The Strength of the Heavens
"The Princesses? They're coming to Ponyville? Both of them?"
Twilight was practically beside herself. To call her worried would be a total understatement, like calling Pinkie Pie different or the sun's surface warm.
"When are they comin', then?" Applejack asked Spike.
The baby dragon, who was currently taking deep breathes through a brown paper bag and in no condition to answer, handed Applejack the letter.
"My Dear Twilight...uh huh...hmm...we will be arriving some time before sun down."
Rainbow Dash peeked through the curtains. "Sun down? The sun's already setting!"
Twilight quickly shoved the rainbow maned Pegasus away from the window to get a look herself. With a shaking hoof, she parted the curtains and slowly raised her head to watch powerlessly as the sun set.
To her amazement, the sun hung high in the sky. From its position, sun down wouldn't be for a few hours.
Rainbow snickered. "Gotcha. You should of seen your face."
"Not funny." Twilight turned to Applejack, whom was still in procession of the Princesses's letter. "Does the letter say why they're visiting so suddenly?"
"Far as Ah can tell, they wan' tah see, what's the word they used? Oh yeah, 'alien'."
"S-so not even the Princesses know what a Human is?" Fluttershy looked over to the cubicle Ash sat in. Ash looked over the edge in curiosity.
"Guess not. Says here you an' Twi's description don' match anythin' from Equestria. Or this world."
"Or this world?" Pinkie Pie asked. She gasped. "You mean, he's out of this world, like a real space alien?"
"Whoa!" Rainbow flew over to Ash. "How come you never told us you're from space."
"I'm not from space!" Ash screamed. "Hey, ge-get out of here! I'm freaking naked here! Argh!"
"Geez Louise, I was just leaving. Stop worrying, I didn't see anything." When she was out of ear reach, Rainbow Dash quickly added, "At least, didn't see anything interesting..."
Her comment and actions quickly earned her a scolding from Rarity at here work bench. Twilight meanwhile took the letter and read it herself.
"Your descriptions fit no know creature we know of, mythological or real, living or extinct. Luna even did some research of dealing with outside of Equestria but her search was fruitless. The nature of your creature perplexes all our knowledge of life. What you have described to us does not appear to exist in Equestria. Luna goes as far as to say that it may not even be of this world.
"Twilight, stay on your guard. Luna and I will arrive in Ponyville some time before sun down to conduct our own personal investigations. You need not prepare an overly large welcome, though I would appreciate it if there were a few cupcakes from the local bakery, if it is not much trouble. Luna has developed quite a sweet tooth after her first Nightmare Moon Night and would greatly appreciate it if a few sweets were set aside for her as well.
"Be safe. Luna gives her regards and looks forward to our visit. Your mentor, Princess Celestia."
Twilight put the scroll down. " Spike, how much time do we have until sun down?"
Spike ran to the window, having fully recovered. "I think we have three hours."
The Unicorn quickly pulled out a clean piece of parchment and began to organize a to-do list.
"Rarity, how long will it take for you to complete restore and wash Ash's clothes?"
"I should be done with in the next hour."
"Good. We need him to be presentable to the Princesses so try to add some of your own personal touch."
Twilight turned to Pinkie Pie. "Pinkie, I need you to run to Sugar Cube Corner and whip up some cupcakes and candy within an hour. You think you can do that?"
"Yes sir ma'am sir!"
"Good. Applejack, make sure she stays on track."
"Yah got it, sugar-cube."
"Fluttershy, Rainbow Dash, can you watch for the Princesses and tell me when you see then?"
"Not a problem! Right, Fluttershy?"
"Come on, let's fly!"
Twilight walked over to the makeshift dressing room.
"I need you to tell Ash about the Princesses so he knows how to act."
"Why can't you do it?"
"I need to head back to the library."
With that, Twilight ran out of the dress shop, leaving a Unicorn heavily concentrated in her work, a baby dragon, and a very awkward feeling alien. Ash promised himself never to take clothing for granted ever again.
Ash got to his knees. He stared at the dragon. Spike stared at the Human thing.
"So..." Ash began, rubbing the back of his head. "What do I need to know about the princesses?"
"Well, first you need to know that Princess Celestia is the best pony ever..."
"...and that's why Princess Celestia is the best pony ever! Though Rarity comes in a close second."
Ash sat with the baby dragon, wearing his newly restored robes. Rarity had even added some fabrics, giving the simple uniform a more regal feel. His other clothes, on the other hand, rubbed tightly against them; the pants, shirt, and underwear had shrunk in the wash.
"What about the other princess. What was her name again?"
"You mean Princess Luna? Eh, I dunno much about her besides that she used to be known as Nightmare Moon and tried taking over Equestria and drowned it in an eternal night a thousand years ago before being banished by her sister. Oh and she has a holiday named after her that's pretty awesome and controls the moon or something like that."
"Wait, you just spend the past two hours explaining how amazing the first princess was and now you give me a five second summary on the second?"
"Hey, I don't know much about Princess Luna. She spent the past one thousand on the moon." Spike leaned closer, beckoning. "And if you don't watch out, so will you," he quickly whispered.
Ash leaned back on his hands, staring at the ceiling. Rarity was busy trying to get herself presentable, leaving Spike his only companion at the moment.
"So your government is run by a pair of princesses, one that apparently controls the sun's movement and banishes those who are disagreeable onto an orbiting rock in space, and the other is a former nocturnal tyrant." Ash laid on his back with his hands behind his head. "And you find nothing wrong with it?"
"What do you mean?" Spike had been raised worshiping the Princesses, especially Princess Celestia. The alien's attitude toward the rulers of Equestria got on the dragon's nerves.
Ash merely shrugged and wisely kept his mouth shut. The notion that a pair of horses controlled night and day was far-fetched, at best, but Ash saw no reason to upset their beliefs. Humanity, with the assistance of a couple of Dwarven scientists, had already concluded that the planet revolved around the sun because of some physical pull. Ash chose not to reveal this but remained skeptical about the Princesses for their claims of power.
"Well, what do you boys think?"
Rarity stepped into the room, wearing a grand lavender gown.
"Whoa, Rarity you look amazing!"
"Oh, Spike, I sure hope so. What do you think?" The question was directed at Ash.
Crap! Of all the questions...geez, should I just compliment her? Wait, how do I compliment a pony without sounding creepy...
"I, uh, really like your mane."
Spike gave Ash a dark glare. The baby dragon was about to say something just as Rainbow Dash burst through the door.
"Twilight! Where's Twilight?"
"She went to check up on Applejack and Pinkie Pie."
"Wait, before you go..." Rarity quickly posed "...how do I look?"
"I dunno, no time. I need to tell Twilight the Princesses are here! Gotta dash!"
"You said we had three hours before sun down." Twilight grumbled.
Spike followed closely behind Twilight. Ash walked behind him. Behind the Human trailed Rarity, trying her best to keep her dress pristine and spotless; it would have been much easier if they weren't on a dirt road.
"It's only been two!"
"Well, they did say some time before sun set," Ash noted.
"Yes, but an hour before?"
Ash shrugged. "You never know what royalty's thinking." His statement brought forth images of another, more familiar royalty whose actions he could not comprehend. Ash quickly pushed away the images and mentally prepared himself. Much of Spike's hour long rave had been forgotten.
A giant crowd had formed in town center, courtesy of Pinkie Pie. Royal Pegasus guard stood proudly, discouraging further progression by the mass into the center. Streamers and balloons decorated the surrounding buildings and many ponies had a cupcake in hoof.
Twilight groaned. "Pinkie Pie. I told her this was suppose to be private."
As if on cue, a very Pinkie Pie-ish giggle filled the air, relieving some tension.
As the group approached, the crowd quickly made way. Some ponies simply stared at the Human with fascination while other ran the other direction, trying to put as much distance between them and the strange creature.
"Now remember," Twilight whispered to Ash, "The Princesses are the most powerful beings in all of Equestria so--"
"I get it. Be respectful. Don't speak unless spoken to. Always use a fork with your left hand. Laugh at everything they say, even if it's not funny. Do all this and I won't be banished then thrown in a dungeon in the place I was banished."
"I told him everything he needs to know," Spike said proudly, puffing out his chest.
"Spike, you know that's not true. At least, not all of it. Don't worry Ash, I'm sure everything will go fine. Ash? Ash?"
Ash had stopped some feet from where the crowd was the thickest. Though he couldn't see them, he could knew the Princesses were there. He could feel them. And their power.
Ash had begun to shake. Sweat fell like a heavy summer rain. He felt as if an invisible force was pushing down against him, threatening to crush him between it and the ground. Ash's breathing became labored. The world began to spin.
"Ash, what's wrong?"
Twilight's worried voice seemed distant. How is she able to stand? Ash asked himself. Can't she feel it? That power? That magic?
The sheer energy seemed to crush him like a wave. Ash had never felt any being so powerful. He fell to his knees.
The crowd split and he saw them, the Princesses. To magnificent creatures, with the horn of a unicorn and the feathery wings of a Pegasus. He felt their auras more distinctly, feeling as if caught between two equally unrelenting forces.
The power of the sun burned against him. The power of the moon froze him to the very core. Ash's head threatened to split open as he became overwhelmed.
Ash had not even attempted to assess their abilities; what he was experiencing was merely a taste of their true powers, he knew.
I was ignorant. I was wrong. With that kind of power, they truly can control the heavens.
The white one approached him with caution. From her, he could almost see the sun and feel its endless and immeasurable heat. As she got closer, the burning sensation increased.
Voices surrounded him but he heard no words, just noise. Everything was so bright, so white. So pure.
Ash's eyes rolled back and he fell face first into the dirt.
"Is he alright?"
"You don't think he's, you know..."
"No, he's still breathing."
"Oh, thank goodness."
Princess Luna appeared before her sister's side.
"We hath heard our sister hath had such affect on thy subjects, but We all but assumed such tales were exaggerated."
The Princess of the Day sighed. "I wish, though its been awhile since somepony actually fainted at my feet." Celestia turned back the unconscious being before her. "But then again, you're not a pony, are you? Twilight?"
Twilight had been helping Rarity pick Ash with magic. At the call of her name, the purple Unicorn, ever the loyal student, quickly turned all her attention to the Princess. Ash fell to the ground with a giant thud. An involuntary groan escaped the Human.
"I need you to tell us everything you've learned about our guest. That goes the rest of you as well."
Ash groaned and rubbed his eyes. Nope, pink pony still there.
The Human slowly sat up, clutching his head as he experienced a heavy cause of vertigo.
"He's awake!" At Pinkie Pie's call, her friends quickly surrounded Ash.
"Are you alright?"
"Geez, what the hay happened?"
"Yah sure caused quite a scene back there."
Ash let out another groan, rubbing his forehead. His headache had just begun to die down.
"How long was I out."
"Only half an hour." Twilight pointed toward the horizon. "Look, the sun just begun to set."
Indeed, the sun had just touched the edge of the world and was beginning its descent. There was at least another half hour of daylight and before night truly began but most of the other ponies had went home. The only ones left besides Twilight and Spike were Applejack, Fluttershy, Pinkie Pie, Rainbow Dash, and Rarity.
"Ah, good. I was wondering when you would awake."
The voice was regal, with the force of authority, and yet calming, like a mother. Ash turned to the origin of the voice. To his surprise, the white Princess stood behind him.
Her aura was just as powerful and yet did not affect Ash as violently as before. Was it because the Human had gotten used to it already? Or did the Princess understand what had happened and managed to control her power?
Behind her was her sister, smaller and much darker. A huge lollipop stuck out of her mouth.
The elder smiled, a smile that seemed to convince Ash that all was fine in the world, that everything would be okay.
"I don't believe we've met. I am Princess Celestia."
"And you stand before Us, Princess Luna, Ruler of the Night, Moon and Stars. Together, Our sister and We, are rulers and protectors of Our fair nation, Equestria!"
Luna's older sister brought her hoof to her face. The transition into the modern world was a difficult process and while Luna's antics amused Celestia greatly, sometimes she felt that her younger sister took it far over the top.
That introduction would have been much more impressive if you weren't holding that giant piece of candy. Ash thought, amused and slightly intimidated. Ridiculous or not, Princess Luna, Ruler of the Night, Moon and Stars, was almost a powerful as her older sister, if not equal.
Silence filled the air, the awkward kind. A few moments passed before Ash realized everyone had been expecting an introduction.
"Uh, I'm Ashley." Ash suddenly wished he had some sort of title. "Ashley, apprentice and potential successor of the Archmage."
In his home country and neighboring nations and even in the Dwarven mines and Elven woods, eyebrows would be raised in surprise and awe. All he got here were blank looks.
Ash sighed. So much for trying to be impressive.
"So..." Rainbow Dash appeared before him. "Wanna tell us why you fainted in the middle of the street."
"Rainbow! Can't you tell the Princesses have questions too?"
Celestia chuckled. It was a musical sound. "Actually, I have the same question. Care to explain?"
The Human turned to Twilight and Rarity. "You didn't feel it?"
"The magic that surrounds them. The aura. It was so overwhelming."
"Wait," Twilight interrupted, "you can see magic?"
"Feel. You can't?"
The two Unicorns shook their heads.
"Interesting, Twilight told me you could use magic but to be able to detect magical energy..."
"Such a thing is unheard of, dear sister. Perhaps..."
"Yes, it does seem that your theory is right. But there's one more test."
Celestia turned back to Ash. "With your permission, my sister and I will perform a quick analysation spell."
"Sure, I guess..."
Celestia nodded to her sister. Their horns glowed with an intense brightness. Ash felt himself engulfed in magic, unable to move. He felt his own magic being drawn out, his aura much darker and colorless than the ones he had seen here.
With another nod, the spell ended. Ash found himself panting in exhaustion, as if he had been performing some demanding exercise.
"It seems as if We are correct." Princess Luna grinned. "You have lost."
Her sister groaned. "That was an unfair bet. No fair."
"A deal is a deal, dear sister. No paperwork for me tonight." Luna was becoming less formal, both Ash and Twilight noted, as the Princess of the Night began to giggle.
Celestia turned to more pressing matters, namely Ash. He and the surrounding ponies gave each other confused looks.
"What was that about?" asked Rainbow.
"I mentioned in the letter that Luna had an idea that Ashley here may not be of this world. We just confirmed it."
Ash's eyes narrowed. "What do you mean, I'm not of this world?"
"Ooh, ooh, is he really a space alien? Did he really come from a different planet?"
This time Luna stepped in: "Nay, he is may as well be from a different Universe."
"Different universe?" Twilight was confused. "I don't follow."
"Are you saying I'm in a different universe?" Ash asked suddenly. "Are you suggesting inter-Universe travel?"
"It appears so, yes."
"But such feats are only theoretical. To move an object permanently from one world to another requires endless energy."
"You seem quite versed in this subject," Celestia said with a smile. "And you've been here far too long to be brought here by something less powerful than true inter-Universe travel. Perhaps you should try to explain how you got here."
Ash hesitated. Any explanation he could provide would only make sense if he explained his mission. He'd have to reveal his nation's secrets, his own secrets. And he'd have to relive that final failure, the ending confrontation with the man he thought to be his best friend. But if he was truly in another Universe, he was going to need a lot of help to get back home.
"It's a long story..." Ash began the same way one would to avoid explaining how they were stuck in an embarrassing situation. Several ponies made their frustrations known through a large and hefty groan.
"...so you might want to make yourself comfortable and grab a snack. I don't plan to break after I begin."