Six months after Flutterfall…
I hate stealing, Twilight thought dourly as she glanced out the window onto the empty hotel parking lot. It just felt all wrong in many different ways. Even breaking into this apartment that didn’t belong to her and simply using its bed to rest was trying her conscience. Even as her fingers drummed along the table, her mind began to wonder why she was doing things that obviously made her feel so… wrong.
Because you were made to feel this way, murmured a small voice in her head as she glanced down at her hand. It was a light brownish-yellow. Not too different from the color of sun bleached wood. Her bright violet eyes narrowed. This body felt so different, yet entirely natural. Whether that was just the way she was made or was a side effect of her spell, she would never know. Either way, it was unsettling. Why should her new body feel so normal?
“Aaagh!” Applejack roared angrily, shaking Twilight out of her deep thought.
She shook her head and glanced back at Applejack who was grunting in frustration in her attempts to don a… what had Rarity called it? A brawl? That didn’t sound quite right. Whatever the case, the inanimate object was definitely winning the battle despite Applejack’s Earth Pony strength.
Her gaze trailed over the mauve colored blankets that were tightly wrapped over the large queen sized beds. Pinkie Pie was sitting on the farthest of the two, happily stuffing her face with the contents of a flame orange bag that had dubbed itself ‘Doritos’ in large friendly letters on the front.
At least the others don’t have to know about this. At least they don’t have to know... the truth, Twilight said to herself, hoping the words would comfort her. Alas, they did not.
The bag of the ‘Doritos’ made her feel sick. It had been stolen along with many other human foods after they had exhausted the supplies they had brought with them. What kind of world did Firewall live in where one had to steal just to eat? Oh, she knew that there was a legitimate way to acquire the resources but other than Rarity’s spell to locate precious stones, there was just no way to pursue such avenues. Even with that at their disposal, Rarity could not sense the difference between buried jewels and the engagement rings on a human woman’s finger. And even if she could do that, they could not risk the route of legitimacy lest the Resonant Hunters find them. Any significant use of magic could compromise without so much as a warning.
No, it’s entirely necessary, Twilight reflected inwardly. She knew deep down that it was the safest possible way for them to survive without bringing risk of great harm. Her reasons and motivations for such despicable actions were both sound and genuine. However, that alone did not make her feel any better about what she had done. Simply put, she felt guilty.
No, she thought to herself, you were designed to feel that way, Twilight. He made you to feel like that. But you are not obligated to feel bad about this! You make your own choices about what does and doesn’t bother you. Don’t forget that!
Of course, she still felt bad, but reasoning that it was within her power to not feel that way helped to alleviate the problem. Or maybe that was just what she wanted to think. Ah, circular logic.
“Landsakes!” Applejack continued to fight with humanity’s poor taste in clothing, “How’za pony supposed to fit in this thang!”
Pinkie Pie giggled before eagerly licking the orange… dust-like substance off her fingers and bouncing off the bed over to Applejack. With a bit of struggle, the pony-made-human helped hook the device in the back, ending her friend’s plight.
“Ugh. Thanks, Pinkie,” Applejack swung her new arms about as she twisted her torso, grimacing at the unnaturally tight grip on her chest. “I can’t believe all the human girls walk around in stuff like this all day. They must be tough as nails, I reckon!”
Twilight didn’t find it as uncomfortable to wear the human clothing as Applejack did. That was likely due to the difference in their human forms. Whereas Twilight was slender and less… roundy, Applejack was broad shouldered, somewhat muscled, and a great deal taller than the rest of them. Also, for some reason, her freckles seemed to be just about everywhere on her skin that wasn’t frequently exposed to sunlight. Twilight remembered Applejack’s skepticism where freckles were concerned. She didn’t easily swallow the concept of humans and ponies sharing such traits. After having been around them for over a month, they realized that humans and ponies had more similarities than differences.
“I don’t know anypony as tough as you, Applejack!” Pinkie Pie chirped encouragingly, “So if anypony can handle it, you can!”
Pinkie Pie was something altogether in her own class as well. Her skin was darker than Applejack’s by quite a margin. She also seemed to look significantly younger, too. Twilight wasn’t very certain how old Pinkie appeared in the eyes of a human, but she was fairly certain that she was representing late adolescence. Magic often had a very peculiar way of manifesting. Likely their new forms were somehow influenced by their psyches.
“I suppose so, but that don’t mean I gotta like it,” Applejack grumped before glancing Twilight’s way, “Hey, Twilight, what’s wrong?”
What isn’t wrong? Twilight caught herself wondering as she let her mind wander over the question. They were on an alien world that they had no business being around, their resources were nearly depleted, Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy were both missing, neither herself nor Rarity were able to use any meaningful amount of magic, and judging by the fact that Luna had not contacted her since their arrival over a month ago, Twilight was betting that they really were on their own.
“I’m just worried about Rarity,” Twilight murmured dishonestly, glancing back out the window.
Technically it wasn’t a lie. It may not have been on the forefront of her mind, but she still felt concern bubbling inside of her for their dark-skinned friend. Losing Fluttershy in that accident several months ago was bad enough, not to mention Rainbow Dash making things worse by rashly throwing herself into the second portal. So having not heard from Rarity in two days, Twilight could not help but dread the possibility that she had lost yet another friend to the mysterious Earth.
As though on cue, a yellow cab – as she had heard it called – pulled into the parking lot and slowed to a stop. Its side door swung open to reveal Rarity, who gracefully stepped out and paid the driver with some of that crisp grayish-green paper.
Twilight felt a twist of jealousy in her gut at how easy she made it look. She didn’t begrudge Rarity in the slightest deep down, but the white unicorn, now ironically the darkest of all of them, adapted to the scene as though she was born to act. Where Twilight was struggling with the somewhat innate aggression of her lost naivety, Rarity had shown poise and grace, tactfully manipulating and verbally outmaneuvering the most frictional of situations. She had also been able to deduce the purpose and reason for every last article of clothing the humans wore, from the foot-preserving socks to the purely aesthetic scarves.
“She’s back,” Twilight murmured almost numbly.
Pinkie Pie and Applejack ran over to the window without a moment’s hesitation. They peered at her as though she were the answer to their prayers.
“D’ya think she was right?” Applejack almost whispered.
Twilight didn’t answer. She just sat back in the chair that held her up. How come these hotels always seem to have a small table and two chairs in every room, she wondered.
“Twilight?” Pinkie Pie poked her knee, her frown both worried and sad.
Twilight started a mite. “Sorry, you guys. I don’t know. It might have just been a false lead.”
Rarity tapped on the door a few seconds later. Applejack reached for the door before pausing and taking a deep breath. Very deliberately, she slowly twisted the handle and gently swung open the door open. Twilight let out a breath of relief, now certain that Applejack’s Earth Pony strength would not be ripping the door off its hinges. Once fully ajar, Rarity stepped in with a dazzling, if somewhat forced smile.
“Well done, Applejack, no accidents this time,” she strained to beam at her friend before grunting at the impact of the Pinkie Pie Powerhug Projectile.
Twilight was quick and observant. Much moreso than the average person or pony. So much, in fact, that even a talented actress such as Rarity could not hide her internal distress. It made a difficult task of not jumping to the worst conclusion. Another dead end.
“Rarity!” Pinkie squealed in a thrilled fashion, careful to not squeeze the fragile unicorn in her embrace. “Did you find him was it him it was him wasn’t it I bet you were right you’re always right Rarity but I gotta know was it him huh huh huh huh huh?!”
“Pinkie, calm down, please,” Twilight softly interjected, still letting her impassive gaze wander past the window, “Rarity hasn’t even had a moment to relax.”
“Oh, it’s no trouble, dear, really,” Rarity waved a dismissive hand before hugging her happy pink friend, “And yes, Pinkie, it was indeed him. And you were right, Twilight, he has no recollection of what happened back in Equestria.”
Twilight blinked as the words sunk in. That was not what she had been expecting to hear.
“Don’t that beat all,” Applejack gingerly shut the door before sighing remorsefully, “I oughta kick David’s hindquarters up past his shoulders.”
“Awww!” Pinkie’s cheerful demeanor rapidly dissolved, “Does that mean we can’t go see him?!”
“I’m afraid so, Pinkie,” Twilight answered, her own heart still struggling with the decision on whether to sink sadly or jump for joy, “If it really is the same… ‘harmonic,’ as David called it, then we run the risk of causing him a lot of suffering just by reminding him of those days. We’re going to have to find a way to reverse it before we try to reconnect with Firewall. That’ll be best for him. Besides, we don’t know how he would react to us without actually knowing us.”
Rarity bit her lip before pulling a small recording device out of her purse and setting it on the table in front of Twilight. Taking the opposing seat, she let out a sad sigh.
“Twilight, I’m not so certain if that it would be best for him after all,” she spoke with reluctance, “He’s… already suffering, you see.”
Twilight felt her stomach turn over on itself. A cold sweat quickly began to break out on her forehead, but she kept her expression stoic and unmoving.
“Firewall’s in pain!?” Pinkie Pie shrieked, suddenly fearful enough to hide her mouth behind a pair of shaky hands.
“Not… literal pain. At least, not entirely,” Rarity clarified haltingly, “Not… It’s not easy to explain. Perhaps I should let you listen. But just to the relevant parts.”
“What do you mean ‘just the relevant parts’?” Twilight met the river blue eyes of her fellow unicorn and let her eyebrow lift in confusion.
“Twilight, I… deceived Firewall into thinking that I was a counselor; a worker whose trade is to help a pony’s mind through their psychological damage. And that everything he told me would be in complete confidence. That no one outside of the room would be privy to anything he shared with me. In fact, I would not be telling you this if I was not worried about his well-being,” Rarity explained, her visage somewhat pleading, “You understand, I already feel bad enough betraying this much of his trust. I’m just… very concerned, Twilight. He’s not entirely well.”
“Shucks, Rarity, we ain’t here to judge ya,” Applejack pulled a shirt down over her head before setting a hand on her friend’s shoulder, “But uh… Ah’d be much obliged if you stopped keeping us in suspense.”
“Go ahead, Rarity. Turn it off as soon as you’re comfortable that we’ve heard what we need to hear.” Twilight let a ghost of a smile show at the corners of her mouth.
The token effort did a lot to assuage the fears of the dark-skinned unicorn, “Right. Here goes.”
Rarity gingerly picked up the tape-recorder and pressed a black button on its side. A soft crackling static resounded from its speaker as she set it back down.
Oh, I hadn’t noticed you! Mr. McPhearson, yes?
Dad? Oh wait, you’re talking to me. Sorry, nobody ever calls me ‘Mister,’ really.
Twilight’s eyes unfocused as she let out a nostalgic sigh. Cheap humor, relaxed voice with a tone that landed somewhere twixt tenor and baritone. Definitely par for the Firewall course.
Aha~! Would you prefer I address you in a more familiar fashion then?
Definitely. This is weird enough as it is. I’ve always been able to handle my own problems before but… Lately, things are just beyond me. I really had to talk to somebody.
Well, Stephen, that’s what I’m here for.
Good thing, too. I just hope it’s as easy to talk to you as it is to look at you.
Twilight blinked at Firewall’s compliment to Rarity. She had forgotten how forward he could be.
“Rarity.” Applejack snickered. “Is Firewall… flirtin’ with you?”
“He’s not lost his shameless charm, that much is certain,” Rarity’s smile complimented her slight blush. Reliving the flattery had somewhat diminished her upset demeanor, Twilight was quick to note.
Ha! You’re too kind, darling. Still, you are paying for my services and I would be remiss to squander your time.
Suit yourself, but it’s actually Dad’s money we’re wasting. Y’know. For the record and stuff. So, anyway, I suppose I should just skip to the parts that matter?
Well, your father provided me a small novel of background information, even though I asked him not to.
He’s an ass like that. I’d totally do the same if I were in his shoes.
I see. Well, where would you like to start?
Well, Miss... Rarity? Really?
That’s what the plaque says, dear.
I guess it does. It’s just… … I’ve heard that name before… What’s your first na-… Nhhg…
Twilight grimaced as Firewall’s voice gasped in pain. She quickly quelled her urge to snap at Rarity and instead rubbed the bridge of her nose in slight frustration, “Rarity. You didn’t.”
“I had no idea it would actually hurt him,” Rarity swallowed shamefully, gently placing the tips of her fingers over her lips, “I wasn’t aware it would take something as simple as a name…”
“But I warned you that might happen,” Twilight shut her eyes, counted to ten, and let out a deep breath, “Nevermind, you were just a little negligent. Not that I can talk; I didn’t even consider false names. It sounds like it wasn’t too bad, at least.”
Stephen, are… you alright?
I’m f-fine… I’m fine.
Are you certain? Should I not call emergency services? You seem very ill.
Nothing they can… do about it.
Twilight could hear his voice strain in agony and noticed the color drain away from Rarity’s face in response. She felt a chill go through her spine before shrugging it off, masking it by readjusting her seating.
What do you mean?
This is why I’m here, Miss… Umm… Ah… Hey, where’d that plaque with your name go?
What plaque, dear?
Huh… Just… Remember there being one right there.
You seem to be mistaken. If you’ve already forgotten, though, my name is Stella.
“Wow, that was fast thinking, Rarity!” Pinkie squeaked in awe. Twilight had to agree. If Rarity had left the plaque out for Firewall to notice, he might have had a relapse; possibly one worse than before.
Stella… Okay. Sure. Anyway, that’s why I’m here. This stuff. Strange things have been happening to me ever since I was found after my... Y’know... missing for three months.
Your father made mention of that. He said you made a habit to contact him once every Sunday and Wednesday.
Yup. And nobody knows what happened to me.
Indeed. Your hospital bill states that you had a few broken ribs, what looked very much like a gunshot wound, and a mild case of amnesia.
What do you think happened?
Stella, I’ve not the slightest. One day I’m partying at my Step-Sister’s place in Gainesville, the next thing I know, I’m in the ER with my Dad asleep in a chair beside me in St. Augustine. The doctors there had to tell me that it was July. I got checked while there. Not a thing wrong with my brain.
Indeed. It states that you made an astoundingly fast recovery.
Which is another… change. Now, don’t… jump to any conclusions. Just hear me out. I can prove it if I have to. But it’s going to sound incredibly strange.
Darling, would you care to guess how often I hear that line?
Oh, I’m not trying to say I’m special or anything… But the fact is… I kinda am.
I see. You don’t seem especially conceited or self-entitled, so the conclusion I am drawing is you feel that you have a legitimate reason to believe so.
Yup. I’m just sayin’ though… Don’t freak out. Here it comes… … Wait for it… I think I’ve got super powers.
Rarity’s response was drowned out in the soft chorus of laughter that Pinkie Pie squeaked out.
“If you call being incredibly dramatic a super power,” Twilight mumbled with an amused roll of the eyes, eliciting a few more laughs from her friends.
Well… Don’t hold it against me if I happen to be jealous.
Heh! But seriously, it’s… Maybe it’s just a genetic thing. Who knows? What I do know is that over the past few months, I’ve had a run of seriously bad luck. I got into a car wreck that shattered my collarbone, I got stabbed in a mugging over in St. Augustine, and I slipped on a pool deck, cracking my skull on the concrete. All three times? I was back to being in top shape the next day. If not the same day! I don’t stay wounded for longer than a day or two. And it has to be a pretty nasty thing to last longer than a few hours.
I… I see. Truly?
Yeah. I mean, how long do we have? An hour? Now, this is going to sound weird, I know… But I could stab a hole in my hand and by the time I leave, it will be mostly healed.
That’s… um… fascinating. But please, do not demonstrate. While I’m certain there’s an explanation for this, I feel I must ask… why are you seeing me instead of a physician?
Stella, I’ve got friends in law enforcement and prosecution. I’ve heard the horror stories of doctors and their bioethics. Not saying they’re all like that but I just can’t take the risk. Besides, I just need someone to confide in. At least for now. I know you’re probably scribbling down a diagnosis that states I’m certifiable. I mean, you’ve every right, right? What loon comes in and talks about regeneration, amnesia, and migraines? That’s, like, straight out of X-Men, if you ask me.
Stephen, really. If I thought you were already worthy of being committed, I wouldn’t bother with the niceties of letting you talk. Now please, don’t worry about myself. My job is to listen and help in whatever way I can.
Well good, because I was also thinking about becoming a super hero. I’d like to bounce some ideas off you if that’s alright.
I’d gladly listen to them if you like, but some might consider that a waste of your money.
It’s not like it’s mine, right? Eh? Eh?
That is true. Do you feel as though it would be more of a waste if it were?
Twilight had to admit, Rarity was skirting Firewall’s nonsense with relative ease. The truly shocking part was that she was able to accomplish this feat without becoming impatient, hostile, or insulting. Twilight would have personally struck him with a book by this point.
Heh. No, probably would be less of a waste in that case. Honestly, I’m not much about fussin’ over what’s mine. I’m much more likely to use someone else’s money responsibly. Don’t like to take advantage of others.
I see. Perhaps you might want to stay on the safe side and avoid the risk, then?
Yeah. Yeah, sorry. Sorry, I’m just... It’s bothering me. I’m on edge.
I understand. And I want you to know that I believe you’re an honest person and that you are frightened by these extraordinary events. Take my word that I want to hear your side of this.
Alright… Alright, I’m just freaked out, is all. Strange things. Seriously strange. I can’t even begin to tell you about all of them.
We need not cover everything on day one. Just take a relaxing breath and say what’s on your mind.
Where to start? Heh… Well, there’s a tattoo that’s appeared on my back.
Yarp. A large one. Just above the left shoulder. It just appeared not four days after I was found. I know it wasn’t there before, but I can tell you exactly when it happened because it was like my skin caught on fire for a couple of minutes. Never happened again. It was like magic, y’know?
I… What does it look like?
It’s a shield, actually. A blue one, with a smaller red one inside of it and a tongue of flame in the center. When I looked at it in the mirror, it made my head hurt. Just like it did when I thought of your name. I haven’t told anyone about that. It’s not like they’d even believe me. I mean, even to me it sounds like a lame excuse for rebelling against your parents but… I never even wanted a tattoo!
“Well, if we weren’t sure before,” Applejack murmured, giving a nod and letting the rest of the implication go unspoken.
Does that happen often? The pain, I mean.
Not… as much as it did. It’s pretty random. Sometimes it happens when I’m at home surfing the internet. Sometimes it’ll happen when I’m passing a billboard on the interstate. Hell, it even happened when my baby niece was watching a little kids show. It’s been happening less and less, but still often enough that I’m afraid of what will happen if I actually sit down and seriously contemplate my situation. I mean, between that and… some other stuff.
Yeah. Other stuff. That’s the medical term for it. I looked it up.
Oh, I must have slept through that class.
Applejack snorted loudly, amused by the pleasant exchange. Pinkie was covering her mouth and nose in an attempt to stifle the rambunctious laughter that was bubbling within. Even Twilight felt the corner of her mouth itch with the need to rise. She allowed it a margin of movement but otherwise remained unmoving, still staring at the device.
Rarity had allowed the playful exchange to go on for a short while, slowly taking Firewall out of his shell. It took a bit of coaxing, but eventually they got back on track.
So, this ‘Other Stuff’... Does it possibly have a specific name that those of us from the unwashed masses use?
Unwashed masses. Oh, but that’s a fun one to use… Haahhhh~…
Twilight felt a bit of moisture on the palm of her hands upon hearing his resigned sigh. She had come to associate that as a human’s reaction to stress or worry. This was serving to further that assumption.
Ah… I don’t really know what it’s called… I’ve just been… Y’know…
I’m afraid I don’t, if you’ll forgive me.
It’s just… I’ve been… Crying at night.
Twilight began to chew her lip. That confirmed that he had been altered. Whatever David had done to him was the same thing he had done to The Nightmare. At least, it was the same method. She couldn’t deny that The Nightmare was better off these days, but something felt wrong about the entire situation. Changing a living, thinking being against its will felt like a fundamental violation of freedom on so many different levels. To think that it also happened to Firewall was almost too painful to think about.
You cry at night? What causes that, do you think?
I don’t know. I mean, it’s not like crying yourself to sleep. No, I’m talking I wake up every night covered in ice cold sweat and tears streaming down my face. I didn’t even know about the tears until my step-mom pointed them out.
You live with your parents then?
Nah. I mean, Dad and Wendy kept me after my hospital stay for a few weeks. But my boss back in Alabama had to let me go for not returning from vacation. So, for the past year or so I’ve been living with my roommate, David, and his kid Natalie. Known them for a while, y’know? They’re like family.
Twilight’s eyes widened considerably before she lifted them to gauge Rarity’s reaction.
“I’ve looked… into the matter,” Rarity explained, noting the concern on her friend’s face, “Apparently, the name ‘David’ is somewhat common among humans. Not even humans exclusive to this country. It could just be a coincidence.”
“No, that just doesn’t fit.” Twilight shook her head. “There are no coincidences, Rarity. Just convenient excuses. Applejack, we’re going to have to look for Dash and Fluttershy tomorrow. Finish getting dressed, we’re leaving as soon as you’re ready.”
“Where are we going, Twilight?” Rarity asked, even though she knew the answer.
“We’re going to rescue Firewall.” Twilight responded before glancing back at her blonde friend and gently commanding, “Don’t delay, Applejack. Pinkie, you too.”
“YAY!” Pinkie Pie jumped up and down frantically, the thought of seeing Firewall again thrilling her to no end.
Applejack bit back an argument and did as she was told. She was more worried about Dash and Fluttershy than Firewall; mostly Fluttershy, though. Firewall and Dash both knew how to fight and how to protect themselves. Fluttershy was a timid creature who was likely panicking somewhere. She trusted Twilight’s judgment more than her own, though, and reconciled to not argue over the matter.
Rarity was not so reserved, “Twilight, I know you don’t trust him, but…”
“Rarity, if it wasn’t for David, we wouldn’t even be in this mess!” Twilight snapped, instantly biting her lip and shutting her eyes upon taking note of her tone and attitude, “I… Listen, I’m sorry but… Rarity, I am not taking the chance. With Luna no… no longer around to keep him in line, I’ve even less reason to put any faith in him. We’re going.”
They shared a silence for a few moments, only to have it broken by the device continuing its playback.
Now, your father thought it necessary for me to ask about your sister.
Cynthia? What about her?
No, darling. Your other sister. Serenity, it says here.
“Wait, Firewall said he only had one sister,” said Pinkie Pie, pausing her emphatic bouncing as she tilted her head in confusion, “He told me…”
Rarity suddenly scrambled forward and snatched up the device. She began to frantically fiddle with its interface, hastily searching for the way to switch it off.
Let’s not, if that’s alright. That’s not what I’m worried about…
I don’t know the details, Stephen, so you need not worry. If the subject is unapproachable, then perhaps we should leave it for another time. However, I would be remiss if I did not remind you that talking about unapproachable subjects is why you are here.
I know, I… It’s ju-
Rarity finally found the stop button and gave a nervous laugh as she tucked the device away in her purse. Twilight’s eyes narrowed in suspicion. Rarity wasn’t a pony that would sweat the little things unless it was a personal project of hers. She was, however, a very observant pony and knew that there was no fooling Twilight by this point.
“Um… Applejack, Pinkie Pie? Could the two of you excuse us, please?” Rarity asked. “Twilight, let us fetch the carriage.”
Applejack lifted an eyebrow. She wasn’t dumb, she knew there was more going on than was being said. That, however, did not ruffle her jimmies in the slightest. She knew how to keep her nose out of the business of others. She was confident that she didn’t need to hear whatever it was that Rarity was hiding and if it ever came to a head where she would need to know, she would be told. Applejack’s firm hold on her curiosity was something she took pride in. Also, it had the convenient side-effect of silently asking others to respect her privacy as well.
Pinkie Pie, on the other hand, was more concerned about much more important things. Such as how she would have to restrain herself from crushing Firewall in her powerful embrace. That was something she hated about humans. They were very squishy. Like, baby-pony-squishy. If she hugged one too hard, she would hurt it. Thus, she had to settle for unexciting, less-thrilling soft hugs. But there were good things about humans, too! Such as toes! Toes made up for just about everything. Toes, as it were, happened to be just about the silliest thing Pinkie Pie had ever seen. And they tickled! She made sure all the other ponies knew about the ticklish part when she found out.
“It’s not a carriage, Rarity,” Twilight reminded her.
“I’ll help! Quick, everypony! To the Whinny Bagel!” Pinkie Pie hopped up, dashing to the door only to be caught midflight by Applejack.
Winnebago, Twilight thought to herself irritably, withholding the comment for the sake of moving things along.
“Hey!” Pinkie protested profusely, air-paddling towards the door with an utter lack of forward motion.
“Pinkie, go get some of those pants or somethin’. Ya’ll know the drill. Ya can’t be showin’ all that skin or the humans will start starin’ atcha. Not that you don’t give’m plenty of reasons anyway.” Applejack set her back down with an impatient sigh.
Twilight did find it somewhat amusing that Applejack was giving the clothes lecture when she was the one to raise the biggest fuss about having to put clothes on every day. It wasn’t until she had received a few whistles and stares of her own that she finally complied with modest clothes every hour of every day. Still, she knew that Applejack was just using that as an excuse to give Rarity the space she wanted. Twilight watched Rarity give Applejack a glance of gratitude.
Pinkie looked down at her legs clad in night shorts and gave a loud exaggerated groan of contempt. She didn’t dislike the clothes. She just hated putting everything else on hold long enough to don them. “Okie~Dokie~Lokie.”
Rarity waited for the door to shut behind them before making her way to the stairwell. The humid air assaulted both their senses and began to break a thin line of sweat on their forehead, but it was nothing they weren’t used to by now.
“Well?” Twilight asked politely, if a little bluntly.
Rarity bit her lip as they quickly made their way down the stairs. She didn’t want to betray Firewall’s trust, but Twilight had shown an uncharacteristic amount of cold determination, which was a feat in itself, ever since he had been kidnapped by David back in Equestria. She knew the best way to face this problem was to bring it up first and take the momentum away from Twilight’s pressing curiosity. By the time she had sorted out all her thoughts though, they were already nearing the vehicle.
“Twilight,” Rarity started but lost herself in what to say. “I… Twilight, Firewall is… Oh, how to say this…”
Twilight patiently stared at Rarity as she reached for the door near the middle vehicle’s passenger side. Her expression was passive despite the anxiety broiling inside of her. Rarity bit her lip a second time before entering the vehicle and trying again.
As they entered, Rarity spun about to face her friend, prepared to explain as best she could.
“Think of Pinkie Pie and Firewall ,” she held up both her hands to demonstrate, “Pinkie is very… stochastic. And so is Firewall. Pinkie is very upbeat. Very much like Firewall. Pinkie and Firewall both love to make us laugh and smile, yes? They’re sweet, they’re dramatic, and they can, without a doubt, be positively infuriating at times…”
Twilight nodded, her visage becoming a mix of concern and confusion.
“Well, they both do this because they both feel as though they’re helping us; brightening our day through joy, in fact. Which is true, naturally; of that we can be certain. The difference between the two, Twilight,” Rarity said, pulling her hands apart before continuing, “Is that Pinkie Pie’s special talent is doing that very thing. It fulfills her as much as it makes her happy. It’s a rare calling that brings a pony to focus their lives around the very purpose of bringing joy to others. Firewall… He’s… Twilight, I don’t want to go into details and I ask that you don’t press for them. But he’s… just making the best of a bad situation. He’s using that attitude to hide things about himself. Awful things. Things that… I just… I’ve never heard of anything so terrible. And what was more frightening… He seems to think that his past is not an uncommon one. And that everyone has heard stories like this before. Not only heard of them, but experience it themselves. It’s… It’s just awful, Twilight.”
Rarity sat down on the long bench tracing the driver side wall and lowered her gaze to her lap before swallowing painfully. She tried to speak again but her voice cracked instead. Twilight blinked in shock. It was easy to tell when Rarity was being dramatic and when something was genuinely tearing at her. This was certainly falling into the second category.
“How bad?” Twilight wiped at the sweat as it started to bead, now a mite unsettled.
Rarity took a moment to compose herself before reaching into her purse and retrieving a tissue to dab at her eyes with.
“Twilight, I had to excuse myself. I couldn’t even look at him without feeling the urge to leap across that desk and hug him. It was just painful to…” She paused again, taking yet another deep breath in an attempt to collect herself. “You remember when Luna described humans? She said that we couldn’t see their Cutie Marks but that they have them? And that more often than not, a human’s Cutie Mark would oftentimes be better called a Cutie Scar?”
Twilight felt an icy sensation hit the pit of her stomach and spread out from there. Luna had tried to warn her of just how ugly humanity could get at times. It did help somewhat. Twilight was able to process such staggeringly brutal facts about Earth, but even just hearing about some of the darker sides of the human world bothered her at night. Twilight literally had been forced to shut off her emotional half just to function without fear of falling apart. Between the revelation of Equestria’s origins and the rigors of Firewall’s homeworld, Twilight was somewhat proud of the fact that she was keeping it together at all!
“So Firewall has a painful past,” Twilight licked her lip in contemplation and stared at Rarity’s purse.
“Oh, Twilight, it’s dreadful. You couldn’t possibly imagine how positively…” Rarity stopped again to dab at her eyes yet again. “Oh, just talking about it makes my heart ache.”
Twilight’s mind began to swirl with every horrific possibility she could imagine but she quickly put a lid on it and shook her head. Her eyes narrowed in focus as she coldly shunted her emotions away yet again. Now was not the time to fall apart. She was here to fix problems, not become one herself.
“Rarity, take the recording and don’t let anypony else listen to it,” she commanded in a soft voice, “Not even me. If it’s really that awful, then we don’t need complicate matters by distracting ourselves. Hold onto it just in case, though.”
Rarity nodded and took one last shuddering breath before bringing herself under control again.
“Yes, of course.”
Twilight began to move towards Rarity to embrace her but a shout from outside distracted them both.
“Hey! Girls get up here! You’re gonna want to see this!” called Applejack, her voice somewhat muffled by the distance, “I think we just found Dash!”
Twilight and Rarity blinked, taking a sparse number of seconds to digest the news before sprinting for the door. They both narrowly avoided tripping over one another as they raced across the parking lot, back up the stairs and to their apartment. As they entered, they saw Applejack and Pinkie Pie sitting on the bed whilst staring at the TV. The latter, Twilight noted, only had her pants halfway on. As they approached the television, Twilight’s eyes widened. A blonde-maned female reporter was busy covering a story with the headline ‘New Sentient Species Or Elaborate College Fraternity Hoax?’ stretched across the bottom of the screen. The upper left hand corner sported a picture of Rainbow Dash wrestling, and obviously winning, with a human roughly five times her size.
She didn’t, Twilight helplessly hoped.
“… strange creature was apparently capable of speech and went out of its way to meet any abrasive behavior with aggression of its own. A witness from the Phi Upsilon Kappa fraternity had this to say.”
They all stared in silence as the screen switched to that of a young man with a swollen black eye and split lip. As he began to describe the situation, Twilight suppressed the urge to groan at his beach-boy accent, finding it to be as annoying as it was common amongst the humans of America. The white cap he wore was turned somewhat to the side and his hair was stubbornly pushing out of every crevice it had.
“Yeah, she was pretty cool, man! I mean, at first we were freakin’ out like… ‘Woah! Talking blue horse with wings! Someone spiked the Natty!’ but she kept yellin’ about a yellow pony or something before breakin’ down like she’d lost her best friend! It was crazy! We got a few drinks in her to calm her down, but then Skyler started runnin’ his fat mouth because he thought she was some prank or somethin’? Dude’s an idiot, I dunno what he was talkin’ about. He mentioned something about Internet cancer, but he was pretty drunk and that Rainbow Horse wasn’t takin’ no <Bleep!> off that <Bleep!>. Knocked him the <Bleep!> out. Like boom.”
Pinkie Pie threw her hands up in the air, her eyes wide with fascination. “Did you see him beep like that! I’ve never seen that! BOOP! Does it make my mouth fuzzy when I do that?! BOOP! BOOP! Bmmph~! … Mmm?”
Applejack had slowly moved her hand to cover Pinkie’s mouth as the TV panned back to the original reporter.
“After the altercation escalated, a call was made to the authorities for disturbing the peace. Officers arrived on the scene but it wasn’t until some half an hour later that the creature passed out from what seemed to be an excessive consumption of alcohol. Most of the officers declined to comment on the matter. Field Reporter Winifred is on site with more details…”
“Thank you, Lisa. And yes, you are correct, none of the officers would comment on what exactly took place after they arrived. We did, however, catch part of a conversation they were having amongst themselves. Apparently, the creature was more handling them than the other way around. More than once it was commented that tasers and other non-lethal forms of submission had no significant effect on it. As of this moment, the creature has not yet been moved from captivity within the University. The University is not allowing any further contact with the creature and has even barred further interference from the police, stating that the discovery belongs to them and any officer attempting to force their way in will be met with immediate legal action. However, if all suspicion of falsehood is dismissed, governmental intervention from Washington is expected to follow shortly after.”
Rarity quickly dove into her purse and began to scribble down details on a scratch piece of paper. It took the newscast a short while before it finally mentioned any details pertaining to location. After the reporter finally shifted her attention to a different story, Twilight switched the appliance off and turned to her friends. They were all huddled up on the bed, staring up at her as though she would know what to do. She took a deep breath as she tried to sort everything out. Progress wasn’t exactly stellar.
“Well, Twilight?” Applejack finally asked, voicing all their opinions.
“Alright… Alright… We need that uh… device that Luna gave us. Tom, that’s his name. Rarity, you have it, right?” she asked in a distracted tone, still trying to figure something out.
Rarity shuffled about in her purse for a bit before extracting a device known only as TomTom. Rarity found its voice somewhat endearing and had elected to be its carrier some time ago.
“Ask it where that… place is.” Twilight was having difficulty focusing. Was she to leave Dash? Or Firewall? Anything could happen at any time. Further delay was further risk. She couldn’t possibly justify losing one in favor of saving the other. Both of them were capable of defending themselves, but they were also defenseless in many different ways.
Rarity switched the GPS Guide on and waited for it to load before tapping it a few times, “Tom Tom. Could you please be a dear and direct me to the University of Nevada?”
“Maybe it’s not far away and we can do both in the same day!” Pinkie Pie chirped hopefully as she set her chin on Rarity’s shoulder and gazed longingly into the touch screen’s monitor.
After several seconds of silence, the device announced that the trip would take the better piece of an entire day. When the other three turned to look back at Twilight, she felt as though the weight of the world was on her shoulders.
“I… I don’t…” Twilight stammered, at a loss for what to do. Rainbow Dash might be taken by the police or worse yet, the American government (which was spoken of with little else but disdain, she noted). But Firewall was with David and if Twilight was certain of anything, it was that David was not to be trusted.
Upon seeing Twilight’s turmoil, Rarity spoke up, “I’ll get Rainbow Dash.”
All heads turned towards the white pony turned dark human.
“Rarity, this isn’t the same as checking up on a lead.” Twilight started to argue.
Applejack was quick to take her side, standing up from the bed, “Yeah, I’m thinkin’ I should go with. It sounds like they ain’t just gonna let her mosey on out the front door.”
“No, Applejack, I don’t believe that’s such a good idea.” Rarity replied before handing TomTom over to Pinkie. The frizzy pink-haired girl squealed with delight and immediately tried to strike up a conversation with the device. TomTom did its best to keep up.
“An’ just why not?” the farmer’s voice belied a hint of indignation at being turned down so curtly.
“Let us try to think of it from the human standpoint, Applejack. A strange new species has arrived in Equestria and the first thing it does is make strange demands, drink to excess, and starts a fight all in the same day.”
Twilight found it surprisingly easy to substitute drinking for smoking for that scenario to better match Firewall. She knew that really wasn’t how a comparison actually worked and thus knew not to bother bringing it up. Still, she found it somewhat amusing.
“What you’re suggesting, while no doubt effective, is to bring muscle and force to a delicate situation. What if we have to stay here a while longer, dear? Why, what you’re suggesting could very well make it impossible to go out in public at all!”
While a tad overdramatic, both Twilight and Applejack could not find a flaw in Rarity’s observation. At least, not without creating one far more glaring.
“Besides!” Pinkie piped up from the bed, laying on her back and staring at the TomTom clutched within her grasp. Her pants had somehow rearranged themselves backwards but were still only halfway up her legs. “If Twilight is right and David tries to pull a sneaky one, we’ll need all the ponies we can get!”
Applejack stared at Pinkie in shock, not especially prepared for such logical clarity from the party-girl.
“And if that’s the case, then I won’t be of much help in that department anyway,” Rarity added, silently reminding Twilight of their inability to rely on magic.
“Well, I still say it ain’t your call,” countered Applejack, bringing all attention back to Twilight, “What’s the plan, sugarcube?”
Twilight chewed on her lip nervously. What Rarity was proposing would put more than a thousand miles between them. Her instincts were telling her that neither of these situations were going to wait on them. To stick together would have been the safer way to go about things. But what good would it all be if they lost an opportunity to rescue one or the other?
“Do you have any money left, Rarity?” Twilight finally asked.
“Plenty, darling. I’ll be fine, I assure you. We may not get another chance like this.” Rarity was practically pleading by this point.
Twilight gave a short nod before moving to the chest of drawers near the beds. She pulled her old saddlebags out of the bottommost drawer and took a moment to marvel at how small they were compared to this form. She flipped open the heavier of the two and extracted a pair of gold bands. She sighed, remembering Luna’s gift just before The Battle of Shadows and spent a moment on lamentation. After recovering, though, she turned back to the others. She met their individual stares and inhaled deeply before letting it out slowly.
“I don’t have all the answers, you guys,” Twilight murmured as she let her visage fall down to focus on the two bracelets. “I may have studied for months with Luna to prepare for this, but I was more being groomed to help her, not stand in for her. With her not here, I’m at a loss. Loss or not, though, I must do what I think is right because a stupid human once told me that the wrong action is often better than no action at all.”
“Who told you that, Twilight? Was it Firewall? I bet it was!” Pinkie gasped as she rolled over on the bed to sit upright.
“Yes, it was him indeed.” Twilight couldn’t tell if that was nostalgia or exasperation in her voice. Either way, Firewall was to blame for it. “So… Rarity, if you’re willing… Do whatever you can. Even if you’re just able to stall, that might give us the time to get there and help.”
Rarity beamed at Twilight, the newfound contrast between her skin tone and teeth somehow intensifying her already dazzling smile.
“Thank you, Rarity,” said Twilight as she took Rarity’s hand and placed the bracelet within its grasp. “This is for emergencies. We’ll have the other one, so use this if you’re out of options. We’ll drop everything and get to you as soon as possible.”
Pinkie finally finished putting her pants on before bounding out the apartment door, proclaiming road trips for everypony and for everypony, a road trip. If they were lucky, it would only take an hour to recapture the bouncy Pinkie without the aid of magic.
“Great… Applejack, I’ll pack everything, if you could just…” Twilight started to ask before being interrupted by the blonde woman.
“Ah’m goin’, Ah’m goin’.” Applejack started for the door, pausing just long enough to glance back at the two unicorns. “And Rarity, Ah want that hat done by the next time I see ya.”
The glamorous pony turned human smiled in response. “Only if you promise to wear it, darling.”
With that said, Applejack went to chase down Pinkie Pie as Twilight and Rarity packed all their clothing, possessions, and tools. Luna had certainly done everything she could to prepare them and they all thanked her for it. Without her help, their days on Earth would have been far more difficult. After finishing, Twilight could not help but wonder just how Rarity was able to have just as many bags as the rest of them combined. Rather than draw attention to it, though, she simply went about her business and packed everything that wasn’t Rarity’s into the Winnebago. Approaching the stairs one last time, she prepared herself for a sobbing, overdramatic goodbye from Rarity. What she got instead, was a quiet figure sitting at the edge of the bed, staring at the loop of gold that Twilight had given her. In her delicate hand, the device looked almost sturdy. Naturally, it was very sturdy, having been made by Luna, but even Twilight felt the overbearing urge to treat them as though they were fragile glass.
Rarity rubbed her thumb along its reflective surface. After a heavy silence, she spoke up, “Twilight, I’m worried.”
“Don’t be, Rarity, you’ll do fine. We both know you shine under pressure.” Twilight moved to stand in front of Rarity before taking the other woman’s hand in her own, giving it a comforting squeeze. “Just like a diamond.”
Rarity could not help but smile at the compliment. However, she did not let it deter her from confronting her fears. “Thank you, darling, but I wasn’t talking about myself.”
Twilight’s encouraging demeanor faded almost instantly. It didn’t take a genius to know where this line of conversation was going. Still, she kept her composure and played it both cool and innocent.
“I’m talking about you,” Rarity murmured in a low voice before squeezing Twilight’s hand right back, “You haven’t been yourself. Not since The Battle of Shadows back at Appleloosa. I’m afraid for you. Not because you are changing. Everypony changes. That’s just a part of growing up, I suppose. But what bothers me is that you aren’t… talking about it. I’m fearful you may be… shutting us out. If I’m wrong, please tell me. I’m j-…”
Twilight interrupted her as she gently pulled her hand away and gave a soft nod. “You’re just concerned. I know, Rarity. You care, and that’s why you bring it up.”
Rarity felt a tense knot inside of her stomach slowly untangle as she nodded in agreement. Of course Twilight would understand where she was coming from. After all, this wasn’t the first time there had been rocky roads in the relationship that the six of them shared. Their love for one another had never been in question.
“Rarity, you’re right. I have been changing. And I’m not sure how to say this but… I need you to try and ignore it as best you can. At least until this is all behind us.” Twilight watched as Rarity stood up and met her gaze, comforted by her sincerity. “Mostly because… I’m not sure I’m going to handle it gracefully when I eventually get around to dealing with it. And I’m going to need you there for me when that time comes. But right now, the most important thing is that I do everything in my power to keep us safe. And I’m having a hard enough time without facing my… less tangible problems.”
Rarity nodded after a moment of consideration and pulled her friend into a tight embrace. Twilight resisted at first, but Rarity was insistent. After stemming the emotional tide welling up in her, she slowly wrapped her arms back around her friend, allowing only a heartfelt shudder to escape.
“I will always be here for you, Twilight,” she offered selflessly, “I want you to remember that I’ll always do everything that I can to help you in your times of need. You told me to use this charm of yours should I find myself in dire straits. To contact you if I need help.”
Twilight shut her eyes and willfully commanded the tears to stay put. They mostly obeyed. Mostly.
“Yeah. Yeah, I did.” Her voice was quiet and almost frustrated, Rarity noted.
“I expect you to do the likewise, darling,” she replied without as much as a moment’s hesitation.
And just like that, the burden Twilight carried seemed to lessen overall. She let out a long breath, unable to stop herself from taking comfort in her friend’s presence and care. Twilight couldn’t imagine a world without friends like Rarity. Without any of her friends, really.
“Thank you, Rarity.” Her voice had dropped to a hoarse whisper.
“You would do the same for me, dear,” she replied.
- - - - - - - - - - - - -
Twilight slipped into the Winnebago without so much as a word, but not before bidding Rarity farewell on her journey to track down Rainbow Dash. When the cab driver promised he could get her to the college without fail, Rarity practically forced Twilight to take the TomTom. Twilight didn’t like the idea of Rarity going off on her own, but there really was no better choice for the task. Rarity was intelligent, diplomatic, quickest to adapt, and quite manipulative. She also had magic to fall back on in should there be no other option, and even knew how to be subtle about such things. Applejack, while not easily deterred, was too ready to push around humans that would prove themselves stubborn obstacles and Pinkie Pie was… Well… Pinkie Pie.
“No, this is for the best,” Twilight murmured mostly to herself, “She’ll be alright.”
Applejack overheard her friend’s soft spoken fears from the passenger seat and glanced back at her with a comforting smile.
“Yeah, Twilight, we learned to not worry about Rarity a long time ago,” said the farmer pony.
Twilight startled a tad, unaware that she had given her fears a voice. Her eyes met that of her friend’s and even through all the dark, bottled up thoughts and cold, calculating cynicism she found a degree of comfort returning. The feeling was further enhanced when Pinkie Pie threw her arms around Twilight’s neck and squeezed happily. Twilight felt a small laugh escape and she hugged Pinkie back with a soft smile.
“Sorry for worrying you, girls,” she said truthfully, “You’re right. Rarity will be fine. She’ll find Rainbow Dash, we’ll get Firewall and Fluttershy, and we’ll be back home soon.”
Not really your home.
“Is it being humanish, Twilight? Does it bother you?” Pinkie stayed attached to her purple friend for a few seconds longer.
“No, not really,” she replied, “Let’s not fuss over it; not really that important right now. We need to get moving and get Firewall. And hopefully the others will be waiting for us at The Magic City.”
Twilight waited patiently for Pinkie to let go and bounce over to the space between the two seats where she could play with the air conditioner and radio. Twilight slid into the driver’s seat and inserted the key.
“Go Whinny Bagel!” Pinkie demanded, furiously twisting the volume nob as the vehicle stirred to life.
o/` EVERY DAY I’M SHUFFUHLIN’! o/`
Twilight’s mind was suddenly flooded with music, confusion, and an inexplicable (maybe not that inexplicable) urge to squeeze Pinkie’s neck until her head popped off. As always, though, the sudden volume frightened Pinkie into immediately turning the music back down to nigh inaudibility. This not being the first, second, third, fourth, or fifth time it had happened, Applejack decided that enough was enough. After recovering from sudden deafness, the farmer pony took it upon herself to break the volume nob off the stereo and throw it out the window.
“Nooooo!” squealed the pink menace as she dived for the window, only to be caught by the very defenestrator that had robbed her of the little black dial in the first place.
“What for to have loved and to have lost!” Pinkie misquoted miserably, half hanging out the passenger side window after her failed attempt to rescue said adjuster of decibels.
“Ah told you Ah’d do it if ya’ll did that again,” Applejack pointed out in a flat tone, holding the pink-haired girl inside by the seat of her pants.
Twilight let her head smack against the steering wheel. Luna may have taught her how to drive. Luna may have taught her how to blend in. Luna may have taught her all the basics that were necessary when it came to fitting into the human world. But she did not teach her how to handle a pair of bickering friends. It was going to be a long trip.
- - - - - - - - - - - -
A long trip was an understatement. Time seemed to flow differently here, that much was certain. Applejack seemed to have absolutely no problem relaxing in the sun with her seat laid back. In fact, it seemed to keep her happy. Luckily, Pinkie’s energy always gave out when boredom set in and she eventually passed out with her head in Twilight’s lap. That somehow brought the librarian a great deal of comfort. As frustratingly annoying as Pinkie could be at times, Twilight wouldn’t trade her for a million wishes. Twilight knew, deep down, that she always would have her amazing friends to be there for her. Glancing over at the softly smiling Applejack, she found herself dreading the idea of ever truly losing them.
Applejack glanced her way and spotted the slightly frightened expression on her friend’s face. Rather than dig for whatever was on her mind, though, Applejack decided to give her something else to think about.
“Ya think Rarity’ll have my hat done by the time we get to The Magic City?” she asked nonchalantly.
It worked, seemingly. Twilight smiled before letting out an amused snort and looking back at the road. “I hope so. As pretty as your hair is, it just looks incomplete without that cowpony hat of yours.”
“Eeyup,” AJ agreed before checking her hand, sighing softly as she turned it over a few times. “Y’know, as frustratin’ as bein’ a human is, these hands are… well… handy. Y’know what Ah’m sayin’? I mean, it took a bit of getting’ used to, but d’ya realize just how much easier it is to lasso without havin’ to swing yer head back an’ forth?”
“Maybe not lassoing, but not having to rely on magic just to put on a scarf or brush my hair? Yeah, that’s actually quite nice, considering the amount of focus magic takes,” Twilight gave her a pleasant smirk, still keeping the lion’s share of her attention on the road. “It’s also nice not having to risk bumping my horn every time I don’t feel like using magic to open a door.”
“Or havin’ to stop walkin’ about if ya use a hoof to pick up anything?” AJ countered, smiling more.
“Or having to open an oven with your mouth, getting your face all sweaty and sticky?” Pinkie tiredly mumbled.
Twilight let out a laugh and reached a hand down to gently pat Pinkie’s head.
“Not that it’s all sugarcubes an’ carrots,” Applejack continued, “I do kinda miss my tail…”
“Don’t we all,” Twilight agreed. It was odd not having to brush her tail in the morning. It almost made her feel unclean. Like she wasn’t brushing her teeth or something.
“And this whole… clothes all day, every day… Ah can’t say Ah’m happy about that.”
“Rarity is,” Twilight reminded her.
AJ rolled her emerald eyes and ran a hand over her countenance. “Oh mah gosh, did ya’ll see her face when Luna brought that up?”
Pinkie snickered dreamily, somehow still able to be a part of the conversation even through all of her slumber.
“Which one? The dizzy face she had before passing out, or that dream-come-true stare she had after waking back up?” Twilight snickered.
“Either one’ll do,” she replied with a chuckle before looking out the window. “So do you think we’ll find ‘em?”
Twilight blinked at the sudden turn of the conversation. They had been here nearly a month and a half without progress until today. They had practically tripped over Firewall when he appeared on the news as a recovered missing person. The sheer luck of it was almost baffling. Enough to make her wonder if luck had anything to do with it. What made it worse was Rainbow Dash appearing in the same week. Still, that left Fluttershy. And if there was anything their time on Earth had proven so far, it was that Earth was big. The United States Of America was comprised of smaller provinces. Some of which were just as large as the entirety of Equestria. And there were several countries that were bigger than this one. Their quest to find Fluttershy could easily span over many years without the aid of magic.
Twilight felt a painful snag at that last thought. Without the aid of magic. She was certain that all she needed was just a day or two and a few spells. She didn’t even need much magic. Just enough to locate three close friends of hers and they could all be on their merry way home. The Resonant Hunters were the only thing stopping her from shortening this dangerous month-long foray into human territory into a week-long excursion. Luna was certain, however, that the use of magic would hurt more than help. Twilight had used a bit the first week without thinking about it, but luckily there had been no repercussions. Not this time anyway.
“Yes,” Twilight finally answered, but not after a long pause.
“Took an awful long while for just a one-word-answer,” Applejack noted, placing her long pale legs up on the dash, “Y’sure?”
A small part of her wanted to say she wasn’t sure at all, but that did not last. After realizing she was leaving room in her heart for doubt, she knew that she had to become more resolved. She may have been made a naïve little pony, but she knew that she would have to strive to break that mold if she wanted to survive in the human world long enough to save her friends. Firewall had told her more than once that Earth had a tendency to put one through trials that would make or break a person. Now she had to face them and show that she was her own pony, not some creation made for the purpose of entertainment.
“No matter how long it takes, Applejack. No matter what we have to do. No matter how hard we have to struggle,” Twilight almost whispered, “We’re going to get through this.”
“Yeehaw…” AJ accompanied her soft response with a smile, lifting a closed fist to Twilight. “S’what I wanted to hear.”
Twilight rapped her knuckles against Applejack’s, smiling fiercely.
- - - - - - - - - - - - -
“Consarn it all,” AJ whined impatiently before sticking her head out of the driver’s seat window and shouting at the buck impeding their progress, “GIT OUTTA THE WAY YA FLOWER MUNCHIN’ BONE HEADED…”
“Applejack,” Twilight murmured in frustration, her slumber having been very disturbed by the outburst.
Pinkie mumbled something about donkeys and turned her head over. Applejack cringed, a tad embarrassed at the fact that she had made such a scene over a deer in the road. If her temper had been more under control, she wouldn’t have woken up Twilight from her much needed rest.
“Sorry, Twilight,” she murmured gently, smiling shamefully, “But uh… If it’s all th’same, we’re almost there anyway.”
Twilight lazily opened her eyes and let them drift to her left towards the stereo that was perpetually playing music that was almost impossible to hear. It had been four hours. She blinked, not certain her eyes were telling her the truth. An entire, unbroken four hours of sleep. Maybe she was getting better?
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, sister, she inwardly remarked whilst letting free a soft yawn. Her eyes slowly cleared up as she checked the TomTom. As always, she had to force herself to not ponder the inner workings of the alien machine and instead brought herself to compare time passed against distance traveled. Her quick mind crunched numbers with remarkable alacrity and she found herself satisfied with the result. They had not squandered their time and it was starting to show.
“Less than twenty minutes before we reach the city. I wonder how large it is.”
“Dunno,” Applejack replied with a shrug before pressing on the gas as the deer finally stepped out of the road. “Accordin’ to Rarity, though, there won’t be a city between us an’ where we’re goin’. Firewall’s job is on the outskirts on what’s known as a… Pine Tree farm.”
Applejack’s skeptical tone reflected Twilight’s opinion on such a notion. Whoever heard of such a silly thing?
“A… Pine tree farm?” she echoed.
“Eeyup,” Applejack nodded, giving her blue-haired friend an amused smirk.
“Maybe humans eat trees,” Pinkie mused sleepily before finally pulling her head out of Twilight’s lap and sitting up straight. She ran a hand over her bleary eyes with a yawn and proceeded to scoot over to Applejack.
“I mean, why else would they farm them?” she said, still in a dreamlike state. She then poked at Applejack’s leg before nudging at it some. “They probably find them tasty or something.”
“What in the hay…?” Applejack started to ask until it became apparent that Pinkie was fluffing her leg like a pillow. “Oh. Just ask next time. And didn’t you used to live on a rock farm? Ya’ll eat those rocks?”
Without further ado, Pinkie flopped her head down and went right back to sleep. Twilight laughed at the scene, particularly the somewhat exasperated Applejack. Only a few scant moments passed before the farmer began to chuckle right along with her.
The remaining drive was spent in relative silence. Twilight was not sure what to expect. Firewall worked as a Private Guard, as Rarity had told them. Apparently, he wasn’t to allow anyone past a certain point without proper clearance from his superiors. With any luck, he would be at the place of clearance, rather than somewhere behind it.
The last few miles were met pleasantly. All three of the girls found the gentle minty scent of the pine farm to be both earthy and refreshing. Applejack found the thousands of trees to be quite astonishing, seeing hundreds upon hundreds of pine-trees planted in perfect rows. Pinkie Pie found herself unable to stop trying to spot oddities in the gaps, such as fallen branches and workers cutting down bad trees that were leaning on their neighbors. Twilight, on the other hand, was still lost in a happy nostalgia, remembering the wooden interior of her home. She had purposefully cast spells once a month to keep her home smelling of fresh cut pine. It smelled so clean and reminded her of when she had first moved into the newly built library.
If that ever really happened. The cynical thought tore Twilight out of her happy memories and served only to dampen her mood. She wanted to find whatever part of her mind was saying such painful things and stick it in a box, never to frighten her again.
She let her eyes drift down towards the side mirror, distracting herself with the incredibly thick trail of dust they were leaving. It wasn’t a brown cloud like most dirt roads tend to kick up. Rather it was white and thicker than one might expect. Twilight looked ahead, confirming that the road they were on seemed to be made of a pale, chalk-like rock.
“What’s this road made of?” Twilight asked, latching onto the first thing she could think of to keep her mind off of the fears weighing her down.
“Ah think its limestone,” said Applejack, nodding apprehensively, “Y’don’t see’m much at all in Ponyville. They’re really dusty. You’ll see’m mostly on the outskirts of big cities. Like Manehatten.”
Pinkie snorted suddenly before giggling uncontrollably, lifting her head, “Limestone?”
Twilight felt a tad nauseous at the mention of Manehatten. Applejack had been there. Or so she believed. In Applejack’s mind, she had spent quite a bit of her youth in the big city. There were supposedly over a million ponies there, right alongside her Aunt and Uncle Orange. Twilight knew better. Manehatten didn’t exist. Not in reality. Appleloosa, Ponyville, Cloudsdale, and Canterlot… Those were real. Between hers and Luna’s efforts, they had confirmed the existence of those. But beyond that, there was nothing. Just a tangled weave of lies and fabrications. Nothing substantial. Nothing…
“Twi, what’s wrong?” Pinkie was gently shaking her shoulder, snapping her out of her introspective state.
“Huh?” Twilight blinked several times, finally able to shake off the dour thoughts. “Oh, sorry, I was…”
“Everything okay, Twilight?” Applejack tried to glance Twilight’s way, but was giving the greater share of her focus to the road in front of them.
“It’s okay if you didn’t think it was funny, Twilight! I mean, it wasn’t that funny.” Pinkie was still a little bleary-eyed and drowsy, so naturally her sentences were able to complete themselves in a grammatically sound fashion. She scratched at her frizzy hair, stretching her thin frame at an angle that Twilight wasn’t sure she could replicate. Even with the aid of magic.
“I guess it was still kinda funny. Limestone roads!” Pinkie threw her arms in the air. “Made of real limes!”
“You have arrived at your destination. On the Right,” TomTom sounded off, preventing further contemplation on the subject of fruit-comprised roads. Applejack very carefully pressed on the brake, smiling a tad when the vehicle’s response matched the desired results. Twilight spared Applejack an approving glance before turning her head to check the building in the distance. TomTom, being the helpful device it was, was kind enough to show them a picture to compare against. Sure enough, it was a match.
“Well, girls, we made it.” Twilight murmured before giving them a smile.
And then Pinkie Pie jumped out the window.