle looked up questioningly, "What's going on?"
Spear replied, "That is a very good question, but for now I've decided that our best option is to... you know... RUN!"
The group ran out of the mirror room into the adjacent hallway, but were immediately met by another group of guards. They tried to double back, but found themselves surrounded. Spear looked around quickly for other means of escape, but to no avail. There were no windows or doors, nothing besides a few chandeliers hanging from the ceiling and a mysteriously placed bookshelf. They would have to fight their way out.
"Bluebelle, crowd attack plan beta," Spear called out. "Mesmera... improvise. Everyone else, get out of here!"
There was a mad scramble as Pleated Skirt and Octavian tried to slip away while the guards were preoccupied with the other three ponies in their party. Two guards cut them off, and Pleated Skirt prepared to be tackled and hoofcuffed. Suddenly, the guards were hit in the head with telekinetically thrown books traveling over 100 miles per hour, easily knocking each of them out.
"How about you fight a pony who can fight back?" Professor Mesmera said, hefting the entire bookshelf over her head. She threw the bookshelf in the general direction of the guards blocking her path, and books started flying in every direction. Bluebelle managed to throw a book at her attacker (albeit not quite at the velocity of Mesmera), and Spear landed a good right hook on a guard about to pin her down. They ran past the barricade of guards blocking their path, who were currently preoccupied by the books with which Professor Mesmera attacked them.
"Forget the others," one of the guard said. "Get the unicorn with the glasses. Princess Celestia said she was the priority." The two dozen guards charged at Mesmera, tackled her, and managed to cuff her before she could counterattack. Commander Spear, Princess Bluebelle, Pleated Skirt, and Octavian all ran as fast as they could for the castle gate. There they were met by even more guards. "Stop in the name of Princess Celestia," one of them said.
"There's no way we're going to be able to fight them all," Spear said. "Bluebelle, you're going to have to teleport us out of here."
"But I've never teleported this many people before!" Bluebelle protested.
"Well there's no time like the present. Do it now!" Spear commanded.
Bluebelle closed her eyes and envisioned the short distance on the other side of the closed castle door. "If it's only a short distance I might be able to do it," Bluebelle thought to hereself. As she cast the spell, focusing on each of the other ponies individually, she found that she wouldn't have the strength to move everyone two inches let alone the 100 feet required for this teleport. Just as she started to give up, she felt support from another unicorn. She recognized the magical signature as belonging to Pleated Skirt, which was surprisingly powerful. She could do it. Bluebelle called out, "Ready, NOW!" The four ponies vanished before the guard's eyes, and by the time they unlocked and opened the front gate, they were already too far ahead to chase down.
"So what are we going to tell Celestia?" one of the guards asked.
"I don't know," another one said. "But we better come up with a good excuse. I don't want to live on the moon."
"Let go of me! Do you know who I am!" Cantrip raged. "I'm the Professor of Magic at Celestia's School for Gifted Unicorns! She'll have your job for this!"
The guards continued to escort him to the dungeons until a black coated unicorn mare trotted up. "Special order from the Prince. The prisoner is to be brought to her directly."
"DID I ASK YOU TO VOICE YOUR OPINION!" Sarge shouted
"N-no sir, um, ma'am," replied the unfortunate underling.
"Good. Now, give me the prisoner." she turned to the Professor, "Consider yourself lucky. You get to meet Solaris."
The way back to the castle was short and direct, giving Cantrip less time to think over what was going on. Had somepony somehow deposed Celestia and taken over the army without anypony knowing? If they had somehow traveled through a time portal, how far in the future were they? But if that was so, then why did no one seem to know who Princess Celestia and Shining Armor are? The only explanation could be...what?
Cantrip was jolted out of his train of thought when they stopped in front of the giant doors leading to the throne room. Sarge opened it a crack and impatiently waved the professor into the room before closing it again and taking up her post outside. The room was occupied by two things of note. One was the majestic white Alicorn with flame colored mane and tail, wearing what seemed to be the same Solar regalia as Celestia, just larger. The other was unmistakably the mirror that had seemingly disappeared earlier.
"Who are you? How did you get that mirror? And most importantly what have you done with Celestia?"
The alicorn sighed. "I'm Prince Solaris, Lord Regent of the Sun and Diarch of Equestria along with my younger brother, Prince Artemis, recently freed by the Elements of Harmony, led by my personal protege. Also, I have a very ill behaved niece, in case you were wondering. As for the mirror, it's mine. And in regards to your princess, I've done nothing. She is entirely out of my control, as are her little ponies, as long as they stay in the proper Equestria. So, Professor...um, I don't believe I caught your name?"
"Professor Cantrip, I suppose that makes sense. So, Professor Cantrip, I believe this will be easier to show you than explain."
Solaris walked over to the mirror and touched it with his horn, sending a familiar feeling pulse of magic through its wooden frame.
"Ah! Tia! I see that you have found my professor as well. Would you ladies rather us join you or visa-versa?"
Celestia's voice spoke up. "Hmmm... Professor, what do you think?"
Solaris responded, "Can you blame them, though? They just met themselves. Nopony reacts well the first time. Being the scientific types, I'm sure they'll be glad to wake up without causing a paradox that unravels the space-time continuum."
Blueblood and his companions made it out of the city without any more incidents, still somewhat dumbfounded at the turn of events. Octavia was quite upset, believing her career to be over and mumbling to herself about getting thrown in jail, or banished, or thrown in jail in the place she was banished to. While everypony else knew that this was quite ridiculous, the idea fixated itself in her mind and resisted all manner of dissuading by her companions. After all, even if the punishments weren't that severe, they still had potentially every guard in Canterlot on their tails.
Fancypants spoke up. "What are we going to do? At the very least we need a place to stay."
Surprisingly Blueblood was the first to respond. "I know a place. My auntie told about mines that were constructed all throughout this mountain by ponies searching for gems. Their greed drove them deep down into the earth, or so she said. Many miners were lost, and others found places sealed long ago, places not meant to be reached by ponykind."
"I've heard this story too," Lance added. "Legend says that they released many monsters, the greatest of these, a creature from Tartaros of unbelievable power said to be made of fire, darkness, and shadow, perished at the hooves of Starswirl the Bearded, as he held his ground so that his friends could escape. A... Balrog or something, it was called."
"Well I used to visit near the openings when I was young, and I never saw anything like that at all," Blueblood replied. "Either way the caves are not that far away, and the entrance locations are kept secret, so while they aren't quite as... posh as I would like for a night's stay in Canterlot, I suppose they'll have to do."
Celestia waited patiently as Solaris fetched some smelling salts for the two teachers. Waving the jar under their muzzles for a few seconds he stepped back and waited for it to take effect. The pair started to stirr. Groaning, they stretched and froze as their hooves touched. They slowly began to back away from each other, not yet daring to look.
The two deities walked over to their respective subjects. Celestia spoke first. "Cantrip. Mesmera. Everything's fine, I just need you to remember one rule of being polite, 'ladies first'. If you follow that rule we won't have to worry about you two speaking in stereo."
Cantrip nodded to her, Mesmera took a deep breath and asked the question that was on both of their minds. "What's going on!?! Who are they!?! WHAT HAVEN'T YOU TOLD ME!"
"That's exactly what I was going to say. Celestia, can you explain what's happening?" Cantrip agreed.
"Mesmera, that pony behind you is, well, he's you." Solaris said nonchalantly, in the vain hope that it would go over smoothly. Needless to say the soundproofing spells on the linked throne rooms was were thought out. The situation would not have been an easy one to explain to the guards to say the least.
Celestia began to explain. "Remember that spell we told you to cast on the mirror? You were correct in thinking that it allowed travel between two locations. What we didn't tell you, the reason why it took so much energy, was that the place it connects to is technically the same exact place, just in a different version of reality. This spell happens to take you to an almost exact duplicate of your home Equestria."
Solaris picked up the explanation. "The only real big difference is that in the other universe everypony is of the opposite gender, yet somehow everything works out even with that difference, but Celestia is me if I were a mare--"
"--and Solaris is me if I were a stallion," Celestia finished.
"So that pony over there really is..." Mesmera began.
"Yep." Solaris replied.
"Lovely. If you'll excuse me I think that I'll check into a mental hospital now," Cantrip deadpanned.
Mesmera fixed him with a glare. "You, er, I... whatever. That's offensive." She turned to Celestia. "I suppose I should get used to the idea of you being female, but why did you do this?"
"We can tell that you set this up. You lied to, presumably, both of us about what was happening," Cantrip added.
"Well that's actually why we had to get you," Celestia began. "Despite what your friends may think, no guards were sent after anypony else, though Fancypants and Octavia--"
"Who?" interjected Mesmera.
"Pleated Skirt and Octavian," Solaris answered.
"--Though Fancypants and Octavia were not meant to get involved to begin with." Celestia continued, ignoring the interruption, "The entire plan was take advantage of, well, let's just call them 'BB', and their curiosity to, not so much punish them as to teach them about friendship and get them closer to the plights of the average pony."
"So why were we arrested if you knew what was going on the whole time?" Cantrip asked.
"You've read the works of Starswirl the Bearded and the other great mages and scientists," Solaris replied. "You two would have been able to figure out what was going on and return BB before she learns about friendship. And remember, we're telling this all to you because we trust you. We have unwritten rules about which ponies can know about this magic. If everypony knew about it, not even we know what would happen."
Celestia broke the intense silence that had fallen across the room as the professors dealt with the idea of possessing knowledge that could topple the thrones of multiple worlds. "The stage is set, the actors ready. So... should I get some popcorn as we watch the show?"
Bluebelle found the cave entrance after about half an hour of searching. Pleated Skirt had finally managed to get Octavian to stop fretting when Spear pulled her to the side. "What do you think we should do? It's like everypony we know suddenly doesn't recognize us. Everything's different."
"Well you can't be sure--" Pleated Skirt began before getting cut off.
"Firstly, they were talking about some strange 'Shining Armor' character, and all that other stuff about not knowing who we are, but have you seen even ONE familiar face?" Spear asked rhetorically. "I mean, I'm a commanding officer for the Royal Guard. Isn't it strange that I don't recognize a single one of my subordinates? We need to find a place to stay, and somepony who we can trust to try to figure this out. Do you think your coltfriend could be of any help?"
"Oh, you mean Floriano? It-it's a bit complicated."
"What do you mean?"
"We can hardly stand each other. I mean we dated once, but he's just so shallow. I can hardly have a conversation with him, and he thinks I'm too generous with my money and too nice to the poor in Equestria. The only reason we even pretend to be in a relationship is because it's good for his publicity and most of the stallions that are interested in me just want my money and fame. At least he leaves me alone when we're in private. Besides, if he didn't go through the portal with us, then I doubt he'll recognize me, if he exists at all."
"Well then where can we go?" Spear asked. "Octavian, do you know a place we can go? Does that Record Scrape have a place?"
"No, he has a small apartment with only enough room for one pony aside from himself."
"Well we're sunk then. We can't go to my place and we most certainly are not going to try the castle," Spear said dejectedly.
"I have a place we could try." Bluebelle spoke up quietly. "I... I knew somepony that I've been meaning to see; his name's Presto. I think he's in Trottingham now, but I'm not sure how long he'll be there. We can trust him. He's a very powerful unicorn. I think he can help us."
"Well, we'd better get some sleep. We've got a trip ahead of us." Spear said. "Goodnight everypony."