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All the Time in the World · FiM Short Story ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 2000–8000
Lesson One
Starlight Glimmer galloped down the halls heading for her office. She slowed barely, just enough to turn her head and glance briefly at a clock before rounding the next bend. Late, again...

"Miss Glimmer!!" The voice came from Ocellus, the young changeling student, who had stepped directly into her path, causing Starlight to skid to a near stop.

"I'm sorry, Ocellus, but I don't have time at the moment!" Starlight said, before quickly darting around the timid creature and hurrying on.

"But it'll just..." Ocellus hung her head, "...take a moment."

Hooves sliding to a stop on the marble floor just as she rounded the doorway, Starlight was annoyed—but not surprised—to see Chancellor Neighsay sitting in her chair, apparently having made himself at home while waiting for her to arrive.

"I'm terribly sorry, Chancellor, but—" Starlight was cut off by the EEA head.

"Save your excuses, Mistress Glimmer," he said, glowering over the rim of his spectacles. "You are fourteen minutes late, and I do not think it reflects well on your abilities if you cannot even be on time to an appointment scheduled a week prior."

"I know, and I'm sorry, but there was an emergency with the—"

"Enough! The reasons are irrelevant. If you cannot find the time for all your duties, then perhaps you should resign."

Starlight raised a hoof, about to object loudly, but opted instead for a deep breath. She'd fix this later. "Understood, Chancellor. Shall we continue with the meeting?"

"Yes, let's."

Starlight spent the next four hours going over irritatingly useless minutiae with the minister, a pony who was rapidly moving up the ranks of her—hypothetical, of course—enemies list.




Ocellus wondered back into the common room, finding most of her friends there. "It's just not fair," she said. "How are we supposed to find time to learn that flugelhorn fugue for Ms. Pie's fiesta final, when we have to build all those birdhouses for the sanctuary and write a paper on Yak festivals?"

"Yona think paper easy," Yona said.

"Yeah, for you," Gallus interjected. "You already know all about them. You're a yak."

"There's just not enough time in the day!" Ocellus moaned, sinking down into one of the common room cushions. "No creature could do it all. I've been trying to talk to Miss Glimmer about it, but she never seems to have the time either."

"Ha," Smolder snorted. "Don't let her fool you. Her and Princess Twilight have all the time in the world. It's the rest of us that can't keep up."

"What do you mean?" Silverstream said, perking her ears up in curiosity.

"I'm just saying they're powerful magic ponies, and with all those spells, I'm pretty sure they think time is just something that happens to other creatures."

The other students looked at Smolder in confusion.

"Uhh, you know they basically had a giant fight across like time itself?"

"They fought... each other?" Silverstream scrunched her brow in confusion. "But they're bestest friends!"

"Not always, they weren't. Starlight used to run this whole town out west as a cult and stuff, and when Twilight tried to stop her, well..."

"No way, you're pulling our pinfeathers!" Gallus said.

"Seriously," Smolder said, putting a claw over her heart. "On my honor as a dragon! It was a super epic battle that nearly destroyed Equestria... or rather, it did destroy it like ten times over, but they kept going back in time and fixing it or something."

"Wow," Ocellus said. "Why isn't that in any of the books?"

"Well, it only happened like, a couple years ago. Most of our textbooks are older than that."

"Heh, most of the cafeteria food is older than that!" Sandbar said, laughing.

Gallus gave him a hoofbump and chuckled as well.

Ocellus, however, was too busy thinking to join in on the laughter.




While she didn't normally like to hide, Ocellus had, considering the risk, taken the form of a rather plain looking earth pony. Her shapeshifting skills weren't nearly as good as some of the elders in the hive, but it was enough that, were she to be seen, she wouldn't immediately be found out.

As she stepped quietly down the darkened halls, she felt her hearts beating in her thorax. After classes had let out for the weekend, she'd spent the entire first evening thinking about what Smolder had said. She asked around, and even talked briefly with Spike, who'd confirmed that the two senior faculty mares had in fact had an "epic" battle across timelines. So now, here she was, sneaking up the stairs into Counselor Glimmer's office.

There was a strange flash and a noise outside the windows, causing her to pause right at the base of the stairs. Just as she was about to move again, she heard a voice.

"Hey, watch that second step, it squeaks."

Ocellus looked up just in time to see a young blue pegasus waving from outside the window. For a moment she thought for sure she'd been found out, but... It turned out the stranger was helpful, and she realized she was probably far from the first student to go sneaking around faculty offices.

Ocellus knew Ms. Glimmer kept extremely thorough notes on nearly everything, almost as many as she herself kept. So, she hoped that maybe, just maybe, the mare had kept her notes from the time spells as well.

As she entered the office—surprisingly unlocked—she moved quickly to the bookshelves and filing cabinets. Most of the books on display were well known, mass printed tomes, but a few, nearest to the desk, appeared to be horn-written journals. As she began leafing through the volumes, she estimated it would take her many hours to find anything as specific as what she was looking for. But apparently Ms. Glimmer was even more organized when it came to her own writings, and in a matter of minutes, Ocellus had found a table of contents that pointed her directly to the chapters of notes and research on time spells.

Feeling giddy, Ocellus began to read, doing her best to memorize everything she could. But while the changeling had an excellent memory, chapters upon chapters of advanced spellwork were a bit too much. She frowned, until another idea came to her. Flipping back to the table of contents in the first journal, she quickly found what she was looking for: a chapter on utility spells. Quickly skimming the entries there, she smiled. Of course a mare as busy with paperwork as Ms. Glimmer had perfected a document copying spell.

Concentrating, Ocellus read over the relatively simple spell, weaving the magic as instructed, before directing the glowing energy toward the other journal with the time spell information. Before her, the book began to glow, then shortly afterward, thousands upon thousands of translucent, infinitely thin symbols lifted into the air.

"Oh right!" Ocellus said aloud. "Need somewhere to copy it to!" She struggled to maintain the half-completed spell while using her hooves to rifle through the desk for blank paper. She found a ream of parchment and quickly sent the ghostly words to it.

Spell complete, she looked at the new pages. The horn-scrawled notes looked less impressive on the plain, unbound pages, but... it seemed to have worked. The words and higher mathemagics were legible, and that's all the mattered. She quickly tucked the papers into her saddlebag, before replacing the original journals as best as she could, then scurried out of the room and back to her dorm.




As the final sunset of the weekend loomed, Ocellus decided it was now or never. Her fellow students would return in the morning, and she had a flugelhorn solo to learn, a paper to write, and had promised to build at least five bird houses for Professor Fluttershy. She could probably write the paper and still get some sleep. If she didn't sleep, she just might learn enough flugelhorn for a D, though that would pretty much guarantee no one else within a mile of the school would sleep. The birdhouses were right out though. She needed more time, but that's just what she'd spent most of the weekend working towards.

Reading Ms. Glimmer's notes, Ocellus had been surprised just how well laid out they were. It almost read like a text book, and started with the basic theories involved, then moved slowly on to practical application. What was truly surprising though, was that the most basic form of time jumping spell seemed fairly simple. Sure, the energy and difficultly went up exponentially with the temporal distance traveled, but to merely go back a day was... well, Ocellus felt it was something within her grasp.

Her dorm room seemed as good a place as any. With most of the students gone for the weekend, she was unlikely to be interrupted, and as she'd been alone here the day before as well, she was unlikely to surprise any creature on her arrival.

Lighting her horn, she was about to cast, when a thought occurred to her. If she went back and saw herself, wouldn't that change what she did? The notes were full of details about paradox, but all of them were in the more advanced parts she had yet to fully read. So, she thought, best not to risk it. Instead, she galloped off to the woodshop. She could spend the day making birdhouses, and they'd be ready for her when she needed them, and there should be no danger of paradox.

In the woodshop, moments later, Ocellus lit her horn again. This time, she went through with the spell, channeling the energies she'd need for the relatively short jump back to yesterday. If all went well, she'd spend an extra day relaxing and making birdhouses, with plenty of time to spare.

As the final spellform elements wove into place, Ocellus took a deep breath. Then, with just the subtlest of pops, let it out. At first, she wasn't sure if anything had happened. It felt like the spell had completed in her mind, but... nothing was different. Well, almost nothing. The light in the windows... Yes, she realized. It was cloudy today, because it was yesterday! She'd done it!

Elation at the successful spell quickly faded though, as Ocellus realized she needed to finally get to the work she'd been putting off. But, knowing she had a full extra day helped. So, with a smile on her face, she hummed a light tune and grabbed a saw and a hammer.




Waking with a crick in her neck, Ocellus realized she'd fallen asleep sometime after dawn, but, she was proud to note, having finished all five birdhouses she'd promised for the sanctuary. She looked out the window, and realized it was getting close to sunset. She'd slept through most of the day. Not surprising, considering how little she'd slept in the past two days—relatively speaking. In fact, her other self should be coming along any time now.

She didn't have to wait long, and spent the short time cleaning up and reorganizing the tools she'd used. When the door opened, Ocellus was practically jumping up and down, ready to see the look on her other self's face.

"Surprise!" she shouted out of habit. Her prior self let out a shriek and nearly cracked her carapace jumping back and hitting the door frame.

"Wait, it's just me... I mean you!"

Realization set in on her younger self's face. Yes! That was the look she'd been waiting for!

"You mean it worked?" the younger said.

The elder nodded. "Look, all five!" She pointed to the array of tidy, if slightly imperfect, avian housing lined up on the shop bench.

"That's wonderful!" She wandered up and examined the works. "It must've taken you all night!"

"Yeah, I fell asleep on the bench actually."

"Wow, that's great though, now that that's done we might actually make it to class tomorrow, if you start on the paper and I go practice the solo."

"Yeah, we can..." She trailed off. "Wait, you can't go practice flugelhorn, you have to go back to yesterday and build the birdhouses."

"But they're already built," the younger said, though the implied paradox was starting to connect. "Aren't they?"

The two changelings looked at each other.

The silence lasted a fairly long time, before the elder spoke up. "Okay, so I'm pretty sure you have to go back and build the birdhouses, or I won't be here. But... I can go back again and then learn the flugelhorn, and we can meet back here tomorrow... err... today. Now. We can meet here again and then you can work on the paper."

The younger creature tilted her head. "Are you sure that will work?"

Thinking about it, they both realized it wouldn't.

"Oh, I got it!" The younger said. "You learn the flugelhorn, then write the paper tomorrow, while I go to class, but then you jump back to the start of class and give me the paper before it's due!"

"Okay, I think that works!"

The younger Ocellus spent a few minutes, then cast the spell, jumping away, and the elder headed back to the dorms to attempt the dreaded party horn.




As the school day approached, and the birdhouses were again complete, the elder Ocellus believed she could at least get a passing grade from Ms. Pie, and after a night of sleep, met up with her previous self.

"Okay," the younger said. "I'm headed to class. You should probably disguise yourself as a pony though, so no creature sees two of us today."

The elder agreed, and decided it'd be a good day to get out into nature, so she packed her bags with the books needed for the paper, as well as the pilfered notes on time spells, and set off for a day in the woods. At the very least, it'd mean fewer questions about her assumed identity.

The paper went quite quickly, the Yak festivals being much less elaborate than expected. She had found herself tired of writing the word "smash" however. Still, easy work was welcome, and with time to spare, Ocellus decided to study more of the notes on time travel. Jumping back a single day had been, apparently, quite easy, so she obviously wondered just how much more difficult a multi-day jump would be. It would certainly make things easier for her purposes, giving her more linear time to work with, especially if a future project turned out to be more difficult, instead of less.

As sunset approached, Ocellus was feeling pretty confident in her understanding of the longer duration jump spellform. It was, at least mostly, more about finesse than raw power. Aiming for three or four days seemed like it wouldn't be too much more difficult than what she'd already done. If it failed, she still had until dawn to rest and try again for the basic, one day spell she'd initially planned to use to get the paper turned in on time. Besides, if it worked, she wanted to find out who that pegasus was that helped her the first night.

So, packing her bags with notes and papers, Ocellus stood up in the wooded clearing and began her spell. This time, it was definitely more difficult. The energy charge was tricky enough to maintain, and her aura faded in and out a couple of times before she thought to drop her pony form. A quick, green flash, and her true self revealed, then she was ready to try again. It seemed easier to hold the time spellform without the low level shapeshift entangling her as well.

Once the spell fired, Ocellus saw instantly the time was different. It was nighttime, and a faint glow was coming into the woods from the windows of the nearby school. She walked back to the school, careful to watch her step in the dim moonlight. If her spell was accurate, she estimated this was likely the night she originally found the journals. To verify that though, she first headed toward the dorms, and saw that, yes, her own room's light was on, and peering through the window from a distance, she saw her prior self, preparing to sneak out. The flash was obvious as her earth pony disguise was put on, and, from there, she followed her old self's path through the school from the outside, looking in windows where she could.

Knowing the destination of her target, Ocellus flew ahead to see if she could catch a glimpse of anything ahead of her prior arrival. No pony was visible though, so she sat in the bushes and waited. As she did, she saw the faint hornlight move inside through the windows, and knew her prior self was approaching the stairs. And she did so though, another, much brighter light swung by on the floor above. Flittering up to peer in the second story window, she saw, much to her horror, one of the janitors mopping the hallway right on the other side of the wall from Ms. Glimmer's office. Any noise would alert him for sure.

Ocellus flew back down, and watched as her former self moved toward the stairs. Where was that pegasus? she thought. If the stairs creaked, she'd be caught for sure. She looked around one final time, and, seeing nothing, realized what she had to do. A green flash, and she'd taken the form of the mare she'd seen the first time, then hastily pried open the window just enough to whisper a warning: "Hey, watch that second step, it squeaks!"

Her former self turned toward her, fear in her eyes, so she waved to seem friendly, then quickly darted away from the window.

As she gasped in panic, she realized what had just happened. There had never been another mare. She's saved herself all along. And she almost hadn't. Was that even possible? she wondered. Could she just not have warned herself?




Once she got over the adrenaline rush and panic, the wonder of her discovery finally set in. She could do almost anything, she could fix almost anything. And the first thing that came to mind was the big fight Smolder and Gallus had gotten into last week. It'd been stupid, and pointless, and she could go back and fix it. All she had to do was just make sure they didn't meet each other in the hall for maybe forty seconds there and it would never happen.

A jump of a week would be a lot of work though. She had a couple of extra days now to learn though. So she studied, and by the time the birdhouses were built for a third and first time, she returned to the woods, and let her pony disguise drop once again.

The energy in her horn built, and built, the visible aura growing bright as she pushed herself. Weaving the forms, she finally fed in the energy and before she'd even realized she was done, Ocellus found herself thrown to the ground as though she'd been hit by a wave at the beach.

Gasping to regain her breath, she stood up. This time, there was nothing subtle about the changes. Whereas before it'd been nearly sunset, it was now sometime in the middle of the day. The weather was significantly warmer as well, with thunderclouds visible across the sky. But she couldn't remember there being a rainstorm since... since nearly two months ago!

Hearts pounding under her carapace, Ocellus raced back toward the school. Her mind ran almost as fast as her hooves, as the fear sloshed through her veins like ice water. Had she really gone back months? Had she stranded herself in...

No, wait, she thought. Calm down you stupid bug. Think this through. You have a book of time travel spells. Surely there's a way to fix this. Just... take it easy.

The thought of a way out helped slow her fear, and her gallop slowed in turn as she approached the school grounds.

"Ocellus?" The shout came from Sandbar.

Remembering she'd dropped her disguise, Ocellus fumbled for words. "Oh, yeah... Hi, Sandbar!"

The earth pony gave her one of his patented looks of confusion. "I thought you went into town with Silverstream and Ms. Rarity for that girl's day spa thing?"

"Oh, umm, yeah, I just forgot something in the dorm... I... I gotta run!" The spa day had been at least two months ago.

Sandbar said something more, but it was lost to her ears as she galloped away again, cursing herself for the mistake. As soon as she was out of sight, she quickly disguised herself as a pony again, then did her best to calmly walk toward the dorms.

Once she finally got into the halls, the first thing Ocellus did was look into an office and check the calendar. Some quick math and she learned she had indeed traveled back over two months. Sixty seven days in fact.

She hurried toward her room.

Sighing in relief as she avoided the last of the students, Ocellus was just about to open the door and retreat to the relative safety of her own room when a voice called out from behind her.

"Hey, you!" It was Smolder. "What do you think you're doing?"

Ocellus, in her earth pony form, turned around. "I just, um, needed to get something."

"Yeah, well, I don't know who you think you are, but that's my friend's room, and I don't like creatures trying to steal from my friends."

"Steal?" Ocellus was both taken aback by the blunt accusation, but also felt a warm glow to know that the typically gruff dragon actually seemed to watch out for her.

"Yeah, steal. It ain't your room, so why else would you be trying to go in there?"

While she generally hated to fall into stereotypes, Ocellus was currently glad that eons of changeling evolution had imbued her kind with the ability to lie rapidly and convincingly, making up identities on the fly. "Oh, no, you've got it wrong. I'm Ocellus's friend, ummm... Barnstormer."

Smolder puffed out her chest and walked closer, making a show of sniffing her suspiciously. Her eyes then lit up. "Oh right," she said as she relaxed her aggressive stance. "From the party last week!"

Party? Ocellus thought. Had her subconscious grabbed the name of another actual student?

"Hey Gallus!" Smolder yelled, banging on a nearby door. "Come out here."

Gallus emerged a moment later. "What's up?"

"Check it out," Smolder said. "Barnstormer's here."

"So," Gallus said. "You realized I was right and changed your mind?"

"Uh, yeah?"

Smolder leaned in and gave a light shoulder punch to "Barnstormer." "See, I told you she was too cool for some girly spa day."

"Well, as soon as Sandbar gets back we can head for the lake!"

"Umm," Ocellus said. "Sounds great! I just, um, left something in Ocellus's room I need to get." She moved toward the door.

"Nah, don't worry about it. Celly left her stash with me." Smolder said, putting an arm around her, and steering her into Gallus's room. "And Gallus and I have enough cider packed for all of us."




The day at the lake had been... fun. It was strange to see how her friends acted differently toward her. Not that it was worse, or better, just... how creatures seemed to adapt themselves to fit in with different creatures. Around shy Ocellus, her friends were friendly, and nice. But around Barnstormer they were louder, and more... playful? She doubted Smolder would ever have shoulder punched her before.

On top of that, she was trying things she never would have. Hard cider, for instance, was totally off limits before, and the tingling feeling it left in her brain was far more enjoyable than she'd suspected. As Ocellus, she never would've snuck away and done something like that, which is probably why here prior self was currently having a girl's day at the spa, instead of a party on the shore of the lake. But now that she'd been roped into it, she could see the appeal. Barnstormer was apparently much more outgoing than shy "Celly." Though she lamented she would have to drop the persona quickly, as apparently there was another Barnstormer at the school and she didn't want to mess things up too badly for that other mare.

Laying on her back, gazing up at the embers and smoke rising into the newly darkened skies, Ocellus found her cider-soaked brain—happy as it was—couldn't quite come to grips with one thing: That somehow, she had no memory of ever meeting this Barnstormer mare, despite every creature at the lake seeming to remember her from some previous party they'd both been at.

Oh well, she thought, suddenly desiring nothing more than sleep. A problem for another day. After all, she had sixty seven to spare at this point.




The next day, Ocellus woke to find herself in her own dorm room, the memories of the night before foggy and seemingly impossible. She now understood why nearly as many creatures hated hard cider as loved it... and why those were often the same creatures.

Wiping the sleep from her eyes, she realized she was—thankfully—still in her Barnstormer disguise. Shapeshifting magic was nearly subconscious for changelings, and most could maintain a disguise even while unconscious. Occasionally spells could break during the night though, especially for younger 'lings. She had no idea how pony alcohol might affect that. Though, if she survived last night—and somehow made it home—she was probably safe.

"Good morning!" The voice was loud, and chipper, and almost directly in her face. Blinking and trying to make her eyes focus, Ocellus looked up. There, hanging her head over the edge of the bunk above was... Ocellus. Herself.

Gears turned and neurons fired.

Oh no! Ocellus thought. She really was in the past, with her other self here too.

"Umm, good morning." Ocellus said, her Barnstormer voice sounding like she'd been gargling rocks in the night.

The younger on the bed above looked down. "Wow, that must've been, umm, some party."

"Oh, yeah, I guess... why?"

"Well, you... I'm sorry, but you look awful, and when you started banging on the door at three in the morning, you couldn't even remember where your own room was."

"My own..."

Ocellus the younger smiled. "Yeah, you were pretty drunk I think. I tried to take you to your room, but you insisted this was your room, so I figured it was easier to just let you sleep here."

Oh mothers, Ocellus the elder thought, that is exactly what I would've said, isn't it? This is really happening.

"Well," she said. "Thank you, and I'm sorry for intruding." She struggled to get to her hooves. "I should probably get back to my own room and..." A thought suddenly intruded on her few functioning neurons. "Where are my bags?"

"Bags?" Ocellus asked.

"My saddle bags. I had notes and papers in them."

"I don't know. When you showed up you didn't have anything with you."

Oh mothers, oh mothers, oh hive mothers of... Ocellus ran out of curse words, as changelings didn't really have gods, and she hadn't been around ponies long enough to pick up many of theirs.

"Thanks for letting me sleep here, uh, Celly, but I have to go back to the lake."

Ocellus started to mumble a welcome, but "Barnstormer" took off for the lake as fast as she could, hoping her bags were still there.

When she arrived, head pounding with the dehydration of a hangover, she began searching the beach. It didn't take long for her to find her bags. They were laying in the sand near the ashen remains of a bonfire. When she opened them up, her worst fears were confirmed. In their drunken partying, some creature, maybe even herself, had used the papers for kindling.




Ocellus had lain there in the sand for some time, alternately cursing her stupidity, and sucking down water from the lake to help expunge the alcohol in her system. After several hours of this, a thought struck her. The papers were still there! Or rather, the original journals were. They were just in Ms. Glimmer's office, and she merely had to sneak in and steal them again for the first time.

Cheered by her new plan, Ocellus stood and began to trot back toward the school, when she was intercepted by a pony quickly darting out from a copse of trees near the path.

"Quick, follow me." The interloper said.

It took Ocellus a moment to recognize this pony as a mirror of her current form. This was Barnstormer.

Barnstormer led her off the path a short ways into a secluded clearing before turning to address her. "What do you think you're doing?"

"Excuse me?" Ocellus said.

"Barnstormer, really? Are you trying to get us caught?"

"Wait, I'm lost... I mean, I'm sorry I took your name, I didn't realize you were... well, real."

"Hold on, wait... you didn't realize?" Barnstormer put a hoof to her face. "You're new, aren't you?"

Ocellus had no idea how to even answer that.

"Oh, for crying out loud..." Barnstorm closed her eyes and was quickly engulfed in a flash of green flame. What remained afterwards was another Ocellus.

Ocellus, still in her disguise, was more surprised than, in hindsight, she should've been.

"You really just picked that name and that disguise on accident, didn't you?"

"Umm, yes?"

"Of course you did... you just got here didn't you?"

"What do you mean?"

"This all started when we had to build those birdhouses, right?"

"Yeah."

"And then we wrote the paper, and took it back a day, and then the next weekend we went back two days and helped Fluttershy save that bear cub."

"What cub?"

"Wait, you didn't even get as far as the cub?"

Ocellus found herself struggling to catch up with the frantic ramblings of this obviously more experienced version of herself. "No," she finally said. "I, I never turned in the paper. I came back here to yesterday when I should've gone to turn the paper in."

"Oh wow, okay... Well, ummm... Hello, new paradox! At least that explains why you chose Barnstormer."

"Why is that?"

"Because I did! We both came back and did the same thing, because we're both nearly the same changeling!"

The elder Ocellus paced rapidly back and forth on the dirt. "No, wait, this is good. You learn the flugelhorn and I'll write the paper and we can just wait out the next few weeks. Oh, and you need to pick a new name."

"Why do I have to change my name?"

"Because I've been Barnstormer for a week already."




Ocellus found herself finally headed into the school some minutes later, after picking a new identity for herself. She'd decided to go back to the blue pegasus mare, and decided to call herself Cerulean Skies, and Cere for short.

Her elder self's plan didn't sound too bad. Just wait it out. It'd be nine weeks or so, but she liked being at school. Yet... she was still tempted by the idea of fixing her problem more directly. She'd almost brought up her original plan to re-steal the journal entries again, but her Barnstormer self seemed, strangely, like an unlikely ally, so she'd kept her plan to herself.

Well, that, and her other, undisguised self. As she needed to be at the school and not be noticed, Cere had taken the time to enroll herself as a new student, and been assigned a dorm of her own. While that should've been enough to wait out the days, she found herself drawn to her old group of friends, despite the dangers of being found out. Maybe it was morbid self interest, she couldn't say, but before long, she'd managed to ingrain herself in the group, and, much to the chagrin of Barnstormer, their group of six was now a group of eight.

A few weeks went by, and a holiday weekend finally arrived. Like the initial attempt, Ocellus figured this would be her best chance to access the journals again. And, unlike the first time, she already knew the basic time jump spells, so if she was caught, she could go back a day and try again.

When most of the other creatures had left for the weekend, and the moon had long been out, Cere crept from her dorm and go the office of Ms. Glimmer. This time she avoided the squeaky floorboard, and quickly made her way straight to the needed books. The copying spell worked even quicker than before, though in the wan moonlight, the notes looked a lot more haphazard than before. Still, she finished her job and quickly replaced the journals, before slinking back to her dorm.

Over the next few days, she studied the notes. They were not quite the same as she remembered, apparently some of the details must not have been made yet. Still, there was a very promising spellform that looked to return the caster to their own time, and while Ocellus didn't mind being Cere too much, she missed her old life and being able to be her true self. Not waiting several months would be a good thing.

The next night, before any creature returned from their break, and, not knowing exactly who would be where upon her return, found a secluded spot in the woods before casting. This spell's setup felt much like the last, though with each try at time travel, Ocellus felt she was getting more and more confident with the weaving of forms. As the final aura built around her horn, Ocellus smiled. Home, she thought, and let the spell fire.

Home is not what she got.

Around her, the forest had changed drastically. There was snow on the ground, and it appeared to be midwinter, with only the occasional dead leaf still clinging to any of the trees. Hurrying back toward the school, Ocellus found herself lost. She trotted for what felt like twice the distance or more that the school should have been, before finally realizing it simply wasn't there. What was there, on the horizon, was the giant crystal tree that was Princess Twilight's castle.




Things had only gotten worse from there. Ocellus had tried to get help from Twilight, but upon mention of "Starlight Glimmer," Princess Twilight had demanded to know who she was and what she had to do with "that evil despot." Then she made the mistake of mentioning Thorax, and as soon as the word "changeling" got involved, Spike had called for the Royal Guard. Ocellus gave up trying to explain and fled into the night.

Before long, she'd quickly realized that it'd be more than a year before Starlight Glimmer was defeated, and nearly as long after that before the changeling metamorphosis let her kind be trusted. The only only places she knew that might have the kind of books or spells she needed were the Canterlot library, and Twilight's castle. Both of which were now on high alert for changelings.

Then, she realized, that wasn't strictly true. The one other place with the right spells, in fact, the only place probably, was with Starlight Glimmer, evil despot.




It didn't take too long to learn where "Our Town" was. Getting there took a while longer. Along the way Ocellus practiced changeling skills she'd never thought she'd need, and became quite adept at being Cere, a simple pegasus trader on her way west.

When she'd finally reached Our Town, she was, like most, distrusted easily. It helped when she gladly submitted to having her cutie mark replaced. Not having one in the first place made that a pretty easy decision. Finding out where Starlight kept her journals was harder, as this prior version of her beloved counselor was paranoid, mean, and far, far stricter.

Finally, after weeks of spying on her at night, Ocellus finally saw the unicorn remove the precious journals from a locked safe in her workroom. As the changeling peered in through the windows, Starlight went to work, testing small, partial versions of the spells, jotting down notes, and then doing more tests.

This continued for several nights, with the tests becoming more and more elaborate, from restoring a withered flower, through to aging an entire wheel of cheese in seconds. But never did the mare leave the journals vulnerable, nor the safe unlocked. The combination was always just out of sight from Ocellus's window vantage point as well.

Then, one night, something changed. Halfway through the evening, Ocellus, now almost bored, but at least learning some things through proxy, watched as Starlight Glimmer stood up and began to cast what looked like a full, massive spell.

Was she really going to try it on herself? Ocellus wondered. She sat in rapture as Starlight built her aura, and wove the first spellforms. Then the second, and the third. She was trying something big, but Ocellus couldn't make heads or tails of it. Then, suddenly, without further warning, the spell fired, and Starlight Glimmer vanished.

Ocellus waited patiently for her to return. But nothing happened. As dawn approached, she realized that now was her chance. The safe was open, the papers and journals just lying there. All that she needed was—hopefully—right in front of her.

She pried open the window and went inside. The papers were strewn about from the vacuum-breeze Starlight's departure had caused, so Ocellus collected them, reading and trying to understand the spell the mare had been working on. Then she saw it. It was the spell that had brought her here in the first place, only two of the minor spellforms were swapped. It was... it was wrong. Those were the spatial anchors, and... from the later version of the journals she remembered reading, they were critical to make sure a creature didn't just disappear into deep space or far underground when they cast the time jump spell. In fact, the notes in the journal had been exceedingly clear about that. If Starlight never returned to add those notes, then she herself would likely make a similar mistake and be lost forever... but Starlight just made that mistake and—

There was a knock at the door. Ocellus scrambled to hide, but realized the only way out was the window.

"Ms. Glimmer? Are you there? We got us some newcomers."

Her instincts kicked in, and Ocellus quickly took the form of Starlight Glimmer. "Just a minute," she said. She'd have to finish these notes later, after fixing the spell.




Learning as the personal pupil of Twilight Sparkle was so much more fascinating than merely being one of her many students at the school. Though, at this point, she sometimes found it a bit hard to remember exactly what it'd been like the first time through. It'd taken a LOT longer than she'd thought to fix the time jump spells. Thankfully, she had an entire village of "equal" ponies that didn't question newcomers suddenly showing up with almost no backstory and a curiously similar accent, and she'd used those millions of looping bug-hours to perfect the time travel spells, and to make sure she could be strong and skilled enough to convincingly "lose" the fight with Twilight Sparkle when the time had come.

Now though, the day she'd been looking forward to for relative decades was finally approaching. Her first day at school. She didn't remember all the details of those early days when she was young, but she did remember how lonely she felt among all the other creatures, and how much her life had changed when she first met her friends there.

So, as Starlight Glimmer, she watched from the balcony as a young Ocellus walked slowly through the grand hall for the first time, staring distractedly at all the tapestries and other decorations. That was where she'd first bumped into Smolder, who'd nearly—it seemed at the time—bit her head off, before Sandbar had stepped in and smoothed things over.

As she waited, she made a mental note to start leaving her office unlocked. She was pretty sure she remembered the date correctly, but she'd hate for her young self to try to sneak in a day early and be stopped by something as mundane as a door-lock.

Her attention went back to the hall before her. Yes, she thought, straining her eyes for the small dragon, any minute now...

"Well," a voice said from her left. She turned to find Princess Celestia suddenly standing beside her. "Let's get to it, shall we?"

"Princess Celestia, I... I didn't know you were here."

"Oh, I'm almost always here. And please," the alicorn winked. "Call me Celly."

Ocellus's jaw dropped in shock. "No... It can't be..."

Celly smirked like a madmare. Then there was a green flash as she became a small, orange dragon, just as Ocellus remembered from her childhood. "Now somepony," Smolder said, poking Ocellus with a claw. "Has to get down there and give us our first lesson in friendship!"

Ocellus just laughed, and let the warmth of green fire cover her like a favorite blanket.
Pics
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#1 · 1
· · >>Samey90 >>Xepher
Wow. This started out mild and turned crazy intense. I think you might need to be clearer with the implications at the ending, because I'm not sure which characters Ocellus is, though I think the suggestion she's always been Celestia raises the question about who Luna is, if not also her.

This is really great. It turned from rather mundane but well-written to an incredibly clever variant on X is a changeling in a heartbeat. I love it.

My only issue is that the amount of homework required of the students (which by the way you voiced very well) is redonk. Ocellus needs to make a mistake that leaves her with no time to study to justify her lack of time.
#2 · 3
· · >>Xepher
Genre: Time Travel Shenanigans

Thoughts: Holy crap, this is why I read ponyfic. The whole school of friendship thing hasn't really been my jam, but I can make an exception for this. Dis gud. Like really good. Like to the point where there's not a whole lot I can criticize. I love how things just keep getting worse and worse as Ocellus keeps trying to fix things.

My one beef is with the very end. IMO it's cheap and cheesy to take the extreme swerve that it takes, rather than going for the more poignant moment that it seems to be building toward. Please Author, don't dive that hard into comedy at the last minute; this has funny parts but I don't think that's its primary strength.

It's compelling as heck, though. Couldn't put it down until I finished reading and wrote this.

Tier: Top Contender
#3 · 1
· · >>Trick_Question >>Xepher
>>Trick_Question
I'm not sure which characters Ocellus is

At this point, she's probably all of them...
#4 ·
·
Time travel stories are always really hard to write. To write one in just a few days is a pretty amazing feat. To have it hold together also, even more so. Understanding the constraints of time (no pun intended) and size, the epilogue is kind of sudden. However, you could easily have expanded this into a novel and fleshed out everything implied and still maintained the breathless driving pace. Very good indeed. The only critique I have is about the grammar; the first part with SG and Neighsayer felt clumsy, but you didn't have all the time in the world to do a final copyedit, so it matters very little. Everything else was A+.
#5 ·
· · >>Xepher
>>Samey90
I was actually thinking of suggesting that as a possible ending.

Seriously.
#6 · 1
· · >>Xepher
Hey, Author. I hope you're doing well. I'm, uh... I'm afraid I'm going to be the dissenting opinion here. Based on the comments above, it looks like I might not have been in your target audience. But I still think hearing from someone outside your target audience can be helpful, so I'll leave my thoughts with you anyways for you to interpret as you wish.

I have three main concerns I'd like to get to. First, the writing is kind of plain. There are a lot of sentences that follow the same structure, the dialogue feels flat, and the story rarely appeals to the senses. It started to feel like a report of Ocellus's adventure after awhile. I just didn't find the style engaging, on the whole.

My second concern, which is the big one here, is that the premise you've chosen is one that doesn't have any rules. You have a time-traveller who is not restricted by any paradoxes or any limit to her power (seemingly), and about halfway through the story you establish that she could be literally anyone she meets. Because of this, the story comes across as one scene written after the other in sequence without much outlining beforehand and without any end goal in mind, because you didn't need to have one. Literally anything can happen! There's a reason we have rules like paradoxes—if we ignore them, and let a time-travelling character do literally whatever they want, then the author gets to do literally whatever they want. I'm going to be honest, it feels like you're cheating.

Call me lame, but I like it when a story has rules, because then I can be following along with the plot and even guessing what's going to happen next. And, most importantly to me, I can be checking to see if everything is making sense so far. And when it does make sense, I'm hugely satisfied. I'm in awe at complex plots that set up their rules and then work their way around them. This story simply can't engage me like that.

And both of these points lead me to my third point: the comedy fell sort of flat for me, because the writing is plain and, let's be honest, this is a comedy fic that only has one main joke: X is a changeling Ocellus.

And don't get me wrong—that shit is hysterical, and it's an incredibly clever idea. I really do think it's awesome. But it's been stretched through the entire story and consistently escalated to a point where it's not funny anymore and is kind of predictable.

I'm not surprised the story ended the way it did. It was the escalation of the one core joke as far as it could go (shy of having everyone change into Ocellus, hanging her heads in shame), and then it's done.


Thanks for reading this comment. No matter what I say, there's a lot of people enjoying this story, so like I said, it clearly isn't my jam. At the end of the day I hope I've given you something to think about, even if it is just, "Christ, this Miller guy's a bit of a tosser."

Thanks for writing and best of luck to you!
#7 · 3
· · >>Xepher
Amusing in its own right, but the time travel shenanigans and the constant looping paradoxeseseses...seseseseseseses get hard to follow after a time, and not really in a way that suits the story. While I thought that the implication that several, possibly every, canon character was actually Ocellus in disguise was hilarious, the way that the story takes to get to that point feels confusing.

Beyond that, the opening with Chancellor Neighsay seems... of questionable relevance, in hindsight, and the blatant shift from detailed narration to paragraphs of Sparknotes-esque summary doesn't serve the story at all.
#8 ·
· · >>Xepher
"Oh wow, okay... Well, ummm... Hello, new paradox! At least that explains why you chose Barnstormer."

"Why is that?"

"Because I did! We both came back and did the same thing, because we're both nearly the same changeling!"


It was right around here that I started to lose the thread of what Ocellus had done and what she still needed to do to actually fix things, back when I thought she still had a chance of doing so. Having just finished the story, though, I realize that this is when Ocellus herself started to lose track, too, so it still works. ^^

I had to go back to the beginning to see if there was any foreshadowing for how things played out, and indeed there was, so subtle I completely overlooked it the first time through. Also, it’s pretty neat in retrospect that the entire story is actually from Ocellus’ perspective, though that opening bit with the Chancellor doesn't seem to do much other than be a sly way to introduce that foreshadowing. Still, brilliant work, Writer!

My two bits on the ending is I suspect that Ocellus is just messing with herself, because the implications of her actually being Princess Celestia are pretty dire. Like, how much of a farce is reality itself if basically everyone in the show is one solitary changeling pantomiming a civilization? And for whose benefit? Though that would explain Discord’s persistently cheeky attitude…
#9 · 2
· · >>Xepher
Author, when your username is revealed please publish this on fim fic. I'd love for some editing and perhaps even more insane shenanigans with our favorite changeling kid. ;) (Good job with the fic!!!)
#10 ·
·
This starts off a bit slow, and with what feels like an unrelated scene. The jump to Ocellus as main character feels off there, but is quickly forgotten as the main story sets up.

I like the brief conversation with the other students, as their personalities feel strong, but... I would've liked more of it.

The main impetus of the story feels like it could use a tad more polish. A slight bit of overwork feels like not quite enough of a reason to push Ocellus into a B&E and risky magic.

That said, once things get rolling, this becomes a pretty fun story, reminding me (in a good way) of the Time Turner bits in Harry Potter, though with more of that frantic, mad-science confusion of Doc Brown.

I think there's a weird element here with paradox. On the one hand, Ocellus explicitly mentions it and seems to look for (and avoid) them, yet very clearly paradoxes are happening all the time anyway, and the story never really explains that. I'm reminded (again, in a good way) of how Doctor Who tends to handle that. Very technical reasons why you can't do some things, and then he just does them anyway. There was another story in the contest called "Screw Paradoxes" that almost might've been a better title here.


The middle bits of the story build at a decent pace, and I would've loved to see more character growth, such as at the lake party and the like, but this story seems to be trying to pack a lot in as is, so...

As things progress, the speed of the narrative picks up as well, with scene breaks being larger and larger gaps. Really feels rushed, though maybe that's intentional. By the last bits, with Ocellus taking the place of the (now dead?) original Glimmer I really liked the twists happening. (Nearly) everypony in Our Town actually being Ocellus nicely doubles down on "Equality."

The final twist at the end, with not only Celestia being some future/past version of the protagonist, but her being also her own best friends... Yeah, WTF? That was both really great as a twist (though not a total surprise), but had this sort of fridge horror/sadness to it. Again, reminded really strongly of Heinlein's "—All You Zombies—" where the main character is both his own mother and father, and everything else. Leading, of course, to the final question here... is there any pony in the school (or maybe the world) that is NOT Ocellus? That's the kind of story that leaves me thinking about it the next day, so I love that.

I also loved going back and seeing the way the final resolution explained so many of the nitpicks I'd initially thought of as lazy writing (like Starlight being the opening character, or the door being unlocked, or the first spell being so easy to find and learn, etc.)

Some things I didn't love...

The overall pacing feels rushed. Ocellus "amping up" her powers seems to just be sudden with each jump, and she seems to grow as a character/emotionally disproportionally fast as well. Basically, she doesn't seem to "earn" her progress quite enough, then in later bits, it seems to happen entirely off screen. More character growth in each jump would help a lot (more time in classes or with friends, etc.)

I'd also like to see more explanation for her plan each jump. As it is, she seems to just keep stumbling along backwards in time without really considering other options first. Again, I suspect that's an issue with length at this point (though there was some wordcount to spare.)

Lastly, a few obvious edit mistakes here and there, and some minor typos, but nothing too major on the super low level. As Miller Minus points out though, some of the writing is a bit plain and sentence structures are reused in boring ways that could definitely be improved. Also, there are a few very technical mistakes about the timeline. Ex: Ocellus is in the wrong disguise as an earth pony at one point where she "flitters up" to a window.

Overall though, a really fun read that, paradoxically (hah!) seems at it's best when I'm not entirely sure what's going on.
#11 ·
·
Also... does this count as a “starlight saves the world” fic?
#12 · 5
·
Retrospective!

First off, thank you to all who commented and critiqued (and voted this up rather highly.) I'm totally happy to get Bronze, as there were better stories than this... But part of me really wanted the gold this time, as this was my own prompt as well.

For perspective, no I didn't have this planned in advance. In fact, I didn't start writing this until about 10pm the night before. I basically wrote non-stop for 7 hours, though I'd brainstormed for about an hour during dinner earlier, almost all the plot was developed in real time as I wrote.

Originally this was meant to be Starlight going back and looping herself to find more time for work, which explains the opening scene... but that fell apart quickly, once I realized it'd be too hard to hide tons of Starlights, and as I already had her bumping into Ocellus... well, that seemed obvious.

As hinted at in my own fake-review, I was inspired a lot by the Time Turner bit in Harry Potter (and it's more clever uses in HP and the Methods of Rationality) as well as many other time travel stories... the biggest of which is "All You Zombies" where the main character is everyone in the universe. Also, "Brit the Elder" and "Brit the Younger" from Spell or High Water by Scott Meyer, time-looped versions of a woman who hate each other, but went back in time and found Atlantis then had to go back in time to create it.


To answer some general questions:

Yes, Ocellus is the "real" Celestia, and most every other pony she's ever met too. The original (e.g. about an hour from the deadline) ending plan was to have Twilight find out, round up the school, and after a few admissions of "I'm Ocellus" from various students, she asks "Okay, everycreature that's Ocellus in disguise, just raise a limb." Every creature in the room does, and as she turns, she sees even the other Elements are shy raising their hooves as well.

The reason she keeps going back in time (instead of jumping forward) is that she lost the spell to go forward in that lakeside fire. Originally she was going to learn (after she was way in the past) that you had to place an anchor spell BEFORE you jumped back, and as she didn't do that, she'd always have to take the long way around. I ran out of time to make that explicit.


>>Trick_Question
Agreed, I need a better reason for her to be desperate for "more time." Also, yes, everyone is Ocellus.

>>CoffeeMinion
The ending wasn't meant to be comedy. It was meant to be the completion of the lesson, by she, herself, having to go back and teach herself her own first lesson in friendship. That said, it was rushed (had like 10 minutes left and I wanted to at least proofread) so I'll try to smooth it out in the rework.

>>Samey90
>>Trick_Question
Yes, she is. :-) And that was the idea for the ending originally. (See above.)

>>Miller Minus
No worries on not liking it, I appreciate the criticism. You make a good point about the plainness of the writing. It's been months since I last wrote, and this was a late-night rush job, so I fell into some lazy patterns.

As for rules... there ARE rules here. Very strict ones, but I didn't spell them out cleanly. As I mentioned above, one was going to be the discovery that she could never go FORWARD in time if she hadn't previously set an anchor spell, and she wouldn't learn that until she was so far in the past she was kind of stuck. The other was that the difficulty of "aiming" gets worse the bigger the jump, hence why her first one mostly works, but the later ones are off by large margins. Another was the importance of spatial anchors, less (like the previous Starlight) you jump and arrive underground or in deep space, and basically die instantly. In sum, the ONLY power here is the ability to go backwards in time, by increasingly large (but increasingly unpredictable) steps.

The second set of rules concern paradoxes. Ocellus starts to hint at some of these, where she's surprised that basically her memory isn't changing as she changes her own past. This was going to lead into the bigger, darker reveal, that she's not (technically) jumping into the past, but into alternate timelines. As the word limit began to loom though, I realized I had to pull most of that out because I'd never be able to do it justice. Instead, I went with a Doctor Who style approach. Paradox means you can't change the big things, the "fixed points" but everything else is fair game. I don't know if you watch Who, but there was a big finale where all dozen incarnations of The Doctor showed up at the same time and fought side by side, so this sort of "timey wimey" reasoning seemed good enough.

As to your third point, that the comedy falls flat. Again, this really wasn't meant to be a comedy. I mean, a few bits here and there, sure, but the overall premise was meant to be exciting and (at least initially) surprising, as a science-fiction style adventure. I totally understand if you found the ending predictable though, and if it wasn't your style of story, no worries.


>>Posh
I need to clean up some of the scenes a fair bit to make it less confusing. The initial scene was originally when the story was featuring Starlight, but... once I realized Ocellus was going to BE Starlight, I left it as a bit of foreshadowing (since the entire story is, technically, from just Ocellus's perspective.) It's probably a bit of a rough kludge for that purpose though.

>>Icenrose
Again, yeah, it's confusing... partly that's because I was rushed to write it, and partly it's meant to be confusing to the character. I need to clean up the writing-mistakes half of that. Oh, and yeah, they're all Ocellus... and I SO wanted to have Discord there, but that would've doubled the length of the story with how much fun I could have there! :-)

>>Anon Y Mous
I do plan to edit/rewrite this and publish it (along with several previous writeoff entries I still have laying around.)




Thanks again, everyone, for reading and commenting!