Lyra stood there frozen for a moment. There was no mistake. That human was the same as the woman in her photo. She’d been looking at it every day since she left Equestria. That was her real mother. And she was holding a sign with Lyra’s name on it.
She felt herself start walking towards her. It was an almost subconscious motion.
“A-are you…” she started to say.
The woman stared at her, like she was hardly able to believe what she was seeing. “Lyra?”
Lyra could only nod in response. She remembered how humans greeted each other, and offered a handshake, but instead her mother put her arms around her in a tight hug.
They drew apart slowly, and then something crossed her mother’s face. “Your eyes…”
“What about them?”
“No, it’s... nothing,” she said. “It's nothing to worry about. Lyra…" She shook her head. "When your father said that he’d found you, and that he’d spoken to you, I just couldn’t believe it.”
Lyra noticed something. She looked around at all the humans surrounding them. “Where is he, though?”
“He had to pick up Chloe from her day camp, but they should both be home not long after we get back.”
“My sister.” Lyra was grinning. “I can’t wait to meet her. I’m pretty good with kids, you know. I’m so excited to meet her.”
Lyra’s mother nodded. “But until we know for sure… We don’t want to tell her who you are. Who we think you are. If there’s still a chance you’re not…”
“I understand,” Lyra said, but really she didn’t. She reached into the bag at her side, and dug out the picture frame. “Um, I’ve had this picture, and – “
“I saw that in the email… I remember this photo. It was one of the things missing from your room.”
“So that proves it, right? What else do you need?”
“Lyra, of course we believe you, but it’s been so difficult for all of us. We would have given anything to know what happened that night.”
“Yeah, same here,” Lyra said. She idly reached up and shifted the weight of her bag on her shoulder. “I wish I could tell you what had happened, but…”
“You don’t remember.”
“Do you know how you ended up with that?” Her mother indicated the picture frame Lyra was holding in front of her.
The night after her performance at the Grand Galloping Gala. Lyra had been lying awake after being told by Princess Celestia herself that her entire life had been a lie. And then Dewey, the unicorn who had adopted some creature from another world, had given her this picture and it had seemed like things could turn out alright. And now it was the very moment that Lyra had been waiting and hoping for ever since leaving Equestria.
“I… don’t remember where it came from,” she heard herself say. “I’ve had it all my life. That’s all I know.”
A frown crossed her mother’s face, and she sighed. “Well, we’d better get you home, anyway.”
“Oh, um – I need to pick up my bags. They took them before I went on the plane,” Lyra explained.
“I didn’t forget.” She noticed Lyra’s face. “Don’t look so worried. They’ll be at baggage claim,” her mother said. Her head tilted up to find the signs hanging from the ceiling. “This airport is a nightmare. We’ve had to get through it a few times. It never does get any easier.”
“You’ve been here before?” Lyra said. “This is my first time ever flying… In a plane, I mean.”
Her mother gave her a strange look, but it only lasted a moment. “Follow me. We’ll try not to get lost.”
The “baggage claim” was a large room with some kind of moving track snaking through it. Tons of suitcases were drifting along. So many of them looked the same. Lyra tried to remember what hers looked like… She hoped it was here. This entire system didn’t make sense – why even take her things away if they were going to get here at the same time she did?
She watched for a while as other humans lifted suitcases off the track and rolled them away. The crowd was slowly thinning out.
“So, uh… where have you flown to? You said you’d been here before,” Lyra said. She didn't take her eyes away from the baggage claim for more than a few seconds.
“Mostly conventions, things like that, but we’ve gone on a number of family vacations now that Chloe’s getting old enough.”
“Is it always like this? With all the security and stuff?” Lyra asked. A man stepped right in front of her to take his suitcase off the track.
“It’s gotten so much more strict than it used to be. It’s hard to believe it’s been over ten years now.” From the tone, Lyra guessed she was supposed to know what that meant, but she would have been a pony back when whatever it was had happened.
She spotted the suitcase – now she remembered what it looked like. It was coming around the bend towards her. She prepared herself to snatch it up – she’d have to be fast. The handle was pointing away from her… As it passed by her, she quickly reached down, spun it around with both hands, then closed her fingers around the handle to hoist it up and onto the ground in front of her.
“There it is. Ready?” her mother asked.
“My guitar, too,” Lyra said. She really didn’t want to lose that. She was more familiar with that case than her suitcase, so as soon as it came through…
“I heard you were a musician.”
Lyra nodded. “Yeah. Well, the guitar’s kind of new for me. I just learned it.”
Her eyes were still fixed on all the luggage that continued to drift past. The guitar case would be easy to spot with its long, irregular shape. Not to mention she'd been looking at it for weeks going to and from practice. She was going to miss that.
“Another artist in the family. You’ll fit right in.”
“I hope so,” Lyra said.
She spotted Nathan’s guitar – her guitar – and pulled it off the track. For a moment she’d been worried that it would be lost. She had everything, and she was here with her mother. She felt such a strong sense of relief.
“That's it, then. Ready to go home, Lyra?” her mother asked.
“This is… our car?” Lyra said. She walked around it, examining it. It wasn’t much different from other ones that she’d seen before. Big. Red. Not the same one from the old picture, but that had been taken years ago.
“Of course,” her mother said. She pulled open one of the back doors. “You can put your things in the back.”
Lyra slid everything across the back seat, and then got into the front seat. The right side, since humans always drove sitting on the left. She was learning. This vehicle belonged to her family… Her other parents hadn’t even owned a carriage of their own. Not that there was any need to. Unless they had to leave town, everything in pony cities was within easy walking distance.
They were in a darkened building just like the one Audrey’s mom had parked in at the other airport. The same cold grey walls, floor, and ceiling. It was weird how things were so similar here. It was almost like being in the same city. When Lyra had found out she was going hundreds of miles away, she’d expected it to feel so much different. Just thinking of how diverse all of the Equestrian towns she’d visited felt, and those were relatively close together distance-wise.
They drove around the grey building for a while, then exited into the bright sunlight. It was weird. It felt like it should be so late, but it was probably just because she'd woken up so early.
It was a bit of a drive to get from the airport back home. It went through a city that was – as impossible as it seemed – even bigger than Des Moines. The buildings were so much taller, and all different styles. One that was reflective, practically a giant mirror, was right across from another tower made of light grey stone. This was her own hometown…
That’s right. It was. She had seen this place before, nearly a year ago. In her dreams… This time Bon-Bon wasn’t going to wake her up, though, because this time she was actually here. She leaned closer to the window, bending around to see up higher.
“Did you live in Iowa? There aren’t many big cities out there, are there?”
Lyra shrugged. “Well, I didn’t live there… I mean, I don’t remember where I lived, exactly. I… think it was a smaller town, though.” True enough – Philadelphia would have made Manehattan look like a backwater village, let alone Ponyville.
She read the names of buildings, shops, and restaurants as they drove past. What she at first assumed was just déjà vu turned out to be more than just a weird feeling. Some of these hotels really did have the same names as ones around the Des Moines area. Like they'd just been lifted out of one city and replanted here.
They drove through the city for a while before the tall buildings started to thin out. They crossed a bridge over a wide, brownish river, drove alongside it for a while, and then turned into a neighborhood amidst some trees. The forest got thicker as they continued on, with houses becoming farther and farther apart. Eventually it was just a forest and hardly a village at all.
And then there it was.
Lyra had seen this house plenty of times, but only in that photograph. Suddenly it was right in front of her.
As soon as the car stopped, she clicked out of her seatbelt and opened the door. She stepped out onto the pavement and just stood there.
Not much had changed in those fifteen years. She’d still recognized it, after all. It was so big, though – two stories, fairly wide, and the driveway had been longer than she realized. The picture also hadn’t shown her all the trees surrounding the house.
“We’re home, Lyra,” she heard her mother say.
This house – her house, Lyra realized – was nice. Really nice.
She entered into a hall with stairs on one side. There was a balcony going across, and she could see a doorway into another room upstairs. Directly in front of her she could see through to the living room. Light was pouring in through the large windows, filtered through the leaves of the woods outside. Already she could tell it was maybe twice the size of where Audrey lived.
As she headed further inside, she noticed a painting on the wall. A large red dragon, sitting on top of a mountain of treasure. She’d never seen one up close, or in its cave, but it looked about right from what she’d heard from other ponies. And the details were accurate enough – though dragons had a huge variety of body shapes and sizes. In the corner, there was a name – Selena M.
“That’s one of my early ones.” Lyra’s mother had noticed she was examining it.
“You painted this?” Lyra said, pointing at it. She turned back to look closer. “How did you know what a dragon looked like?”
“I based it off of Tolkien. Have you read The Hobbit?”
“No… I don’t know that one.” Lyra shook her head. Probably a human book. “I heard you were an artist.”
“Your father and I do share a love of fantasy. It’s how we met, actually, all those years ago,” her mother said. “I’ve been doing the covers for his books, ever since Voice in the Dark. That was the first.”
“I was reading it…” Lyra said. She remembered what the cover had been. “So, um… I remember the picture on that one. I was wondering about that. Have you ever… ridden on the back of a pony?”
Her mother laughed, a light sound. “I’ve done some horseback riding. It was a long time ago.”
Lyra nodded. She wasn’t sure what to say to that.
“Why do you ask? Do you do any riding?”
“N-no. Of course not,” Lyra said. “It’s just… well… never mind.”
She hurriedly moved past the painting and into the next room.
The living room was spacious like the hall had been, the feeling of openness enhanced by the large windows on the back wall. There was a cobblestone fireplace, and Lyra was a bit shocked to see a sword mounted over it. She was about to ask about it, but she noticed something on the coffee table in front of the sofa that was even stranger.
“What are these?” Lyra said, reaching out tentatively to pick up one of the small figures, but stopping short of it.
“Those are your sis – They’re Chloe’s.”
“Oh… They are?” Lyra’s voice shook.
She’d thought they were just small figures of horses at first. White horses, with a certain gracefulness like Princess Celestia, while still not looking quite like Equestrian ponies. They weren't as stocky. The faces were different. But she’d noticed the horns.
“You know how little girls are. Just about everyone goes through a unicorn phase at least for a little while,” her mother said. She laughed. “Maybe I never outgrew mine.”
“Um… right.” Lyra grinned nervously. “I… I guess you could say I'm done with unicorns, though… And magic.”
Her mother simply nodded. “Lyra... We really did miss out on so much time together. We never knew you when you were that age…” The smile had vanished from her face.
When Lyra had been that age, she’d actually been a unicorn, learning magic, and discovering humans for the very first time. Just how different were these two places? She was standing here with a human talking about how dragons and unicorns were just stories made up to entertain children. It was almost like talking to Twilight, but reversed.
“After we lost you… Well, neither of us wanted to go through that again. But we knew we still wanted a child…”
"I don't think what happened to me was normal."
"You're probably right about that."
They both heard the front door swing open, and footsteps quickly running through the entry hall. Then a small human girl ran into the living room… and stopped as soon as she saw Lyra. They both stared at each other, not saying anything.
“Who are you?”
“Um… I’m – “ Lyra couldn't find her words.
“Chloe, we told you we’d be having a visitor, didn’t we?” Lyra’s mother said.
A man followed the girl from the hall. He was tall, with a small beard the same silvery-grey as his hair neatly trimmed framing his mouth. He noticed Lyra immediately.
Lyra nodded. She wasn’t sure what to say. Although she’d never met any of these humans before – and they were humans, that was still the strangest part – something about them felt so familiar. Welcoming.
“Chloe…” The man found his voice again. “This is Lyra. She’s going to be staying with us for a while.”
“Why is her hair like that?”
Lyra had to admit that she was wondering the same thing. Both her mother and her sister had dark brown hair. “I-it’s because… I like this color, so I dye it.” She flashed a nervous smile. In the back of her mind, she considered maybe learning how to use hair dye and changing it back to its original color.
“Chloe, why don’t you go upstairs for a while?” her father said, bending down slightly and putting a hand on her shoulder.
Chloe nodded, gave a final glance towards Lyra, then headed for the stairs.
Lyra turned her head at the sound of footsteps heading up the stairs. They faded away. She looked back at her father, back to her mother. The faces were the same as her photograph. The first real human faces she had ever seen. Finally, her father spoke up. “Did your flight go well?”
She scratched the back of her head. “It was okay.”
He looked over at the sofa behind her, and motioned to it. “Please, sit down. Make yourself comfortable.”
She did as he said. She was feeling tired even though she’d been sitting for hours on the airplanes. That had hardly been what you’d call relaxing, though, with all the noise and being shot up thousands of feet into the air.
“It’s been so many years…” her father said. He crossed the room and took a seat next to her. "We thought we'd never know what happened to you."
With any luck, they never would. She gave another glance towards Chloe’s unicorn toys sitting on the table. “I’d kind of like to know what happened, too… It's like I told you on the phone. Before I stayed with Audrey’s family, I can’t remember anything.”
“How did you find us?”
“I had a… friend. Randall. I played in a band with him,” Lyra said. “I showed him the picture of you, and he recognized you. From the books. And then Audrey used her computer and found some news article…”
Her father nodded. “We’re not going to talk to any media this time. When you went missing, they just made everything more difficult.”
“We’re just glad you’re home now,” her mother said, putting an arm around her.
Lyra smiled. “I am, too.” Then, “One thing…”
“I haven’t eaten all day. Do you have anything I could have for lunch?”
Her parents had acted surprised when she told them she was a vegetarian. Lyra was having trouble deciding what she could eat, so she just grabbed an apple from a basket of fruit in the kitchen. She hadn’t had one in a while. Probably not since they’d finished off the giant bag that Bon-Bon had been forced into buying.
They'd talked over lunch. The awkwardness never seemed to completely go away, although it took mere minutes for everybody to open up. She'd told them all about Des Moines. It was all she wanted to tell them about. She turned the questions onto them. She definitely had enough.
"That sword above the fireplace..." she said.
"That's an interesting story..." It brought a small smile to his face. "It's a gift from a fan. I have dozens of stories I could tell... I have been writing for a long time, now. Since before you were even born."
"It's a weapon, though..."
"The blade is dulled. The guy who gave me that actually owns a metal forge, and wanted to recreate Errian's blade for me. I met him at a convention."
Lyra nodded. "I was reading your book. You really seem interested in... magic. I don't really get that."
"Those are the things that draw people to fantasy. Everyone wants to escape sometimes, to a world more interesting than their own. I think that's what helped us." He looked across the table at his wife, then back to Lyra.
She stared at the apple and noted the way it seemed to fit perfectly into one hand. "Maybe you're right about that."
After that, she’d been shown where her room was. The same one that she’d slept in as an infant, according to her parents. It was refurnished since then, and they didn’t use it very often.
Her father set down her suitcase by the door. “Do you need any help unpacking?”
She shook her head. “I’ll be alright. I don’t have much.”
“I’ll let you get settled in, then, Lyra.” He gave a final glance, then turned and walked out.
Lyra wasn’t really sure what she had expected. It was just a room, after all.
It was simply furnished, with a bed and a dresser and a nightstand, all dark polished wood. Nothing too fancy, though it was nice. Her window overlooked the back yard, which was mostly just forest. Thinking of her guest room at Audrey’s house, and how she’d gotten used to falling asleep with the occasional sounds of a passing car or a siren, this would be more like Equestria than ever.
Fifteen years ago - well, at this point, almost sixteen – she had been right here, when something had opened up and dropped her in the middle of Canterlot. A human child, the first to be seen in Equestria for over a thousand years. Kind of significant, even though she’d ended up just being a single face in the crowd in Ponyville.
But suppose that hadn’t happened. Suppose she’d stayed here. Grown up with her human parents, attended school – she’d probably still be attending school now, actually – and lived out her whole life as a human in Philadelphia.
She probably would have ended up like the rest of her family. Fascinated by magic, and dragons, and… unicorns. Completely ignorant of how great this world was by comparison. Most of the unicorns Lyra knew weren’t very interesting, anyway. She’d had a few friends in Equestria… Not like here, though. Even if she’d left behind her human friends in Des Moines, she could meet more here in Philadelphia easily enough.
Lyra knelt down in front of the dresser and started transferring her outfits out of the suitcase and into the drawers. Once she was done with that, she leaned the guitar up in the corner of the room. Her smaller bag was still on the bed. She took out the photograph and set it up on the dresser. After considering it for a moment, she took out her lyre and laid it next to it.
Once everything was unpacked, Lyra stretched out on her bed, hands behind her head, and stared up at the ceiling.
Here she was. This was her house. She was back.
Her dad wrote books about magic… and war. Her mother was an artist who painted pictures that looked almost like Equestria. And her little sister was apparently obsessed with unicorns.
Today really had been exhausting. She didn’t even notice when she fell asleep.
The human doctor was shining a bright light into one of her eyes. Lyra squinted, and started to tear up. Then he finished and turned it off.
It was only her second day here in Philadelphia. Lyra was in for her first doctor’s appointment as a human. She sat on a strangely uncomfortable yet cushioned bench. Everything was pretty much the same routine as an Equestrian doctor. The office even looked similar – other than some anatomy diagrams, which she examined with interest whenever she could. Detailed diagrams of the human body. What she would have given to see these years ago.
The doctor, a younger man with neatly combed dark hair and thin square-rimmed glasses, asked about a few vaccines for diseases she hadn't heard of. Apparently humans could catch "chicken pox." She had nearly admitted that she had already gotten the pony pox when she was a filly, but caught herself before saying anything. Just how many species' diseases humans were susceptible to was still unclear. She had gotten a few needles stuck in the soft flesh of both arms. It was even more painful than getting shots as a pony.
But she knew the real reason they brought her here. Well, kind of. She didn’t understand how they would accomplish it, but…
“You’re trying to find out if I’m really Lyra Michelakos, aren’t you?”
The doctor nodded. “We already took the samples. They’re off to the lab and it should take a couple weeks to get your results.”
He was probably talking about those swabs they'd taken from the inside of her mouth. She had no idea why they were doing that. Maybe humans used potions, like Zecora. Those could be a substitute for magic in some cases. And what else would they be doing with it?
He had gone quiet again, just scribbling some things down on his clipboard. Lyra sat on the bench, her fingers curled around the bottom edge.
“This is my real eye color,” she told him.
“Your family has a history of brown eyes.”
“Amber isn't a very common color. It’s not entirely unheard of for eye color to change in the early years after birth, although that's also very rare.”
“It’s… always been this way. As far as I know.” She looked around at everything in the room except him.
“Lyra, do you remember – “
“I’ve told you, and I’ve told Dad plenty of times. I don’t remember anything before I went to Des Moines,” Lyra said.
“Did you live there?”
“Yes. Well, kind of. I stayed with another family for a few weeks.”
He nodded, taking a few more notes. It bothered Lyra that she couldn't see what he was writing. “How did you get to the city?”
“I, um…” Lyra hesitated. “I walked there.”
“And where did you walk from?”
She sighed. “That’s as much as I know. I really can’t tell you any more.”
The doctor wrote down a few things on his clipboard. He didn’t say anything. Lyra fidgeted, and turned back to one of the diagrams on the wall. The inside of a human ear. She felt her own, how it was kind of stiff. Much less flexible than pony ears. She had never noticed a significant difference in sensitivity, just that it was harder to move it on its own.
“Have you spoken with your… ah, parents, about therapy?” He looked at her over the top of his glasses.
She turned her head to look directly at him. “I’m not crazy.”
He smiled. “Nobody's calling you crazy. We’re only concerned about your emotional state. How you’re adjusting to your new life.”
The last three words caught her attention. “What do you mean by that?”
“I don’t have very much experience with cases like yours, personally, but the adjustment when children are reunited with their lost families can be difficult. Not just for you, but for your parents as well. And your younger sister, especially.”
“Oh. I guess you’re right.”
"Do you feel like you're at home when you're with them?"
She suddenly remembered those white unicorn figures she'd seen on the table. They hadn't looked like anyone she knew, but it was too similar to be ignored. "I guess you could say that."
"It's good to hear so," he said. "Though I'll still be giving your father the number of a psychiatrist I know."
She sighed. There was just something about the way he said "your father" like he wasn't entirely convinced. She'd noticed that from her parents, as well - like they wanted to believe who she was, but had to tell it to themselves over and over and still not fully believe it.
"I just want to know about this test. When do we find out if I'm really Lyra Michelakos?" And she'd also like to understand what exactly they were doing, although just the words "paternity test" seemed to be good enough for everybody else.
"Those results should be out in about a week."
She leaned back, her back pressing against the wall mirror. Just one more week. Then they'd all have the answers.