It was a most pleasant early summer day in Ponyville. The Pegasus weather squad had scheduled perfectly clear skies. There was not a breeze of wind, and the great Princess Celestia had seen fit not to bring out the full power of the sun quite yet. Truly, it was a perfectly temperate day in which nopony could find a way to complain about the weather, and as this was a rather usual day of no big events or consequences, the inhabitants of Ponyville went leisurely about their business with their hearts free of worry and their heads filled with sunshine and rainbows.
Just outside of Ponyville, one would find a meadow. Although it was a perfect spot to spend some free time in nature, it was eleven in the morning on a weekday, and as a rule, ponies around this time of the day were busy with work, study, or any other business that did not involve picnics, large open grasslands, or any combination thereof.
In the shade cast by a blossoming apple tree, we find two exceptions to that rule. Two young males, one a pegasus with a green coat, and the other a dark blue unicorn, sleeping soundly in rather unflattering positions, suggesting that they must have been lying there for a while. Just above the not-so-dynamic duo, a small petal decided that its destiny involved more than attracting bugs, and that it would rather see more of the world. It let go of its only hold on any stability in life and floated gently downwards. However, as there was no wind that day, the overly ambitious petal did not cover much distance, and instead landed right on top of the nostrils of one of the sleepers, who awoke with a loud sneeze.
The green stallion slowly opened his eyes, blinked a few times, and then rubbed them with as much vigor as five hours of sleep would allow. He carefully checked his surroundings and let out a soft laugh. “Dude,” he said, without looking at his friend whom he addressed so casually, ”have you been sneaking me some new kind of pot, or something?”
The dark blue stallion grumbled, annoyed as he was at this rude awakening. It had been a long night of fun, games and pretty colours, and to compensate, he had planned a long day of sleep, rest and peace. He resolved not to let his friend get in the way of his plans.
“Same 's always: plain Dutch. Lemme sleep,” he mumbled, as he turned his back on the troublemaker.
“Well, I'm still seeing all kinds of things,” replied the early bird. “Almost like we're in a cartoon, or something.”
The green pony got bored with his peculiar surroundings and turned his gaze towards his friend, hoping to continue the discussion in a more proper manner. Unsure of what he was seeing, however, he rubbed his eyes once more. Taking a closer look, his eyes widened, and a grin appeared on his face. “D-dude, is that you?” he asked, stuttering with a laugh in his throat.
“No, it's the Easter Bunny. Go away,” his dark-blue friend replied, with a remarkable sense of sarcasm for a sleeping person.
“Dude, you look like a pony,” said the green one, determined to not get the hint, as annoying his friend was one of his favourite hobbies.
“You and your ponies all the time.” The blue stallion was already wide awake by then, but a stubborn sense of pride held his eyes tightly shut. “It's a good show, alright? I'm as much of a fan as you are. But can you please get something else on your mind for three seconds?”
The green pony was having far too much fun to honour that request, so he pressed on. “No, dude, you really look like a pony. You even got the horn, and all that!” To make a stronger argument, the disturber of the peace tried to gently touch the projection on the forehead of his friend. As his coordination wasn't exactly in top shape, however, he was a little rougher than intended.
The unicorn let out a cry of pain, and sprung up in order to give the perpetrator a piece of his mind. “Hey, what do you think you are doi-” The offended party abruptly stopped his tirade as he looked at his nemesis. He recognised the slightly sleepy grin, and the eyes glowing with mischief, though they seemed somewhat larger than he remembered. He had seen those before, in rather similar circumstances. What he did not recognise, however, was the face sporting these features. He saw a big, round face with a green coat and slightly protruding snout. He looked over the rest of the body and, after extensively searching his memory banks, he finally managed to come to a conclusion and identify the creature sitting in front of him.
“Dude, you're a pony.”
“No, dude, you got that wrong. You are a pony.”
“No, I mean, really, you are a pony!” As the blue one did not think this was the right time and place for a comedy sketch, he grabbed onto the leg of his friend, and held it in front of his face. While this technique proved adequate for making a point, it had the unfortunate side-effect of holding his own hand in front of his own face. Or rather, the place where there should have been a hand.
The two let go of each other and stared at their two hooves that had replaced the hands they enjoyed having so much (they were especially fond of their thumbs and index fingers). After getting bored with that, they explored the rest of their bodies, from their mane to their tails. Despite the confusion, the green stallion looked into the blue one's eyes, and gave the one and only correct answer to their currently most pressing question:
“Dude, we're ponies.”
Complete silence fell over the two. It was that special kind of silence that lasts only two seconds and one may only observe when someone has been faced with the completely unexpected. While not a sound was heard, their faces yelled the one question that a person typically ponders during such a moment: "How would a reasonable person react to this?"
Our heroes simultaneously came to the conclusion that a reasonable person, faced with their current situation, would scream like a girl and flail their limbs in blind panic. As they fancied themselves to be reasonable persons (like most humans), they enthusiastically followed this course of action. The ritual continued for a short while, and as the solution did not magically fall out of the sky, the unicorn got fed up and tried to experiment with a different approach.
“Knock it off!” he shouted, and swung his fist (or actually his hoof, but he was not quite comfortable enough with the idea to think of it like that) at the face of his fellow screamer. As the two collided with a sickening noise, there was silence once more. The technique had proven most successful as the hitter had managed to get rid of excess stress and aggression, allowing his nerves to calm down and the hittee had become too preoccupied with a fresh headache to care about whatever it was that had gotten on his nerves in the first place.
“Thanks, dude. I needed that,” said the victim as he rubbed his sore cheek.
“Yeah, so did I. Now, what the heck is going on here?”
The pegasus shrugged. “Well, we're ponies.”
“Thank you, Captain Obvious! And while you're at it, why don't you point out that we are sitting under a tree, on top of grass, and that we are breathing air produced by said flora?” the dark-blue pony seethed.
“Sheesh! Easy on the sarcasm, dude. I'm just as confused as you are! There's no need to take it out on me.”
The blue stallion let out a sigh and lowered his head. “You're right, I'm sorry. But this is just too weird. What are we supposed to-”
“Hi!” a high-pitched voice sounded.
The blue stallion turned around to face the source of this new voice that saw fit to form such a cheerful greeting. He was expecting to see a whole face, but all he saw were two huge, blue eyes staring into his. He instinctively backed away, but the eyes immediately closed the distance, robbing him of a chance to properly see his new conversational partner. The voice spoke again.
“I'm Pinkie Pie. I heard screaming, so I thought there was something fun going on so I came running, and now I found you two! Are you new to Ponyville? You must be new to Ponyville 'cause I never saw you two before and I know every pony in Ponyville. What are your names? Where are you from? Are you going to stay here forever?”
The voice spoke an awful lot. The dark-blue stallion tried to answer the barrage of questions to the best of his abilities.
“Erm, yeah, we, erm....”
He wasn't a particularly smooth talker. As he was struggling for words, he suddenly found himself struggling to keep his balance as well, as his green friend shoved him out of the way and started talking himself.
“Good day, fair lady,” he said with a most charming smile. “Please forgive my friend; I believe you trapped his tongue with those mesmerising eyes of yours. Allow us to introduce ourselves: my name is Lucky Chance, or just Chance for short, and this is Midnight Watch, or just Midnight. We are travellers on a never-ending search for wealth and opportunity. It is quite likely that we will make Ponyville our home for the time being, so I do hope that we will be getting along well.”
Pinkie Pie gave Chance a puzzled look, and then giggled. “You're a funny one, aren't you? But you still haven't told me where you came from.”
Chance had to think about that one, but realised that thinking too long would probably damage his chances of a positive first impression.
“East,” he said, pointing with his left hoof in a random direction.
“Far, far east,” said Midnight, who felt that he should at least attempt to back up his friend, and pointed in the same direction.
Pinkie looked with a raised eyebrow in the direction they were pointing. “You're pointing north-west,” she noted.
“Yes, indeed,” said Chance, showing a few cracks in his calm face. “And north-west from here, you will find a place known as Faarfaareast.” Knowing that this was a terrible bluff, he instinctively made a throwing motion with his right hoof, hoping that the imaginary die would show mercy.
Luckily, they were dealing with a scatter-brain.
“Oooooh, I never heard of that place before. It must be really far. Could you tell me more about it? Do you want me to show you around Ponyville? I'll be walking around the town anyway, as Mr. and Ms. Cake are working on something really difficult, so they asked me to patrol the city to make sure nothing would happen that could distract them,” she rambled, jumping up and down with her notorious energy.
Letting out an unnoticeable sigh of relief, Chance answered with as much tiredness as he could fit into his usual speech pattern. “It would be an honour, and we shall gladly take you up on that offer at a later date, but we have travelled all night long, and we were hoping for some peace and quiet to recover from the journey,” Chance said, as Midnight, dutifully fulfilling his current role as second fiddle, showed off a mighty yawn.
Pinkie's eyes grew larger, and then gave them a knowing look. “Oh, you're one of those kind of ponies. Don't worry! Pinkie Pie will no longer disturb you! See you around Ponyville!”
And with those words, she bounced away. Midnight and Chance sighed with relief, having bought more time to think about their current predicament without distractions.
“Dude, I didn't know you were into that sort of thing,” said Midnight once Pinkie left their sight.
“What sort of thing?”
“You were flirting with Pinkie Pie, a pony.”
“I wasn't flirting!”
“'Fair lady'? 'Mesmerising eyes'?”
“Okay, maybe a little. I sort of panicked and shifted into Remus-mode.”
"Remus-mode?" Midnight repeated with a raised eyebrow.
"Yeah, you know, Remus d'Aliante, my D&D bard, who'd go on epic adventures to kill monsters and take their stuff."
"Yes, I know. And I also know he's a womaniser."
"Is not! He just isn't above petty flattery to put people in a good mood."
"Yes, and that is called flirting in day-to-day life."
“Look, no need to knock the method. The result is that I managed to get rid of her without making us look suspicious,” Chance continued.
“Now that I think about it, did we even want to get rid of her? Maybe she knew something!” exclaimed Midnight, still rather sour over the fact that his usually socially challenged friend had just completely blown him out of the water in a conversation with a female.
“It's Pinkie Pie. She doesn't know anything.”
“Point. Now from which hole did you pull those ridiculous names?”
“Dude, I'm a nerd. I daydream crazy scenarios like this almost daily. I got scenarios for zombie invasions, Ragnarok or if you get turned into a vampire! Of course I got a scenario for what if we turned into ponies, and it involves us using those names so we wouldn't stand out too much.”
One might think that this is rather typical nerd-talk, as nerds gather round and compare who is the biggest nerd in much the same way middle-aged men compare how big that fish that they caught-and-released last week was. In this case, however, the claim was quite accurate. The vampire-scenario, for example, would have Chance taking a bit of skin from his friend and exposing it to sunlight. If it burns to ashes, he would try his best to keep Midnight's bloodlust under control so his friend could live a fulfilling unlife. However, if the skin sample suddenly started to sparkle, Chance would kill Midnight using whatever means necessary, chop the body into pieces, and burn each piece individually in different locations. He knew his friend would have wanted it that way.
Midnight's eyes glowed with hope. “Are you saying that you actually have a plan for a thing like this?”
Chance looked away guiltily. “Well, the scenario I had in mind was a bit different. For starters, we would appear with a big explosion inside the local library, where Twilight Sparkle would apologise for messing up some sort of spell, and take full responsibility for getting us back home. While she worked on that, we'd pretty much have a bit of a vacation, and once she found a way to get us back, we'd share all sorts of information on this universe's canon with our fellow fans on the internet, and live the rest of our lives as geek gods.”
Midnight gave his friend a disdainful look. “Well, that sure is a lot easier than what we are dealing with now, eh?”
“I know! It was just a daydream, alright? But the core of the plan still stands: we need an expert on anything magical, and I'd say the local prodigy is our best bet.”
Midnight gave this plan some thought. “You think she'll believe us?”
“Well, she always seemed the reasonable and not particularly distrusting type to me. Assuming that we'd be able to catch her alone, and explain truthfully what our problem is without acting like complete jackasses, then she'd at least understand that we need help.”
“Then I sure hope that help won't involve straitjackets, but I guess it's as good a plan as any. Let's go.”
Midnight stood up and tried to walk away, but rather than moving forward at the steady pace he had in mind, he fell backwards while frantically flailing his front legs in a futile effort to keep his balance.
Chance turned his face away to hide how much this event amused him. “I think we are supposed to be using four legs now,” he said, and stood up on all fours, hoping for another chance to show up his friendly rival, which failed rather spectacularly as his legs wobbled under his unfamiliar body weight, and he fell flat on his nose.
With both their prides having taken a heavy hit, they looked at each other, silently agreeing that they would never speak of this again.
“I think that we'd better practice pony-mobility before we go make complete fools out of ourselves in front of the whole town,” Chance suggested.
“Good plan,” Midnight agreed, when suddenly, some other questions popped into his mind. “Wait a second, what did Pinkie mean by 'those kind of ponies'?”
“Either she meant 'ponies that like occasional peace and quiet and need to be left alone', or we got ourselves an embarrassing misunderstanding to clear up later.”
Realising what Chance was getting at, Midnight buried his face in his hoof. “This world hates us as much as our own world does, eh?”
“Splendid.” Midnight sighed. “This is going to be a long day.”
(The author is not a native English speaker, but does have a pretty awesome proofreader)
It was lunchtime in Ponyville. All the ponies had made a good start on their activities for the day, and were now enjoying a well-deserved break from their labours. Friends and neighbours happily chatted as they exchanged stories and beverages over a light meal that was to provide the energy for the hours until dinnertime. The only ponies that couldn't rest easily were the various food vendors providing said meals, but they knew what they were in for when they signed up for the job and considered the satisfied smiles of their customers to be most rewarding, as well as the considerably good business they were doing.
Under this lively yet peaceful atmosphere, two stallions and their stiff gaits stuck out like a pair of sore thumbs, though no one realised this as they didn't know what a thumb was, nor what a sore one feels like. The way they stared at their hooves and whispered a monotonous mantra as they walked turned a few heads, but no one felt particularly obliged to interrupt their break for a pair of curious strangers, so they were carefully ignored.
Starting to feel a little more comfortable atop his four legs, Lucky Chance slowly lifted his head and looked around. He was greeted by an extraordinary scene of colourful buildings, pretty blooming flowers, and nothing but smiles on all the faces he could make out. He was reminded of his childhood, when his father had brought him and his older sister to Disneyland. They had stayed there for three days straight, yet his younger self had still refused to accept that it had been enough. Much like then, Chance felt some regret that they might be leaving so soon. “(Left, left) Dude,” he said, taking care not to lose his beat, “(right, right) are we really in such a hurry to get back home? (Left, right) Why don't we stay for a few days and enjoy the sights a little? (Right, left)”
Midnight Watch slowed to a halt. His driving teacher had discouraged him from talking while driving until he was sure that his car had become an extension of his body. Right now, his own body didn't feel much an extension of anything, so he considered it wise to apply his teacher's philosophy to basic walking. “If we had food and shelter, sure. But right now, we are both penniless and homeless, so we wouldn't last a day.”
“Right, forgot about that,” Chance replied. He tended to forget about the basic necessities of life whenever he was having fun. As he was always either working or having fun in one way or another, he constantly looked like he was starving. The fact that he actually was starving was obvious to everyone but him, but all that cared had long given up on educating him on the importance of three meals a day.
“Good! Now that we're on the same page here, I suggest that we go over the plan one more time!” Midnight continued, with a rather content look on his face as he had arrived at his favourite part.
“The plan to convince Twilight to help us!”
“Dude, I know the plan. I gave you the plan. We go to the library, tell her the truth without looking like jackasses, and hope for the best,” Chance said, a little annoyed at his friend claiming credit for the plan he came up with months ago. Mostly.
“Yes, that's the basic idea. Now, for the plan, we need a more detailed program.”
Chance sighed, rolling his eyes. “Fine, whatever. What's the master plan, Eggman?”
Midnight raised his hoof and started his lecture. “Ok, first, we need to catch Twilight alone. It will be hard enough to make her believe us, let alone any of her more distrusting friends.”
“Second, we tell her the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. There will be no holes in our story. I don't want another 'Faarfaareast' to deal with.”
“Sounds fair enough,” said Chance, while his thoughts started to wander elsewhere. He disliked it when his friend started getting all uptight over simple matters.
“Third, we need to keep in mind that these are incredibly innocent and sensitive creatures. Don't talk to them about anything that involves death, sex or Doritos.”
“Got it, and if they ask directly, we'll sugar-coat it a little.”
“Exactly! Now for the fourth and final point: there is no reason to give these ponies an existential crisis. We do not tell them that, to us, their entire lives are nothing but a cartoon.”
And you call me Captain Obvious, Chance thought. He raised his hoof above his head. "Can I ask a question?”
“Shoot,” Midnight answered, confident that there was no way Chance would be able to point out a flaw in his plan.
“What do we do if Pinkie has already told Twilight about our arrival, including our ridiculous lies, completely destroying our credibility if we were to walk up to her with an entirely different story?”
“Oh, come on. How likely is that?” Midnight snickered at this feeble attempt at criticism.
“Pretty darn likely, as the entire Mane Six is coming right for us,” answered Chance, discreetly signalling for Midnight to look behind him.
The unicorn turned around rapidly, shortly losing the balance that he'd managed to regain by his friend's helping hoof. As he looked into the distance, he could indeed see six mares of a familiar colour palette approaching while happily chattering about little in particular, as girls usually do when they go out together. “Oh, nuts! Quick! Ignore them and walk in the other direction before they-”
“Look! It's those funny foreigners from Faarfaareast I told you all about! Hiiiii, over here!” A high-pitched voice clamoured through the streets as a pink hoof rapidly waved for our heroes to come closer. Never before had they been more unhappy to see a friendly face.
“Well then, General Lee. What do we do now?” Chance asked, with a slight hint of sarcasm.
“We nod, smile, and die of a heart attack before anyone asks questions.” Midnight walked towards the group, wearing a forced grin. His recent bodily conversion hadn't done much for his ability to think on his feet, despite being granted an extra pair.
The two parties approached each other. Pinkie being Pinkie, she immediately started talking, bouncing up and down in front of her new friends.
“Oh, I am so happy to see you again! And so soon! When you said you've travelled all night, I thought you'd be resting all day, but now you're walking here, which is not resting, so you must be fully rested and I can show you around Ponyville!"
Behind her, a white unicorn softly coughed. Pinkie froze up as she remembered that she was in company.
"Oh, let me introduce you to my bestest friends. This is Twilight Sparkle, this is Rainbow Dash, this is Rarity, this is Applejack, this is Fluttershy, and I'm still me! Everyone, these are Lucky Chance and Midnight Watch!” said Pinkie, jumping towards each friend as she indicated them. Or more to the point, she appeared next to each friend she named, moving too quick for the naked eye.
Each of the mares gave the newcomers a short variation on "hello" or "welcome" as their names were prompted, and the stallions reacted in kind. Pinkie didn't leave much room for more elegant conversation, which was something both Midnight and Chance appreciated.
Suddenly, she stood in front of Midnight again. “We were just about to go out for lunch! Want to come with us? We're going to this fantabulicious place nearby! Will you? Will you?” she asked with a huge smile and big expectant eyes.
Being suddenly prompted for input, Midnight hesitantly answered. “Well, we haven't had a chance to get lunch yet,” he said. Chance's stomach growled in agreement. “Or breakfast for that matter. But I'm afraid we don't have any money on us right now.”
“That's okay! We'll split your bill among us! It'll be like a welcome party, and you'll be the guests of honour!” said Pinkie. Everyone behind her nodded in agreement, confirming that there would be no refusing.
“Well, okay, we'll come for lunch.” Midnight surrendered, hoping that there will be something with a particularly large amount of cholesterol on the menu. Everyone let out a cheer, including Chance, who was starting to get rather hungry.
Haute Cuisine stood in front of the mirror, making his hourly check-up. He was known far and wide as one hell of a waiter, and he had to make sure he was worthy of that reputation each moment of the day. Mane? Perfect. Uniform? Spotless. Face? Expressionless. Moustache? Finely trimmed. Having assured himself of his presentation, he went out to patrol on the terrace and see if his clients required his services.
To his satisfaction, he saw a group of his favourite customers approaching his café. Local celebrities, favoured by princess Celestia herself, the sort of customers that always added a touch of glamour to a place simply by being there. Though they have always insisted on being treated like common folk, Haute Cuisine saw fit to at least order an outdoor table large enough to hold six customers.
It appears that they have brought guests this time, he thought; stallions, even. A dark-blue unicorn and a green pegasus were engaged in friendly conversation with the mares. Fortunate fellows, though they do seem a little nervous, as if they were walking on stilts for the first time in front of a spoiled child's birthday party. Haute Cuisine quickly ordered a busboy to add an extra pair of haystack seats to their table, and he himself collected eight menu cards and greeted the group once they were seated.
“Bonjour, Mesdames et Messieurs. Welcome to our café on these fine day. Allow me to offer you nôtre menu,” he said, with his trademarked accent. In reality, he was born and raised in some of the worst neighbourhoods of Manehattan, but he had an image that he would stick to no matter what.
The menu cards were only a token gesture; the mares knew their selection like the backs of their hooves by now, but he didn't want to make the newcomers feel singled out. As expected, the ladies didn't even open theirs, and instead bombarded the gents with so many recommendations that the waiter wondered why he had even bothered with the cards in the first place.
As he returned with the complimentary glasses of water, the group was ready to order. A dandelion salad for Miss Sparkle, always making responsible choices. Hay fries for Miss Dash, who needed the extra energy. Strawberry shortcake for Miss Pie, who always managed to order something different each time, yet still managed to stay true to her character. Cherry pie for Miss Apple, which was a bit of a shocker, but Haute Cuisine figured that apples all day every day would wear thin eventually. Miss Rarity had daffodil crackers, as she had a figure to maintain. Miss Fluttershy had a carrot salad; she always ate like a bird and took any leftovers home for her pet rabbit.
Then he arrived at the new guests. The pegasus ordered a fruit sandwich with no grass. Barbarian, Cuisine figured. The unicorn seemed to have more refined tastes, as he ordered hay fries. Haute Cuisine always enjoyed the looks on the faces of new guests tasting their hay fries; his specially made cholesterol-free frying oil never failed to impress.
With the orders taken, he turned away to deliver them to the kitchen and tend to the needs of the other customers. He still had his ears opened for anything that might happen at the large table. Being an extraordinarily fine waiter, he had mastered the art of turning his attention to any special guests without anyone noticing, especially the guests themselves.
Moments later, he noticed that the large table had fallen silent. He looked in their direction, but it appeared that the problem was not with his service. Instead, the newcomers seemed to have had a little falling out, as the unicorn was attempting to strangle the pegasus. Truly? They were surrounded by six of the most desirable bachelorettes in town, yet they still managed to find something to fight over? Some ponies had no class. Haute Cuisine hoped that they would sort out their differences before their orders were ready; he did not know what was happening at that table, but by Celestia and Luna, he wanted no part of it.
Eventually, the troublemaking duo separated themselves from the main group and took a seat at one of the smaller tables. Haute Cuisine nodded in approval, and went to collect their plates.
“Just what did you do that for?” Midnight sneered. His recent physical exercise had calmed him down a little, but he still wasn't particularly pleased about what had just occurred.
“'The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth'. That was the plan, right?” Chance replied, still rubbing his throat.
“Yes, but not here! Not now!” Midnight countered.
“Oh, come on, dude! You wanted us to keep digging ourselves deeper? I prefer cremation over a burial, thank you very much.”
“Well, I'll be perfectly willing to fulfil your wish if it turns out that they don't believe us! How are we going to pay for food if they don't help us?”
Chance waved away his friend's worries. “Don't worry, dude, we'll figure something out later.”
“May I humbly suggest that you figure something out right now, Messieurs?” said the waiter as he placed their plates in front of them. He hadn't changed expression since they had arrived at the café, but he still managed to give our heroes a menacing glare.
After a short period of awkward silence, Chance shyly lifted his hoof. “I'm an experienced dishwasher?”
“They're lying, I tell ya!” Applejack exclaimed, slamming her hoof upon the table.
“Applejack! You don't know that yet!” Twilight responded.
“Darn tootin', Ah do! Beings from another world? That's crazy talk!” Applejack made a tapping gesture to the side of her head.
“Yeah! It's ridiculous! Not even Daring Do bothers with aliens!” Rainbow Dash said.
“They were terribly awkward, though," said Rarity in her usual refined manner. "Did you see how they sat down? Like they've never seen a haystack before. I don't think I'm particularly gullible, but it would explain a lot. Either they are telling the truth, or they were raised by rabbits.”
“Let's just look at the evidence first, okay? Pinkie, you were the first that saw them. How did that meeting go?” Twilight asked.
“Well, I was out patrolling, and then I heard screams. I thought some fillies were having a screaming match, so I ran to join in, but instead of fillies, I found two new ponies! So I went to say hi, and I did! First to Midnight, but he didn't really talk a lot, but he seemed nice enough. Then Chance started talking, saying something about the weather and my eyes, not sure any more but it was pretty funny. They told me they were travelling ponies looking for jobs or something, and that they were staying here and wanted to be my friend! Then I asked 'Where are you from?' and he said 'Faarfaareast, which is north-west from here'! Then they said they were really tired, so I left them alone. The end!”
“Well, that probably wasn't true. When Pinkie told me, I checked the great Atlas of Equestria, and there was no such place. Though, in retrospect, I feel rather silly for actually checking up on such a name,” Twilight admitted.
“See? Nothing but lies!” Applejack folded her forelegs and aimed her nose at the sky. For her, the discussion was over.
Twilight did not take this close-mindedness kindly and looked Applejack straight in the eye. “Yes, and they owned up to them. They said they only woke up looking like that this morning. Maybe Pinkie scared them.”
Rarity gave this some thought while taking a sip from her water. “I'd like to say that makes a lot of sense. Pinkie can be a little... much, especially if you've never even seen a pony before. No offence, Pinkie,” she said, giving Pinkie an awkward look.
“Sorry, you say something?” Pinkie was back on her cake.
“Well, that still doesn't change the fact that their new story is crazy!" Rainbow Dash shouted from two metres off the ground. "What proof do they have for that? Fluttershy, help me out here!”
“Oh? Ehm, well, I don't know, really. There is something weird about them, though,” Fluttershy softly answered.
Rainbow flew closer to Fluttershy. “Like what?”
“Well, it's probably nothing. Just forget I said anything.”
“Fluttershy," said Twilight, "your opinion is important to us. Just tell us what it is.”
“Oh, okay. Well, I'm sure you all noticed it as well, but, well, you know...”
“No, we don't! Spit it out!” Rainbow shouted, staring into Fluttershy's eyes.
“They don't have any cutie marks!” shouted Fluttershy with flailing limbs, cracking under the pressure.
As if Fluttershy was the mighty Simon himself, and she had just given the order, all five of the other debaters turned their heads towards the strangers, who were currently pretending not to be carefully observing the discussion.
“What's it look like to you, dude?” Chance nervously tapped his hoof on the table.
“Pretty heated, from the looks of it. I guess that's good. That means we managed to get at least a few on our side. But whichever side doesn't believe us seems to have a pretty strong opinion,” answered Midnight, who had been observing the large table from the corner of his eye.
“Works for me!" Chance relaxed and leaned backwards, but quickly bounced back to the table as he had forgotten that their seats did not have leanings. "If even only one or two help us, at least we won't die in the streets, and we can try to find a way home!”
“Yeah, seems we might get lucky after all. Oh, nuts, they're looking this way!” Midnight whispered, as he quickly turned his head the other way. “Are they still looking? What are they looking at?”
Twilight's voice answered Midnight's question from the table. “Hey, you two! Do you two not have cutie marks?”
Midnight and Chance immediately checked. Up to now, they had been a little preoccupied with this and that, so they hadn't thought about details such as cutie marks yet. Unfortunately, they didn't find anything on their flanks.
“I guess not!” Chance answered Twilight, who went back to the discussion. Midnight and Chance looked at each other as they tried to think about the implications of this current discovery. Eventually, Midnight came up with a plausible explanation:
“Dude, we suck.”
“Well, that sure speaks in their favour. Normal stallions of their size and age should have cutie marks,” Twilight concluded.
“They just dyed over it!” Applejack stood up from her seat to strengthen her point.
“Applejack, darling." Rarity took a sip from her water. "I think you are really overestimating the work ethic of common frauds. Do you have any idea how hard it is to dye over a cutie mark? I've heard plenty of stories from ponies with embarrassing marks trying to camouflage them. Eventually, they give up and come to my store to hide it with a dress instead. Even if those two know of a method that I don't, they must have gone through some serious trouble for it. For what goal would they go that far?”
“To support their stupid story, of course!” said Rainbow, gesturing wildly.
“Their story is so stupid, it must be true!” Pinkie suddenly said after finishing her cake. Everyone turned their heads as they tried to figure out what she meant. “It's easy! If they were liars, they would want us to believe them, so they'd make up a good story, but they didn't make up a good story, so it must be true!”
Twilight groaned and buried her face in her hoof. “Yes, very good point, Pinkie.” She didn't like it when things Pinkie said that didn't make sense somehow made sense.
“Oh, come on! You can't just brush it off like that!” said Rainbow, throwing her hooves up in the air.
“They're lying and need ta be bucked outta town! Simple as that!” Applejack slammed the table with enough force to send her empty glass flying.
“Yeah! That's what you sciencey types are always saying, right? Simple answer is the best answer!” Rainbow said, defiantly folding her forelegs.
Rarity was starting to get a little annoyed at the stubbornness of her table-mates. “Then please, do explain to us, in what way is their being conponies with an elaborate master plan from which they could impossibly profit, involving dyeing over their cutie marks with unknown methods, showing up with no money or luggage, and telling unbelievable stories like that any simpler than the idea that they are telling the truth and asking for help?”
Neither Rainbow nor Applejack could argue with that, and silently sat down.
“Then it's settled," Twilight happily concluded. "They are at the very least telling some of the truth and we should help them. Let's go tell them.” Twilight waved at the defendants awaiting their judgement.
“We've decided that you are probably telling some of the truth, and that we should help you,” Twilight proudly declared.
She didn't even finish half that sentence before both did a hoof-pump exclaiming “YES!"
“So, what happens now?” Chance asked once he remembered that their main problem had not been solved yet.
Twilight smiled a little guiltily. “I have no idea. I've never actually heard of a case like this before, and I've read pretty much all the books on magical history in the entire magic library of Canterlot.”
The two stallions hung their heads in disappointment. The trip home would not be as easy as they had hoped.
“But don't worry!" Twilight quickly added. "I'll try to find a way to get you home. I'm sure that my teacher, the great Princess Celestia, will be able to help you.” She smirked proudly as she mentioned Celestia's name. Being the personal student of the Princess has its perks.
The strangers sprung up. “You'd contact the Princess for us?” they asked simultaneously, with huge eyes.
“Of course! It must be awful for you, being stranded on a strange world of which you don't know the first thing about. So I'll do whatever I can to help you. She will probably not be able to respond right away, but in a few days, she'll wisp you right back home!” said Twilight confidently.
Midnight sighed with relief. “Well, thank you very much. But what do we do in the meantime? We're kind of homeless here.”
“That's okay, you can stay with me and my assistant in the library. It might get a little crowded with the four of us, but we'll manage, right?”
Applejack didn't like where this was going. These two strange stallions were about to move in with one of her best friends. Who knows what they might be plotting? she thought. But then, she got an idea of her own.
“Twilight, let me help yah out there! Mah family and Ah have a room ta spare. If you'll take one of 'em, Ah'll be happy to welcome the other as mah guest,” she said, walking up to her friend.
“My, Applejack, really? You were so opposed just now!” said Twilight, eyes wide with pleasant surprise.
“Ah changed mah mind. So, who's coming with me?” Applejack said, turning her head towards the newcomers.
As Chance heard this, he sat up, hid his front-right hoof behind his back, and faced Midnight. “Even, I go with Applejack. Odds, I go with Twilight. Agreed?”
“Agreed,” said Midnight, as he also hid his hoof behind his back. They counted to three, threw their hooves forward, looked at the result, and then smacked their respective limbs against their foreheads.
Twilight looked upon this ritual with curiosity. “What are you doing?”
The stallions answered simultaneously, “Making complete fools out of ourselves.”
Rainbow used the confusion to share a few whispered words with her former ally. “Really? You too, Applejack?”
“Of course not! Whatever their plan is, they probably have ta do it together. We may not be able ta stop 'em from staying, but we can gently convince 'em ta sell their snake oil someplace else!”
Applejack gave Rainbow a conspirational look, to which Rainbow reacted with an impish grin as she got the hint.
(The author is very sorry for this chapter, and will make it up to you with the third. Or the fourth. Anyhow, soon enough)
As two hooves were technically even, it was decided that Lucky Chance would stay with Applejack for the time being. As they were walking over the terrain of Sweet Apple Acres towards the farmhouse, his eyes grew wider with each step he took. He had seen Sweet Apple Acres before on television, but despite the best efforts of greeting card companies, humanity had not found a way to properly fit such an enormous scale on a flat surface. Much like a picture of Mount Everest could never aspire to do the real thing justice, seeing this waving sea of apple trees from the leisurely comfort of your couch was nothing like actually walking there and smelling the impossible combination of blossom and ripened apples. A city boy by birth, Chance enjoyed every second of this new experience.
“What're yah slowing down for?” Applejack asked, slightly irritated.
Chance answered without looking at her. “Just admiring your beautiful orchard.”
Applejack's chest swelled with pride. She still didn't trust this stranger, and was determined to take everything he said with a grain of salt. However, even she couldn't possibly keep her emotions under control after hearing such a compliment on her life's work. “Well, we didn't steal our reputation. There's a good reason why we get to ship our goods all over Equestria,” she bragged.
“Keeping this place running must be an awful lot of work.”
“Oh, it sure is.” Applejack quietly laughed to herself as they approached the farmhouse.
“So, what do I tell your family?” Chance asked.
“Just play along with what I say, and make something up when they ask questions. You're good at that, aren't yah?” said Applejack.
Chance didn't protest as they entered the house. He wasn't particularly proud of the fact, but years of not doing homework had provided him with an uncanny ability to generate excuses on the spot.
The two ponies entered the living room, where they found a large, red-coated stallion reading a newspaper, and an elderly lady with striking horn-rimmed reading glasses that reminded Chance of a particularly garish butterfly, working on what appeared to be a crossword puzzle.
“Afternoon everypony! Ah brought a guest today!" Applejack announced. "This here is Lucky Chance. He came to Ponyville under weird circumstances, and he'll be staying with us for a while.” Chance, who as a child usually had to argue for hours with his mother to let a friend sleep over, was a little shocked by the ease at which she just made such a matter-of-fact statement out of his arrival.
The big stallion looked up from his newspaper and walked up to Chance, offering his hoof in a friendly gesture.
“This is mah brother, Big Macintosh,” said Applejack.
“Pleased to make your acquaintance,” said Chance in response to this introduction, while awkwardly shaking the huge hoof in front of him.
“Eeyup,” Macintosh agreed with a nod and smile, and then returned to his newspaper.
“Granny, did yah hear what I just said?”
Granny, who up to that point hadn't moved yet, looked up from her puzzle and took off her glasses. “Eh? Oh, welcome back, Applejack. Did yah have fun with your friends? Who's this lad?”
“This here is Lucky Chance. He'll be staying with us for a while.”
“Making a fuss? Well, tell him to do that outside!”
“No, Granny. Not making a fuss. He's staying! With! Us!"
“Ooooh, why didn't you say so? Hullo, boy, I'm Granny Smith. We don't entertain guests often, but you probably won't get bored much,” Granny said, weakly shaking Chance's hoof.
“Thank you very much, ma'am. I'm sure it won't be a problem,” Chance replied in full honesty, charmed as he was by this warm welcome.
“Oh, it sure won't," Applejack cut in, "'cause he'll be earning his keep, won't yah, Chance?”
“Wait, what?" Chance was surprised at the way she phrased that. He had, of course, intended to make himself useful while waiting for Midnight Watch and Twilight Sparkle to sort out his current mess, but he hadn't expected Applejack to make such a formal transaction out of it.
But then he remembered what she had said about playing along. "I mean, yes, yes I will.”
“Oh, good. A few days of honest farm work, that's what makes stallions out of colts," said Granny with an approving nod. "Why don't yah show our guest his room? After that, yah can get back to work.”
“Will do, Granny. C'mon now, Chance!” Applejack turned around and beckoned for him to follow her.
Chance followed Applejack upstairs, where he found a narrow hallway with doors on both sides, like you'd find in a farmhouse in an ancient Spaghetti Western. Applejack walked all the way to the end and indicated the last door. “This here will be your room. Go on and have a look.”
Chance obeyed and, after unlocking the handle, gave the door a gentle push. His bones shook as a screeching noise filled what seemed to be the entire world, as if a particularly touchy soprano singer had stubbed her toe. He'd never heard the wail of a banshee before, but now he knew exactly what it would sound like.
“That door could use a drip of oil,” he noted.
“Yah think? Ah suppose,” said Applejack while inspecting her hoof.
Chance then inspected the actual room. Granny did not lie when she said they didn't get many guests. By the light of a small window, he saw all kinds of random junk, from broken ironing boards to old flower pots that someone had bought on a whim and then stored here as soon as they had realised that it didn't match their curtains. The bed was hardly visible, and Chance wondered whether the blanket was actually grey, or if he should be using that carpet beater in the corner. “You know, you really don't have to go through all this trouble. I'm a man of few needs. I could sleep on the couch. Or the barn. Or the patio.”
“Not gonna happen. You're a proper guest, so you'll be getting a proper room, right? Now come on; we've got a lot of work to do.”
As Applejack walked back down the hall, Chance had to fight an inexplicable urge to run away as far as he could.
“So, what did you call yourself again? Hugh-noms? How do I picture such a creature?” Twilight walked alongside Midnight Watch towards the library. Her step seemed to be a little more energetic than usual, betraying her excitement over possibly learning something new about the way the universe -no, the multiverse- works. The magic of friendship had so far been a most interesting subject but, every now and then, she felt like exploring the more traditional fields of science.
“It's 'humans'. Picture a tall, naked ape that walks on two legs, and you're pretty close,” said Midnight after realising that Twilight probably wouldn't appreciate "a miserable pile of secrets" as an answer.
“Naked ape? You mean like... a bald gorilla?"
“More like a chimpanzee. And not completely bald. It's just that most of the hair that we do have is in embarrassing places, so we prefer to ignore it.”
“Oh, okay.” Having hair all over her body, Twilight didn't really understand what could be considered an embarrassing place to have hair, but she decided that she'd rather not know. “So, what do you think of Equestria? Is it very different from the human world?”
Midnight carefully considered his answer. “You know, now that I think of it, it's not that different at all,” he lied. Of course, he could think of many, many things that were different, but he'd rather not introduce Twilight to concepts like AIDS, world hunger or reality television. “I think that the main differences are the local dominant species and the fact that there is no magic.”
Twilight slowed to a halt as she heard this, and gave Midnight a shocked look as she tried to imagine a world without magic. One could hardly blame her: It was as if someone had told a young Einstein to imagine a universe in which physics somehow didn't work. Of course, to make this comparison work, one must imagine Einstein before he became aware of quantum mechanics, because otherwise, he'd know that physics doesn't make any sense in our world either.
“No magic? At all?”
“Well, it is of course impossible to prove a negative, but let's just say that those on the 'no magic' side of the fence have made a pretty compelling case,” Midnight flatly said.
Twilight still couldn't quite picture it. “But... then... how do you people live? Magic is involved in almost every aspect of life that I can think of."
“We found other ways to adjust our environment to suit our needs, usually with the aid of machines,” Midnight said, remembering his high-school philosophy course, in which his teacher explained to him what distinguishes a human from animals. Strangely enough, taking a course in philosophy had involved a lot of listening to the ideas of others, rather than doing his own thinking. The only good idea Midnight had come up with in that class was to agree with whatever the teacher said.
“We have machines as well, but those are all powered by magic.”
“Well, ours are powered by either some sort of fuel or electricity.”
Twilight gave this some thought. She'd heard the term "electricity" before, but no pony actually used it like that. “You mean lightning?” she asked, using the term she was more familiar with.
“Yeah, sort of like that. We learned how to generate lightning using magnets and copper or something. And we use that energy to power our devices.” Midnight was starting to have trouble explaining the concept of a magic-less world to Twilight, as he was neither an engineer nor a physicist. In one way or another, he used electronics every second of his life, but he'd never bothered to figure out how they'd worked. As far as he knew, all of it might as well have been magic.
Thankfully, after giving up on the physics of this strange world, Twilight decided she wanted to know more about the implications for day-to-day life. “So, what is it you do? Do you have a profession?”
“No, not really. I'm a student."
Twilight's eyes grew large, and she grinned as if she had just won the lottery. “Really? What do you study?”
Midnight proudly puffed up his chest. “Dentistry!”
“Oh,” was all Twilight had to say in response.
Subconsciously, Midnight added "disappointment" to the list of reactions he got when he told people about his course. Other items on the list included "ridicule", "complete disinterest" and "pity". “Yes, I know, it's not the most exciting way of life ever, but everyone will always need dentists. Once I get my practice going, I'll be set for life. Is there anything wrong with that?”
“No, no, of course not. Did I say anything?” Twilight answered, flustered by her own rudeness.
“You were thinking it.”
“Can you read minds?” Twilight asked hopefully.
“No, I read faces,” Midnight snapped.
“Oh, right. Hey, looks like we're here already!” Twilight laughed nervously as she walked towards the tree that did double duty as the public library. She was glad that they no longer needed to talk about this, as it seemed to be a touchy subject.
As they entered through the door, they were greeted by a voice that seemingly came out of nowhere. “Hey, Twilight! And welcome to the library, sir!”
It took Midnight a while before he found the familiar baby dragon on top of a ladder, dusting the bookshelves. Twilight didn't seem to have the same problem. “Hey Spike. Don't worry about formalities; he isn't a client. His name is Midnight Watch. He has a problem, and asked us for help,” she said. Midnight raised a hoof in a greeting gesture.
“Oh, okay. What kind of problem?” said Spike without interrupting his work.
“I'll explain it to you as well as the Princess. Take a note, Spike.”
Hearing his cue, Spike slid down the edge of his ladder and ran for the nearest parchment and quill. Once fully equipped, he gave Twilight the "go" sign, and Twilight started dictating. In a great show of penmanship, he wrote down her letter almost as quickly as she could speak, and in very nice handwriting.
Midnight was most impressed. His own notes usually suggested that somewhere in history, a rooster got ink on his legs and ran across the paper while being chased by a fox with particularly dirty paws. His mother referred to it as "doctor's handwriting", but his teachers preferred the term "illegible mess".
Once finished, Spike read what exactly he had been writing and looked up with a raised eyebrow. “That's his problem?”
Twilight smiled assuringly. “It's all right, Spike. Just send the letter.”
“Well, okay.” Spike shrugged as he walked up to the window. He thought it was a strange story, but had faith in Twilight's judgement. Besides, it wasn't the weirdest thing that had happened around her ever since he was born. In fact, it didn't even break the top five.
Only a moment after the letter was sent up in the sky by Spike's green flame, he burped, and a new letter with a fancy seal appeared.
“Well, that was fast,” Midnight noted.
“Yes, indeed. Let me read it,” said Twilight. The letter flew towards her and opened itself in front of her eyes. Her face seemed to darken a little with each word she read. Eventually, she sighed and faced Midnight. “It's not a reply. The princess must have send this letter at the same moment we send ours.”
Midnight braced himself for impact. “Okay, and what does this one say?”
“She and her sister, Luna, will be away for a month to the griffon lands, in order to celebrate five hundred years of good relations between our nations,” she summarised with some reluctance.
Midnight sat down at this news, and took a deep breath in and out. “Well, that sure messes with my schedule,” he finally said with a bitter smile.
“Will you be missing something important?”
“Not particularly, no. I had a big exam in two weeks, but I can retry it at a later date. Or next year, failing that. I'm more worried about how my family will react when they find out that I've disappeared without a trace.” Midnight didn't lose his smile, but his eyes showed that he wasn't taking this well.
“I'm sorry, but this is all I can do for you,” Twilight said, trying to make herself feel a bit better, but was interrupted by Spike suddenly coughing loudly. After a few seconds of nearly choking, he burped once more, and another letter appeared, along with about a dozen coins. Twilight immediately opened the letter and gasped.
“What? What does it say?” Midnight asked, as hope once again entered his heart.
“It says 'take care of them in my absence'!” Twilight exclaimed.
Midnight wondered what the big deal was. “Well, that's a nice sentiment, I guess.”
“Don't you get it? The princess is testing me! She wants to know if I'm capable of handling her duties, and asked me to solve your problem. Oh, I've been waiting for this chance for ages!” Twilight bounced around the room with excitement, striking Midnight speechless with this sudden display of energy.
Spike picked up the letter and gave it a quick read. “Ehm, Twilight? I don't think that's what she's saying.”
“Oh, Spike, you need to read between the lines to see it.”
“It's only one line,” Spike noted.
“Nevertheless, I'm going to take care of this. Spike, scratch all unessential entries on my schedule for this week. I'm going to buy some more quills and parchment. Be back in a minute.” Twilight galloped out of the door.
Peace made its re-entry into the library, and Midnight found his voice again. “I don't like where this is going.”
“Yeah, we're in for it now. Wanna play some checkers while we still can?”
Midnight shrugged. “Eh. Whatever.”
“Yah ever done farm work before?” Applejack asked her protégé.
Chance was right behind her, pulling a large cart filled with empty baskets. “I've harvested flowers as a kid, but I never been on an orchard before,” he answered, remembering just how much he hated tulips.
“Well, then let me give yah a quick explanation. What we do here is...”
Applejack started her summary of the Apple family business, but lost Chance somewhere along the way. His gaze wandered about, and was suddenly caught by something right in front of him. He knew he was not supposed to be staring at it, but he just couldn't help it. It was right in front of him, and beckoned him with each step they took. It swayed with a hypnotic rhythm to the left, then the right, left, right, left, right...
“Did you get all that?” Applejack suddenly asked.
“Plot! I mean, no, ma'am, sorry, ma'am!” Chance jumped up and tried very hard to look at some random point in the far distance, a little red in the face.
Applejack sighed. “Just drop the cart and do as Ah say. We're here.” They were now standing in front of one of the many trees of the orchard, and the branches on this one hung heavy with fruit. “This here's an apple tree,” she pointed out while spreading out some empty baskets around it. “Ah want you to get up there and shake down them apples.”
Chance wasn't sure how he was going to fulfil this mission. He was certainly willing, but he couldn't help but notice a distinct lack of low-hanging branches. “Erm, how am I supposed to climb up there?”
Applejack gave him a blank stare. “You're a pegasus. You can fly."
Chance turned his head for as far as he could, trying to discover the final surprise this new body had in mind for him. He had noticed his wings before, but had completely forgotten about them. Now that he was reminded of his extra limbs, a huge grin appeared on his face, showing all the teeth he had. While others might dream of telekinesis, immortality or lightning bolts from their fingertips, he was a man of simple tastes: His most coveted superpower was flight.
“Today, please.” Applejack impatiently tapped with her hind leg against the tree.
“Yeah, yeah, gimme a sec.” Chance's tongue crawled out of the corner of his mouth as his brain searched every synapse for the ones that would control his new toys. Up to now, all the muscles in his pony body were at least analogous to the ones in his human body, but this was something entirely new, though that would not be a problem. He had figured out how to wiggle his ears as a human, so he could figure out how to use his wings as a pony.
Finally, his left wing slowly unfolded. Soon after, the right wing followed its example. Chance tried three slow flaps. He could already feel himself being slightly lifted from the ground from just that. He braced himself against the ground like a sprinter for the hundred metre dash and gave a few more powerful flaps to prime himself for what he was about to do. His eyes widened. He leapt.
It was over in a flash. A horizontal bolt of green lightning hit the targeted tree right in the middle of its trunk. Around his unmoving body rained beautiful red apples, filling up the baskets.
The last thing he heard before losing consciousness was Applejack whistling a note of begrudging respect. “Not bad for a beginner, but yah might wanna use a helmet next time,” she said, as she turned to take a first-aid kit from the cart.
Twilight trotted through the busy streets of Ponyville with full saddlebags, humming a pleasant tune. The smell of fresh parchment got her in the perfect mood for her new project. She was about to learn more about life, the universe and everything and make Princess Celestia proud. She would also do those two guys a favour, of course. Thinking of her future accomplishments, she sped up her pace.
She approached her library, but as she was just about to open the door, she sighted something unusual. Ten metres from her house, there was a sign saying "R. Dash" attached to a long rope hanging from the sky. With her curiosity getting the better of her, Twilight temporarily abandoned her ambitions in order to investigate. Looking upwards towards to source of the rope, she discovered a cloud that looked surprisingly familiar.
Twilight groaned, and tugged on the rope. As expected, a high-pitched bell sounded from above, and soon enough, the face of the perpetrator revealed itself.
“Why, hello, new neighbour!" said the face while a hoof waved in a friendly gesture. "I'll stop by later with cookies, if you want!”
Twilight tried to look stern. “Rainbow Dash! Why is your house here?”
“I moved it!” Rainbow replied casually.
“Yes, I suspected as much. Why did you move it? When you showed me your house, you gave me a long list of reasons why your usual spot was the most 'totally awesome' spot in Ponyville.”
“Oh, I just felt like a change of scenery. And now that I'm closer to the library, it'll be easier for me to get my Daring Do books!”
“You've already read the entire series!”
“Well, I want to read them again. And after that, I feel like I should try writing some stories of my own! 'The Awesome Adventures of Rainbow Dash', I'll call it. And once I get to that, I'll need the library. You know, for research.”
“Right.” Twilight wasn't sure what surprised her more: her friend considering a career in creative writing, or the fact that she knew the meaning of the word "research". “And this wouldn't happen to have anything to do with my proj-, I mean, guest?” Twilight asked, despite knowing the answer.
“Guest? What guest? Oh, that guest. You're still on about that? I actually forgot,” said Rainbow as she looked at some birds in the distance.
Twilight had heard enough, and she turned around. “Yes, of course you did. Anyway, I'm a little busy, so if you don't mind, I'm going back inside.”
“Sure, no problem. I'll stop by later. Oh, by the way, how would you like it if I installed a bell connected to your house? Then, you can call me whenever you want without actually going outside. Neat, huh?”
“Yeah, sure, go ahead. Bye.” Twilight was not in the mood for pointless arguing; Rainbow wouldn't be so easily convinced with reason. She'd just sort it out later.
Besides, if she could solve this mystery soon enough, it won't matter anyway.
Midnight Watch was sunken in thought. His opponent had shown more prowess in the art of tactics than he anticipated; he had been careless, and he was being punished. His offence was feeble, his defences scattered, but not all was lost. It hadn't been the first time Midnight managed to surprise his peers and even himself and come back from behind.
Midnight made his move; part of his front line marched onwards bravely. It would serve as the bait for a most glorious trap, which should end the game there and then. Such a victory would be worth the sacrifice, and would require it.
His opponent observed this move with suspicion. Having victory handed to him on a silver platter, he was unsure what to do. Was it too good to be true? Was Midnight planning something? He looked at his considerable resources, and decided that he could risk it.
Midnight struggled to keep a straight face, as Spike moved his claw towards the stone that he had been eyeing for the past minute and took the bait. He slowly lifted the stone, and carried it over the one Midnight just moved. With a soft tap, it landed on the other side, right into Midnight's trap. Midnight was about to cheer, as a most horrible question pierced his mind: why hadn't Spike let go yet?
What followed was a massacre: Midnight had unknowingly left a gaping hole in his defences, and paid the price. Spike lifted his stone once, twice, four more times, only to come to a halt at the other end of the board. In one move, he had taken five of Midnight's pieces, and all that was left was a measly force in the corner. Midnight looked upon the scene with disbelief. He, the runner-up of the 2005 Regional Checkers Tournament, had suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of a purple lizard. A cyclone of confusion, denial and rage surged through his heart as his brain tried its best to keep itself under control. “My, I must be getting rusty. Good game,” he finally uttered. With a cool smile, he slowly extended his hoof towards the winner.
“Thanks! You did well too. I just got lucky,” said a beaming Spike, eagerly accepting the hoof.
During this exchange of pleasantries, Midnight sought a way to reclaim his lost honour, and could think of only one possibility. “Best three out of five?” he casually suggested with a bored look on his face.
But there would be no third chances now, as the front door of the library slammed open. Twilight trotted inside, as the door closed behind her. The bulges in her saddlebags indicated that her shopping trip was successful. “I'm baaaaaack,” she sang. “I'm sure you want to get started right away, don't you? Be with you in a minute.”
As she hummed a delightful song, a blackboard appeared from a closet and unfolded itself in the middle of the reading room, next to a large desk that floated down from the upper floors. The saddlebags emptied themselves out, and a whole assortment of chalk-sticks, paper, quills, ink and various other pieces of stationary filed themselves into the desk's drawers. A selection of thick books and vulnerable-looking scrolls were lifted off their shelves and stacked neatly on the floor.
As Midnight witnessed this unreal scene with an open mouth, the stool upon which he was seated moved towards the blackboard. After a short fight for his balance accompanied by cries of “Whoa, whoa, whoa,” he arrived at his destination, and heard a soft 'poof' sound under him. The stool was now standing in front of him, while he was sitting on a comfortable sofa.
Finally, Twilight seemed satisfied with her arrangements, and the room settled down. Midnight took a deep breath and lay down as the fact that he was living a classic Disney film sunk in. He knew what to expect; he had seen it so many times before on television, but now that he was right in the middle of it his brain sounded all the alarms as its logic-centre jumped to blue screen.
“Okay, then. All set up!” said a satisfied Twilight, as she sat herself on the stool. She was 'holding' a clipboard and quill with her magic. “Now, you just relax. I need to ask you a few questions, and then you'll be back home before you know it.”
“Okay. What sort of questions?” Midnight meekly asked, hoping that his life would make sense again after hearing some answers.
“Oh, right, let me first explain what I thought of while shopping.” Twilight turned around to the blackboard, and levitated a piece of chalk from her desk. The chalk started drawing a diagram. “You see, it's very simple. This is obviously a magical occurrence, so either in our world or in yours, someone must have used a spell that would have sent you here. Since you two landed in the middle of nowhere, all alone, rather than, say, inside a building in the company of a wizard, I think that you accidentally used a spell and ended up here. Does that make sense?”
“I guess,” said Midnight slowly while he tried to decipher the scribbles on the blackboard. “But I already told you that there is no magic where I am from.”
“And I find that hard to believe. In our world, only a few species have a natural feel for magic, and I'm sure your world is no different. Just because humans can't use magic naturally doesn't mean it doesn't exist.”
“Well, I suppose. So, what do you need to know?”
“Just tell me everything that you did last night.” Twilight moved closer with an expectant look on her face, with her clipboard and quill ready to strike.
“Weeeeeelllll, it's rather complicated.” Midnight rubbed his neck. 'What he did last night' was always a difficult concept to explain to someone that didn't already know what he was talking about. “Chance and I had a few friends over in our apartment.”
Twilight started to frantically take notes. “Oh, you had something to celebrate?”
“No, not really. Just our weekly game night.”
“You come together each week to play games?”
“Well, more like a game, really.”
Twilight gave this answer some thought. “A single game for an entire night?”
“Yeah, it takes quite a bit of time, but it's good fun.”
“Okay, what sort of 'game' are we talking about?”
“Erm, well, you see...” Midnight rubbed his neck again. He hated this part with a passion. He had long given up on finding a way to explain a game of make-believe for adults without instantly losing some respect. “We just throw around some dice, have a good laugh and eat pizza.”
For a moment, the only sound that was heard was the scratching quill as it wrote down that last statement. “That's an awfully vague game. Aren't there some rules to it?” Twilight inquired.
“Oh, yes, quite a lot, in fact. Like I said, it's rather complicated. But we do this every week, and nothing unusual ever happened, so I'm very sure that this isn't what we are looking for.”
“Hmm... moving on then. What happened after this game?”
“Very little. We showed our friends out, and went to bed. It was already pretty late, you see. I had college the next morning, and Chance had work.”
The scratching stopped. Twilight took another long look at her notes and sighed. Her clipboard slowly sank to the floor. “Isn't there anything else you could tell me?”
“Well, we also... burned some herbs.” Under his coat, Midnight's skin turned slightly red. Twilight's clipboard jumped back into position, as she closed in on her subject.
“Now we are getting somewhere. Tell me, what kind of herbs?” she asked, as she also brought in a big green book from the stack behind her.
“Well, it's a special kind of herb that you won't find anywhere in Equestria, I believe. If you burn it and inhale the smoke, your feelings become more intense. If you're happy, you get happier. If you are sad, you get sadder. Even colours look prettier.”
The book showed its many pages to Twilight, who put her hoof to her chin in a thoughtful gesture. “Hmmm, sounds like minor hallucinations. We have plenty of herbs that do that kind of thing on touch or ingestion, but nothing on inhaling smoke. I might consult an expert on this later, but I don't think that plants have the power to break down barriers between worlds. Is there anything else?”
“No, not that I can think of right now.”
“Okay, then just sit there and try to remember some more, while I try to work with the data I have. Give me a shout if you think of something.” Twilight stood up from her stool and headed for the blackboard without waiting for an answer. Being told what he could do to speed up the process, Midnight stayed on the sofa and racked his brain for anything that they might have done to blow a hole in reality.
Whatever it was, it was probably Chance's fault.
She had been stalking her target for nearly an hour by now. She saw it for the first time when she returned to her home territory after socialising with her peers: this creature that was walking around as if it belonged there, but was also visibly injured and tired. After careful study, the prowler concluded that she would probably walk away unharmed in the event of a confrontation. It was now that it had separated itself from any interferences. She saw her window of opportunity, took a deep breath and leaped.
Chance shook and half of the apples in his saddle-baskets fell to the ground. A big red bow with a little yellow filly attached jumped from the bushes and gave him a good scare. However, since it had called him 'mister' and started picking up the dropped apples, it was probably not hostile.
“Sorry, mister. Ah didn't mean ta scare yah,” mumbled the filly with an apple in her mouth.
“That's quite all right, miss. You must be Applebloom, am I right?” Chance asked, wanting to get the introductions over with before he accidentally broke role.
“Ah am! How did yah know?”
“Applejack told me about you. My name is Lucky Chance. I recently arrived in Ponyville and your sister offered me a place to stay while I'm looking for a home. In return, I just try to make myself useful around here,” Chance lied with a straight face. He had been preparing for this moment ever since Applejack told him to 'make something up whenever someone asks questions'.
“Oh, so yah'll be staying with us? Ah was wondering what yah were doing with our apples. Where are yah from?”
“A little mountain village called 'Faarfaareast', north-west from here.” Chance assumed that Applebloom wouldn't think too much about what he said, so he stuck with the classic.
Applebloom's eyes grew wide with wonder “Ah never heard of such a place. Yah must've come from real far!”
“Oh, you have no idea.” Chance cracked a smile as he said this. Having finished the introductions, the two continued picking up the dropped apples. “Well, thanks for the help. Your sister gave me a lot of work, so I better get going now.”
“Wait, there's...” Applebloom started, but wasn't able to finish her sentence. Instead, she looked away and nervously dug at the ground with her hoof.
Chance considered leaving her, but he had been harvesting and storing apples all afternoon in addition to ploughing fields while his head still throbbed under the heavy bandages after his first, second and third attempts at flying. He very much appreciated being handed an excuse to take a little break. “If you have any questions, go ahead. I won't bite,” he said with a smile.
Applebloom considered this offer, and wasn't sure just how rude she was about to be. Eventually, her curiosity got the better of her. “Why don't yah have a cutie mark?”
Chance's smile froze. “Ah, yes, my cutie mark,” he repeated, while mentally berating himself over forgetting something like that. “There is, in fact, a very good explanation for that.”
“Okay, what is it?”
“Erm, well, you see, it, erm...” Chance squirmed. He couldn't really tell her that it is possible to grow up without ever finding your special talent. At best, this would make her even more obsessed with getting her cutie mark. At worst, he'd be conscripted into the Cutie Mark Crusaders. Then he got an idea. “It faded!” he triumphantly said.
“Faded?” Applebloom repeated with a raised eyebrow.
“Yes, I told you that Faarfaareast is in the mountains, right? Well, it's up there real high, on the snow-covered peaks,” Chance explained, aiming his hoof at the sky. “So we are really close to the sun, and the snow reflects all the light as well. You know how something left out in the sun eventually loses all colour? Well, in Faarfaareast, the sunlight is so strong that it even bleaches cutie marks!”
Applebloom looked at the sky in terror. “Yah can lose cutie marks because of too much sun?” She jumped towards the shade of the nearest tree.
Chance couldn't help but laugh as she cowered up against the trunk. “Don't worry, the sun here in Ponyville, or really anywhere that isn't a snowy mountaintop, is more than safe. In fact, I heard that playing outside is really good for finding your cutie mark,” he assured her. He had to baby-sit so many children that he knew exactly how to talk like a condescending parent.
“Yes, really, so you can get away from that tree.”
Applebloom didn't look very convinced, but she eventually came out of the shade, with a suspicious look toward the sky. “So, since it did appear, even for a short while, do yah know what yer cutie mark is like?” she asked.
“Oh, right, of course I do, it's...” Chance started, but couldn't finish as Applejack called out from further down the road. He silently celebrated her timely arrival.
“Applebloom! Stop distracting working ponies and go help Granny with dinner!”
“Woops, looks like Ah'm running late. See yah at the table!” Applebloom ran off past her sister, who walked up towards Chance.
“So, how's work going? Not taking too many breaks, Ah hope?” she asked suspiciously.
“No, not at all. I only have to get two more loads after this one, and then all the apples we've harvested will be safely stored in the barn, like you told me to.”
“Well, make sure to finish up before dinner. I need yer help cleaning the pigsty later.”
Chance stopped walking. “Wait, there will be even more work after dinner?”
Applejack looked him straight in the eye. “Yes. Is that a problem?”
There was only one possible answer. “No ma'am, will do, ma'am,” Chance quickly responded.
“Good. Now get going. And stop calling me 'ma'am'.”
“Aha! I did it!” Twilight suddenly exclaimed.
“Did what?” Midnight asked from the table with his mouth full of hay, which tasted a lot like a cross between fresh bread and dried lettuce to him.
“I managed to weave components of warp, teleport, blink, shift and time travel spells into one big spell!”
“That's wonderful, Twilight," said Spike without much enthusiasm. "That means you can finally stop and eat something,” He had been trying to persuade Twilight to take a break but she would always stubbornly dismiss him, saying that she was on the verge on a breakthrough and couldn't stop now.
Twilight looked around in shock. “Spike! How can you think of food at a time like this?”
“Well, it is dinnertime.”
“Can't you see that I might have made it possible to travel to different worlds like Midnight's here? The whole of Equestria would never be the same again! Think of all the things that we might see, all the things we could learn!”
“Can't do much sightseeing or learning on an empty stomach.” Spike demonstratively took another bite from his plate of semi-precious gems.
“Fine. I'll just run a quick test and then I'll eat. Midnight, are you ready to go home?”
Midnight quickly swallowed his hay. “Sure. Shall we get Chance?”
“Not yet. This is a very rough spell that will take up a lot of magical power. I'll work on refining the method after I see it how it works, but I will only have enough power left for a single 'go home' spell after taking you. So the two of us will go now, I'll come back here to rest, and I'll bring Chance tomorrow. Is that okay with you?”
Midnight shrugged. His friend will probably be fine on his own for a day. Not to mention that Midnight himself would also be extraordinarily fine for a day. “Sounds like a plan. When do we leave?”
“Right now. Step over here, please,” said Twilight, beckoning him with excited gestures.
Midnight stood up from his stool and walked towards the middle of the room where Twilight made a small area free of anything that wasn't nailed down. “Ehm, are we going to explode or something?” Midnight asked half-jokingly. The other half was quite terrified.
“I did tell you this is a rather rough spell, didn't I? Don't worry, it's just some basic precautions.” After finishing with her preparations, Twilight straightened her back and took a deep breath. “Now, I want you to close your eyes and clearly picture your home. Make sure to picture it to the finest details. When you think you have it, just nod and I'll start.”
Midnight obeyed. He started with the front-door on the fourth floor, which some colour-blind imbecile that lived there before had painted red and green, but neither he nor Chance had ever bothered with buying paint. Then he went to his bedroom, which was in need of a really good dusting. Among the floor laid scattered some comic books, and plastic bags from various supermarkets holding some laundry. There was a laptop on his desk: a piece of electronic equipment that was more or less the centre of his life. Then he went to the living room, where a huge flatscreen TV that cost about six months of rent, for which he and Chance had chipped in, was proudly displayed against the wall. At its base one would find a whole jungle of cables attached to multiple game consoles of varying ownership. There was also a sizeable dinner table, though no one ever actually ate there. They usually ate on the couch in front of the TV, which was home to crumbs, stains and probably a few undiscovered species. Midnight was sure that he couldn't narrow it down any more than this and nodded.
There was a bright flash that burned through his closed eyelids, and for a single moment, he felt his body being simultaneously compressed and expanded. Eager to see if it worked, he opened up his eyes once he no longer felt like an euclidean paradox and was greeted by a beautiful sea of stars. He could not see Twilight in the darkness of space, but he did hear her nearby, breathing heavily. The spell must be taking a lot out of her, he thought.
Midnight admired the stars for a bit longer, but then wondered if it was all right to speak. He had so many questions that just wouldn't feel appropriate to ask at their destination. “Very impressive,” he carefully tried, and felt pleasantly surprised when he noticed that his molecules did not instantly disintegrate. “You know, I always thought that teleportation was this instantaneous kind of deal. How long do you think it will take to get there?”
Twilight hesitated to answer, as she first needed to catch her breath. “It is instantaneous. We're here.”
Midnight needed a second to wrap his mind around the implications of Twilight's answer. “What do you mean, 'we're here'? We can't be here yet! In my world, stars belong in the sky, not right in front of us.”
“Well, we're here. This is where my spell brought us. Wait, let me try something.”
A bright light suddenly appeared from Twilight's horn, and Midnight got a better look at the stars. In closer inspection, they appeared to be embedded in a large, blue, transparent body. As the light reached it, a red eye the size of Midnight's head opened in front of him.
“I suppose you don't have any magic-juice left for another teleport?” Midnight calmly asked once he assessed their current predicament.
“Not for the both of us, no.”
“Splendid,” said Midnight, as the Ursa Minor stood up and towered over them. “Let's go jogging.”
(The author intended to make this chapter a lot longer, but stuff happened, delays hit home and now you are stuck with a shitty cliffhanger. C'est la vie, as the other cheese-eaters say)
Lucky Chance tried to run towards the farmhouse, but his legs only managed a weak jog. He had overestimated how much strength he had left before, so hauling that last load of apples took longer then expected. Uncharacteristically, he hoped that he could make it in time for dinner. He usually doesn't care much for the basic necessities of life, but he was currently starved for some calories. Once he made it to the front door, he steadied his wobbling limbs as to hide his weakness, and entered.
“Oh, yah made it! Come sit down and eat with us!” Granny Smith welcomed him. The entire Apple family was gathered around the table, and had left a seat open for Chance. He eagerly accepted the offer and sat down between Applejack and Applebloom. Within the blink of an eye, Granny dealt him a bowl containing a royal serving of boiled potatoes and red cabbage with apple, while Applebloom poured him a glass of juice. Never before had such a simple meal looked so delicious to Chance. After shortly studying the table manners of his hosts, he dug in.
“So what is yah cutie mark, mister?” Applebloom suddenly asked. This time, Chance wasn't fazed, as he had ample time to prepare his answer.
He slowly swallowed down his food before answering. “Just call me Chance. And it's not that special, really. It's a four-leaf clover.”
“Really? How did yah discover it?” Applebloom scooted closer.
Chance cleared his throat, as he was about to deliver his masterpiece. “Well, I was just a young colt, about your age, maybe a bit older. I told you we lived high up in the mountains, right? One day, I was really bored with my life there. Always the same faces, always the same chores, always the same food, it sure wasn't a very exciting place to live, you see? So I took a walk. I went to a nearby cliff where we have a great view of the clouds surrounding our village. It wouldn't do much to elevate my boredom, but it was at least something.
“But that day, there were no clouds. A team of pegasi took them away for some irrigation project, so for the first time in my life, I got a clear view of the world surrounding the mountain. I saw forests, lakes, villages, even a few castles. I was enchanted by the world's beauty, so much that I decided to someday leave the mountain, and see all those exciting new places up close.
“And then, my cutie mark appeared. A four-leaf clover. I was quite happy with it and showed it off to my whole family, who threw me a party. Yeah, it was a pretty good day, indeed.” Chance sighed and stared off into the distance, as if he was lost in memories. He gave his audience ample time to applaud at his perfectly delivered monologue, but he quickly returned to his bowl when he realized that he wasn't on stage. Applebloom looked nonetheless impressed, as she hadn't touched her food ever since he started talking, but it wouldn't take her long to find a new question.
“So yah special talent is travelling? What's that got to do with four-leaf clovers?”
Chance chewed slowly. His fatigued mind had trouble remembering the next part of the story. Eventually, he swallowed.
“Travelling is all about luck when you don't know where you are going. One day, you sleep in the streets, the other day you happen to have some bits in your pocket to rent a bed, and the next you'll be invited to stay with a nice family like this one. So a symbol of good fortune seems to be most fitting for someone with my way of life.” Praise Avandra, he jokingly added in his mind, and he took another bite. Applebloom also finally started eating, thinking about what she learned.
“So yah were living high up on a snowy mountaintop, right?”
“That's what I said.”
“Truffle Shuffle did a presentation on mountains last week. He said yah can't grow grass or fruit that high. What did yah ponies eat?”
Chance stopped chewing. His prepared material did not cover this. He glanced in the direction of Applejack for help, but she seemed too preoccupied with pouring Big Macintosh a new glass to notice. He was on his own.
“Mountain Mushrooms,” Chance quickly answered, and he immediately regretted piling up another weak lie on the heap. His carefully built card-fortress could fall apart any second now. “Speaking of food, this is some delicious red cabbage, Granny Smith.”
“Aw, yah flatter an old mare,” said Granny, dismissing his compliment with her hoof. “It's just some simple things from our farm. If Ah had known that we'd be having a guest when I went to the market this morning, Ah'd have whipped up something more fancy.”
Chance smiled charmingly. “Oh, please don't trouble yourself for my sake. I do not wish to impose.”
“Impose? Boys that work so hard don't impose. Yah've done a good job today,” Granny replied. To demonstrate her point, she added another scoop of potatoes to Chance's bowl.
“And he ain't just done yet!" Applejack chimed in, patting Chance on his back. "He said he'll be helping me with the pigsty later, didn't yah, Chance?”
Chance opened his mouth in order to voice a protest. He could barely feel his limbs, let alone do any more heavy lifting. But he remembered about 'playing along', so he instead took another mouthful and nodded.
“My, now there's a work-ethic if Ah ever saw one,” said Granny, immediately dumping another scoop of red cabbage into Chance's bowl. “Reminds me of Grandpa. That was one hard-working fellah. Ah always had to drag him by his ear to come home. Yah know, Ah sure wouldn't mind if Applejack were to marry a stallion like that.”
Chance froze as Granny's implication pierced his mind, and felt his eyelid twitching. In the early days, before he decided that all ponies are equal, he'd occasionally go onto the internet to crusade the cause of 'Applejack best pony' in good fun, but marriage went several steps too far. The way Applejack loudly choked on her juice and sprayed all over the table signalled that she agreed with this sentiment.
Granny burst out laughing at the scene she caused, and was soon joined by Applebloom and Macintosh.
“Why, yah should see the look on yar faces. Ah'm only kidding. Surely yah're a bit too young to get serious about things like that, aren't yah?”
Chance and Applejack looked away to hide their embarrassment.
“That said, Ah wouldn't mind if it came to that,” said Granny with a wink.
“Darn it, Granny!" Applejack exclaimed as she wiped the table. "Don't joke about stuff like that! Yah might give him ideas!”
Granny stopped laughing, and her face darkened. “Ah was hoping Ah'd give you some ideas! Yah might be too young to make a purchase, but yahr old enough ta do some window-shopping.”
“That's none of yahr business! And yah never complain about Big Mac never bringing a girlfriend!” Applejack pointed at her brother, whose disgruntled face implied that he wasn't pleased about being dragged into this.
“That's because Ah don't have ta worry about Big Macintosh. He's getting plenty attention from the lasses. But you are neither looking or letting yahself get looked at. Yah don't want ta end up like an old spinster like yahr auntie Apple Tart.”
“Ah'll look when Ah feel like it. Which means not now, and certainly not with him!”
Chance coughed as he recollected his composure, while this argument continued. It was a fine example of awkward family drama that he wanted to end as soon as possible, but he wasn't sure what side to take. He could sympathize with Applejack's point of view, but he was also pretty sure she deeply insulted him just now. “I doubt that I'll be staying long enough for that sort of thing, really,” he said, hoping to diffuse the situation a bit.
“Oh, right, how long will yah be staying?” Applebloom asked.
Chance had to think for a second. “Erm, I don't know really.”
“Yah don't know? How so?”
“Well, I came here with a friend. Midnight Watch, he's called. He had some kind of business with the local librarian. We'll be staying around here until he's finished.” Chance felt relieved, being able to tell at least some of the truth.
“What kinda business?”
“Oh, you know, magic and stuff. Unicorn business,” Chance replied, looking for a way to direct the topic towards less explosive territory. “Say, Big Macintosh, you've been outside all day as well, haven't you?”
“Eeyup,” Big Mac replied in his usual stoicism.
“Did anything interesting happen?”
Well, that sure wasn't very explosive, Chance thought and changed his plan before Applebloom could fire up her next question. “You know, Granny Smith, I heard that the Apple family was involved in the founding of Ponyville. Could you tell me some more about that?”
“Why, of course, lad. It was many years ago, when I wasn't much older then Applebloom here. My family and I were.....”
Having bought himself a few precious minutes, Chance quickly went back to his food. A few more questions like this and he'll be able to finish his meal and get away from the table before he gets caught in his own web of lies. He felt a hint of resentment towards Midnight, who was probably taking it easy at the library.
“Watch out!” Twilight yelled. Heeding this warning, Midnight Watch dived to the ground and felt the mighty claw of the Ursa Minor brush past his tail. He quickly got back up to his feet and narrowly evaded a second swipe. He could feel the monster's pungent breath in his neck, spurring on his mad dash even further. His entire being was consumed by fear.
“This way!” Twilight's voice slipped through his panic. Having lost all ability for critical thought, he followed the voice that led him through some low-hanging tree branches. He heard the Ursa roar in anger, and realized that the creature wouldn't be able to follow them in this densely grown forest. For now. This idea cleared his mind, and he could see where he was going again. He saw Twilight diving for a thicket, and followed suit. Crouching under the cover of branches and leaves, the two heard the Ursa tearing through the trees.
“Are you all right?” Whispered a heavily breathing Twilight.
“Considering the circumstances, just dandy. What about you?” Midnight's hooves trembled from the adrenaline, but at least his sense for sarcasm was restored.
Twilight looked away. “I'm fine. But I just don't understand. Why did my spell bring us here of all places?”
Midnight laughed nervously. “I have no idea.” In reality, he knew perfectly well that he and Chance were notorious for being rather sloppy, to the point that everyone, friends and family included, started to describe their bachelor pad as 'a bear cave for the world's biggest bear'. He had already sworn several times by now to clean up both his act and his part of the apartment if he were to make out of this alive. “More importantly, what do we do now? Are we safe?” He quickly asked.
“I don't know. Ursas are on the top of every food chain, but they are not invulnerable. To make sure that no animal ever dares to harm them, they instinctively hunt down everything that enters their lair. If I could use the full extent of my power, I could maybe calm him down, but now we will just have to keep running and hiding until he gives up.”
“Gives up, you say?” repeated Midnight, slowly peeking out his head. He saw the Ursa casually uprooting a tree while sniffing the ground. “I might not be an expert, but that looks like one bloody-minded monster.”
“I know, but it's our only option. Is he coming this way?”
“Oh, he sure is.” Midnight didn't even have to look to confirm this, as the ground trembled stronger by the second.
“Then we should move on and find a new hiding place. Come on!” Twilight stood up and attempted to gallop, but her knees gave way with the first step she took.
Midnight quickly crawled to her side. “Hey, are you okay?”
“I'm fine, I'm fine. I just need to...lay down.” Twilight lowered her head towards the ground and closed her eyes.
Midnight's chest turned to ice. After attempting to brute-force the barrier between worlds, fleeing from a monster for what seemed to be an eternity and skipping dinner and snacks, Twilight was no longer able to run. He heard a falling tree landing less than ten metres away, as well as the thunderous footsteps of the Ursa Minor. For an awfully long moment, he considered abandoning Twilight, but realized that he would not be able to get out of this forest alive without her help. He had only one option left.
He put his hoof to Twilight's shoulder, and vigorously shook her body. “Twilight! Wake up, Twilight! Wake! Up!” He didn't have to worry about his volume, as the Ursa produced enough noise to drown out a South African football stadium.
Twilight moaned and gradually opened her eyes. Midnight could not give her time to fully come back to the world of the living, so he continued. “Twilight, listen to me! You said that, after that super-spell of yours, you'd still have enough power left for a single 'go home' spell. Does that still apply?”
Twilight shook her head. “I'm not sure. Not after all that running.”
“Twilight, you have to try it! You have to zap yourself home!”
This suggestion seemed to wake her up. “I can't leave you behind!” She exclaimed. “I'm the one that brought you here, I have to get you out of here safely!”
“You can't run any further! I can! You must go home and get me some help! It's the only way we both might survive!”
Twilight opened her mouth, but before she could voice a protest, she realized that Midnight was being reasonable. Instead she nodded, and stood up despite her wobbling legs. She closed her eyes, and her horn started flickering. As her faced twisted itself into a pained grimace, the flickering became a weak aura. Midnight could see her bare teeth as she tried to squeeze every last drop of her remaining power. A brilliant flash appeared, and Midnight was alone.
He could not find the time to wonder if Twilight succeeded, as a new worry entered his head: the noise had stopped. He quickly turned around, and looked straight into two giant nostrils blowing warm air heavy with moisture over him. The Ursa Minor bared his teeth in what seemed a sadistic grin. Knowing that his brain did everything it could to ensure his safety, Midnight delegated commanding duty to his adrenal glands and legged it.
The door wailed its usual cry for attention as Chance entered his room, but it fell on deaf ears. Chance had managed to clean out the entire pigsty with Applejack, and was covered in all kinds of grime for his trouble.
Why do vegetarian ponies even keep pigs? He wondered and decided to ask Applejack tomorrow if he could remember to, because he doubted that he'd be able to take in new information in his current state.
Granny Smith had offered him a cup of sweet tea with a slice of apple pie. While tempting, Chance politely declined the offer, saying that he was fatigued from his over-night journey to Ponyville. Right now, the only thing he had on his mind was his bed, and the last thing he could use right now were even more questions.
Lies, lies, all those lies to keep track of. He often likened lies to the subway system in his home-city: an altogether unpleasant experience for all parties involved, outweighed only slightly by its convenience. He had hoped that he would never have to lie again when he dropped out of college, but whatever it was that brought him here had different plans, it seems.
Chance grabbed all the random items piled onto the bed that Applejack had assigned to him, and laid them all over the floor. He'd tidy the place up later when he could see straight again.
Once he made enough room for himself, he crawled under the covers of his bed, ignoring the choking dust, and after curling up in a tight ball soon fell asleep to the soothing rhythm of his own heartbeat.
Well, ain't that just hilarious? Midnight thought. His situation was indeed rather remarkable. Only this morning, he was trying hard to walk a normal pace without falling. This evening, he could barely outrun a raging monster in full gallop though difficult terrain for what seemed to be an eternity. Back home, during PE class, he couldn't even climb a rope all the way to ceiling, and now he somehow managed to use the last of his strength to climb all the way up to the top of a tree that seemed a lot higher than it's thin yet flexible frame should logically allow.
As he looked down onto the Ursa Minor through the leaves covering his position, he saw that it was still sniffing around the ground for him. Feeling relatively safe, he thought about how he could turn this experience into a boring nugget of wisdom for his future grandchildren. Remember, kids: no matter how high your ambitions, no matter how far your goals, you can do anything you set your mind to, as long as a giant bear is trying to eat your face.
It still needed some work, but Midnight could no longer care as something amazing had happened: the Ursa Minor had stopped sniffing. Midnight held his breath, as the Ursa tried to listen for suspicious sounds, and watched towards the distance. Eventually, the Ursa turned around in defeat.
Midnight could hardly keep himself from shouting in triumph and doing a victory dance. After everything that happened, he finally managed to outsmart a monster with teeth as big as he was. He couldn't wait to tell everyone he knew about this.
His celebration was cut short by a creaking sound coming from underneath him. Before Midnight realized what that sound was, the branch he was seated upon snapped away. He yelped and held on to the trunk of the tree like a Tigger that really shouldn't have climbed that high, as the branch fell down causing a minor yet disastrous ruckus.
The Ursa's ear twitched, and he turned around. He could clearly see movement in the top of that tree. His bear-like face smiled as he figured out a fun new way to deal with this pest. He placed his paw against the trunk of the tree, and pushed gently. Under the carefully exerted pressure, the tree bended until Midnight hung horizontally right above it's head. The Ursa then held the tree in place with the three claws of his paw right in front of the unicorn.
Midnight wasn't exactly sure about what the Ursa was trying to do, but then he remembered seeing something similar in a cartoon he once watched as a kid. “Oh no, you can't possibly...”
The Ursa reacted by lifting one of his claws. He most definitely could.
“Look, it was an accident, okay? Can we perhaps cut a deal? I am really...”
The Ursa didn't seem to care for negotiations, and lifted a second claw.
“I'll do anything! Anything! Absolutely any-” Midnight's pleas were in vain, and the Ursa let go. The flexible trunk whipped back into position, and despite his best efforts to hold on, Midnight was catapulted screaming into the air.
As the air whistled past his body, Midnight flailed his limbs in panic, hoping that he'd somehow sprout wings, because he had no idea how else he was going to survive this. Once he had passed the apex of his flight, he saw what appeared to be his destination: a mountain consisting of some pretty high-quality stone. He had often considered that he might not die of old age in bed, but he never imagined that his life would end like that of a fly on a wind shield. He closed his eyes and braced for impact.
After a few seconds, he opened his eyes, expecting to finally see this 'afterlife' people had always hyped so much, but he found that he was still in one piece, and was actually gracefully gliding on a steady altitude towards the lights of Ponyville on the edge of the forest. He looked up and saw a mare with a rainbow-coloured mane. Rainbow Dash had swooped in and saved him from splattered doom.
Midnight forgot his pride, and cheered with his whole heart. “Yes. Yes! YES! Thank you Rainbow! Thank you so much! You have no idea how much....”
“Shut it!” Rainbow interrupted him. She gave her cargo the most dirty look possible. “Save that for Twilight! She's the one that's now half-dead because of you! The only reason I'm not feeding you to the Ursa myself is because she'd never forgive herself if you'd die!”
Midnight's mood plummeted. He had completely forgotten about Twilight. The pair sustained an uneasy silence as they approached Ponyville and landed in front of the library.
The two then rushed through the door to see how Twilight was doing. They found her standing in the middle of the entry room, and she smiled her biggest when she saw Midnight. “I'm so glad,” she said, and then collapsed to the ground.
Midnight slowly approached the unmoving body, and confirmed to his relief that she was still breathing. “I am so sorry,” he whispered.
Rainbow brushed him aside, picked up her friend and wordlessly flew to her bedroom. Once Twilight was properly tucked in, Rainbow left through the window, but before she slammed it shut, she gestured with her hoof towards Midnight, then to her eye, and then to Midnight again.
Midnight just stood there unsure what to do. He was snapped out of it when Spike offered him a blanket. “Don't beat yourself up about it,” the dragon told him. “It's not your fault. Twilight got in over her head and did something rash. We're lucky it didn't end up being worse then this.”
Midnight wasn't convinced of his own innocence. “Will she be okay?” he asked.
“Sure. She'll probably be out of commission for a while, but then she'll be back to her usual crazy self.” Spike smiled reassuringly.
Midnight nodded without much conviction, and accepted the blanket with his mouth so he wouldn't have to speak any more. As Spike left for his bed, Midnight installed himself onto the interrogatory sofa. He closed his eyes, and the world fell silent.
Chance instinctively flew up in reaction to the perceived marauding of his lair. However, as his instincts didn't take the ceiling in account, he got himself yet another nasty bruise and crashed onto the floor next to his bed. Once he remembered what was up or down, he discovered the remains of a paper bag resting in peace next to a pair of familiar orange legs. Chance groaned. He had hoped that it was all just a bad dream.
“Was that really necessary?” He harshly asked the legs.
“Yup,” said a beaming Applejack. “You wouldn't wake up otherwise. Ah had to do something to get yah out of that bed.”
Chance remembered the state he was in when he went to sleep. “Ah, that bad, huh?” He said, trying to stand up. His entire body yelled in protest, demanding that he'd remain still, but Chance wouldn't have any of it.
“Will today be as busy as yesterday?” He yawned.
“Nope,” was the casual reply. Chance didn't even try to cover his relieved sigh.
“Oh, thank the stars!” he exclaimed. “Because to be honest, I don't think I could..”
“It's going to be even worse!” Applejack interrupted him.
Chance froze up, while every fibre of muscle in his body screamed in pain.
(The author is just as curious towards the next chapter as you hopefully are)
Midnight nervously paced through the library's main hall. Since he had nothing worth smoking on hand... hoof... whatever... he slowly chewed on some hay to calm himself down. While Spike had been positive that Twilight would make a swift recovery, he had called in a physician to take a look at her, just in case. It had been thirteen minutes since Spike and Doctor Stable went up to Twilight's room, and Midnight had nothing to do but contemplate the many ways this was all his fault. He had been the one who had asked Twilight for this favour. He had let her do all the work alone. He hadn't backed Spike up when he'd been trying to get her to take a break. He hadn't stopped her from performing her dangerous spell.
But worst of all, he had considered leaving her behind for the Ursa Minor. For years, he had been playing the world-saving hero from the comfort of his couch, but now that something was actually at stake, he had been shown an aspect of his person that he'd preferred to stay hidden: In order to save his own skin, he would leave a girl to her certain death, despite all she had done for his sake. And now that she was bedridden, all he could do to take his mind of the guilt was to endlessly walk in circles, around and around and around and...
“Oh, for the love of Celestia, could you please just sit down?” Rainbow Dash shouted. She sat in the corner of the hall with a large book.
Despite her harsh tone, Midnight appreciated the break in silence. Ever since she had arrived first thing in the morning, Rainbow had given him the silent treatment and acknowledged his existence only with the occasional scowl. While she probably expected him to wordlessly comply with her demand, he didn't want to waste this opportunity in any kind of conversation. “Sorry, I got some stress to burn. What are you reading?”
Rainbow opened her mouth to prepare a snide comment, but seemed to realise something, as she took a look at the cover of the book she was holding. The title read Alicornanatomy Through Curomantic Cases. “Nothing.” She sighed and threw the book on a big pile next to her.
It was silent once more. Even now that she no longer held an excuse in her hooves to ignore Midnight, Rainbow refused to give him any more attention than strictly necessary.
Finally, Midnight gave in and went straight for his usual answer to everything. “I'm beginning to suspect that you don't like me very much.”
This direct accusation finally triggered a response from Rainbow. “Gee, you think? What was your first clue?” she said with an inch-deep frown.
“Well, I'm not sure what gave me the crazy idea, but it might be the riveting conversations we've been having since I arrived here.”
“Oh, really?” Rainbow stood up and walked towards Midnight, staring him down along the way. “Well, I guess I could be a little nicer to some random guy that showed up out of nowhere and endangers one of my best friends without skipping a beat!”
Midnight did not back off. He was frustrated, tired and sleep-deprived, and he was going to unload it all right now on the nearest acceptable target. “Well, I guess I could have tried to tie her down, but that might have been somewhat counterproductive as I needed her help.”
“Oh, yes, of course you need her help. It would be impossible for someone claiming to be an alien from another world without any proof to be after anything besides help.”
Midnight was about to counter Rainbow's offensive when he was interrupted by a polite coughing coming from the doorway to Twilight's room. Doctor Stable had appeared with Spike in tow, and he gave the arguing pair a stern look. “Although it is terribly amusing to watch your attempts to sarcasm each other into submission, I must ask you to turn it down a notch for the sake of the patient.”
Midnight and Rainbow gave each other a glare before deciding that there were more important issues at hand. “Sorry, doctor. Will she be all right?” Midnight asked.
Doctor Stable smiled in response. “She will be fine. A few cuts and bruises, nothing that a band-aid couldn't patch up. And while seeing a unicorn expend all her magical energy is uncommon, it is certainly not lethal when properly treated.”
“Told you so,” Spike interjected, but was met by three disapproving stares.
The doctor continued. “Now, pushing her limits that far put serious strain on her mental strength. For a swift recovery, I prescribe many dreams.”
“Aha, I see,” said Midnight, “and I assume that you want us to go on an epic quest and collect those dreams from a magic fountain or something?”
“...No, I want you to stay quiet while she sleeps. I gave her a mild sedative that should help, but it is important that she dreams, which requires a very deep sleep. Therefore, no noise, no visitors, nothing but peace and quiet. That goes for you too, Rainbow Dash!”
Rainbow, who had started inching towards Twilight's room as soon as she'd heard "she'll be fine", turned around. “You mean I can't go see her?”
“I understand that this must be hard for you, but I have to put my hoof down here. Any noise could disturb her rest, and she needs every bit of it. Once she feels like waking up on her own, it will be fine, but for now, I must ask for your patience.”
Rainbow hung her head and closed the door. “Fine. I better go tell our friends now. Spike, you take good care of Twilight, ok?”
“No problem! I'll make sure that nothing happens!” Spike proudly puffed his chest. While it didn't do much for his stature, the gesture certainly showed his determination.
Rainbow nodded with approval. She opened her wings and flew towards the open window leading directly towards her house. Before exiting, she glared at Midnight one last time. “And don't you try anything funny while I'm gone,” she said, and carefully closed the window.
The doctor shrugged. “Well, I don't think all this house's problems have been resolved, but since you will need a different kind of doctor for that, I'll be taking my leave. Remember: no visitors before she wakes up, and try to discourage her from using magic for the next three days.”
Midnight meekly nodded along while Spike escorted Doctor Stable to the door. Now that his most immediate problem had gone out of the window for now, his thoughts returned to where they were several minutes ago, and by the time Spike came back, he had already resumed his frantic pacing.
“Look, I get that you're worried and all,” Spike said, “but Twilight will be okay; the weather is nice, and we still kind of need that carpet after you're gone, so why don't go outside to clear your head a little?”
Midnight considered the suggestion. There was nothing useful he could do around here, and he needed to see a friendly, understanding face (though none of those were available around these parts, so he'd have to make do with Lucky Chance). “Can you take care of Twilight on your own?” he asked.
Spike smiled with confidence. “Sure! This isn't the first time this has happened, though it has been a while. She won't be going anywhere or need much attention. Piece a cake!”
“Okay, then I'll be out for a spin. See you in an hour or so!” Midnight said as he walked towards the exit. As he opened the door, he concluded that Spike has not lied about the weather and stepped outside. He was back within a second, however, with cold water dripping all over. Rainbow Dash had left a short yet clear message for him just outside: do not pick a fight with a weather pony.
“On second thought, I might as well stay indoors and read a book.”
Lucky Chance chugged along the path towards the storage barn, dragging a cart full of apples. He tried to whistle a tune to lift his spirits, but the sound was as weak as his steps. He was never arrogant enough to think that working on a farm would be easy, but it had only been a full day since he arrived at Sweet Apple Acres, and he already felt completely drained.
“‘Just play along’, she said,” he mumbled bitterly to himself as he hurled the holdings of a basket onto the large pile. “‘You’re good at that’, she said. Well, I’ve had it! I might owe her one, but it just ain’t worth it! As soon as I see her, I’m gonna tell her where she can...”
“Who are yah talking to, boy?” a creaky voice interrupted him. Chance quickly turned around.
“Oh, hello, Granny Smith! I was just talking to... myself, of course. Do that all the time. Talking. To myself. For no reason. About nothing.”
“You don’t say.” Granny looked past Chance and towards the barn. “My, that’s a mighty large stock we got there.”
“You think? The barn isn’t even half full yet.”
“This many apples in a single day outside of applebucking season? That’s pretty special. You and Applejack must be quite the team.” Granny winked.
Chance kept silent, as he had to suppress the urge to make a snide comment aimed at a beloved granddaughter.
“But it’s a little worrisome,” Granny continued. “We may have plenty of apples, but Ah didn’t expect this, and now we may not have enough buyers to get rid of em before they all go bad.”
Chance couldn’t believe his ears. “Are you saying that we have too many apples?”
“Yes, pretty much.”
“Well, isn’t that a problem easily solved! I’ll go see Applejack now and tell her that we can stop...”
“Excuse me for interrupting,” a heavy, dignified voice sounded. While the pair were admiring the result of yesterday’s and today’s work, a large white stallion dressed in black with a huge black mustache had approached the barn, followed by four more stallions pulling a cart filled with a large stack of barrels. “My name is Cooper, representing the Cooper, Cooper & Cooper Cooperage Company. I am looking for a... Granny Smith.”
“That’s me, and we didn’t order anything!”
“Correct. Allow me to explain: Following a scandal about half a year ago, a customer of ours went out of business and was unable to pay for their order. Now we are stuck with what can be accurately described as ‘the mother of all overstock’. So now we are offering our wares at a fifty percent discount to our most loyal customers, such as yourselves.”
Granny seemed to have some trouble following the expressionless stranger’s explanation. “Yah’re selling barrels for half price?”
“Correct. Weather-resistant, parasprite proofed, lactose-free, grade A, high quality barrels, as you have been ordering annually for twenty-five years now. How about it?”
Granny put her hoof to her chin in a thoughtful gesture, after which she took a glance at her barn. Her face lit up, as she got an idea. “Drop the price to a third, and I’ll buy them all,” she offered.
The stallion did not hesitate. “Deal. We’ll send the bill later,” he said while shortly shaking Granny’s hoof, after which he turned towards his employees. “You heard her; empty the cart and we can go home!”
The stallions went to work immediately, and once the dust had settled, the salesman had left as suddenly as he arrived, and in his place remained a pile of barrels.
“Well, that was weird,” Chance noted.
“So, what do you plan to do with enough barrels to build a medium-sized fortress?”
The old mare grinned with glee. ”Why, fill ‘em up, of course! We’re gonna have ourselves an early cider season!”
Chance’s internal alarm bell started ringing. “Wait, what?”
“I’m gonna tell Big Macintosh to set up the press right away. You and Applejack just keep the apples coming! This is the best chance to make some money for the farm since Applejack got invited to the Grand Galloping Gala! Yah sure didn’t steal yahr name, did yah, Charm?”
“It’s ‘Chance’, and...”
“Oh, what does it matter? Just keep getting apples, and it will all work out! We’re counting on yah!” With those words, Granny Smith dashed off, for as much as her old bones would allow for any dashing, leaving Chance dumbfounded.
Chance stood there for a moment. I could go after her, he thought. I could explain that I’m not up to the task. Instead, he sighed and once again took up his cart.
But something was different. The words "we’re counting on you" echoed through his skull. So far, the Apples have been very kind to him. And now, only a day after his arrival, they considered him worthy enough to be depended upon with so much at stake. The more he thought about this, the more his step seemed to regain it's vigour.
This time, he would not disappoint.
Midnight Watch closed his copy of Daring Do and the Griffon's Goblet. While seeing all those cliches piled up without any sense of irony whatsoever made for a few unintentionally amusing scenes, he really didn’t feel like he could look past its flaws. Knowing that Twilight willingly recommended this to Rainbow made him wonder just a bit about the relationship between those two. With the book between his teeth he walked towards the shelf where Spike first took it from and tried to replace it.
A sharp pain surged through Midnight’s forehead as his horn clashed with the shelf above the one he was aiming for. It felt a whole lot like a stubbed toe, except on top on his head. Midnight gripped his head and bit his lips in order to prevent himself from yelling several sacrilegious terms.
But then he forgot his pain; He came to a sudden realization, and it made him feel pretty stupid that it had taken him so long to figure it out.
“That’s it!” he softly exclaimed.
“What’s what?” Spike asked from atop the bookcase.
“I have a horn!” Midnight answered with the enlightened tone of Galileo as he discovered that the Earth was, in fact, the one doing the turning.
Spike didn’t look very impressed. “And I’ve got scales. What about it?”
“It means that I could learn to use magic myself, so I can assist Twilight with her research once she back in the game!”
Spike tried to hold in his laughter. He used to think that unicorns didn’t get much weirder than Twilight, but he'd certainly hit the jackpot with this guy. “You want to learn magic in three days?”
“Not all of it, of course. Just enough of it so that Twilight can bounce ideas off of me. That should help her at least a little, right?”
“Whatever keeps you busy,” said Spike as he slid down the ladder. “Let me show you where we keep most of the magic textbooks.”
Spike indicated one of the library's many bookshelves, this one not particularly marked in any way. “These are Twilight’s personal collection, so don’t mess too much with them.”
Midnight nodded, and ran his eye over the titles on the spines. He decided that The Complete Guide To Magic seemed like a good place to start. “Whoa,” was his only possible reaction after opening the book. He was a university student himself, so he wasn’t a stranger to complicated books, but here he could hardly make out which lines were spells and which were the explanatory text. “Maybe something a little more basic.”
“How about this?” said Spike, holding up a book with a particularly colourful cover, even according to the standards of this universe. The cover read My First Spellbook and featured a little filly spraying sparks around with a big smile on her face.
Midnight turned up his nose. “Please, Spike,” he said haughtily. “I may not look like it now, but I’m an intelligent young adult. Surely I can handle something a little more in-depth.” His eye fell on a small booklet titled teleportation in ten easy steps. With some acrobatics, he managed to open it on the first page.
Step one: align your greater alinus with the minor gulpis. Optimize the magic stream by concentrating energy on the base of the banim.
Midnight did not read any further. Spike was still holding up his recommendation, except now accompanied by a smile of his own. Eventually, Midnight gave in. “Oh, please wipe that grin off your face and give me that.”
“Sure thing, sir!” Spike answered, still smiling.
(The author should make dramatic declarations of deadlines more often)
“... And now Twilight is stuck in her bed for who knows how long!” Rainbow concluded her spirited report. She had flown towards Sweet Apple Acres as soon as she could break away from her duties that day. She had a little more work than usual, as she had promised to cover for somepony else’s shift in return for that raincloud she'd borrowed.
“Ah knew it!” said Applejack. “Those two mean nothin’ but trouble! Yah made sure he won’t be doing anything?”
“Yeah, I arranged something, alright?” Rainbow grinned. “So, how about I borrow a thundercloud next? With one of those babies, I can make them run like rabbits!”
“Nah, there’s no need for that,” said Applejack with a smile. “Mine can crack any minute now. You should’ve seen him this morning, all stiff an' clumsy. He’s still keeping up appearances for mah family, but he won’t last very long!”
“Great!” said Rainbow. She took a look around. “Where is he anyway?”
“Ah put him in front of a wagon and now he’s busy taking the apples I buck down towards the barn.”
Rainbow frowned as she seemed to realise something. “Wait, isn’t it a little risky to let him out of sight like that?”
Applejack waved her hoof at her friends concern. “Nah, as long as he’s working, Ah got a pretty good idea where he’s at. Besides...” She chuckled to herself. “He’s supposed ta run away, isn’t he? And he won’t be doing much running while Ah’m looking over his shoulder.”
Rainbow’s eyes widened. “Wow,” she said. “That’s actually pretty clever.”
“Yah didn’t need ta look so surprised, yah know. Anyhow, at that crawling pace of his, he shouldn’t be back before ten minutes or so. Unless, of course, he already...”
“Why hello there!” a cheery voice shouted from a distance. A smiling Lucky Chance approached the pair with his empty cart. “If it isn’t that dashing rainbow-coloured mare whom I’ve only met once before so I can’t possibly remember her name! How have you been?”
Taken aback by his sudden appearance, Rainbow stumbled for words. “Euuhr, it’s Rainbow Dash. Been doing this and that, you know?”
“Really? How nice,” was Chance’s answer. He turned his attention to the stack of full baskets. “Hey, Applejack, are these all the apples you got for me?”
“Erhm, yeah. Ah didn’t expect yah ta be here so soon, so Ah had a bit of a chat with Rainbow here.” Applejack looked away embarrassed.
“Hey, don’t worry! Happens all the time!” said Chance before emptying a basket into his cart. “But you might want to step up your game a little. Granny wants to fire up the cider presses!”
“The cider presses?” Applejack aped with shock.
“That’s right! ‘Keep them apples coming,’ she told us, so I guess there won’t be any more breaks for today, eh?”
“No, no, of course not,” Applejack mumbled.
“Well, then I’ll be going. Bye, Rainbow Dash, nice to meet you again!” Without waiting for an answer, Chance marched off with his load, leaving behind the two mares with open mouths.
Eventually, Rainbow found her tongue again. “Wait, what just happened?”
“Ah... Ah don’t get it! He could barely stand only this morning!” Applejack exclaimed.
“Well, he seemed pretty eager to me. You sure you don’t want me to get a thundercloud?”
Applejack huffed. “He’s... he’s bluffing! There’s no way he could’ve perked up like that!” Applejack angrily kicked the nearest tree. “Well, Ah’ll show him! Ah’m gonna teach him a thing or two about honest work!” she said as dozens of apples fell around her.
“It’s all starting to make sense now,” said Midnight Watch from his table.
“Well, it better!” Spike replied, trying to hold back his laughter over the way Midnight studied so seriously. “You’ve been mulling over the first three pages for over an hour now!”
Midnight showed him a grin of his own. “You can keep laughing, Spike, but I’ll have the last laugh! Allow me to demonstrate my terrifying progress after only a single hour!”
Midnight closed his eyes in concentration for a few seconds, and by the time he opened them, a small, ice blue aura had appeared around his horn.
“Okay, activating your magic. That’s a start, I suppose,” said Spike, unimpressed.
“Hah! That’s nothing. Watch this!” Midnight stared intensely at My First Spellbook. While his frown grew deeper, another ice blue aura appeared around the book.
Spike whistled with some begrudging respect. “Oooh, a basic enchantment! Not bad.”
“Are you starting to get it now? Well then, for my next trick, I will now turn over the third page of this book, revealing the fourth!” Midnight clenched his teeth with great force and stared at the book. The page seemed to move a little, but not quite enough.
Midnight tried harder. As his concentration grew, sweat drops formed on his forehead, and veins started popping up in his neck. He'd made a very bold claim, and he'd put everything he had into his effort. The page started wiggling, not quite in the right direction.
Finally, with a deafening rip, the page came loose from its base and stood upright for a moment. Midnight let go of the spell, and the page fell next to the book, proudly displaying the curly 4 printed at the bottom.
Spike and Midnight looked upon this scene with silent horror. Eventually, Midnight was the first to regain his senses and started to swipe the page towards its rightful place with his hoof. He then looked at Spike and asked “For the sake of Twilight, can we agree that this never happened?”
He would not get an answer right away, as a soft knocking came from the front door. Midnight reflexively slammed the evidence shut. “Didn’t you put up a sign?” he asked.
“Yeah, I did. ‘Closed due to illness, please do not disturb,” Spike answered as he went to answer the door.
“Well, then who is conceited enough to knock anyway?”
“Oohh, my Spikey-wikey! I came as soon as I heard the news! Isn’t it just horrible?” A white mare stood in the door opening, announcing her presence with loud drama. Midnight put his hoof to his forehead with an exasperated sigh.
“Rarityyyyyyy...” was the only word that Spike could say in greeting.
“Spikey-wikey,” Rarity continued, “could you please let me see Twilight? I just have to check up on her. Pleeeeeaaaaase?” she fluttered her eyelids in her usual manner.
Spike didn’t stand a chance. “I... don’t... yeah, sure. Come...”
“Hey, hey, hold it!” Midnight protested and walked towards the door.
“Oh, if it isn’t the dapper stranger from the other day! How have you been?”
“I almost got eaten by an Ursa Minor,” Midnight flatly stated. He tried hard not to get caught up in her pace.
“Oh my, how very interesting! You have got to tell me all about it one of these days. Sooo, about Twilight...”
“Didn’t you hear that she can’t have any visitors?” Midnight interrupted.
“Why yes,” Rarity said, “but Rainbow asked if I could check up on her anyway. You know, just a little. There’s can’t be harm in that, can it?”
Check up on Twilight or on me? Midnight wondered. “Look, I can assure you that Spike is already taking good care of all the checking once every hour. The doctor explicitly told us not to let anyone visit her while she rests.”
“Oh, of course, of course, I can see you are very dedicated to your task,” Rarity said, as she closed in on Midnight. “But surely you can make an exception, right? Just one small visit from a good friend. Can you do that, hmm? For me?”
Rarity was looking Midnight straight in the eye with those huge, attentive eyes of hers. He wasn’t quite used to so much female attention, and he felt like he was being drowned on the spot. However, he quickly regained his senses. This is no time for swimming, he thought while shaking his head. He had a job to do.
“I’m sorry, but the doctor’s word is final: No visitors until she wakes up on her own. Please come back tomorrow,” Midnight stated.
Rarity did not back off. “I see,” she said. “So, if I were to walk past you anyway, would you actually fight to get between me and my friend?”
“Yes,” said Midnight without thinking. He could slap himself immediately afterwards, as he knew that this wasn’t a particularly sensitive answer.
Surely enough, Rarity jumped backwards with a shocked gasp. “You brute!” she shouted. “How could one be so heartless? To lay a hoof on a sensitive lady, whose only crime was to visit her best friend?”
“Actually, I didn’t...”
“Very well!” said Rarity while turning her back on Midnight. “I shall surrender to your harshness for now. But this isn’t the last you’ve seen of me!” She walked off with a most haughty step.
Midnight closed the door. Spike, who had been watching from the background all lovestruck finally seemed to realise what had just happened. “That didn’t go so well, did it?” he said.
“Good enough for me,” Midnight calmly said as he walked back to his book. He’d help Twilight in any way he can, even if he had to antagonise all of Equestria to do it.
“So, mister, since yah’ve been travelling and all that, yah must have seen some adventure, haven’t yah?” Applebloom asked Chance. They were pulling an empty cart each. Chance had been hesitant to accept the little filly’s help, but gave in once he saw that she had a cart of her own, more appropriate to her size.
“Sure did,” he answered with a grin. “Let me tell you about the time I met a skull kid in the Lost woods. I was travelling along the road, minding my own business, until suddenly holy fruitbaskets, Batman!”
That last part wasn’t part of the story. At least, not that particular story. When Chance and Applebloom reached the hill where Applejack would be harvesting, they were welcomed by a positively huge pile of baskets filled to the brim with apples. From behind the pile, Applejack appeared carrying one last basket that she added to the heap. “Hey there, partner! How do you like them apples?
Chance believed he'd heard a little shortness of breath in her voice, but he had bigger things to worry about at the time. “That’s... quite a lot,” he mumbled.
“What’s the matter?” Applejack asked in a mocking tone. “Afraid yah can’t handle it?”
This time, Chance was sure of what he'd heard. A sparkle appeared in his eye, and his grin returned to his face. “Oh, turning this into a competition, are we? Alright, you’re on! Loser pays for drinks next time we’re in town!” To put some strength to his statement, he spat on his hoof and presented it to Applejack.
Applejack gave this some thought, after which she spat on her own hoof and bumped it against Chance’s. “Deal!” she said.
Chance turned to his little friend. “Applebloom, load up your own cart and go ahead without me, okay?”
“Okay, mister! What are yah gonna do?
“I’m going to get an extra cart, of course!” he said as he galloped away.
“Bring a few extra baskets while yah’re at it!” Applejack shouted after him.
After applying some transparent tape with help from Spike, Midnight went back to his book, with Spike sitting across of him with a book of his own. As he was just about to figure out how to properly direct the target of his telekinesis, his ear seemed to catch something. Before he could figure out what it was, however, it was already gone.
“Spike, did you hear something?” Midnight asked.
Spike thought about it for a second. “Nope, pretty sure I didn't.”
Satisfied in his curiosity, Midnight went back to his book, only to be disturbed once more by a sound he couldn’t quite place.
“Spike, I’m sure I just heard something!”
Spike shrugged. “Eh, you’re imagining things.”
Suddenly, a clear and fast beat came from the front door. Midnight felt the sudden urge to slam his head onto his desk, but he decided against it once he realised his horn might make that exercise a little more painful than required.
Spike opened the door and spoke with the visitor. Midnight could only hear Spike’s half of the conversation, however, as the visitor spoke very softly.
“Oh, hey, Fluttershy! ... Yeah, she’ll be alright... Sorry, no visitors; doctor’s orders.... Oh, hey, thanks! ... Yeah, will do... Bye!” Spike returned holding a large basket covered with a blanket. “That was Fluttershy,” he explained. “She wanted to deliver a few get-well-soon cookies for Twilight.”
Midnight sighed with relief, knowing that the peace wasn’t being disturbed for very long. “Well, that’s very nice of her.”
“Sure is. You want one?"
Midnight thought for a second. “Nah, they’re Twilight’s. I’m sure she’d like it if we saved them for her.”
“Hey, that’s right! I’ll put this on the table, and we’ll guard it with our lives!”
“That’s right, buddy!” Midnight made a little room on his side, so that the basket could be set in the middle of the table, after which Spike went back to his seat. They both quietly read their books. Midnight was a little curious about what Spike was reading, but he was a little afraid to ask.
Midnight heard the sound. The unmistakable sound of a cookie being chewed. He jumped up. “Hey! What did we just talk about?” he shouted, but only after a second of silence, he realised that Spike had done the same. After the guards decided the other was not eating a cookie, they both slumped back into their seats.
Again, they sprung up, and saw once again that neither of them had broken their vow. Midnight felt a little uncomfortable with the situation.
“We are not getting paranoid over a bunch of cookies, are we?” he asked laughingly.
Spike rubbed his chin. “Weeelllllll, they are Fluttershy’s...”
“We are NOT getting paranoid over a bunch of cookies!”
“Okay, okay, easy!” said Spike. “There’s got to be an explanation for this.”
This time, the guards were aware. The sound most definitely came from the basket itself. They gave each other a look and nodded in silent agreement. Without hesitation, Spike pulled away the blanket.
In the middle of the basket sat a small white rabbit, gorging itself on the cookies. When it noticed that it had been discovered, it looked a little startled, but soon the only thing that spoke from its eyes was defiance. It leaped out of the basket, but didn’t count on there being an open book on landing spot. It slipped on the pages, and in that moment of weakness, Midnight snatched the little creature’s ears with his teeth and brought the struggling critter towards the door.
On opening the door, he saw that Fluttershy had already came back. When Fluttershy realized that it was Midnight that opened the door, she seemed to shrink three inches. Midnight threw the rabbit into the open saddlebag Fluttershy was carrying, and gave her an expactant look. All that was required for this whole thing to end was a simple apology, and then he could return to his studies.
The apology never came. Fluttershy knew what she had to say, but seemed a little scared of the strange stallion expressionlessly glaring at her.
Eventually, Midnight gave up. After all, he knew this pony quite well, so he knew what the problem was. He couldn’t let her leave like that either, though. “You can fly, right?” he asked. Fluttershy seemed to shrink even more, and no longer even pretended to look at him, but eventually managed to force a nod. “Look, Twilight is sleeping in her room. If you want, you can watch her through the window. Just don’t go inside or make any noise, okay?”
Fluttershy finally reacted; she straightened her back a little and was now almost looking at Midnight. “Thank you,” she said before flying off, and Midnight was sure he saw a hint of a smile there.
When he closed the door and turned around, he was met by a shocked Spike. “Wow,” said Spike. “That was actually pretty kind of you.”
“You don’t need to sound so surprised. Anyway, could you get me a glass of water? My tongue is about to realise it might have tasted bunny earwax.”
Lucky Chance was walking the trail from the harvesting spot to the cider press for the god-knows-how-manyth time that day. He was pulling two large carts and Applebloom’s minicart, in addition to his full saddle baskets. But soon, it would be done; Granny Smith had told him that this would be the last load. Just one more load and he would have done it. He would have kept the cider presses going, and kept up with Applejack as well. His step slowed down as he thought about it, but there would be no giving up now. He could already see the press where Granny, Applebloom and Big Macintosh were waiting for this final load. Big Macintosh had almost finished with the last of the apples they had left, so they had to be quite eager for more apples by now. Only ten more steps of his front-right leg to go. Nine. Eight. Seven. Six. Five. Four. Black.
Lucky Chance had no idea for how long he had been out, but when he opened his eyes, Granny Smith and Applejack seemed to be having an argument right on top of him.
“What do you have to say for yahrselves, young lady?”
“Don’t yah ‘but Ah’ me! Ah heard all about this little wager of yours. Yah thought that spurring on some greenhorn would be funny?”
Applejack looked away. “Well...”
“Enough!” Granny cut her off. “There won’t be any apple pie for a long time, young lady!”
Chance weakly raised his hoof. “Erm, I’d appreciate it if I could be part of this discussion.”
As everyone realised that Chance had awakened, the argument stopped. He hastily assured them that he was just fine. Big Macintosh helped Chance to get up. He felt a little dizzy, but could stand anyway.
“Yah had something ta say?” Granny asked after she felt assured of Chance’s condition.
“Yes,” said Chance, taking a deep breath. “I’d like to admit that I had reached my limits long before I suggested the competition to Applejack. I was a little desperate to show my gratitude towards the Apple Family, so I just kept chugging along despite my limitations. That was my fault, and my fault alone, so I should be the one who should be punished, not Applejack.”
Granny gave Chance a stern look while she thought it over. Eventually, she sighed. “Fine. Forget Ah said anything. But yah better keep this in mind, boy: If yah work with the Apple Family, yah’re with the Apple Family. And no relative of mine puts themselves in danger with no good reason, yah got that?”
“Yes, Granny. Thanks!”
“Good. Now get inside, y’all. We’ve got a good day ta celebrate!”
Relieved by this resolution, everyone headed indoors. In their excitement, however, they couldn’t see Applejack lagging behind a little, hanging her head.
Midnight was once again absorbed in his book. He felt that now it was finally the time: this time, he would properly perform the trick that would allow him to turn the page of the book. He readied himself, horn glowing with magic...
KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK
His horn fizzled out as Midnight groaned in frustration. The groan was soon followed by a chill down his spine; so far, both Rarity and Fluttershy had already visited, and Applejack was supposedly working all day on the farm. So that would mean only one person was left to appear in front of the door.
“We are not at home!” he shouted towards Spike, who was about to open the door.
“But, Midnight, maybe...”
“I could hear you shout ‘We are not at home’ just now!” said the person at the door.
Midnight recognised the voice, and it was certainly not Pinkie Pie. I guess even Rainbow isn’t stupid enough to unleash Pinkie on the library with Twilight in this condition, he thought. More than a little relieved, he stood up. “Let me take it,” he offered. “If she’s going to yell at me, she might as well do it outside.”
Midnight opened the door, and sure enough, there stood the mare he was having so much trouble with earlier this day. “Look, I get that you are upset, but...”
“Oh, what have I done?” Rarity interrupted him.
“Wait, what?” Midnight asked. He certainly didn’t expect this.
“I went to Doctor Stable’s practice just now,” Rarity explained. “and he told me that Twilight can not have any visitors today.”
“Well, yeah, that’s kind of what...”
“But I just kept going! I couldn’t believe that not a small exception for poor little me could be made! Oh, how selfish I was! Can you possibly believe it?”
“S-sort off, I guess, but...”
“So here I’m standing, in front of your door again. What am I supposed to do now?
“Well, you could...”
“Is it too late to ask for forgiveness? Is my misdeed too severe? Oh, what am I going to tell to my poor Opal? What can I...”
“JUST GO AWAY!”
Lucky chance was about to get ready for bed. He'd had a fun evening with the Apple family, for the most part. As he got in the bed, he heard the screaming door, indicating that someone had followed him.
“Ehm, can we talk for a minute?” Applejack asked.
Chance grinned. “Sure, but not too long. This bed is starting to look more tempting by the second.”
Applejack entered, closing the door behind her. “Well, ah was just kind of wondering,” she said while digging at the floor. “Why did you do it?”
“Yah know, go so far. With work. Why did yah do that?”
“Well, I already told Granny, didn’t I? I was feeling so grateful...”
“Don’t give me that!” Applejack snapped. “Yah’ve worked more than yar fair share on the farm. There’s no way yah didn’t get that, so yah didn’t have any tabs open with us. So, why did yah go so far anyway?”
Chance sighed. “Yeah, I suppose that does look weird to you. In fact, just this morning I was just about to complain to you and demand a lighter workload.”
“Granny said she was counting on me. Where I’m from, people think of me as some unreliable bum, and today had been the first time in ages anyone thought I could be counted on. I’m sure you understand why that meant a lot to me.”
Applejack looked away. “Yes... Ah see.”
“Well, that’s only most of it. I was also fired up by that challenge of yours.”
Applejack visibly flinched. “Look, Ah’m sorry...”
“No, no, we’ve been over that.” Chance waved with his hoof. “I was the one who proposed the competition, so the blame lies with me.”
Applejack opened her mouth, but didn’t answer.
“Anyhow, to put the whole thing in short: I felt that I raised your expectations, and I didn’t want to disappoint you all. Does that make sense?”
Applejack nodded. “Yes. Yes, it does.”
Having satisfied her curiosity, Chance let out a mighty yawn. “Well, if that’s all, I’d like to get some sleeping done, if you don’t mind. So, good night!”
“Yeah, good night,” said Applejack as she walked out of the door. “And thanks for today.”
‘Sure, no problem.” Chance grinned. “Anything for the Apple family!”
Applejack walked away without saying anything more, hoping that she wouldn’t ever have to explain why she needed to thank him.
The author should really stop writing stuff after midnight.
Midnight Watch was standing alone in the middle of the library. After relentlessly practising for hours on end, he felt confident that his efforts would pay off. He concentrated on a book that was balancing on the edge of the table, and mouthed a spell. Instantly, the book lifted off the ground and hovered in front of Midnight’s face. He smiled, proud of his achievement, and had the book perform a few modest turns in the sky.
“Dude, sweet!” said Lucky Chance, who was standing beside his friend the whole time. “Let me try that!”
Before Midnight had the opportunity to protest, Chance had taken control of the book. The book swung open, and was now soaring through the sky, flapping its pages like a bird. Midnight stood there with his mouth open, and felt some resentment towards the person that had shown him up like that again.
“Don’t worry, it’s not that hard!” said Twilight. “Let me show you the part where it’s explained.”
The book drew closer to Midnight, growing bigger and bigger. Its pages showed an image of Rainbow Dash, giving him a threatening glare. Midnight got frightened and turned away, but couldn’t flee the scene, for his feet moved like wading through tar.
The humongously large book closed in on him. Rainbow’s eyes glowed red, and her teeth which were as tall as Midnight himself, were sharp as daggers. Midnight cried out in fear, and with a deafening blow, the book slammed shut.
Midnight gasped and opened his eyes. Still frightened after his restless sleep, he scouted his immediate surroundings. Once his eyes got used to the darkness, he concluded with a sigh of relief that he was still safe and sound in the library of Ponyville, lying on a sofa that Twilight Sparkle had conjured only two days ago. Before he realised that the whole “in Ponyville” part of the situation was far from ideal, a small shadow descended and landed next to a book lying next to the sofa. Midnight froze up for a second, but recognised the large, shining eyes as belonging to Owlowiscious, the second assistant librarian. The tiny critter's over-ambitious efforts to carry a medium-sized book through the air in his talons had come to an abrupt and noisy end around the halfway point.
"What in the world are you doing? You think this is the place for a pre-dawn workout?" whispered Midnight. He had already made Owlowiscious' acquaintance and was pleased to learn that, if his services weren't required, the bird would go about his owly business outside and leave the diurnal creatures to their rest. Seeing him cause a ruckus like this seemed remarkably out of character to Midnight.
“Hoo,” was the owl's defiant answer.
“You! Just what...” Midnight stopped mid-sentence, as he noticed light coming through the open door towards Twilight's room. Seeking to confirm his dawning suspicions, he stepped off his sofa, carefully dodging the snoring Spike, and walked towards the door. Owlowiscous, who seemed to have given up on performing his task by himself, hitched a ride on Midnight's back with his cargo.
Once he’d made it upstairs, Midnight concluded that his prediction was awfully accurate: Twilight was wide awake and had surrounded herself with all kinds of books and scrolls while frantically taking notes with a fountain pen in her mouth. Owlowiscious decided he had been given enough of a boost, and jumped towards his employer. He flew the last few metres with a desperate flutter, once again loudly slamming the book on the floor, visibly startling Twilight.
“Owlowiscious!” she exclaimed while turning towards her night-shift assistant. “Didn't I tell you to bring the abridged version?”
“Hoo!” said an annoyed bird.
“No? Oh, silly me. That's what I get for getting all worked up like that. My head is a complete mess, in more ways than one.”
Midnight noticed that her mane had indeed a rather dishevelled look to it, indicating that the purple prodigy hadn't taken the time for her morning ritual yet.
“Oh well,” Twilight continued. “This is actually even better! You did a really good job, bringing such a large book all the way here. I really should have a little more faith in you when it comes to heavy lifting.”
Owlowiscious' chest appeared to grow three sizes as Twilight gently patted his head. Not wanting to let some bird take all the credit, Midnight announced his presence with a polite cough.
Twilight looked up towards her guest. “Oh, good morning! Or is it good night? Always so confusing, time-related greetings. Why don't ponies just say 'hello' all the time? It's a perfectly applicable greeting at any time of the day!” Twilight scratched her head for a moment. “Wait, that doesn't have to do anything with anything, does it? Hello! You're up early! Didn't humans sleep through the night? Or morning? When it's dark?”
During this conversation starter, Midnight rubbed his eyes. After assuring himself that the pony in front of him was indeed purple as opposed to pink, he choose his words carefully. “Yes, we do, though we can be flexible when it comes down to it. I believe the same goes for ponies, however. Shouldn't you be asleep by now?”
“I’m just fine,” said Twilight while noting down the title of the book that was just brought in. She spat out the pen and looked at the result with a shocked gasp. “What terrible mouth writing! That's what I get for not practising for more than a year!” She then opened the book and started to study its contents. “No need to worry about me, I've slept about twenty-six hours just now. I should tell Spike to schedule extra writing exercises once all this is over. At least, I think it was twenty-six hours. Has the calendar been taken proper care of while I was out? Anyway, I thought I could make a head start on today's research, so I took some of Zecora's special blend. Would you like a cup as well?”
Midnight needed a moment to process the recent communications overload, so he inspected the contents of the near-empty pot sitting near three used cups. He recognised the substance as something vaguely resembling coffee, except it seemed to be a bit too black for that. The smell alone was enough to make him nervously tap his hoof on the floor. “No, thanks, I'll pass for tonight... This morning... Anyway, are you sure it's all right? The doctor said you should be resting for two more days.”
“Correction!” exclaimed Twilight without looking up from her book, adding the strength of her raised hoof to her statement. “Doctor Stable said I shouldn't use magic for three days, and that it's okay for me to walk around once I've woken up on my own. I've woken up, so I can be out of bed. Q.E.D.!”
Though surprised by the fact that ponies apparently knew Latin, even though he didn't think Twilight was using it right, Midnight had different priorities. “Aside from arguing about exact words, I really don't think that intense nightly research is all that conducive towards the healing...”
“I said it's fine!” Twilight snapped. “Don't worry, even if we have to wait for a few more days before I'm back at full capacity, I'm perfectly capable of returning you home! Perhaps it's an induced vibration of the white universal G-string? Just go back to bed, I got this! Or prepare for today's interview, because you are not getting away with 'it's complicated' this time! On the other hoof, this seems to fit the green S-string as well...”
Twilight's speech deteriorated into an incomprehensible mumble, barely acknowledging Midnight's existence. He sighed. There was nothing he could say that would make her stop. He turned around and descended the stairs, knowing that there was only one thing he could do to support his host in her battle.
Spike’s eye twitched when a ray of sunshine unfortunately hit him in the face through a gap in the curtains. Realising that his bed wasn't in his usual sleeping spot, he sleepily scouted the area around him. Once he’d figured out that he was still safe within the walls of the library, his attention was drawn to the dark-blue figure, snoring loudly at the reading table with his face buried in an open book next to a burned out candle.
“You're all nuts!” he groaned while turning on his other side and pulling the blanket over his head.
Lucky Chance stretched his limbs with a satisfied moan. His muscles were still a bit sore, but he felt strangely refreshed anyway. It was almost as if the night had lasted twice as long, giving him plenty of time to recuperate from yesterday's ordeal.
Judging by the light coming through the small window, Chance concluded that it was already past dawn, so Applejack would come and wake him up soon enough. With a smug smile, he decided to beat her to it. He carefully sneaked out of his room, for as far as the wailing door would allow him, and went down the stairs. He was looking forward to the faces of the Apple family when they'd see him sitting at the table, looking all cool, reading a newspaper. He would show them how fast this greenhorn had gotten used to farm life!
Downstairs, he was greeted by the sight of Granny Smith, who was sitting at the table, calmly reading a newspaper. Though disappointed at having his thunder stolen by an elderly lady, Chance decided not to let this minor setback affect his good mood. “Good morning, Granny!” he said in his most chipper voice. “Had a good night?”
Granny looked up from her paper and laughed once she recognised the young stallion. “Heh heh, that's good afternoon for yah, boy. Yah sure sleep like a log when given half tha chance.”
Chance quickly looked up to the wall-mounted clock hanging next to the door post. Much to his shock, it was indeed five minutes past noon. He must have looked pretty funny staring at the clock, as Granny started laughing even harder.
“Heh heh heh, no need ta look so scared. We saved yah breakfast!” she said, pointing towards a bowl of hay and a glass of juice with a straw sitting on the end of the table.
While his mood crashed down hard enough to leave a small crater, Chance wordlessly set himself down and started chewing his hay with little enthusiasm. Is this what I worked so hard for? Of course, he knew that the Apples were probably only being nice. Heck, they were being logical. But that knowledge did little to elevate the sting of getting rejected like that.
As precious few problems were solved by remaining silent, Chance swallowed his hay. “Look, Granny,” he said, “I understand that I gave you all a good scare yesterday, but I'm not that weak. I'd appreciate it if you wouldn't leave me out of the farm work while I'm here!” He looked Granny straight into her eyes, hoping that his sincerity would shine through.
Granny stared at him for a few seconds, blinked, and burst out laughing again. This time, she didn't stop until the laugh turned into a pained cough and Chance momentarily feared for her life. “Ah was wondering what got yah down so sudden,” she rasped once she’d found her breath once more. “Yar jumping all over tha farm with yar conclusions, boy! There's no work ta be done today!”
Chance looked at her in disbelief. “No work? I thought running a farm was a twenty-four/seven business.”
“Well, usually, yeah,” said Granny while rubbing her sore throat. “But while Ah don't know what's going on between yah n' Applejack, we're ahead a schedule because of it. We got rid of most of them apples by making cider, but we still got enough ta fill out our running contracts. We shouldn't pick more apples than we can sell, so this morning we decided to take tha day off an' let yah sleep.”
Chance took a moment to let Granny's explanation sink in. “So you are saying that I not only managed to finish yesterday's work, but also today's?”
Granny shrugged. “If that's how yah wanna hear it.”
Chance grinned from ear to ear. “I'm okay with that!” he said as he took another bite. The hay suddenly tasted a whole lot sweeter. “So if they're not working, where are the others?” he asked with full mouth.
Granny smiled at the way the young stallion's mood seemed to jump up and down as if it were a flee trying to escape a pot. “Applejack an' Big Macintosh are out bringing our farm animals lunch, an' Applebloom’s at school today.”
“Heh, I guess with the Apple family, even your days off are filled with things to do,” said Chance before chugging down his juice. “Well, if you don't need me for anything, I'll be going out to check on my friend at the library, see how his business is going.”
“Yah go do that, boy. See if yah can finally figure out how long yah'll be staying,” said Granny with her eyes on today's crossword. “Oh, an' don't forget tha bag sitting on tha cabinet!”
Chance looked at the indicated spot, and sure enough, there was a small but well-filled pouch on the cabinet underneath the clock. He carefully picked it up in his mouth to size up its weight, which unleashed a soft melody of clear metallic chimes. “Feels heavier than it looks,” he noted after putting it down. “What's in it?”
“Yer pay fer three days, plus some of yer share on tha cider sales in advance,” said Granny without looking up.
Chance's eyes widened when he figured out what he was holding. He didn't know how a single bit was worth, but even he could guess that the pouch contained some significant value to a penniless bachelor like himself. He wondered how much this was to the Apples. After all, while the tools and buildings were still serviceable, they did have a rather shabby look to them. “I'm not really sure if I can...”
“Darn tootin' yah can!” Granny slammed her hoof on the table. “Ah told yah yesterday: Yah work with tha Apple family, yar with tha Apple family. An' family get their fair share. Now stop being a stranger an' take tha money!”
Chance was a little shocked by Granny's tirade, but smiled after letting it sink in; he now knew the pouch's exact value. “All right, then I'll be taking this,” he said while worming his head through the lace attached to the pouch. “Guess I'll be going to town in more ways than one. Bye, Granny!”
“Be back before dinner!” shouted Granny towards the stallion walking out of the door. She wasn't sure if he’d heard her, but it didn't really matter either way. They didn't have any sort of schedule to maintain, so she might as well wait with dinner for half an hour to see he'd show up. More importantly, Applejack and Big Macintosh could be back any minute now from their chores, so she got up from her seat and started preparing lunch for the three of them.
Sure enough, before Granny even had the chance to properly place the plates on the table, her grandchildren entered through the back door. “Hey, Granny!” said Applejack cheerfully. “The piggies were mighty hungry today, but we made sure all animals got their fill!”
“Eeyup,” said Macintosh. He wiped off his hooves, which were still wet after hosing them down outside.
“Oh, good!” said Granny. “Take a seat yah two. Ah'll be right there with your fill.”
“Thanks, Granny!” said Applejack while looking around. “By the way, Ah take it Lucky is still asleep?”
“Nah, yah just missed him,” answered Granny from the kitchen. “He went ta town just now.”
Applejack froze just as she was sitting down, leaving her body in a rather awkward position. Now that her plan had gone down the drain, it was more important than ever to keep an eye on the suspicious stranger. He might have seemed genuinely helpful the day before, but surely that alone didn't clear him of all charges? For a second, she imagined the royal chewing-out that Rainbow would give her once Applejack told her that she’d lost track of him, and shuddered at the thought. “Ah... Ah think Ah'll be going out as well,” she finally uttered and stood back up.
“But what about yer lunch?” asked Granny with a look of surprise on her face. She had just finished putting the food on the table.
“Ah'll just eat something in town, but Ah really need ta go!” said Applejack while walking towards the door.
Granny sighed. “Well, just make sure yah'll be back before dinner.”
“Will do, Granny! Bye now!”
As Applejack left, Granny couldn't help but smile. There would be no need to delay dinner that evening. “Kids these days,” she said while sitting down. “Yah know, for a girl with no eye for them lads, she sure likes ta hang around this particular one.”
“Eeyup,” said Big Macintosh as he shovelled Applejack’s portion onto his own plate.
The author might be gone for a long time, but he’ll always come back eventually.
Birell closed the Tome Of Gates with a smile. He couldn't quite believe that this book, with its illegible scribbles, actually contained knowledge that, in the wrong hands, would cause the worlds to collapse into each other, but it didn't really matter anyway. The Hierophant of Arganum would reward them greatly for taking it from the Cult of Mara, which is all that is truly important to adventurers such as Birell and his companions.
He stretched his arms upwards with a satisfied yawn. Their airship, the Cloudcleaver, would safely see them to their destination. Only a few more hours, and they would be swimming in fame and fortune. That is, if nothing were to occur to disrupt their success.
Sure enough, before Birell finished that thought, the door to his cabin opened, and a head poked inside. “Hey, Birell, you might want to come outside for a minute.” It was Francisco, the pickpocket-turned-adventurer, who had been instrumental in getting the Tome without having to fight off the entire Nightmare Army of Mara. Though loose coins had a strange tendency to disappear in this man's presence, it was a price Birell was willing to pay for his expertise. “Flint saw something coming.”
Without missing a beat, Birell picked up his sword and shield, and sprinted onto the deck, where he found Flint standing on the stern. The druid usually served as the lookout, not just because his cat-like eyes never seemed to miss anything, but mostly because he seemed to enjoy staring into the distance. “What is happening?” asked Birell.
“Over there,” said Flint, pointing somewhere in the sky.
It took a while for Birell to see what Flint was indicating. Though he'd inherited many blessings from his Elven mother, her sharp eyesight wasn't among them. “Are those... giant birds?”
“Not quite,” said Flint. “It's a pair of Dragon Knights riding young adult dragons. I can't really make out their uniform, but I'm willing to bet that they're with the Nightmare Army.”
“I see,” said Birell. weighing his options. “I doubt we'll be able to outrun them, so we'd better prepare for battle. Flint, put up one of those thorn walls of yours along the starboard side. We'll force them both to attack from the port side, so they won't be able to flank us.”
Flint did not answer with words. Instead, he began his incantation, and within seconds, thorn bushes about five metres high appeared along the entire starboard side.
“Heindrich, I need you to lock the wheel and pick up your bow. Shoot as soon as you feel you can hit them!”
“Way ahead of you, boss!” said the ranger, who was already aiming his bow at the dots in the distance.
“Fransisco,” Birell continued, “you and I will be manning the ballistas! And Corrin... What in the world are you doing?”
“I tied a rope with a grappling hook around my waist!” answered the halfling, proudly presenting his handiwork.
“Yes, I got that far,” said Birell with a sigh. “Why would you do that?”
“Because I've found a new and exciting way to honour my Lady!”
“O, gods,” said Birell as a shiver went down his spine. “Can you do whatever you are going to do while getting them to focus their attention on you?”
“Oh, I'll grab their attention, all right!” said Corrin with an impish grin.
“Very well, everyone check if you got enough healing potions and get to your stations!”
The knights seemed to realize that they had been spotted, as one began to climb towards the sun, while the other dived towards the ground. Heindrich loosed an arrow, and Flint fired a lightning bolt from his staff at the highest dragon, but neither could land a hit because of the distance and the sun. Fransisco managed to hit the other dragon with the ballista, but the bolt didn't seem to bother the creature that much before it flew under their reach. Finally, the higher flying Knight let go of an arrow of his own, scraping at Birell's armour.
“Everybody watch out!” shouted Birell. “Here they come!”
“And here I go!” exclaimed Corrin. With grappling hook in one hand, a shield as tall as himself in the other and a mighty shout of “Gerinomo!”, the tiny man bravely jumped over the railing towards the dragon approaching the warriors from below.
“Wait, wait, hold on a second,” said Twilight while quickly glancing over her many notes. After nearly an hour of persistent questioning, she had finally gotten her guest to open up about exactly what he had been doing on the night before his and his friend's sudden dislocation. Midnight had seemed rather embarrassed to talk about it at first, but once he got going, he had provided her with about a dozen pages of “data”. “Aren't characters supposed to stay alive in this game?”
“Well, yes,” answered Midnight from the interrogatory sofa, “but Chance likes to think outside of the box when it comes to games. He rolled a paladin in the service of the goddess of luck specifically so he could justify his insane gambits.”
Twilight mulled this over for a bit. “I see, but if he does this sort of thing that often, how did he survive so long into the game?”
“Because he's crazy, not stupid. He thinks of creative uses for mundane tools, only does something when he has a reasonable chance of success, and his character has several powers he can use to make the dice fall the way he needs them to. It's all actually pretty clever.”
Twilight shrugged. “Okay, moving on, then. What happened after he jumped?”
“Corrin managed to land safely on the dragon's back, right in front of the rider. He then attached himself to the barding with the grappling hook...” He put his hoof to his lip as he tried to remember what exactly happened. “... and used a power of his to zap both the dragon and the rider with divine lightning. After that, he was pretty safe since the rider couldn't effectively use either his lance or his bow against a target that close, and the dragon couldn't reach him.”
“Uh huh,” said Twilight, after taking a small note, “and what about the rest of the party?”
“Well, while Corrin took down the rider and spent the rest of the encounter playing dragon rodeo, the four of us ganged up on the other. The druid forced the dragon against the deck by entangling it with magical roots, after which I dislodged the rider from his saddle,” said Midnight proudly. “After the dragon was released from its rider's magical control and flew off, we rescued Corrin from the other and high-fived each other.”
“What is 'high-fiving', exactly?” asked Twilight.
“Same thing as a hoof bump, except we use our hands to do it. Five digits up high, see?” said Midnight, demonstrating the motion with his hoof. “Anyway, we safely landed the ship near the palace of the Hierophant, got our reward, and called it a night. After half an hour talking afterwards, our friends left, and we went to bed. Next thing I remember, I woke up as a pony.”
His story concluded, Midnight took a deep breath while Twilight took a few final notes. She then laid down her pen and sat up straight with her eyes closed. Midnight looked at her serene pose and, for a moment, he was convinced that this was what all great minds must have looked like just before they came up with their most brilliant ideas.
The moment lasted until Midnight heard her snoring softly. “Erm, Twilight?” he asked, gently prodding her.
Hearing her name, Twilight jerked up and only barely managed to avoid falling onto her back. She looked around, and her surprised eyes finally fell on Midnight’s. With an embarrassed cough, she started fidgeting around with her papers. “Ahum, right, right. Question! I had a question!” she mumbled. She quickly produced a blank page. “You said your world had no magic and no dragons, but you seem familiar enough with both concepts to incorporate them into your games. Can you explain how that is possible?”
Midnight stared at the ceiling as he thought it over. “I’m not sure, actually,” he finally said. “We certainly have a whole lot of stories about magic, and plenty of people that pretend to have such powers, but none of those have ever been proven to be anything but cons.”
“Hm hm, I see I see,” said Twilight, noting down the answer. “No actual instances, but a whole lot of stories. Don’t you think it’s weird that humans apparently made up multiple complicated concepts from whole cloth, which just happened to be an everyday occurrence for ponies?”
“Well, if you put it like that...”
“Right! This gives us a whole new angle to research.” Twilight jumped up and began pacing a few rounds around Midnight. “How about this for a theory: at some point in time, humans and ponies came into contact with each other. Though there are no records left of said meeting, the ponies left enough of an impression about them and their magic for the humans to retell the stories with increasing inaccuracy over the ages. If this were true, then your situation wouldn’t be unique, and we might be able to replicate the event a third time. How does that sound?” Twilight looked at Midnight with huge eyes, though he wasn’t sure whether they were like that because of excitement or sleep-deprivation.
“Well, I guess that’s possible.”
“Perfect! I’ll go dig up a few more books on obscure history. You just sit there; I got this!"
Twilight hurried away, leaving Midnight on his couch. He stretched his limbs in preparation for leaving the sofa, which which seemed to grow more comfortable by the hour. He briefly considered taking a nap, but his thoughts were loudly interrupted by a loud bang coming from the direction of Twilight’s room. He jumped up, and saw Twilight rubbing her nose with a pained expression on her face. “Are you alright?” he asked.
“I did not hit the doorpost!” snapped Twilight before picking up the largest of the books scattered around her and quickly ascending the stairs.
Midnight sighed and got up from the sofa. He wasn’t the only one in need of rest. He walked towards the shelf on which Spike was arranging the books. “Spike, we have got to do something.”
The young dragon turned around with a big smile on his face. “I know, right? That game of yours sounds awesome! We should get that friend of yours to come over, and I’m sure Pinkie Pie and Rainbow...”
“Not that!” Midnight snapped. “I meant about Twilight!”
“Oh, right,” said Spike with a hint of disappointment. “Yeah, that too. So, what do you propose?”
“What do I propose? Spike, you are the one that knows her best. Can’t you stop her in some way?”
“Well, I’d love to,” said Spike with a bit of a frown, “but she doesn’t listen to me! All I can do is try to talk some sense into her and see if it sticks.”
“Well, obviously it didn’t, so we need a new plan. Can you send a letter to Princess Celestia and see if she can clarify her instruction a little?”
“I would, but the Princess is gone for a month, remember? I can send letters to the castle, but if she’s not there, she won’t get them.”
Midnight tapped the floor with his hoof as he tried to come up with a new solution. “Okay, plan C: we get all of her friends together and stage an intervention. How does that sound?”
Spike rubbed his chin with his claw as he thought over the suggestion. “Hmmm, that could work, but when it comes to her friends, Twilight has always been better at giving advice than taking it. That being said,” Spike moved his face closer to Midnight and whispered, “I suspect that some of them think of you as the problem, so unless you want to get kicked out and be stuck as a pony forever, you might want them to keep a little distance.”
Midnight was about to protest, but the baby dragon made a pretty good point. Rainbow Dash was the only pony that showed open hostility, but he’d been less than sensitive in handling Rarity, and there was no limit to the ways his friend on the farm may have been screwing up. Though Midnight doubted that they’d just toss him out on the streets, he decided that it would be better not to fan the flames too much. He began nervously pacing around the room. In two more days, Twilight would be allowed to use magic again, and if she hadn’t come to her senses by then, he might be forced to sign up for a starring role in Angry Blue Bear 2: Revenge Of Angry Blue Bear, or worse.
This prospect seemed to give his brain the final push it needed. “Tell me, Spike,” he said with his best imitation of a completely ignorant person, “Does Twilight, by any sheer coincidence, happen to have an older relative, like a cousin or sibling, that she has idolised since childhood, who just happens to work and live near the castle?”
Spike’s face lit up. “Why yes, yes she does! Her big brother, Shining Armour! He’s the captain of the royal guard!”
“Excellent!” said Midnight with feigned surprise. “Let’s send that guy a message asking him to come over. Even if he can’t actually calm her down, at least we got someone else around to help keep her out of trouble!”
“Sounds like a plan to me,” said Spike, and he ran over to collect a pen and paper. It took him a second to find a blank page, but once he did, he picked up the pen and gave Midnight an expectant look.
“What?” asked Midnight.
“Well, what do I write?”
“Spike, I don’t know the guy. You write it.”
“Oh, right. Sorry, force of habit. Then, how about: Dear Shining Armour, Twilight recently got an assignment from Princess Celestia which she probably misunderstood. Because of this, she expended most of her magical power, but still refuses to rest. We are worried about her health, but she won’t listen to us. Please come over and help us convince her.”
Midnight nodded along with approval. It wasn’t exactly how he would have done it, but at least it was short and to the point.
Spike continued. “Signed, Spike and Midn...”
“Don’t sign with my name!” Midnight shouted.
Startled by the sudden outburst, spike dropped his pen, which left a nasty stain on both the paper and the floor. Annoyed, he looked up to Midnight. “What did you do that for?”
“Look, sorry about that, but just don’t sign with my name. He’s Twilight’s big brother, and as a big brother myself, I know that we really shouldn’t tell him about me just yet. Telling him that a male has been getting close to his sister lately would make him very worried. The wrong kind of worried.”
Spike rubbed the back of his neck. He wasn’t sure what Midnight was talking about, but at least the weird unicorn seemed to know what he was talking about for once. “Well, okay, but he’ll find out about you when he comes here anyway. What do we do then?”
“We get to explain the situation in person, which means we will leave less to his imagination. Really, the last thing I need right now is an overprotective brother breathing down my neck.”
Spike shrugged. “Okay, I guess. I already wrote down ‘we’, though, so I’ll just put in Owlowiscious’ name instead.” With that, Spike rolled up the finished letter and send it out the window with his fiery breath. “There, all done!”
Midnight sighed with relief. With that letter send, he had done pretty much everything he could. Just a little more patience, and Twilight’s brother would swoop in and save the day. Heck, with a little luck, he might know something about how Midnight and Chance got here in the first place. Midnight knew that was pushing it, but there was no harm in dreaming. In fact, speaking of dreams, he thought that he might take that nap after all.
“SPIKE!” Twilight’s voice coming down from the stairs prematurely ended Midnight’s course of inaction. She hastily descended the stairs and stopped only millimetres away from Spike’s face.
Spike spine stiffened as he heard his name. “I didn’t do it!” he declared with a panicked voice.
“Where is the rest of it?”
“Th... the rest of what?”
Twilight let out an exasperated sigh. “The rest of Zecora’s special blend, of course!”
Hearing this, Spike seemed to relax a little. “There is no ‘rest’ of it. You used all we had left last night.”
Twilight’s eyes widened as she realised that Spike was right. They were running a little low lately. “Ahum, right, I see. Well, I can’t really work like this, so I suppose we need to change today’s schedule a little. Midnight!”
Midnight visibly cringed as his hopes for staying out of this were crushed. “Yeah?” he hesitantly answered.
“We’ll move two loads with one cart. We’re going to Zecora’s to get some more of her special blend, and while we’re there, we are going to ask her about those burned herbs of yours,” said Twilight as she put on her saddlebag.
Midnight was about to go along with her when he realized something. “Wait a second. Zecora is the apothecary living in the Everfree Forest, right?”
“Oh, did I already tell you about her? Yes, that’s the one.”
“The same Everfree Forest where we quite recently ran into a rather big, blue ball of trouble?”
Twilight thought this over. “Hm, I wouldn’t say we ‘ran into’ the Ursa Minor, but I suppose that you’d be right. So, are you coming?”
Midnight took a deep breath, puffing up his chest to the very limit. “No! No way! Absolutely not! Neither of us can use magic right now, which means that we’d be walking snacks for any other nasty monster that just happened to pass by.” With a powerful motion, he stomped the floor. “I refuse to let you go into that forest without some sort of protection!”
Twilight stopped in her motions, giving Midnight’s statement some thought. After a few seconds, she walked over to an open window, and gently tugged on the rope that was coming through it.
Midnight silently wished that he never opened his big mouth.
Lucky Chance took a deep breath, and savored the air in his nostrils. Though Ponyville wasn’t a particularly large town, the air was filled with the scents of bursting activity, in addition to the blossom of Sweet Apple Acres that was being carried on the wind. Chance greatly enjoyed this atmosphere. He liked the farm well enough when he wasn’t being worked to the bone, but he was still a city boy at heart; he was used to amusing himself amongst the anonymity provided by a big crowd consisting of other people doing the same.
He took a good look around, and was pleased to see that the scene was largely unchanged from a few days ago: happy ponies going about their business, chatting with their friends and neighbours. Chance was eager to join in on the fun.
The pouch that was dangling in front of his chest started to itch a little when he walked past a hatter. Back home, he had always wanted to buy a hat in order to stand out a little more, but was forced to admit that he didn’t have the kind of face that would benefit from such an accessory, as it would only serve to articulate his already unusual thinness. Since he had never quite managed to gain enough weight for it to make a difference, he had given up on the idea, but now that he had an entirely new face to work with, he wanted to give it another shot.
He resisted his first instincts, however. He had business to attend to, and there was little fun in exploring a town like this on your own. After asking for a few directions, he managed to find the local library, not too far from the town square.
Chance walked up to the door and raised his hoof, but stopped himself a mere centimetre from actually knocking. He was unsure about the proper etiquette of gaining entry to this particular building. On one hand... hoof... whatever, this was a public library, and knocking on the door of a public building would look profoundly silly. Then again, this was also someone’s home, which meant he couldn’t just barge in either.
After considering this for a short while, Chance shrugged and knocked anyway. For all intents and purposes, he was a visiting foreigner, and foreigners are expected to do silly things every now and then.
“We’re open!” was the answer from inside. Heeding this invitation, Chance opened the door and stepped inside.
It was pretty much like he had expected, if a bit messier: large quantities of colourful books stacked several storeys high, each of them filled with a whole world of knowledge. Chance was never really the type to sit down and study, but he was quite certain he could have some fun here.
“Looking for something specific?” asked a familiar-looking purple dragon carrying a small stack of books, snapping Chance out of his daydreams.
“No, not really,” said Chance with a smile. “I was wondering if Midnight Watch could come out and play.”
Spike thought it over for a second, and then seemed to realise something. “Oh, you must be that other guy, Lucky Chance! My name is Spike,” he said as he approached Chance and shook his hoof. “Sorry to tell you this, but he and Twilight just went out.”
“Ah, okay. You think I can catch up to them?” Chance had to struggle to hide his disappointment. He was hoping to exchange stories with Midnight, as they had both probably collected more than a few by now.
“They went to the Everfree Forest. It’s a little tricky getting through there, so you might not want to go there on your own.” He picked up his stack again and started putting them back on the planks. “If you want, you can stay here and wait, but I don’t know how long it’ll be before they get back.”
Chance considered the offer while looking around the library. “Nah, that’s alright,” he eventually said. “You don’t get to explore a town like this every day, so I think I’d rather be outside for now. Care to come along?”
“I can’t. I have to keep an eye on the library while Twilight is out,” said Spike, collecting a new stack of books from the floor.
“Then I guess this is goodbye for now,” said Chance. “Once he’s back, could you tell Midnight I was here?”
“No problem! See you later, and stop by anytime you want!”
After exchanging goodbyes, Chance left the library, a little unsure of what he was supposed to do now. As he looked around, his eye fell on a sign saying “R. Dash” standing next to the library. He glanced upwards, and saw a familiar-looking cloud hanging close to the library's branches, with several ropes leading to the tree’s various windows, and one dangling next to the sign.
Chance blinked a few times in confusion as he tried to make sense of this peculiar sight, but shrugged once he decided he didn’t need to know, as this presented a good opportunity. He walked towards the rope and cleared his throat. “Hi, Rainbow Dash! Remember me? I heard what a great flyer you are, and I was wondering if I could trade you a drink for a few beginner’s tips.” He opened and closed his mouth a few times, as if to taste his own words. Casual, playful and to the point, with a bit of flattery thrown in for good measure. Satisfied with his preparations, he tugged on the rope, and a high-pitched bell sounded from above.
She wasn’t sure when, but sometime during her pursuit, Applejack decided on a more subtle approach. Now that her attempt to chase Chance away had fallen apart, the only way she could make sure her friends didn’t get hurt was by catching him with his hoof in the cookie jar. So once she found him, she silently followed him, and by the time Chance had arrived at the library, she was sitting behind a pair of garbage cans, quietly chastising herself for bringing her Stetson.
“What’s he doing at Rainbow’s house?” asked Pinkie Pie.
“Ah don’t know. Talking to himself, it seems,” said Applejack. Her bored eyes then turned to shock as she remembered that she hadn’t brought a partner for this stake-out. “Wait a sec, what are you doing here?”
“I’m hiding behind a trash can!”
Applejack put her hoof against her forehead. “Hiding from what?”
“I don’t know. What are we hiding from?”
Applejack turned away once she figured out what Pinkie was asking. “Erm, well, yah see...”
“Oh, oh, let me guess!” said Pinkie, and seemed to think deeply. “Lucky Chance insisted on coming to town on his own, and you were worried about him, so now we’re secretly following to make sure he won’t get into trouble!”
“Uhm, yeah, yeah, that’s it! Good guess, Pinkie,” said Applejack with a sigh of relief. “Except for, yah know, the whole ‘we’ part.”
“Aww, can I come too? I’m bored!” said Pinkie with big puppy eyes.
“Aren't yah helping at Sugarcube Corner today?”
“I did! I helped by coming up with a new kind of cookie, and once I was done, Mr. Cake said ‘you’ve helped quite enough’, so now I’ve got nothing to do. So please, please, please?”
Applejack really wanted to refuse, but she realised that doing so would have the opposite effect on Pinkie Pie. “Fine. Just don’t make a mess, alright?” Ah guess Ah’m going to need another witness, she thought.
Just after Applejack managed to stop Pinkie from blowing their cover by skipping with joy, Lucky Chance walked away from Rainbow’s house looking dejected.
“Ah guess Rainbow isn’t at home right now,” said Applejack. “Ah wonder what he wanted from her.”
“Yah can’t make cookies from clouds, Pinkie.”
“Why not? You can make them from cotton candy.”
“Pinkie, please stop talking.”
The author should be dragged out in the street and shot for making lame webcomic references.
The author worked all night on this chapter. Then, in his sleep-deprived enthusiasm, he decided to publish it before the pre-reader got the chance to read it. As such, the following chapter will be rive with typos, grammar errors, awkward wording and other varieties of crappy writing. Though I doubt that this would stop you from reading it, please keep in mind that this is a first draft of sorts.
The Everfree Forest: a savage, magical place, where wild monsters roamed free and trees rose up to the sky unassisted. As evidenced by the occasional ruins, it once had been a place with some measure of civilization, but eventually the wilderness claimed the area as its own, and all was buried under a thick layer of roots and moss.
It was by any standard no place for a pony, yet three courageous individuals braved these lands, walking over the many animal trails in the shadows of the densely layered branches. There was no doubt that these three had a noble purpose in mind.
“I can’t believe we are doing this because Twilight has to get her coffee. Just why did you agree to this anyway?” asked Midnight Watch. Unsure of what would and what wouldn’t bite, he carefully dodged any root and branch that crossed his path.
“Because Twilight finally came to her senses, and asked me to protect her. Like she should’ve done the first time you showed up!” said Rainbow Dash with the impressive scowl she had perfected over the past few days. “Why are you here, anyway?”
“Because if I didn’t, sooner or later Twilight would just make me. I’d rather get this over with right now, thank you very much,” said Midnight while walking in a wide arc around a particularly suspicious rock. “You know, if you were really that concerned about Twilight’s safety, you shouldn’t have let her come here in the first place.”
“Oh, so now I’m the one that puts her in danger? Last I checked, you were the one that...”
“Could you two please stop bickering already?” Twilight brusquely turned around, nearly headbutting Midnight in the process, and gave her two travelling companions a stern look.
“But he/she...” said Midnight and Rainbow simultaneously.
“No buts! We are almost there, and I will not have you two act like little foals in front of Zecora!”
Midnight and Rainbow wanted to protest, but eventually hung their heads, knowing that they wouldn’t win this battle. “Fine,” they said with little sincerity.
Satisfied with their submission, Twilight continued on her way, while her companions gave each other one final glare before following suit. The trio walked wordlessly for a few minutes before Midnight saw fit to break the silence. “Say, Twilight, didn’t you say we were almost there about fifteen minutes ago?” he asked.
“Maybe, but this time I’m sure of it,” said Twilight without turning around.
“So you can say for sure that we are on the right track?”
“Of course we are! I go to Zecora’s all the time! I know exactly where it is!”
Not knowing what to make of this answer, Midnight looked at Rainbow.
“Don’t ask me,” said Rainbow in response to the unspoken question. “If I go there, I just fly over the trees.” She fluttered with her wings as demonstration.
Midnight looked at their surroundings. He saw a huge mass of trees, herbs and wildlife, but very little that could serve as any sort of landmark. He looked up, but the sun was hidden behind the many branches hanging over the trail. He groaned, as the last bit of hope he had left abandoned his chest. “We are completely lost, aren’t we?”
“We are not lost!” snapped Twilight. “I just took a wrong turn somewhere.”
Midnight sighed. “Splendid,” he said. “Well, at least this is an easy problem to solve. Rainbow, could you fly above the branches and see if you can point us in the right direction?”
Rainbow glared at Midnight. “Oh, you’d like that, wouldn’t you?”
“Yes, I would like to get out of this creepy forest as soon as possible.”
“Well, that’s not going to happen!” said Rainbow. “I’m not leaving you alone with Twilight.”
Midnight did not immediately respond, and instead stopped in his tracks, staring at Rainbow with a distorted look on his face. All kinds of new ideas started cropping up in his mind, but most of them were nipped in the bud by the image of his mother repeating the phrase “Men that hit girls are scum” over and over again.
Eventually he took a deep breath in and out, and let his frustrations fly on the wind. “Okay, then how about this: you fly up there and bring Twilight along for the ride, then come back here so we can all safely walk to our destination.”
“Leave you on your own so you can go about your sneaky business? Not a chance! I’m on to you!”
Midnight’s frustrations apparently didn’t fly very far, and he wondered if he could negotiate with his mother about the exact definition of the word “girl”.
His train of thought was soon derailed by Twilight. “Can you just let it go?” she asked. “I already told you that we are not lost. Just follow me, and we will get there eventually.”
Midnight opened his mouth to voice a protest, but eventually just sighed and kept walking. His energy would be better spent on keeping an eye on his surroundings than trying to get his way.
Lucky Chance stared at his reflection in the mirror. He had seen it before, in windows and puddles of water, but never quite this clear. For a moment, he found this confrontation with his new complexion to be most disturbing.
Not so much because of the way he looked, of course. He knew perfectly well what to expect in that area: big eyes, big mouth, ears pointing upwards, the whole package. The unsettling part was that, despite all these features, he could still recognise the reflection as his own.
He started making a few funny faces, but was interrupted by a polite cough from Fedora, the owner of the the hattery. She had arrived holding Chance’s requested item, a red, truncated cone, with a tassel hanging from the top, and looked curiously at her customer. Properly embarrassed, Chance was unsure what to say, and eventually settled for a soft, nervous laugh. He then accepted the item, carefully avoiding the shopkeeper’s eyes.
He ran a hoof across the red felt, baring his teeth with glee, and placed it on top of his head. This was the moment he had waited for all this time. “I wear a fez now! Fezzes are cool!”
Fedora’s eyes lighted up. “Yes indeed, they are!” she said. “I’m so glad to finally see a stallion with an eye for exotic designs! Or any design, for that matter.” She sighed as she looked at her store, filled with all kinds of hats, but no patronage apart from this one stranger. The inhabitants of Ponyville seemed to care only for the basics of life, and had little use for showy accessories. It would have been nice if the former owner told her about this before he sold her the building and inventory for only fifty bits.
Chance nodded along as he was mulling something over. He had believed that all the elements were in place, but it appeared that a crucial piece was still missing.
Adamant to find out what it might be, he tried again. “Hello, I’m Lucky Chance, and I’m wearing a fez!”
“And I’m sure you’ll make a good impression like that,” said Fedora with a beaming smile. “So, are you buying?”
Chance slowly turned his head, and stared blankly at the hatter’s face. For an eternity, he sat there unmoving, and Fedora’s salespony smile started to tremble under the weight of his gaze. Finally, he turned away. “Oh, never mind,” he said with a sigh.
“Is... anything the matter, sir?” asked Fedora.
“No, nothing at all. It’s just that... There is just no fun to spouting stupid stuff when there is no one around to try and hit you for it.”
Fedora briefly considered contacting the local hospital to ask if they had anyone missing from the psychiatric ward, but decided that it could wait until after she had made a sale. She choose her words carefully. “Well, sir, I don’t think I really understand what you’re saying, but if it would make you buy that hat, I’d be more than happy to hit you.”
Chance looked back at the mirror, and after a short period of deliberation, he put down the hat and turned towards the door. “It just wouldn’t be the same,” he said. “How about you hold on to that for a little while longer? I’ll come back later with a friend to check out the rest of your store as well.”
Though she was prepared to smack him anyway, Fedora resisted the urge as not all seemed lost. She used her raised hoof to awkwardly rub her neck, and forced a smile. “No problem, sir. I’m one hundred percent sure this hat will still be waiting for you when you get back.”
Satisfied with this assurance, Chance walked out of the door. Before leaving, he turned around one last time. “Good luck with your business,” he said and closed the door, which was fortunate as he wouldn’t have to deal with the unfinished top hat that had been launched at his face. Chance wondered a few seconds about the noise of silk hitting wood, but then turned around and faced the town square.
He felt completely lost. He hadn’t felt like that ever since he had to transfer to a new elementary school after his parents got their divorce. Wherever he looked, he saw ponies enjoying a beautiful day, but only a few that he recognised, and none that would know him. For half his life, he had either school or jobs to give him directions whenever he went somewhere new, or he could count on his friend being right behind him so they could be lost together.
But now there was no one to turn to, and Chance stood there frozen among the crowd of ponies. Suddenly, he was being pushed out of the way of a gruff-looking stallion pulling a cart full of all kinds of vegetables. “Hey watch it!” shouted the stallion, to which Chance bowed his head to the ground and mumbled an apology, and then slinked towards the shadows a corner.
Now that he had a little space to himself, he took a deep breath and cleared his head from the noise coming from the square. He briefly considered going back to the farm to see if he could help Granny Smith with sweeping a floor or something, but then lightly slapped himself on both cheeks. “Come on!” he whispered. “Just how old are you now, huh? You are not that awkward little kid any more! This isn’t the first time this happened, and it didn’t last then either. What did you do back then to solve this problem?”
He remembered that day as if it were yesterday: he walked up to a kid playing with a Game Boy, and asked if he could see his Pokemons. He and Midnight had been stuck with each other ever since.
Chance realised what he had to do. He had to find some pony that would accept him, so he could carve out his own little corner in this community from there, and he had just the pony in mind for the job of making a newcomer feel welcome.
With a new course of action in mind, he walked up to two ponies reading newspapers on a bench and cleared his throat. “Excuse me. Could I ask something?” For a moment, neither of the addressed moved, until one of the ponies slowly lowered their newspaper, revealing a long grey beard and glasses so thick that Chance wondered how anyone could see through them. “I’m looking for this place called ‘Sugarcube Corner’, and I was wondering if you could give me some directions.”
The elderly stallion coughed, and answered with a deep, hoarse voice. “Erm, yeah, yah just go down that road there, and keep walking ‘till yah see it on yahr right. Yah can’t miss it.”
Chance nodded. “Thanks a lot, sir. Have a good day.” He started walking towards the indicated road, but suddenly jerked around. “Excuse my curiosity, sir, but why are you holding your newspaper upside down?”
The elder shook up, looked at the paper and laughed nervously. “Gee, ain’t that just silly? Thanks for pointing that out.”
“No problem, sir. Bye, then!” Chance turned around, but stopped in his tracks halfway. “Just one more thing, sir! That’s a very familiar accent you have. Do you happen to be connected to the Apple Family, by chance?”
The elder froze up, and sat straight up in his seat, his eyes moving rapidly behind the glasses. “Maybe,” he slowly answered, and then quickly pointed to the clock tower in the distance. “Woah, nelly, look at tha time! Mah friend and Ah really need ta get going. See yah around, bye,” he said, then rapidly stood up and ran towards an alley on the edge of the square, while his friend stayed in place.
Unsure about what is going on, Chance turned to the other avid reader, who hadn’t moved an inch since he first approached the pair. “Ehm, excuse me?” he asked cautiously.
The pony didn’t answer. Suddenly, Someone shouted “Yah can move now!” from the other side of the square.
The other pony, who had a moustache and baseball cap, sat up, shouted “Okidoki!” towards the voice, and ran off as well, leaving Chance with a lot more question than he originally came with.
After attempting to process the recent events, he shrugged. “Well, that was weird,” he said, and walked away.
“Just hurry up!” Rainbow Dash shouted. “We could have been there already if it wasn’t for you!”
“First of all, I find that hard to believe after walking in circles for hours. Second of all, I refuse to hear any of that from you, miss I-can-fly-over-the-trees-but-I-won’t-because-buck-you!” answered Midnight, who was walking about ten metres behind. “We’ll be stuck here for a long time, and I’m just trying to keep an eye out for monsters!”
“Yes, we get it!” said Twilight, who was walking next to Rainbow. “You two have been repeating the same arguments over and over again. Let me set you straight for the last time: Midnight Watch is not some kind of criminal, Rainbow Dash is just looking out for my safety, and though we might just be a little bit lost, we are not in any kind of danger at...”
Twilight could not finish that sentence. While she and Rainbow were looking back towards Midnight, they didn’t see the conspicuously crossed branches forming a big X on the ground. The leaves above them loudly rustled as they crossed the mark, and before they knew it, they were pressed to the ground by a weighted net. Spurred on by their startled yells, Midnight Watch rushed to their side and began removing the net, but something caught his eye before he could liberate the two mares.
From the bushes came a dozen large insect-like creatures with large eyes glowing dimly red, walking on four out of six legs, and holding a spear in their claws. They made menacing clicking noises with their huge jaws, and slowly approached the trio, weary of the jumps a cornered pony might make.
“Those are Myrmidons!” said Twilight. “But what are they doing here? They never come this close to Ponyville!”
“Well, then I suppose we aren’t particularly close to Ponyville either,” said Midnight. “Got any ideas?”
“Ugh, I can’t do anything with this in the way,” said Rainbow Dash while furiously struggling with the net. “Twilight, can you do something about it?”
Before Rainbow had finished that sentence, Twilight had already activated the aura around her horn. “Twilight, stop!” shouted Midnight. “Think of the doctor!”
Twilight didn’t stop. “Normally, I’d agree, but I think the doctor wouldn’t approve of us getting captured like this either.” She closed her eyes and bit her lip. As she concentrated, small blue flames appeared on the net around her horn. Midnight backed away from the net, afraid that something terrible might happen. The flames banded together in a single large flame, and then dissipated into nothingness without accomplishment. “I... guess I’m not quite strong enough yet,” she said.
Midnight looked around him, and noticed a change in the behaviour of their assailants: they were already weary of their captives, but now they stopped their approach and, for as far as Midnight could read their body language, almost seemed afraid. Smelling an opportunity to get out of this without any real trouble, Midnight activated his horn, turning up the aura as bright as he could manage, and puffed up his chest.
“Hold, you petty insects!” he said in his best impression of an impressive voice. “How dare you stand in the way of the Grand Duchess of Magic? Release my mistress and her companion at once, or face the consequences!”
He seemed to make an impression. The Myrmidons held their spears protectively in front of their faces, and one of the smaller ones started backing away. The would-be deserter didn’t get very far, however, as a particularly large individual appeared from the bushes, and harshly kicked the coward back in line before entering the circle himself. His carapace was adorned with tribal markings, depicting all kinds of dangerous animals. Standing tall, he steadily walked up to Midnight, pointing his spear at the latter’s chest.
“Stand back, I say! do not make me use this!” shouted Midnight, dangerously swinging his horn around. Unfortunately, the giant didn’t seem impressed, and he kept walking forwards until he had his spear at Midnight’s throat.
Though he desperately tried to keep his face straight, Midnight couldn’t stop his knees from wobbling, and eventually, his horn fizzled out. Knowing that the gig was up, he swallowed and smiled sheepishly. “Parlay?”
The great Myrmidon took away his spear from Midnight’s throat and turned around, holding up his claw as some kind of indication to his fellow warriors. Midnight sighed with relief, before being squashed under half a dozen chitin shells.
After following the directions he was given, Lucky Chance was standing in front of Sugarcube Corner, admiring the building. After a quick inspection, he concluded that the confection-based decorations were actually incredibly detailed pieces of woodwork, which he found both impressive and disappointing. Having satisfied his architectural curiosity, he entered the building to the sound of a clear bell hanging above the door.
He felt like he was being hit in the face. In the shop hung a sweet scent so incredibly thick, he could practically swim through it. He considered a tactical retreat, but pressed onward. He approached the empty counter, and knocked. “Anyone here?” he asked the empty store.
From a door behind the counter appeared Mr. Cake, with his face mostly covered by a towel. “Oh, a customer,” he said with a muffled voice. “Welcome to Sugarcube Corner! Sorry about the smell; we had a bit of an accident this morning and are still cleaning up.”
“No kidding!” said Chance with his hoof in front of his mouth. “Sweet geebus on a stick, it’s like my lungs are being sugarcoated!”
“Yeah, it got messed up real good. Can I help you with something?”
“Well, I was actually looking for Pinkie Pie. Is she around?”
“Good heavens, no!” Mr. Cake exclaimed before coughing politely. “Ahem, I mean, I’m afraid that she’s out for now. Can I take a message?”
“That’s alright, really. Could you tell me where I might find her?”
Mr. Cake sighed. “Sorry, but Pinkie is the kind of pony that only shows up when you don’t want her to. Your best bet is to tour the town and see if you run into her. Can I get you anything else?”
Chance took a look at the glass cases displaying all kinds of sweet goodness. Though he personally didn’t care much for sweets, it all looked pretty appetising either way. “Well, now that I’m here...“
Pinkie dropped her spy can, skipped towards her window and looked down at the streets. Applejack was still there, hiding between two shops across the street. Pinkie whistled sharply, and Applejack came out and waited for Pinkie to come down. With little fear of heights, Pinkie hopped down, onto Applejacks back and then the street. “Wheeeee,” she said. “we should do that more often.”
“Right, Pinkie. So, did you get the whole thing?”
“Nope, just the last part. I had to find a new hole for my spy can since Mr Cake plugged the old one.”
“Well, that’s better than nothing. What did yah hear?”
Pinkie shook her head. “Can’t say. He made an order, you see? And after the whole town found out about that famous health guru, Loose Pounds, ordering two dozen cupcakes a week, Ms. Cake made me pinkie promise never to tell anyone about anyone’s orders again.”
Applejack put her hoof to her face with an exasperated sigh. “Yeah, Ah get it. Let’s move on before we lose him.”
“Okidoki,” said Pinkie, and happily skipped after Applejack.
The author doesn’t trust updates.