“You sure about this, Cereal?” Phoe looked at him skeptically, “I mean, it took the others several days to learn how to walk again. Are you really up to walking all that way?”
The three of them lay on cushions in a large polymer tent, a single hurricane lantern sat on the floor in the middle of it. The fine-screened window offered a fuzzed view of the meadow outside. Hundreds of tents of all shapes, sizes and colors filled the window, each one glowing with their own lights. The meadow had been transformed into a tent city, some ponies even took it upon themselves to find materials to make signs. The “streets” were named after various ponies or places. So far, nopony had tried to come up with a numbering convention for the tents, it was only a matter of time, knowing the bronies out there.
“Yeah, dude.” Seth’s voice drew his attention back to the interior of the tent. “If we calculated correctly,we are five or six miles to the northwest of Ponyville. We won’t know for sure until the pegasus scouting parties come back.”
“I have to be the one to go, guys. I feel responsible for bringing all of us here, even if it was a joint effort,” he said resolutely.
“Phoe and I could go, we were in on the whole thing from the beginning. I’m sure any questions they have, we could answer them. We don’t need you getting hurt your second day in Equestria.” Seth chided.
“My mind is made up.” He thrust a hoof into the floor to accentuate his point, “We are practically invading Equestria! I need to be there to take responsibility. We can hope for the reception we want but frankly...it probably won’t happen. We are strangers to them and we will have a lot of explaining to do. We might look like them, but we aren’t part of their world...not yet. I have given this a lot of thought guys, they need to be eased into this whole situation. We don’t have much choice in the matter but hopefully, if we do this the right way, we just might find a home here.”
He could tell by the looks on their faces that they hadn’t thought of it that way. There was a rustle outside the tent. They could hear a few low voices approaching quickly.
“That must be the scouting party.” Seth got up and went to the tent door. A couple curses at the zipper later, he got it open. A blue pegasus entered and sat down wearily.
“Hey Cloudhopper, why so tired?” Phoe asked as Seth resumed his place. “I thought you were one of our strongest flyers. Are we that far off?”
Cloudhopper shook his head, “the portal was off by only two miles. Right now the camp is about eight miles or so from Ponyville. We would have gotten here sooner, but we kinda ran into a Cloudsdale weather unit.” He gave a sheepish grin. “Rather than sticking around for the awkward questions, we bolted. We went in opposite directions, so that we didn’t lead them over the camp. It took us awhile to regroup at one of our fall back points. I don’t think we’ve been discovered yet but I think it would be a good idea for everyone to turn out the lights. You can see the camp pretty easily from afar at the right angle.” He sort of demonstrated the angle by picking up his front hooves, putting them in front of his face and peering across them with one eye.
“That’s a good idea. Cloudhopper, Seth can you go spread the word? We should all get some sleep anyway. It’s not long til dawn and it’s gonna take us at least a few hours to get to Ponyville,” Seth opened his mouth, a belligerent cast to his expression, “ And yes, I am going with you, even if you have to drag me there in a cart.” Cereal opened the lantern and blew out the light.
Phoe sighed but didn’t pursue the matter further. Seth and Cloudhopper disappeared into the night. Cereal tried to sleep but his mind was spinning and buzzing with thoughts and worries, plans and ideas. Who should we seek out first? Twilight? Fluttershy? Any of the Mane Six? Should we try to get to Canterlot? No, that wouldn’t work. They definitely wouldn’t let a bunch of strange ponies get near the Princesses. He shifted his position on the cushion. The effects of the transformation were starting to take their toll.
It would last for only a few days but the ghost pain was getting bothersome. To his mind, he still had fingers and toes. The nerve endings that used to be there were reconfigured and some were just plain gone. Periodically he could somehow feel his fingers, as if they were heavy and numb, sometimes his toes too. He felt so exposed to everything. His light gray coat felt everything, the slightest shift in the air would send goosebumps rampaging over his skin.
Cereal shuddered as Seth came back through the door of the tent, a soft cool breeze entering with him. “You awake?” Seth whispered.
“Yeah,” he whispered back, another shiver running through him.
The yellow unicorn grabbed a blanket and threw it over his friend. “Here, this will help. After I transformed, I would get really cold at night no matter how hot it was.” Cereal could hear him moving around, probably trying to find a comfortable position.
“Seth,” he whispered.
“Do you think we are doing the right thing?”
Seth didn’t respond immediately. Finally, he sighed. “Yeah, I think we are. You said it yourself, we couldn’t stay there much longer. They would have found us. They would have seen what we did. They probably would have tried to kill us or cart us away to white labs to experiment on us. Even if the ponies here don’t want anything to do with us, at least we would be safe.”
“Even so, I’m worried about how we’ll survive here.”
Seth chuckled. “Buck up, dude. Everything will look better when the sun comes up.”
The unicorns fell silent. “No matter what happens,” Phoe whispered suddenly, “I’m happy that we’re here.”
The air in Ponyville was buzzing with talk of last night’s strange events. Lights in the sky and thunderstorms with no rain didn’t happen--ever. The pegasi were some of the most agitated. They flew back and forth from Cloudsdale and Ponyville like bees over a vandalized hive. Twilight paced in her library. The sudden surge of magic from that storm woke her so violently she couldn’t get back to sleep all night. The only thing she could equate it to was the Sonic Rainboom, even so, it was nothing like it.
A knock on the front door interrupted her speculation, “Um... Twilight,” Fluttershy’s soft voice trembled through the door.
She opened it quickly, startling the yellow pegasus. A question about Rainbow Dash’s whereabouts was stifled by the unexpected presence of three other ponies on her doorstep.
“Twilight... if you aren’t busy, uh... these ponies would like to talk to you.” Fluttershy kept throwing odd glances at the three ponies.
Twilight took a second longer look at them. One was a sort of dull yellow unicorn stallion, with a wild red mane sticking out in all directions. He kept looking around, wonder painted on his face. His gaze didn’t rest long on any one thing. Standing next to him was a tired-looking light grey unicorn stallion. He was staring at her, in obvious disbelief. The third was a white pegasus mare with a hot pink mane, she seemed perfectly normal compared to the other two. She even smiled at Twilight and waved a hoof.
“Sssure... I’m not busy. Come in.” she opened the door wider and stepped to the side.
Fluttershy looked very relieved as she entered. Twilight narrowed her eyes at the grey unicorn. He walked like a young foal, his steps unsure, even tripping over his own hooves. Her eyes slid over where his cutie mark should have been. Wait. She blinked and tried to look at it again. There was something there but she couldn’t make it out.
“Wow... it’s all here isn’t it?” the yellow unicorn peered at everything, eyes wide.
The white pegasus rolled her eyes at her companion. “Of course it’s all here. Now stay on task, we have a lot of work to do.” She smiled again at Twilight.
Fluttershy and Twilight looked at each other. She heard it too, the odd way they made their words. It was a fast almost slurring accent. “Um, my name is Twilight Sparkle,” she began, the three strange visitors gave a small giggle, making Twilight pause. “What are your names?” she finished.
The yellow unicorn spoke first, “I’m Seth!”
“I’m Phoe,” the white pegasus said simply.
The grey unicorn swallowed. “I’m... Cereal Velocity.” Of the three he spoke the strangest. There was a distinct accent there, almost like his tongue got in the way of his teeth, very much like a young foal.
“Well then... what can I help you with, Cereal?” The other two seemed to defer to him, though he didn’t say much. “I take it you aren’t from around here.”
“You could say that,” he chuckled. Cereal let out a deep breath, “look, I don’t know exactly where to start... or how much I can actually say. We are... refugees and we need your help.” he stopped talking abruptly when Spike ran into the room. All three of them almost stopped breathing when they saw him.
“Hey, Twilight!” the little dragon said excitedly, clutching a scroll, “Princess Celestia just sent you a letter, she’s on her way... Oh, hey!”
“Wait, Princess Celestia is coming?! Did she say why?” Twilight took the scroll from him, unrolling it. A gasp came from the two unicorns as she did so.
“Did you feel that?” Seth almost squealed.
“Yeah,” Cereal breathed, “it’s nothing like how I imagined it,” his face slackened into contentment, “it... it’s so much better!”
“Guys!” Phoe prodded Cereal with a hoof. “You’re weirdn’ them out.” She turned and smiled apologetically to Twilight and Fluttershy. “Sorry about my friends, we’re, um, new. To all of this.” she waved a hoof in a circle in front of her as she spoke.
Twilight cocked an eyebrow but didn’t reply. Dear Twilight, the letter said. It has come to our attention that strange events have transpired near Ponyville. Luna and I will be arriving shortly. Meet us on the outskirts of Ponyville, on the road to Midnight Castle. Bring with you the Elements and tell nopony else. Princess Celestia.
Twilight looked up from the letter. “Sorry to run, but I have some urgent business to attend to.” As soon as she finished, Cereal winced.
“That is probably because of us.” He turned to his companions. “The jig is up, they know. Now what do we do?”
Seth grimaced. “Cross our fingers?” He gave a raucous laugh.
Phoe rolled her eyes at them again. “It’s pretty simple, we confess,” she deadpanned.
“What are you talking about?” Twilight put a hoof to her head, trying to make sense out of these three was like trying to explain Pinkie Pie. They were having entire conversations in single sentences!
Cereal hunched his shoulders and ducked his head, not really meeting her eye. “We aren’t really ponies,” he said bluntly. “I can explain everything, but I would rather explain only once. Is it possible for us to talk to the Princess?”
Twilight snorted at the abrupt change in topic. “Wait a minute, you say you aren’t ponies,” she paused, fixing him with her best impression of a Princess Celestia expectant stare.
Cereal bit his lower lip. “Yes.”
“Yet you claim to know the cause of last night’s magical event,” she threw a hint of doubt in her voice.
He bowed his head and picked up a hoof, placing it over his heart. “I promise to tell you everything.”
Every bit of sense in Twilight’s head told her that this was not real. It had to be some prank. And yet, there was that little voice, that immutable advisor, telling her to trust him. She tried to look past her assumptions, in doing so, they started to take on a new light. Her eyes told her that three ponies were sitting in her library but her instincts whispered otherwise.
“Princess Celestia asked that I tell nopony of her visit,” she said.
“Then you aren’t breaking your promise,” he replied, not a trace of mockery in his voice.
“Come along then, they’ll arrive any minute now, and we still need to round up the others.” Twilight opened the door again.
Cereal and Seth shivered. “The others?” the latter of the two asked.
“Yes, she asked for all six of us. Fluttershy, can you go find Rainbow Dash?” The quiet pegasus nodded to her friend. She stopped by the three newcomers, “Uh, it was nice to meet you,” she hid part of her face in her long pink mane. Before they had a chance to respond, she lifted softly from the ground in search of the elusive blue pegasus.
Seth let loose a low whistle. “This just got real up in here, son.” he said as he passed Twilight.
She blinked. What a peculiar thing to say.
They were being escorted to their meeting. That was the only way Cereal could describe it. They may not have been trussed up in chains or locked in a wagon but he felt like a prisoner all the same. He stumbled again but Phoe threw out a wing and caught him before he could get a mouthful of dirt.
“At this rate, I’m gonna hav’ta switch sides,” she said with a grin, “Y’know, so one wing isn’t stronger than the other.”
“Maybe...” he said, trying to sort out his awkward limbs. It was getting easier to walk; he just had a hard time judging how long his legs actually were.
“Y’all keep up now,” Applejack called back to them. She gave them a good stare before turning back to her conversation with Twilight. Phoe and Seth walked faster, Cereal picked up his hooves a little more.
“What do you think is gonna happen?” Seth asked quietly.
“There’s a few options.” Phoe looked up at the sky in mock pondering. “Banishment to the moon among them...”
Seth snorted. “No really? You could be a little more original,” he mumbled.
“I’m totally serious,” she replied.
“So am I,” Seth muttered.
Cereal sighed. “We could speculate all day, but that wouldn’t change anything. What we should be doing is thinking of how to present our case.”
“Present our case? Pishh! Are we going to trial? I thought this was just a simple explanation.” He tried to make light of it. But the cast to his face, a small twitch to the eye and ears back, betrayed his worry.
This time Phoe snorted. “We’re only going to meet the Goddess of the Sun and ruler of the land we just invaded. Hey there, we just tore a hole open in time and space to say ‘hi’. So we’ll be out of your hair in a bit, oh and by the way, can we live here too?”
“That’s not what I meant, Phoe, and you know it,” Seth growled at her behind Cereal’s back.
“Hey, hey, calm down, both of you,” Cereal hissed at them. “There is nothing simple about what we did, Seth.”
“Okay, fine it was complicated. But you don’t think that the Princess will really make a decision today on what to do with us?”
“Well, first impressions count for a lot. I want to make it perfectly clear that we don’t intend to change anything about their world. I think I can say, fairly certainly, that we all just want to live our lives here. If it means we are kept separate from the rest of Equestria, or if they welcome us with open arms, either way we are at her mercy. We can appeal to that if we explain our situation.”
Phoe furrowed her brow and opened her mouth, but instead of another argument coming out, a gasp was all that escaped. Not ten feet away stood the two most beautiful creatures he had ever seen. Princess Celestia sat on a golden chariot that by itself would have been impressive. Everything about her exuded a sense of power and dominion, from the way she sat to the way she held her head. Princess Luna was no disappointment either. Though smaller in stature than her sister, she wore mystery like a cloak. Her dark beauty was like the true voice of the night, one that the stars and moon could only echo.
Cereal’s heart raced, his ears felt hot, his legs like jelly. Twilight went right to Celestia’s side, speaking with her in hushed, quick sentences. He didn’t hear a word. The mane six were gathered around the chariot, the sun glinting off of the emblems they wore of the Elements of Harmony.
Celestia finished talking to Twilight and fixed them with an imperious gaze. All three immediately bowed. “Come closer, Cereal Velocity. Twilight tells me that you know the causes of last night’s curious events.” Her voice was unlike anything his ears could compare. The weight of millennia filled her words and the soft invitation of her voice made him want to please her more than anything.
Cereal shuffled forward a few feet before bowing again and staying that way. His tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth, making it hard to speak. “Princess...” he began.
“You may rise, Cereal. I promise to hear you out, so long as you speak truthfully.” She said it lightly, but he sat up straight right away, lest he offend.
“Yes, your majesty.” He swallowed. “We are... the ones responsible for what happened.” He practically quivered from the aura of her power, this close to her. The very air was heavy with it. “We are refugees, seeking a place to call home.” He paused to take another deep, shaky breath. “We come from another world, uh, w-we throw ourselves on your mercy.”
“Mercy?” Celestia mused, “and how many is ‘we’? You and your companions?”
“You see, we discovered that if we could concentrate enough energy to--” He stopped, shook his head and looked at the Princess. “I’m sorry, highness, did you ask how many of us there are?”
She smiled. “Yes.”
She wasn’t concerned at all that they were from another world? Was it so common an occurrence that she need only know how many came? “Um... three thousand, one hundred, and forty-two.”
She blinked. “How many?”
Cereal could feel sweat rolling down the back of his neck. “Three thousand, one hundred and forty-two,” he repeated, cringing.
“HAST THOU ANY IDEA WHAT THOU HAST WROUGHT?” The explosion of the Royal Canterlot Voice startled all of them. Cereal and his friends were prostrate on the ground, trembling before it. Luna stepped forward arching her regal neck in righteous indignation. “THIS MAGIC THOU HAST MADE, IT DISRUPTS THE FLOW OF HARMONY! WHY HAST THOU DONE THIS? ANSWER, STANGER!”
“Luna!” Celestia’s reprimand split the air like lighting, cutting through the thunder of Luna’s outburst.
The two sisters locked gazes. An intense, silent debate passed between them for endless seconds. Their emotions pressed on Cereal like a physical force. Phoe whimpered weakly behind him. Seth had his hooves over his head muttering unintelligibly.
The deadlock broke, Luna bowed her head to her older sister and returned to her place on the chariot. Cereal took a deep breath as the ephemeral pressure subsided, the others behind him doing the same.
“Forgive my sister,” Celestia placed a hoof on Luna’s shoulder, “she is rightfully upset that you disrupted the peace of her night; repercussions of your actions have been felt far and wide. But I must ask you to answer her question; why have you brought so many here?” The mane six shifted about, looking at each other.
He lifted his head. “Princess, we had nowhere else to turn... and we knew of your world before we came here. We have watched the events of the last eight years here in Equestria, believing it to be a fantasy for most of that time.” He pushed himself up to his haunches, the strength returning to his voice, “We banded together, those of us who believed in this world and its ideals of harmony, love and friendship and we called ourselves Bronies and set out to make our world a better place, one that more closely resembled yours. The people of our world did not like us; we threatened what they believed to be proper for us to be engaged in. Hate rose but we continued to try to love and tolerate our differences. Two years ago, one of our gatherings was attacked by a mob bent on getting rid of us, and it was then that we realized that we could no longer stay in our world. We had the means to come here and so we gathered all that we could and crossed over.”
Celestia frowned. “I’m not sure if I understand...”
“It’s hard to explain.” He fidgeted under her gaze. “ You see, we were not ponies. We were human.”
A small gasp issued from both Celestia and Luna. “Take us to them,” Celestia commanded.
Cereal blinked. “I’m sorry...?”
Celestia stepped from the chariot and approached. With every step she took, his body trembled. He involuntarily shied from her but she held his eyes with her own, they sparkled, hard as diamonds. “Time is of the essence, Cereal Velocity. Take us to your people, and maybe we can save them.”