“I hope you enjoyed lunch, Your Highness.”
Celestia levitated a napkin to her face, delicately wiping away the few crumbs there. “Of course, Iron Chef. You’ve outdone yourself again.”
She smiled at her chef as he bowed. Despite being in charge of meals for the whole castle, Iron Chef always supervised her food, and now her sister’s, personally. Celestia had told him it wasn’t necessary, but he said he’d rather lose a leg then give up that privilege. His actual response had been a bit more graphic, but Celestia doubted he was being serious. At least, she hoped he wasn’t.
The Princess rose, stretching her wings, enjoying the momentary calm. This morning had been one of her most interesting in decades. Which reminded her, it had been about two hours. That should be more than enough time for the humans to have thought over their actions. She giggled softly to herself and teleported, disappearing in the blink of an eye.
Celestia reappeared in the middle of a large group of moping creatures. Most of them were just sprawled out, a few were talking quietly in small groups, and some had actually gone to sleep despite the hard ground. The leader jumped to attention as she materialized and shouted a quick series of orders. Within an impressively short time, all of the self-proclaimed ‘humans’ were in formation and awaiting her response.
Even after their ‘punishment’ they remain loyal. That’s a promising sign. Celestia smiled, but said nothing. The group watched her for a second, then with a determined expression, the lead human – Jeff, if she remembered his name correctly – stepped forward.
“Permission to speak freely?” the human asked, and Celestia nodded assent. “Thank you. I understand why I was sent to the moon, but I believe it was unfair that the rest of the division was sent with me. Whatever my fate, they deserve to return to Equestria.”
And he’s willing to stand up for his friends. Celestia fought the urge to smile. “Very well, but only if you can answer one question for me.” Jeff nodded. “If I sent you to the moon, then how are any of you still breathing?” There was a moment of confusion on the faces of every human present, but then their eyes began to widen. Before they could say anything Celestia dispelled the illusion and dropped the soundproof dome surrounding them.
The humans goggled at the throne room they’d never left, and Celestia permitted herself a wide grin. “There’s a lesson in this. Don’t call anypony names, or they might just prove you right.” There was moment more of silence from the group, then Jeff began chuckling, and in seconds the sound of laughter, from both human and pony, echoed throughout the grand room.
Written by: Psychicscubadiver
Edited by: Silentcarto and frieD195
Story Image by: Wyrmlover
Disclaimer: Hasbro owns My Little Pony. Last time I checked I am not Hasbro. Any resemblance of these characters to real people, living or dead, is entirely coinciden− oh who am I kidding? The bronies in this story are based on real people, most of whom I got permission from. Anyone I didn’t ask, please don't sue. Thank you.
Three Months Later
Lyra woke up yawning, and Bon-Bon stirred sleepily beside her. Lyra smiled softly at the sight, and gave her a quick peck on the cheek before getting up to make breakfast. While they normally just had cold cereals or a muffin, something felt special about today. Lyra began making fresh chocolate chip pancakes.
Bon-Bon was a better cook than the mint-green unicorn would ever be, but at least she didn’t set the kitchen on fire any more. As she worked, Lyra wondered why today felt so important. She knew it wasn’t either of their birthdays and a quick glance at the calendar killed her panicked worry that she’d forgotten their anniversary. She had an order to pick up at the clock shop today, but she wasn’t that fond of Time Turner. She didn’t even have another interview scheduled with one of the humans in town. Not that their discussions were always productive. Humans were fascinating, the perfect mix of insanity and ingenuity, but finding out anything about their ‘Earth’ was an uphill struggle.
Lyra sighed. None of the ponies the humans followed had shown any interest in finding out where their fans had come from. Even Twilight was too wrapped up her studies of the humans’ unique tools to care much about their origin. After a lot of discussion, Lyra had finally convinced Twilight that knowing more about Earth could reveal an important clue to her studies, but her division had distracted her with new device from Earth called a ‘radio’. Twilight had been thrilled by the technology and lost focus on the place itself. Thus, Lyra had been stymied again.
They were being evasive on purpose, she knew, but why?
A knock on the door broke her concentration, and saved the pancakes from becoming charcoal. Lyra quickly moved the pan off the heat and rushed to the door. It was a human on the other side, wearing a light gray shirt and hat with a stylized muffin embroidered into it.
“Mornin’, Lyra. Here’s your mail,” he said, digging through the large bag at his side. Now that Derpy had her division to help out, the mail came every day and hardly anything was lost or misplaced in the process. The gray pegasus still delivered her share, but mainly she served the cloud homes that humans couldn’t reach.
“Thanks, Barret,” Lyra said, levitating the envelope he gave her. “How’s the boss doing?” Lyra had made it a point to meet every human in Ponyville and talk to them. She couldn’t truthfully say she remembered every one of their names, but Barret always ran this route.
“Pretty good. She’s got more time to spend with Dinky, we’ve expanded the routes to include some of the ponies who live further outside of town, and she’s almost made enough to pay for the damage to town hall.” His smile turned to a slight frown as she put her mail on the small table behind her. “I gotta say, though. I know you like human names, Lyra, but couldn’t you just call me Bear like everypony else?”
Lyra frowned in response. “Your real name sounds fine. Why would you prefer a nickname?”
He raised an eyebrow and smiled. “Okay, if you say so, Heartstrings.”
Lyra laughed. “Touché.” It was a phrase she’d picked up from the humans, and she had to admit the one-word response had grown on her.
Barret grinned and turned to go, but then he stopped, seeming to remember something. “Oh yeah, one last thing. You didn’t hear this from me, but you might be getting a surprise sometime in the near future.”
Lyra blinked. “Then who did I hear it from?” The human almost said something, but then he noticed the smile hiding beneath her expression.
With a rueful chuckle he left. “See you tomorrow.”
“Bye, Bear.” Lyra replied, closing the door and leaving the human to the rest of his route. She hummed a small tune as she walked back to the kitchen. There were still more pancakes to make. It was tough to keep her mind on the task at hoof, but somehow Lyra managed. It helped that she needed them as a peace offering for Bon-Bon. It was more than likely her better half would be against whatever surprise the humans were planning. In short order, Lyra had a towering stack of deliciousness. Now she just needed to bait the trap. Bon-Bon was still asleep, but Lyra knew how to fix that.
She cautiously crept up the stairs to their bedroom and peeked in. Good, Bon-Bon was completely unaware of her presence. Lyra took a deep breath, then threw the door open and yelled in the loudest, most obnoxiously saccharine voice possible. “Time to get up, my shmoopy-doopy sweetie-weety pony pie!”
Bon-Bon’s body shot at least a foot in the air before gravity reasserted itself and pulled her forcefully back into bed. The alarmed Earth pony blinked in confusion before realizing what was going on. She groaned and rolled over, intent on ignoring Lyra.
Lyra just grinned. “C’mon, let’s get moving, cuddly-wuddly baby-waby.”
Bon-Bon covered her head with a pillow. “Lyra, if you don’t stop, I am going to beat you with this pillow, and I don’t know if I can stop once I start.” Her voice was muffled, but it was easy to tell she was not amused. Lyra tried to suppress her giggles. Just a little more.
“But I have a special surprise for you, honey-bunny−” A pillow interrupted her baby talk, but it was just as well; Lyra couldn’t have come up with much worse. Bon-Bon scowled at her, holding another pillow at the ready, and Lyra couldn’t keep a straight face.
The unicorn collapsed onto the bed laughing, but Bon-Bon’s scowl just deepened. She lifted the pillow she was holding threateningly. “Give me one reason why I shouldn’t keep my promise.”
Lyra smiled innocently, “Because you’re too pretty and loving to hurt anypony else.” Bon-Bon raised the pillow higher. “And because there are chocolate chip pancakes waiting in the kitchen.”
Bon-Bon’s eyes sparkled, and Lyra chuckled to herself. Her marefriend had an insatiable sweet tooth. Not that Lyra was completely off the hook yet. Bon-Bon tried and failed to bring back her glare. “I can’t be bribed that easily.”
Lyra smiled. “Yeah, but I know you’ll eat them anyway. Especially after I tell you how sorry I am.”
Bon-Bon snorted. “Fine. You win.”
“I know.” Lyra said and leaned forward to nuzzle Bon-Bon. The earth pony quickly returned the gesture and calmed down enough that Lyra wasn’t worried about ‘justifiable ponicide’.
“So what’s got you in such a mood?” Bon-Bon asked. “Getting up early, making pancakes, acting more crazy than usual.”
Lyra shrugged. “I dunno, today just feels special.”
The crystal array hovering over the prone human wouldn’t have looked out of place in mad scientist’s laboratory, but unfortunately, the man lying on the table was under the watchful eye of a much more dangerous entity.
A frustrated Twilight Sparkle.
“It just doesn’t make any sense!” The unhappy unicorn shouted again. Her test subject wasn’t sure how many times she had said it; he’d stopped counting somewhere in the twenties. Twilight stared at the readings on her machines as though she could force them to give her the results she wanted. “How can you be magically inert? That should be impossible.”
The man had to twist somewhat awkwardly to face her while he spoke, but she had already discovered that humans were far more flexible than most equines. “I think ‘should be’ is the key phrase in that sentence. Besides, we’ve already told you that humans can’t do magic. Why is this so confusing?”
Twilight snorted. “Not using magic and being magically inert are two completely different things, Cal. Everything has magic within it and can thus be affected by magic. You, on the other hoof, contain some sort of resonance or energy that resists magic. The reaction between it and my spells is like oil and water.” The unicorn sighed and rubbed her brow worriedly. “How could I have missed this for so long?”
Cal shrugged, and hopped off the lab table. “How often do you need to use magic on your friends? If you hadn’t tried to cast that cloud-walking spell yesterday we still wouldn’t have known.” He sighed. “And I really wanted to see Cloudsdale, too.”
Twilight, however, hardly heard him. She was busy running power calculations through her head, weighing the risks versus the benefits of inducing a response, maybe even finding a way of extracting some of that mysterious energy. Far from being disappointing, this could be the find of the century! No, the millennium!
She could hardly stop herself from breaking into a mad grin as she gave new orders. “Take off your clothes, and get back on the table. I want a more accurate reading on that energy signature.”
“All my clothes?” Cal asked, his eyes wide in fear. “I don’t know if you remember, but nudity is a pretty big taboo among humans.”
Twilight turned to stare at him, determination etched into every line of her face. “Forget your social mores. This is for science!”
“But−” He protested.
“For science!” She shouted triumphantly and waved a hoof at the beeping machines around her.
He wavered for a moment more but couldn’t help getting caught up in her enthusiasm. “Okay. I’ll do it. For science!” he cheered. Cal stripped off his shirt in seconds and was working on his pants when Spike walked in.
The dragon blinked at the scene before him. “Do I want to know what’s going on here?”
Twilight and Cal looked at each other for a second. Then they broke into enormous grins, turned towards Spike and shouted. “Science!”
Spike rolled his eyes. “Sure, like that explains anything. Anyway, I just got a message from the Princess−”
“Good,” Twilight interrupted. “I wondered when she’d reply to my report on the ‘juke-box’.”
Spike shook his head. “Actually, Twilight, this one is addressed to the BIG.”
“Really?” Cal asked, his voice almost breaking in excitement. He took the scroll from Spike and unrolled it, quickly scanning the contents. A smile appeared on his face and the further he read the larger it grew. He stuffed the parchment into a pocket and began hurriedly tugging his shirt back on.
“Sorry, Twilight, but I’ve got to leave and find the bossman. He needs to see this immediately.”
“Why? What does it say?”
Cal’s grin took on a mischievous gleam. “Both the Princesses approved the BIG’s request. The auxiliary divisions have been cleared to mobilize today.”
Thus far the day didn’t seem to be living up to Lyra’s mysterious feeling. Breakfast had been nice, and of course any time with Bon-Bon was special, but nothing out of the ordinary had happened yet.
She had eaten breakfast, helped with chores around the house, worked on a couple of songs for a while, and eaten lunch. Maybe she needed to get out there, hit the streets as they say, to find the source of her odd feeling. So Lyra threw on her saddlebags and headed for Ponyville’s clock shop. Time Turner had set up shop in Ponyville a couple years ago, but he was already a pillar of the community.
Lyra had commissioned one of his more unique works, a clock on a small elastic band that circled the foreleg. He had seen a couple humans wearing them and had immediately put out a design for ponies. Though, now that she thought about it, it was strange how quickly he’d made his version after seeing one. Almost as swiftly as the clocks he’d made for years.
Her musings, interesting as she found them, were cut short as she rounded the corner onto the clock shop’s street. Time Turner, a chestnut colored earth pony, was out front talking, shouting actually, at squad of kneeling humans in brown shirts.
“Stop with that nonsense! I’m a clockmaker, not a doctor, and the only ‘oncoming storm’ I know about is the shower planned for Tuesday.”
The rest of Ponyville hardly seemed to notice. Humans, odd as they were, had become a common sight in the small town. Even the arrival of this new division didn’t seem to draw much attention. Of course, in a town as crazy as this one, it was hard to impress the residents for long. Lyra approached curiously as the humans rose. She’d never seen them get a pony wrong before. They’d been very close-mouthed about where they got their information, but until now it had always been correct – almost scarily so.
The humans rose smoothly and one of them stepped forward. She was short for a human, but still towered over Turner. Oddly enough, she didn’t seem disappointed to have found the wrong pony. “If you’re not the Doctor,” a word she put a strange emphasis on, “then is your name Time Turner?”
Lyra frowned, puzzled, and Ponyville’s clockmaker slowly nodded.
The human leader replied hopefully. “You just moved here a few years ago, right? And you’re the Official Timekeeper of Ponyville, responsible for all things timey-wimey?” A few humans chuckled at that, but their leader didn’t pause. “And you don’t remember anything about your life before Ponyville, do you?”
Turner gave her a sour glare. “Yes, but how do you know all that? Have you lot been poking about in other ponies’ business?”
The girl hesitated. “Not quite, but you’re definitely the pony we want. Will you accept our service?”
“I’m flattered, honestly, but I’m just a boring old clockmaker. I wouldn’t have much use for a cadre of alien bodyguards. Besides, aren’t there more important ponies you could be annoying − I mean, serving?” Turner asked, his brow creased in frustration. He turned to leave, but the human leader put a hand on his shoulder.
“Wait a second. You can refuse us if you want, but shouldn’t you at least hear what you’re turning down?” She smiled. “Could you stand not knowing? Wondering just what I have to offer? That unknown variable just waiting to be discovered doesn’t that tempt you even a bit?”
Turner paused. He was still frowning, but Lyra could tell he was tempted. Maybe it was none of her business, but she couldn’t resist giving him her opinion.
“Come on, Turner. What would it hurt to hear them out? Hay, now I’m curious.” The earth pony jumped slightly, as though noticing her for the first time.
“Lyra, I didn’t hear you sneak up. Here for your wristwatch?”
She nodded, but her attention was fixed on the humans. “Yeah, but that can wait. I wanna hear what your humans have to say.”
Turner rolled his eyes. “You are far too interested in those nuts for anypony’s good, Lyra. If I didn’t know better, I’d think you were one.” A couple of the humans started chuckling, but the glares of their fellows quickly silenced the laughter. Turner arched an eyebrow, his cynicism justified. Lyra begged silently, giving him one of her best pleading expressions.
At first he resisted, but the good clockmaker was far too much of a gentlecolt to refuse her for long. “Fine.” He groaned and turned to the waiting humans. “Dazzle me, then,” he said, his surly expression giving them slim odds.
The leader, though, was unfazed. “We wouldn’t be a bother. We’d only hang around when you want us there. We could keep your shop clean, handle deliveries, watch the counter while you’re working, and five of us are journeyman – er, journeypony? – level clockmakers.” Five of the humans, each carrying a small case, stepped forward, but Turner wasn’t impressed.
“And,” the girl continued, her voice turning sly, “they brought their own tools.” With that the five humans opened their cases and Turner’s demeanor made a complete one-eighty.
“Oh, look at that! Brilliant! Made of titanium, are they? Well, there certainly are advantages to coming from a fully industrialized society, aren’t there? Magnetized tips? What for – of course! It would keep the screw properly aligned. That is clever! All of it unusable by me, unfortunately, hooves and a mouth don’t have a patch on hands for dexterity. No sonic tools in the lot? A shame, I’m rather fond of them myself. And those lenses! I haven’t seen glass ground that finely since I arrived on this … this…” His rant tapered off and Turner’s eyes lost their mad gleam. Lyra stared at her friend in shock. She knew that after a few too many ciders he could be a little wild, but what she had just seen was something else. For a moment he hadn’t been Time Turner, clockmaker of Ponyville.
He had been somepony completely different; insane and brilliant, intriguing and terrifying.
Then it was gone, and he shook his head, clearing out the remains of whatever had possessed him. The girl was smiling hopefully and the rest of humans were stretched tauter than lyre strings in expectation. At last, Turner looked up at them and sighed. “I must be crazy, but sure. Someone has to keep an eye on you lot.”
“Sure thing, Mr. Turner. You can call me Hana.” She offered her hand, and they shook. Turner turned to go back into his shop and his division of humans began to follow. Lyra could just barely hear Hana as she entered the building. “So, as leader of the group, does that make me the ‘head companion’, or would ‘lead companion’ be better?”
Lyra was still gaping, and snapped out of it only just in time to grab the attention of one of the last humans. “What the hay was that?!” she demanded.
The human grinned, his smile a reflection of Time Turner’s manic energy. “That was the Doctor.”
“For the Lunar Republic!”
“None can defy the Solar Empire!”
The two lines of humans crashed into each other. Helmets ringing with impacts, muscles straining until the combatants thought they would rip. The struggle continued, no one giving any ground. Neither side could show mercy, not when the honor of their chosen Princess depended on them winning. A shape flashed overhead, and a few second later, a loud shout ended the brawl.
“Pass complete! First down, Solar Empire.”
The crowd in the stands cheered, but the two Princesses of Equestria watched serenely from their royal box. Luna shook her head softly. “This ‘football’ the humans play is such a violent sport.”
Celestia smiled, a touch smugly in Luna’s opinion. “You say that every week, but their protective equipment seems to prevent any serious injury. Besides, our ponies certainly enjoy the spectacle. Listen to their cheers.”
Luna frowned. “That’s only because of its novelty, such a barbaric game surely won’t−” A sudden movement on the field caught her attention. “A fumble?! GET IT! GIVE THEM NO QUARTER! YOUR PRINCESS DEMANDS VICTORY!”
Lyra headed to the market in a decidedly more downcast mood than that in which she had started the morning. After five minutes of her chatter, Turner had shoved the wristwatch at Lyra and told her she could pay him later. He actually said a lot more than that, but Lyra figured that he didn’t really mean most of it.
I mean, nopony can actually buck somepony into last week, can they?
Regardless, bombarding Turner with questions hadn’t gotten her many answers, and had managed to upset one of her few close friends. There was a silver lining to the cloud, though. She had a whole new group of humans to meet.
She imagined all the questions she could ask. Not just about the humans’ homeland, but about Turner too. She’d get to the bottom of this ‘Doctor’ business for sure. She was so distracted, she didn’t notice when she entered the marketplace, much less the large figure in front of her. The collision, at least, managed to get Lyra’s attention.
“Ouch!” she yelped, rubbing her horn gingerly.
The human she had crashed into didn’t say anything for a moment, though his expression told her he was in pain. Lyra wondered if there was something wrong with the human’s voice.
At last he straightened himself and spoke carefully. “Watch where you canter, if you please. I still have need of both my knees.”
Lyra studied him curiously. Not only was this a human she’d never meet before, but he was speaking in rhymes, just like that zebra (what was her name?) who lived outside of town. “Sorry, I’ll be more careful.” That was when she noticed he wasn’t alone. There were four more humans with him, each of them wearing an ash-grey shirt striped with black.
Another one stepped forward and gave her a smile. “Worry not, you did no harm. My friend is merely lacking charm.” A few in his group chuckled at that, and the human Lyra had crashed into flushed. He remained silent for a moment, and this time Lyra realized he was trying to compose his response in rhyme.
“I would like to see you grin when a charging pony rams your shin.”
Interesting. The humans typically tried to emulate the pony they admired, but this took it a step further. Right into Creepytown.
Lyra tried to dismiss the snap judgment. She knew better than anypony that humans had a different culture and basis for appropriate behavior. Though, she hoped the zebra had an open mind and a good sense of humor. “Can I help you with anything? You all look lost.”
One of the group eagerly nodded. “We seek the apple farmer with a coat of orange. We need to … damnit!” He swore as he realized his mistake.
The human beside him shook his head solemnly, and spoke the next rhyme with the ease of long practice. “If you can’t continue your rhyme, then you receive extra BP time.”
Lyra stared at them for a moment before breaking into laughter. “That’s crazy. Do you really have to rhyme everything you say?”
The scolded human shook his head. “Not everything. It’s a game we play. A challenge, so to speak. The last person to stay in rhyme gets a week off of BP duty and everybody who loses takes over their shifts.”
Lyra considered that. It almost made sense, but there was something off with it. “But you didn’t rhyme just now.” She pointed an accusing hoof at the human, and his fellows chuckled again.
He shrugged. “I’ve already lost. The extra BP sucks, but at least I can talk normally now. I don’t know how those freaks behind me manage to keep going so long.”
Another human, the same one who had reassured Lyra, snorted and gave his friend a smug look. “Don’t be mad that this game takes hours. Am I at fault for my rhyming powers?” The lead human rolled his eyes and Lyra stifled a laugh.
“So anyway. It’s nice to meet you, Lyra. I’m Dan.” He offered his hand and Lyra shook it. A couple months ago she had been shocked that every human seemed to know her name, but now, odd as it seemed, she took it for granted.
“Nice to meet you, Dan. Any chance you’ll tell where you humans actually learned my name?”
“What?” squeaked one of the humans, a slim girl who hadn’t spoken yet. The rest of the group looked at her, and she blushed. Dan just smiled.
“Wow, subtle as a hammer, aren’t cha? I’m afraid that info is classified.” Lyra frowned, but she had achieved a small victory at least. She still didn’t know their secret, but she had concrete proof that the humans were keeping something from her.
Their cover story about hearing tales of Equestria didn’t make sense. Sure, they would recognize the Elements of Harmony or the Princesses. Maybe somepony had even made a story about Derpy’s struggle with her disability, but what story could anypony have told about Lyra? She may not have been average, but she wasn’t exciting by anypony’s standards. Her life had lacked any of the drama, conflict or even comedy that marked a good story. So how did they know?
And even if their explanation had been true, they weren’t just from some land far from Equestria. Ponies hadn’t explored the whole world, but they would have noticed a society as large and advanced as what the humans must have come from. They spoke Equestrian too fluently to have come from another planet, as though the thought of aliens wasn’t insane enough. Even when they were alone, Equestrian was the only thing they spoke, and they knew it well enough to joke and rhyme in it. And at the same time, they were astoundingly ignorant about of the most basic facts of history or nature. Information that they surely would have known if they were somehow from Equestria’s distant future.
That thought made her shudder. A world where men evolved from ponies?
And so Lyra was left with a puzzle. A paradox that the humans had refused to resolve. How were they intimately familiar with Equestria and yet obviously foreign?
Dan didn’t seem to have noticed her moment of introspection. “Anyway, have you seen Applejack around anywhere? She didn’t have a stall set up when we got here, and none of her division knows where she went after she left the farm.”
Lyra shrugged. “Sorry, I haven’t seen her around. Try the library. If she’s not there, Twilight should be able to help you find her.”
“Thanks.” Dan said. “We’ll see you around, Lyra.”
The humans each gave her a wave or nod as they began to leave. All except one girl. She was tall, almost willowy, and her eyes held an oddly icy detachment. She gave Lyra a small, mysterious smile and spoke in a clear, powerful voice.
“Of that which you seek you should truly beware.
Secrets like ours can bring naught but despair.
This knowledge is one that ponies can’t bear.
That is why we lock it away with such care.
I’ll not stop you if you still so dare.
But you’ll heed my warning if you’re a wise mare.
Our home, she is proud but she is not fair.
It is for good reason that we do not live there.”
The words echoed in Lyra’s mind for moment before they began to sink in. When they did her jaw came close to hitting the ground. The rest of the humans were just as surprised. The girl walked away, humming a light tune to herself, while Lyra tried desperately to put her thoughts back in order.
Dan started laughing. “That girl is one hell of a show off. She must’ve spent the whole conversation coming up with that.”
Lyra stared at him in disbelief. “How can you laugh that off? Didn’t you hear what she said?!”
Dan shrugged. “I heard, but she’s just messing with you. You shouldn’t take it too seriously.” He glanced at something behind her. “Besides, I wouldn’t go looking for more trouble if I were you. You’re about to have a lot on your hooves. See ya.” He flashed her one last smile, his white teeth contrasting with his dusky skin, and he turned to leave.
What does he mean, ‘more trouble’? Lyra thought, turning around to see what the hay he was talking about. She immediately wished she hadn’t. The sight chilled her blood and clutched her heart in a vice-like grip. She wasn’t the only one either. All around the marketplace ponies were staring in various levels of shock and horror. Then the end of the world spoke in the shrill voices of three small fillies.
“CUTIE MARK CRUSADERS HUMAN LEADERS, YAY!”
Trixie watched her humans erect the enormous tent with satisfaction. After three long months of preparation, practice, and patience, the debut show of The Great and Powerful Trixie’s Circus of Amazement was only hours away.
The showmare ducked back into her new wagon, which the humans were only too happy to pull for her, and continued her grooming. Really, the humans had been a blessing. A whole group of fans, although not ones Trixie could ever recall performing for, practically begging her to let them finance her return to show business. There had also been a strange ceremony, some nonsense about eternal loyalty or something, but what was important was that Trixie could finally stand back on her stage with pride.
There came a small knock on the door and Trixie sighed. Can’t a star get just a little privacy? I suppose that’s just the price of talent. Aloud she said, “Come in.”
A rather plain human, distinguishable only by his small goatee, stooped to enter the wagon. “Hey, I’ve got the finished schedule. I thought you’d want to see it.”
It was her new manager, Steve or John or whatever his name was. Where most of her most loyal fans had contributed to her circus with some small talent of their own, their leader had proven to be brilliant organizer. Others may be preparing to warm up the crowd with acrobatics, juggling, singing or some other minor skill, but without his work, Trixie would never have had this opportunity.
Trixie knew all of this objectively, but often, she tried not to think about it. Anytime she did, she experienced a strange feeling that she couldn’t name. It had been such a long time since Trixie had felt gratitude that the return of the emotion was … uncomfortable.
“The Great and Powerful Trixie is the finale, correct? And our scout ponies have all of Trixie’s equipment already set up?”
The human nodded. “Eeyup, the best has been saved for last, and they just finished double checking. I had them buy extra fireworks, just in case.” He paused, his face conflicted. Whatever his thoughts, his face grew determined and he spoke again. “But I wanted to talk to you about cutting out the part of your act where you challenge your audience.”
Trixie arched an eyebrow, her face otherwise impassive, but inside she was in turmoil. “Don’t be a foal, that’s one of the most important bits. If Trixie doesn’t prove to the audience that she is better than them, then how could they look up to her?” Her gut twisted as she remembered her hometown and her old ‘friends’, but she forged ahead. “Trixie is called ‘The Great and Powerful Trixie’ for a reason. I – I mean – Trixie needs to show everypony that she is great! That she’s a success!” Taunts, laughter, and all the nights she’d spent crying flashed behind her eyes, but she didn’t cry now. She had learned years ago that crying was for the weak.
“I need to prove that I’m not a failure!” She roared, amplifying her voice until the small wagon shook with the force of it.
Then she gasped. She had blown it again. She had lost her temper and screamed at her manager. He wouldn’t stick around after that. Nopony ever did. Everything had finally been on track, her career had been looking up for the first time in a long time, and she had ruined it again.
Trixie hung her head. Her manager put a hand on her shoulder, and Trixie braced herself for rejection. At least he was being polite about it.
“I know that. Everypony knows that.” Trixie looked up at him, that strange emotion beginning to well up inside her again.
“That’s why we traveled so far to find you. That’s why we’ve spent so much time and effort to help you.” He smiled and ruffled her perfect mane, an affront that normally she would not have stood for. “We all love you for who you are. The real you, not the way you act. Just be yourself and everypony in the audience will love you too. You don’t need to put anypony down to feel great and powerful. You already are.”
Trixie choked back a sob, wrapped her forelimbs around her manager’s neck. Holding on to him like her life depended on it. “Thank you. Thank all of you so much. I don’t know what I would have done without you humans, Steve.”
The human returned her hug as best he could, but the way she was squeezing the air out of him made it difficult. “Thanks,” he choked out, “but my name is Rob.”
“Hush, Steve, you’re ruining the moment.”
Tree sap everywhere.
On Lyra. On the Cutie Mark Crusaders. Even on every one of the twenty-five humans.
And of course three certain fillies were not to blame.
“It’s not our fault!” Sweetie Belle cried as a pair of girls scrubbed her, trying to get the persistent sap out of her coat. All four ponies were in the one of the Spa’s large tubs and the accompanying humans were doing their best to get them clean. The humans hadn’t taken nearly so long in the bath. Lyra had to admit there were some benefits to being almost hairless, even if a few of them grumbled quietly about ruined clothing.
“Yeah!” Scootloo piped up before the two girls washing her dumped another bucket of water over her head. “How were we supposed to know Sugar Leaf was getting ready to make maple syrup? Those barrels could have been full of anything!”
Lyra’s sting of irritation had little to do with the knot that the girl grooming her had just found in her coat. “And the ‘anything’ in this case was gallons of maple sap. Not only did you get all of us sticky, but Sugar Leaf had been saving that sap. Now, she can’t make any more syrup until this winter. You three might have just ruined her whole business.” Lyra knew she was being a little harsh, but being soaked head to tail in sticky sap had cut short most of her patience.
The three fillies looked at her, their faces heartbroken, and Lyra fought back a sigh. She had never been good with foals. Luckily, she was saved from coming up with a response.
“We were planning to pay damages to Sugar Leaf. The BIG can cover the costs, but they still owe her an apology. And maybe you three should help her gather sap this winter so you can see how much work goes into it.”
Lyra nodded. That sounded like a great idea. Provided that she didn’t need to attend. The unicorn didn’t plan on getting anywhere near the Crusaders and something sticky ever again.
Apple Bloom stared at source of the voice, a silhouette against a large curtain in confusion. She turned towards Lyra. “Why’s Kyle standin’ on the other side a’ the curtain?”
Lyra sighed. The Cutie Mark Crusaders had originally sought her out because she was the town’s ‘human expert’, but most of their questions had been less about humans and more about how they could get human-related cutie marks. This question, at least, was one she could answer.
“For the same reason all of the humans scrubbing us are girls. In human society genders aren’t supposed to mix while nude or bathing. Ponies are usually nude so that’s something they had to adapt to, but bathing is infrequent enough that their old standards still hold. It’s psychological.”
The three fillies stared at her. Apple Bloom spoke first. “It may be ‘psycho’ but I don’t see no ‘logical’ about it.” Most of the humans scrubbing them chuckled over that, but a couple made a displeased face.
“Yeah,” Scootaloo added. “If he’s gonna talk to us then he should come closer so we can hear him.”
The figure hesitated for a moment, but shrugged and drew the curtain aside. Kyle didn’t react as he entered the bathing area despite whatever social boundaries he was crossing. Of course he hadn’t batted an eyelash after getting splashed by sap either. Stoic seemed like the best word to describe him.
He reached the edge of the tub and stopped. “That was pretty much all I had to say.”
Lyra stared at him, and he waggled his eyebrows without changing his deadpan expression. The unicorn groaned and few of the humans grooming them chuckled sympathetically. “Fine,” she said. “But I’ve got some questions of my own. Did you all swear loyalty to all three of these fillies? How exactly does that work?”
Kyle shook his head. “We’re kind of a special case. We haven’t sworn ourselves to any pony; it wouldn’t be appropriate to give that kind of power to three fillies. However, we are dedicated to helping the Crusaders. We figured that would mostly involve helping them discover their special talents, keeping them out of trouble and cleaning up after a failed attempt.” He rubbed the back of his neck with one hand and winced ever so slightly. “And it looks like we’ll spend most of our time doing that last one.”
“Hey!” Sweetie Belle yelled. “We don’t always make a mess!”
“Yeah!” Scootaloo added. “We only do it most of the time!”
“That ain’t helpin’ our point, Scoots.” Apple Bloom muttered.
“So anyway.” Lyra interrupted trying to drag the conversation back on track. “You all are what, their guardians?”
Kyle shrugged. “Close enough. We keep an eye on them when everypony else is busy, and plan activities we think they’ll like. Of course that means most of us stick around at the barracks until we’re needed.”
A small light bulb went off behind Lyra’s head.
The girl working on Lyra’s mane glanced at the flickering light behind her. “Looks like the spa needs to get their wiring checked.”
“Nevermind that” Lyra said. “I just realized something. You all just arrived here didn’t you?” Kyle nodded, and Lyra couldn’t help thinking, Gotcha!
“Then how did you travel? None of you are travel stained, or weary from marching. I would have noticed if enough wagons to haul seventy-five of you had shown up, and the trains aren’t running since the station is being remodeled.” She grinned like cat with its favorite toy. “I mean, it’s almost as though you all appeared out of thin air.”
Kyle’s expression remained deadpan. “Actually, we flew. And, boy, are my arms tired.” He started chuckling while the rest of the humans groaned.
Scootaloo’s eyes widened until they were the size of dinner plates. “You can actually do that?” she asked in a hushed tone. Lyra could already hear the little gears turning in her one track mind.
Lyra sighed. “No, they can’t. He’s just making a joke.” Under her breath she added, “And avoiding my question.” Kyle’s expression admitted guilt on both fronts, but the way he shrugged seemed to say, that’s just the way it is.
“Oh, Sweetie Belle! There you are!” Everypony in the room turned as Rarity burst in, flanked by two of her humans, well-dressed as always. “I heard you and your little friends were making trouble at the market. Thank you, by the way, for cleaning them up, Mr. Kyle.”
“De nada.” The human said. “We’ve seen worse.” He turned his attention to the two new humans. “Hey, Chris. Where’d you get a white fedora?”
While the humans discussed haberdashery in the background, Rarity nodded to Lyra apologetically. “I am so sorry they inconvenienced you, Miss Heartstrings. I’ll give Sweetie a good talking to, I can promise you that.”
The unicorn filly had looked ecstatic when her big sister entered, but the prospect of a lecture dampened her spirits considerably. “Great,” she mumbled sinking further into the bathtub.
Lyra waved off the apology. “It’s fine, they already said they were sorry.”
“We did?” Apple Bloom said, making both her friends facehoof.
Lyra ignored the interruption. “Though if it isn’t too much trouble, could I ask you for a favor?”
“Of course.” The white unicorn glanced over Lyra’s half submerged form and gave a satisfied nod. “In fact I think I’ve got a little something that would be just perfect for a pony of your color and figure. Though, we would have to do something with your mane and tail. It’s a shame you leave them so messy, with a little care they’d simply look gorgeous.” Rarity had continued moving toward Lyra as she spoke and was now examined her like a jewel that needed a fitting.
Lyra tried to backpedal and hit the edge of the tub much to the amusement of the human behind her. Something about Rarity’s intense scrutiny was making her sweat bullets. “Thanks, but … umm, I couldn’t ask for so much. I wouldn’t want to take advantage of your generosity.”
Rarity laughed. “Oh don’t worry darling. It wouldn’t be even a bit of trouble. The style isn’t in vogue right now, which is a shame, seeing how good it looks, but it’s really just taking up space. We would only need to alter it a little and it’s the least I can do for you.” She gave Lyra a smile, and the mint green unicorn stopped resisting.
“Well, if you’re certain.”
“I am, but something tells me that wasn’t what you wanted to ask for.” Rarity’s smile turned cheeky and Lyra realized that the fashionista had been more than aware of the effect she had been having on Lyra. The musician blushed, and in the minds of the watching humans, several fanfics were born that day.
“Well, I wanted you to ask Elizabeth and Christopher to answer a few questions for me. Honestly.” Rarity and the Crusaders blinked at the request, but Lyra was completely serious.
“Very well, dear. Beth? Chris? Do as she said, please.” The girl nodded and the man tipped his hat. Kyle rolled his eyes and took his leave. Lyra wondered where he was off to, but maybe she’d get somewhere finally. Before, she had always moved cautiously in her questioning, but everypony’s patience has a breaking point. And the arrival of the new divisions had triggered hers.
“How did humans travel to Equestria?”
The humans glanced at each other, and Chris spoke. “We walked here.”
Lyra frowned. She wasn’t the Element of Honesty by any stretch, but they seemed to be telling the truth. Unfortunately, that just raised more questions than it answered.
Chris answered again. “Our homeland.”
Frustration began to bubble beneath Lyra’s calm expression, but she carefully kept it at bay. “What is your homeland called?”
“The United States of America.”
Lyra blinked. That was a new piece of information, even if it didn’t mean a lot. United States indicated a union of smaller countries into a cohesive whole, not overly different from the formation of Equestria, but she had no idea what ‘America’ was. “And how far is it from Equestria?”
The humans paused again this time for much longer. Eventually Beth spoke. “As far away as your own reflection.” All of the humans in the room stopped what they were doing, letting the towels they were using to dry the Crusaders fall to the floor, and glared at Beth. Lyra was just as unhappy. She had finally been getting somewhere when they had suddenly turned cryptic on her again. “What does that mean?”
“We can’t tell you.” Both humans replied in synch.
Lyra gave a glare of her own. “Can’t or won’t?”
“According the protocols of the BIG, can’t.” Chris’s expression softened, becoming apologetic. “Sorry, it’s not personal.”
Lyra sighed. Of course it wasn’t. A soft white hoof laid itself on her shoulder and Rarity shook her head. “Everypony has their own secrets, no matter how odd. Some things you just need to let go.” She turned to leave, three fillies and all of the humans in tow.
Lyra was left alone in the large tub, only a thick towel left on the edge to keep her company.
What are you hiding from me? Lyra wondered as she watched the departing humans. It wasn’t that she distrusted the humans; she had been one of the most vocal ponies to approve of their new neighbors. She really and truly liked them despite whatever frustration they gave her. But she wanted − strike that, needed – to know more about them. The figures of her legends had finally come to life, more wild and fascinating than even the most extreme of the ancient myths. With them, they had brought a hundred times more knowledge than her entire collection of research. Yet, Lyra could tell that all they had shared with her was just the tip of the iceberg. There was so much about them that was still mysterious, so much more to discover. The same burning curiosity that had made her pursue myths and shadows still compelled her. The truth was out there, and one way or another, she would find it.
The idea that they had a good reason for keeping secrets never entered her head. Not even for a moment.
Martin licked his lips nervously, sitting as still as possible. The room was thick with tension, everypony in it doing their best to stay silent. It was the final round, and Martin hadn’t struggled this long and gone this far to lose easily.
He tried to relax, to ease the taut muscles in his back, but they remained stubbornly tense. He was tempted to crack his neck, but even the slightest noise was verboten. He opened his eyes for the first time since the match had begun, intending to check his opponent’s condition. He made the mistake of meeting her eyes.
They were as blue as a tropical lagoon and gentler than the softest cotton. They shone with kindness and warmth. Part of Martin’s mind began to panic, it knew everything was going wrong, but the rest of him was unresponsive. His opponent smiled and even the small part of him that had resisted gave out. Of its own accord his mouth fell open and the arena was filled with a soft sound.
Half of the watchers groaned while the rest gave subdued cheers. Money covertly changed hooves in a couple cases. Fluttershy grinned and Martin shook his head, trying in vain to clear it.
“And that ends the Ponyville regional finals of the Quiet Game.” The announcer said in a hushed tone. “Martin struggled valiantly, but all the same it’s Fluttershy who’ll be going to the tournament in Canterlot. The hometown hero proves her worth and shows that she really does deserve the title of World Champ.”
It was time to head for home. Lyra was tired and her stomach was grumbling. The sun was a still a few hours away from setting, but all the same she felt like eating an early dinner and going to bed.
She continued on that way for several blocks, her thoughts focused only on her pleasant drowsiness, but all that come to an end the moment she turned onto to her street. Somepony had set up a stage on one side of the street flanked by two of the largest speakers she had ever seen. Humans in white t-shirts mingled with those in pink. What in Celestia’s name is going on here?
Ponies were beginning to drift toward the stage, and the humans in white were passing out bottles of brightly colored fluids. Lyra moved closer and managed to snag one. It was neon green and looked more like a storybook potion than an actual drink. A certain pink party pony already had half a dozen empty bottles at her hooves and was busy downing a seventh.
Pinkie finished her drink with an appreciative gasp and licked her lips. “If that’s what the dew from the mountains really tastes like, then I’m moving to Humanland!”
Lyra sniffed the liquid cautiously. It smelled good, sweet and tangy, but that color really freaked her out. Still, there was always risk in discovery. Lyra closed her eyes and downed a quick swallow of the mysterious drink. Her eyes shot back open and the pupils shrank. The tiredness vanished like it had never existed, and a surging energy flowed through her. It reminded her of the strong tea she drank when she had needed to pull an all-nighter. Only this drink was even stronger, and full of sugar to boot. She still had no idea what it was, but she knew she wanted more.
Lyra chugged down the rest of the bottle and stood still for a second just enjoying the buzzing sensation. What was this stuff made from? On one side of the label was an ingredients list, but it wasn’t much use. Some of the components were frustratingly vague (what were ‘natural flavors’?), some were alarming (citric acid?) and others didn’t make sense (was ‘benzoate’ even a real word?). She was still puzzling over the odd drink and considering getting another one when a white unicorn with an electric blue mane and huge shades took the stage.
Vinyl Scratch tapped the microphone set into a large turntable and smiled brightly as the sound echoed. “Good evening Ponyville! This DJ Pon-3 with my brand new posse! These bronies have some of the sickest beats I’ve ever heard, so we’ve set up this impromptu concert to share that sound with all of you!” The humans surrounding the base of the stage erupted into cheers, and so did more than a few of the drinking ponies.
A human in white, wearing mirrored lenses stepped out from behind one of the towering speakers and leaned down to speak into the microphone. “I want to thank Ponyville for hosting the BIG and DJ Pon-3 for letting us sign up with her. But that’s enough talking! Now I shall play for you the song of my people!”
Lyra watched curiously as the human pressed a button on the turntable, not even putting a record on. She had heard some of the humans’ classical music and enjoyed it. Though she had been more curious about the records the pieces had come from than the music itself. For some reason, the humans didn’t have any current albums. Everything they brought her was at least a couple of decades old. Lyra wondered what their popular music might sound like.
Sound blasted out of the speakers with enough force to knock Lyra back several steps, and her ears folded themselves as tightly as they could against her head. Lyra winced in pain, and she was not alone. Several ponies were moving downrange as quickly as their hooves would let them. Others, however, were drawn to the speakers like moths to a flame, and riotous dancing quickly surrounded the stage. The humans were either dancing with the ponies, both groups buzzed on the sugary drinks, or doubled over in what looked like uncontrollable laughter. A male voice started singing, but Lyra couldn’t even understand it over all the noise. She was confused; humans, no matter how annoying, were usually well-mannered to the point of parody. What was wrong with this group?
Lyra frowned, the sugar rush feeding her resolve. She wanted answers, and it was high time she got them – starting with just what these humans thought they were doing!
The beat sped up and the song somehow managed to increase in intensity. Lyra marched forward, forcing her way through the crowd. She avoided the more energetic dancers up front and circled around to the side instead. While there were less ponies and humans in her way, there was good reason for that. She had to walk directly in front of the enormous speakers. The bass rumbled like an Ursa Major. Lyra could feel her teeth rattling.
She passed a jittery Berry Punch almost buried in her empties, but otherwise her way was clear. Nothing but the music could stop her now. Then, the moment she had that thought, the music suddenly cut out. Lyra looked up, staring at the speaker in surprise, but the silence lasted less than a second.
“I’M SEXY AND I KNOW IT.” The speakers blared, the sound returning to a full roar.
Lyra was hit with a level of decibels that no normal pony could withstand. But she only gritted her teeth harder and forced herself to move forward. She had faced worse. Once she had sat in front of a dozen bagpipes at a five hour performance. If that couldn’t break her, nothing could.
She finally reached the stage and climbed up. She was behind the speakers now, and the sound had dropped off to a tolerable level. The mint-green unicorn took a few deep breaths, gathered herself and prepared to march out onto that stage. Just as she took the first step, though, Twilight Sparkle appeared in a pop and a magenta flash in front of her, stalking toward the DJ’s console with a furious expression.
Twilight opened her mouth and said something, but the human at the turntables didn’t seem to notice her. He was busy playing to the crowd and manipulating the song. After some shouting, waving and finally wildly flailing her forelegs around, Twilight got his attention. She tried explaining something to the human DJ, but Lyra could tell she wasn’t getting anywhere. Of course, nopony could hear anything over the thunder of those speakers.
Lyra smiled wickedly as a thought occurred to her. She examined the speakers beside her and found an access panel. She may not have used amplifiers for her own music, but she knew how they worked. All she had to do was remove the main crystal from its slot, and the whole device would be powerless!
At least, that had been the plan. Unfortunately, the insides of the human machine were nothing like anything she was familiar with. Frowning, she shut the panel. Twilight was still trying to communicate with the DJ, but still not having any luck. He must have known she wanted to speak with him by now, but he hadn’t turned down the music at all.
Lyra looked over the turntable. That seemed to be the place everything was controlled from. Then she saw it, a big red button. If her studies of humans and their machines had taught her anything it was that it was always a good idea to press a large, tempting button like that one. With one hoof Lyra dramatically slammed the button down.
Lyra sighed. Why didn’t these kind of things ever seem to work out? She took another look at the turntable. A few inches to her right there was a strange button. It was white and had a pulsating green circle with a line through the top. Eh, Lyra figured. It can’t hurt to try.
This one she pressed with far less vigor, but was rewarded when the music shut off.
“I said!” Twilight yelled. “Your music is too loud!” The purple unicorn looked surprised to realize the music she was complaining about was gone. She turned around and saw Lyra standing there grinning.
“I figured you could use a hoof.”
Twilight flushed slightly, but nodded. “Thank you.” She turned to face the human responsible for the sonic assault on Ponyville and cleared her throat. “Since you’re new to Ponyville, you probably didn’t realize it, but your party is ‘unfortunately’ violating several local ordinances.”
The human pulled his glasses down and gave her an un-amused stare. “Do you have a hunting license?” he asked.
Twilight glanced at Lyra, but the resident human expert didn’t know what he meant either. “Do I have a what?”
He continued as though she hadn’t spoken. “Because you just killed about fifty buzzes.” He gestured towards the crowd and both of the unicorns on stage heard the complaints of the humans and ponies who wanted their music back.
Twilight blushed in embarrassment, but Lyra had had just about enough of this. “And you’re hurting the ears of everypony in Ponyville! Not to mention whatever it is you’re handing out to everypony.”
Twilight nodded and stepped forward. “Yes, in addition to that, you don’t have a permit for this kind of event. If you like, you could move your stage and equipment out of Ponyville, but I’m afraid we can’t let you have this party within city limits.”
Vinyl Scratch shook her head. “Come on, be serious. We just got all of this set up. You can’t be telling us to move it already.”
Twilight frowned. “Sorry, Vinyl, but I’m afraid that you need to do just that.”
The human let a frustrated breath. “No way. Who’s going to tell all those party animals to pack it in?” He glared over the rim of his sunglasses. “I don’t think either of you have the cojones to do it.”
“Even if they don’t, I do.”
Lyra and Twilight turned around, and the mint-green unicorn’s mouth dropped open. The woman behind them was wearing a displeased scowl and a mint-green shirt. The DJ paled as she glared at him, then handed over the microphone without hesitation.
She turned to the crowd and gave them an apologetic smile.” I’m sorry to announce this, but I’m afraid that the concert has been rescheduled until the BIG can procure the proper permits and a better location.” Most of the party-goers, humans and pony alike, groaned at that but started to pack it in. A few weren’t quite as polite.
“And who the hay are you?” one stallion yelled.
“Yeah, why can’t we have a little fun?” chimed a mare next to him.
The woman’s glare returned full-force and she spoke in a voice that brooked no argument. “I’m the Captain of the Auxiliary Divisions, and I said this party is over. Any more questions?”
The street was silent.
The morning was cool, but if yesterday had been any indication, today would heat up before too long. Two figures, one a tall, slim human and the other a heavily muscled pony, stood on a hill overlooking one of the fields. Pulling stumps was necessary every so often, but until the humans had arrived, Big Mac had always been too short on time to handle most of them.
Now though he could finally get all of those stubborn knots of old wood out of the way. The human next to him, stared at the field below them. “That’s a lot of stumps.” He offered.
Big Mac nodded. “Eeyup.”
The human checked over the tools they had brought with them. He would be using most of those, while the farmpony supplied the muscle needed to haul the stumps out. The man sighed and hefted a shovel. “Aren’t gonna pull themselves.”
They worked together for a couple hours. The human dug up the ground around the stumps, chopping some of the larger roots in half as he went. The job went far faster than Big Mac had ever seen, even when Applejack had the time to help out. Eventually, they reached the stump Mac thought of as Ol’ Red. It had once belonged to their oldest and biggest apple tree, but after the lightning strike they’d had to cut it down. The leftover stump was big enough to make a good-sized table.
The human gave a low whistle. “That one’ll be stubborn.”
They started in on it, Big Mac taking the other shovel, and after an hour the stump sat in the middle of good-sized hole. The human wiped his brow with a rag and started using his straw hat to fan himself. “Getting hot out, isn’t it?”
This time Big Mac just nodded.
It wasn’t much later that the dinner bell started ringing.
“Lunchtime!” Applejack hollered. “Come and get it while it’s hot!”
The human helped Big Mac clean the worst of the dirt off the tools then they began the walk back the farmhouse. As they neared the human sniffed the air, taking in the fresh scent of Granny Smith’s cooking. He licked his lips. “Smells pretty good.”
Applejack smiled as her brother came into view. “Hey Macintosh, y’all been makin’ good progress on them stumps?”
Applejack nodded happily and gestured covertly to the human washing up for lunch. “So, what do ya think of Josh? That’s the first time you worked with him, ain’t it?”
Big Mac carefully considered the question. “Hard worker, but kinda talkative.”
“So I have my very own division of humans. Me. Lyra. I have twenty five of you willing to swear yourselves to me. Permanently. No take-backs.”
“For the twelfth time. Yes.” The Captain said with a grin.
Lyra squealed again, hopping in place. All around her, her division − her division – was helping Vinyl Scratch’s humans disassemble their equipment. The Captain had stuck with Lyra and was currently trying to convince her that wasn’t all just some crazy dream. Lyra had already been pinched a few times and even made one of her humans – her humans − dump a bucket of cold water on her just to be sure.
She gave the Captain a toothy grin. No wonder today had felt special!
“Just let us clean up everything and we’ll do the ceremony to make it official.” The human replied, giving Lyra a pat on the back. “I gotta say, I’m almost as excited about this as you are. The Princesses took forever to approve these auxiliary divisions.”
Lyra blinked at the revelation. “These divisions? So there more of them just waiting for approval?”
“Well, not quite. It takes a lot of effort, a few weeks of what we call ‘Brony Basic’, and a good support base back home to maintain a division. Right now all of the completed divisions are here, although there are some more in the works.” The human snorted. “But some of them aren’t ever going to get off the ground. There was one guy who wanted a ‘Hugh Jelly’ division of all things. I told him he’d have more luck petitioning for a Discord division.”
Lyra stared at the human in shock. She had no idea who this ‘Hugh Jelly’ was, but he must be one of the most horrific ponies alive if they would really consider serving the Spirit of Chaos and Disharmony before him. Or, she reasoned, it was just a hyperbole. Those were more common among humans than ponies. She decided to test that theory out. “A Discord division? You’re kidding, right?”
The Captain shrugged. “There are always a few nutcases who talk about it, but they aren’t really serious. Even if they were, it’s not like we’d let them get away with it.”
Lyra thought she seemed a little unconcerned that some humans actually wanted to release one of Equestria’s most terrifying enemies, but then again, most humans seemed to have a cavalier attitude toward danger in general. Not that they were unafraid or unaware, it was as though they just didn’t see a threat as real until they came face to face with it.
She shook her head. All that speculation was interesting, but she finally had the chance to get some answers. Finally, she could learn the truth. She allowed her a satisfied sigh, before locking eyes with the leader of her division.
“I’ve got some questions I want to ask you. But I want you to promise me that you’ll answer me truthfully.” Lyra rested a hoof on the arm of the human she was depending on. “So far, every human I’ve talked to has just led me in circles. I’m not upset. I understand you have your reasons, but just this once I want to get a straight answer.” She stared at the human imploringly, her large amber eyes easily holding the human’s intense gaze. “I want the truth.”
The human was silent for a long time, her eyes uncertain. At last, she spoke. “You have no idea how deep this goes. You can’t even imagine some of what we’re keeping from you. If you really want to know, I’ll help you. But I can promise you this; knowing the truth won’t make you happy. Do you still want to go through with this?”
The Captain broke into a smile, pleased and mischievous. Lyra yelped as she was pulled into a tight hug, the human holding her closely. “I wouldn’t have expected anything less of you.”
“That’s great.” Lyra choked out, her ribs creaking. “But I need to breathe.”
“Oops!” The human said with a rueful chuckle. “I let my inner fangirl get the better of me. Sorry about that.”
“That’s okay.” Lyra winced slightly. It was easy to forget how much strength was packed into those thin arms. “Now, about those questions …”
The Captain nodded and gestured to one of the humans still working. “Hey, Jason! C’mere!” The man set down the bundle of cables he’d been carrying and hurried over.
“Lyra, this is Jason, my second-in-command. Jason, I think you might have heard of Lyra before.” Jason chuckled and offered Lyra his hand. They shook and he smiled.
“It’s a pleasure to finally meet you, Lyra.”
“Likewise.” Lyra said.
The Captain grinned. “Lyra said she wanted to know the truth, Jason.” His eyes widened and he gave his leader a questioning glance. She nodded, and he sighed.
“By the rules and protocols of the Brony International Guard, which we all agreed to before coming here, there are certain things which we cannot tell you.” Lyra frowned, that sounded like every other refusal she had ever been given, but Jason wasn’t done just yet. “However there exists a loophole. In times of need, as defined by the pony to whom the division is sworn, the pony may exercise Clearance Level Alpha. This means the division must obey any and all orders from the pony no matter what rules they break.”
Lyra was grinning ear-to-ear. “So you’ll have to tell me anything I want? No jokes?”
The woman nodded. “You got it. Once we’re sworn in, we’re yours to command.” She chuckled. “I promised Seth that I wouldn’t tell you anything, but he never forbid anyone else from doing it. For some reason he thought it would be a bad idea to tell you.”
“Well let’s get everything packed up and get this thing done!”
“Lyra! What is going on?!” Lyra turned around to find her marefriend staring at the working humans in their mint-green shirts. Her left eye was twitching and her mouth was hanging wide open, swinging slightly in the breeze.
Lyra couldn’t help grinning, her enthusiasm was too strong to let anything curb it. “They followed me home. Can I keep them?”
“I’ll take that as a ‘maybe’.”
Page 42 of ‘Brony International Guard: The Manual’
CLEARANCE LEVELS: We’re not a real military, and we don’t have any real ranks, but these levels give a rough sort of hierarchy to the organization. They are named after letters of the Greek alphabet because that sounds awesome. Don’t question it. The first thing to remember here is simple: don’t be a dick. A higher level doesn’t mean you’re the master of those beneath you. At the same time, everyone should show some respect to bronies of a higher level. They got there for a reason.
EPSILON: This means you have been recruited and know the truth about the BIG. If you’re reading this book, then congratulations, you’ve made it to this level. Give yourself a pat on the back.
DELTA: This means after a lot of study, preparation and dedication you have proven your worth and are allowed to travel to Equestria. You and about four hundred others. This is not a self-insert so don’t even think about acting like a dumbass. We can kick you out, and we’re working on a way to wipe memories.
GAMMA: These are your division leaders. They are essentially the foremen and women − forewomen? – of the group. They instruct the group on how to best achieve the objectives of your chosen pony. They also control the group in terms of BIG related matters. This includes barracks patrol, guard duty, cleaning and other such.
BETA: These are the leaders of the BIG. We rule via a tyrannical oligarchy. Do not oppose us.
ALPHA: This belongs to whatever pony you swear yourselves to. While normally you are limited from following their orders in certain areas (especially when it comes to details about Earth) if they chose to exercise this power you may break those rules.
- Just keep in mind that this is for emergencies only. Do not inform the ponies that they have this option unless it is absolutely necessary.
- Even when a pony is exercising this authority you cannot break rule number one. Explain it away however you want, but that is one thing we can’t even let them know we’re keeping from them.
“Absolutely not. I can’t say no enough times.”
Lyra teared up, her bottom lip quivering. “Bon-Bon, honey, I know you don’t mean that. Think about how useful it would be to have a human around the house. We’d have someone to reach the tall shelves, someone to open the pickle jar, and don’t tell me you haven’t wanted to hear the pitter-patter of little feet around the house.” She took her marefriend’s fore hoof between hers and gave the earth pony her best puppy dog eyes.
Bon-Bon withstood the adorable assault as long as she could. Her expression was turning more and more guilty and finally she sighed, all of her tension dissipating. Bon-Bon’s eyes began to water, and she drew Lyra closer to her. When she spoke, her voice was hushed. “You spend so much of your time on humans and research. I know you were right, and I’m proud that you never let me discourage you, but ever since they appeared you’ve been busier than ever. I just don’t want you to forget about us.”
Lyra giggled and moved a lock of her marefriend’s mane out of the way. She gave her a small kiss on the cheek and wiped away a few budding tears. “I could never forget you, Bon-Bon. I’m sorry I’ve been so distracted here lately, but I’ll do better.”
Bon-Bon sniffed a couple of times. “Promise?”
Lyra leaned forward nuzzling her gently. “I promise,” she whispered into one ear. “You’re right, though. I haven’t been spending enough time with you.” Her voice dropped an octave, turning husky. “Let me start by making that up to you.” She nibbled on Bon-Bon’s ear, pulling the earth pony’s body against her own.
“Lyra!” Bon-Bon yelled. She pulled away, her expression both amused and scandalized. “Did you forget where we are?”
In fact, Lyra had forgotten that they were on a bench in a public park. And that her entire division was waiting about ten feet away. The humans had fanned out in a circle around the bench, blocking the view of any passing pony. They had put their backs to the pair, giving them as much privacy as possible, but all of the ones Lyra could see were blushing deeply.
“Let’em watch,” she said, leaning in for another kiss. The humans turned even redder, and tried to nonchalantly study the surrounding vegetation. Bon-Bon only laughed.
“You are one of a kind, Lyra.” They exchanged a quick kiss, then rose to leave. All of the humans moved aside, some talking quietly, others still blushing. The Captain didn’t belong to either group.
“Glad to hear that we’re not coming between you two. We were afraid that we might.” Lyra shrugged, but Bon-Bon arched an eyebrow in a way that said, and yet you came anyway?
The human chuckled. “Yes, well we brought a … uh, peace offering in case we did.” She gestured to one human and he brought over a small box. Lyra recognized it as a ‘cooler’, one of the insulated containers humans used to keep drinks cold. She wondered if they had brought more of that neon green liquid.
But, no. Instead they were flat circles of chocolate with crinkled edges. Candy? Well, they certainly knew Bon-Bon’s weakness.
Bon-Bon looked over them curiously. “They certainly look tasty. What are they?”
The human carrying the cooler grinned. “One of the most delicious candies in the world and my personal favorite. Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.”
Bon-Bon lifted one out carefully and peeled off the wax paper wrapping. “Peanut butter and chocolate? I’ve had that before.”
His smile grew wider, and he chuckled. “Not like this.”
Bon-Bon popped the candy into her mouth and starting chewing. Her face was thoughtful, and she licked her lips after she swallowed. “Hmmm … that was tasty, but I’ll need to try another before I decide if it’s really as good as you claim.” She reached for another candy and the Captain chuckled.
“Wait a sec, Bon-Bon. Let’s get formalities out of the way.” With that she went to one knee, planting the opposite fist on the ground. The rest of the group did likewise, and in a moment, both ponies were surrounded by bowing humans. “Lyra, we of the Brony International Guard wish to swear fealty to you. Do you accept our service?”
Lyra suppressed her urge to grin like a goofball and instead nodded politely. “Yes.”
At that all of the humans rose and gave a few cheers. The Captain patted Lyra on the back while Bon-Bon covertly helped herself to a few more Reese’s cups. After a bit of discussion on logistics, most of the guard returned to the barracks while Jason and the Captain followed the happy couple homeward.
The humans had refused to say anything until they were somewhere secure. While Lyra’s house may not have fit the bill perfectly, they were still less likely to be overheard there than anywhere else. Bon-Bon offered to fix dinner for the four of them and the humans gladly accepted. The moment Bon-Bon left, Lyra pounced on the humans, unable to rein herself in any longer.
“So tell me already! Where do you all come from? How do you get here? What’s your home like? How did you find us?”
The Captain turned to stare at Jason and gestured toward Lyra. He rolled his eyes, but began speaking. “To begin with, I’ll confirm something you probably already suspect. Humans are not native to Equestria, or even this world. We come from another universe.” Lyra hurriedly scratched the information down in her journal. A parallel world, of course! That explained so much. “After a couple years of study we found a way to open a dimensional rift, or ‘portal’ as we like to call it, into your world. That portal was very difficult to open at first, but is relatively easy to maintain. We keep it open at all times, preserving the way between our worlds and ensuring that we are free to travel between them.”
“While we share many of the same plants and animals as your world, and some of the languages, our world is very different. Humans don’t have any more magic there than we do here, but we are masters of invention. Thanks to our highly dexterous hands, disregard for personal safety, and immense societal pressure to advance, we have pushed our development to a breakneck pace. Most the stuff we’ve shown is just the tip of the iceberg. Earth contains technology that ponies haven’t even dreamed of. We have sailed through the void between stars, measured the speed of light itself, created machines that can communicate across the planet and discovered the building blocks of the very universe.”
“Along with all of that technology came huge advancements in medicine and agriculture allowing world population to soar to seven billion. This massive population covers the entire globe, and people thrive in almost every possible climate. Only the harshest of deserts or the coldest of tundras are uninhabited. Most people live in giant cities of steel, concrete and glass. These megalopolises can stretch for miles and are filled with buildings dozens of stories tall. They can contain anywhere from hundreds of thousands to millions of humans. As individuals we aren’t all that special or impressive, but as a species we have all but mastered our environment and reign as the unchallenged rulers of Earth.”
Lyra had dropped the quill by the end of the first paragraph and her jaw soon followed suit. This … this is unbelievable! This is incredible!
The Captain chuckled. “Somebody’s got a flair for the dramatic don’t they?” She grinned at Jason as she teased him, but he just shrugged and returned the smile.
“It’s natural to be jealous of a talent like mine. I’m not surprised you’d feel that way.”
Lyra ignored their banter, focusing instead of processing the incredible information she had just learned. As much as it explained, the mysterious technology, the uniformity of their clothes and gear, the references to a large and distant homeland, it raised more questions too. Yet the information she had been given let Lyra come to her own conclusion about one of the most puzzling mysteries.
“You’ve been watching us. It all fits. Somehow you humans were able to watch this dimension before you visited it. You used something like a telescope, only this one looked through dimensions, didn’t you? That’s how you recognize everypony, but don’t know our history. It all started with the Elements of Harmony and spread out to the rest of Ponyville from there didn’t it?”
Both of the humans nodded enthusiastically, both of them seemed relieved that Lyra had figured it out on her own. The Captain responded first. “Yes, we’ve been watching all of you for the past couple years. We started around the time of Nightmare Moon’s return and have maintained a steady surveillance ever since.”
“We didn’t want to tell anypony about our world for a lot of reasons, but that was a big one. Somehow we thought most ponies wouldn’t be happy to know we’ve essentially been spying on them for the past two years.” Jason finished with an apologetic chuckle. Lyra understood what he meant. Most ponies would either be upset and demand that the humans leave, or they would want to use the interdimensional telescope for their own gain.
Luckily, Lyra was neither type of pony. All the same, the rules and secrets around the BIG were finally starting to make sense. No wonder everyone had told her she wouldn’t be happy to learn the truth. Still, it was one thing just to hear about it …
“I want to see it.”
The Captain’s eyebrows shot up. “The portal?”
“Your world. I want to go there and see one of your cities, even if it’s only for a few minutes.” The humans exchanged a worried look and Jason hastened to caution the determined unicorn.
“It’s not going to be easy. There’s no way the rest of the BIG would let you so we’d have to take the portal by force. It’s at the heart of our barracks, and it’s guarded around the clock. If we do it, we won’t be able to hide the fact that we told you all of this. And most importantly we don’t even know if the portal will work for ponies.” He sighed, rubbed his chin with one hand. “Our machines can’t measure or even detect pony magic. What if our portal doesn’t work on you either?”
It all seemed difficult, maybe even impossible, but Lyra was too determined to turn back now. She couldn’t hear about a place like that without seeing it at least once. If she didn’t, she would spend the rest of her life regretting it, wondering what it could have been like.
She made her decision. “I want to try at least once. If we can’t then we can’t. But you never know until you try.”
Jason and the Captain looked at other, then turned back to their chosen pony. “Do you realize that you’re ordering us to break almost every rule the BIG was founded on, wrest control of the portal away from our friends and endanger our only way home by sending you through just so you can get a look around?” Jason asked.
Lyra recoiled from the statement even though the tone had been calm and uninflected. When they put it like that the whole idea sounded stupid. She could never ask so much from them. She swallowed, trying to work past the lump in her throat as she spoke. “I– I hadn’t thought about it like that.” She fought down disappointment and tried to smile. “Just forget about it, then.”
The Captain stared at Lyra, her expression almost comically dismayed. “Forget about it? Are you kidding? That sounds like the most fun I’ve had in weeks!” Jason buried his head in his hands, but Lyra hardly noticed.
“So you’ll do it?!” She squeaked, her excitement making her bounce in place.
The Captain grinned and stood up. “Tell Bon-Bon I’m sorry that we couldn’t stay for dinner, but I’ve got some planning to do and a hostile takeover to arrange. Jason?”
Jason sighed and rose as well. “I’ll go get the chloroform. Again.”
“Nopony knows the trouble I've seen.”
“Nopony knows my sorrow.”
“Nopony knows the trouble I've seen.”
“Nopony knows but Luna.”
“Hey, Spike. What’s eating you?”
Spike shot upright, almost knocking over the bowl of gems he’d been snacking on. He thought he’d been alone in the library, when he started his song. He blushed and tried to cover up his embarrassment. “Hey, Fill. I didn’t know you were here.”
Phil nodded. “Yeah, I was just returning my latest Fetlock Holmes novel. But that’s not as important as whatever going on with you. Nobody sings the blues unless they’re feeling some heartache.”
Spike sighed. “Can you keep a secret?”
Phil shrugged. “I’ve managed not to tell anyone that my older brother wet his bed until he was thirteen for more than a decade.”
“Wow, you’re pretty good then. I don’t think I could keep something like that a secret for so long.” The human grinned, and Spike considered his own problem again. Fill had always been a good guy, maybe he could help. “The thing is … I have a crush on Rarity.”
Phil raised both eyebrows and began stroking his chin with one hand. “Go on.”
“And … and the thing is she likes me, but I don’t think she likes me, likes me.” Spike slumped, digging a claw into the bowl for another comforting snack.
“Let me tell you about something that happened to me when I was about your age.” The human sat down next to Spike and gazed off into the distance. “I was head over heels for this girl from school. I mean completely hopeless. We talked a few times, but I was too shy to ever say much to her. After a few months, though, I finally got the courage to tell her that I liked her.”
“And?” Spike asked his eyes hopeful.
“She turned me down. She was nice about it, but she made it clear she didn’t like me, like me.”
Spike’s face fell, and he stared at the human. “That … wasn’t really … what I wanted to hear.”
Phil shrugged. “I figured as much, but that why I told it to you. I don’t regret telling her how I felt even though she turned me down. I got over that, but if I hadn’t told her I’d still be regretting it. Sometimes you’ve just got to take the plunge.”
“I’ll … think about it.” Spike said, grabbed his gem bowl and heading for the stairs. His tread was slow and his head hung. If possible he looked more morose than he had been while singing. Phil watched him go and quietly weighed his options.
He could either try to help Spike in a secretive manner, probably causing a sitcom-like misunderstanding that would be cleared up in a heart-warming but inconclusive manner, or he could pick up the next Fetlock Holmes novel and leave.
He considered both choices for a few minutes before finally coming to a decision. Sorry, Spike, but as Fetlock would say, the game is ahoof!
“Wake up, Lyra. Jason says he wants to talk to you.”
Disturbed from her peaceful slumber, Lyra didn’t return to the land of the living gracefully. “Wha-? Jason who?” She yawned, trying in vain to clear the cobwebs from her head.
Bon-Bon rolled her eyes. “Jason the human. Who else? He said something about ‘the plan coming together’ or some nonsense.” Bon-Bon leveled a suspicious look at her marefriend. “You aren’t doing anything that will get you in trouble, are you?”
“What?” Lyra said, trying to avoid Bon-Bon’s stare. She felt a cold sweat break out on the back of her neck. “That’s crazy talk, Bon-Bon. When have I ever done anything like that?”
Lyra was scooting off to one side of the bed, trying to be evasive, but Bon-Bon was having none of that. The earth pony circled the bed and sat down next to Lyra. “Do you want a list?” she asked, arching one eyebrow.
Lyra did her best to look innocent, but even she could tell it was a failed effort. Bon-Bon chuckled and nuzzled her gently. “Just don’t make too big of a mess.”
Lyra returned Bon-Bon’s affection, giving her a quick peck on the cheek. The unicorn reflected on how lucky she was to have found Bon-Bon. So many other ponies would have demanded to know every little secret around them, but Bon-Bon was willing to mind her own business. That was one of the things Lyra loved about her.
Lyra hummed a small tune to herself, unaware of the irony, as she got out of bed.
Jason was waiting downstairs, sipping from a steaming mug of coffee. This was the first time Lyra had seen him in a week. Having a division of the BIG actually wasn’t much like what Lyra had imagined. Five of them were always on hoof, and they rotated in and out in shifts, but otherwise they left her to her own devices. The humans for a large part had their own things to do. If she wanted to Lyra could summon more of them or even arrange for the entire division to assist as long as she gave them some warning. But all in all there was much less being waited on than she had expected.
Not that that was a bad thing. It was just different. Lately she’d been spending a lot of her time with Mike, an amateur composer. Most of her division played a stringed instrument of one type or another, but he was one of the few who wrote new music in addition to playing the classics.
Mike however wasn’t here, and Lyra realized with a start, neither were any of her humans other than Jason. She snagged the milk from the fridge and poured herself a glass before walking out into the living room to talk to Jason.
He nodded to her. He looked tired, Lyra could see faint bags under his eyes, but his overall attitude was triumphant. He gave her a grin and spoke in a low tone. “Everything’s in place. We’re set to pull the job today.”
“Pull the job?” Lyra echoed.
Jason shrugged. “If we’re doing something illegal we may as well use the opportunity to talk like mobsters. How often do you get that chance?”
Lyra wondered just what a ‘mobster’ was, but she pushed the question aside for a moment. “You mean we’re going to go through the portal today?”
Jason glanced around checking for eavesdroppers. “If you want to put it indelicately, sure. I was sent to get you ready. Everything is going off in about two hours.”
That soon? Lyra had thought she’d have had more time to prepare. She couldn’t bring much she realized, but a camera, a notebook, and a pencil should be enough. “How are we doing it?”
Jason frowned, obviously reluctant to reveal the plan, but Lyra gave him a flat look. He relented and began to explain. “First things first, we need to be able not just to take the portal but to hold it too. We need the tranq guns, riot gear and some other stuff from the armory.”
“You guys have an armory?” That was … unexpected.
Jason looked insulted. “We’re called a ‘guard’ for a reason. We took training pretty seriously after we saw the invasion of Canterlot last spring. I’ll admit that we’re not professionals – a squad of Marines could take a whole division apart no problem – but we are at least competent.”
Lyra wondered why Jason would be worried about fighting marine animals, given that Ponyville wasn’t close to any major water source, but she was willing to ignore the oddity. “Okay, so we take the armory.”
“Yeah, there are always three guards on duty at the armory, and today, two of them are ours. They’ll knock out the third guard at two thirty sharp, then we come in. We take what we need, and leave six or seven bronies behind to guard the armory. That will slow down any effort to take the portal back from us once we have it. The rest of us will make a mad dash from the armory to the portal room, using speed and surprise to seize the portal. Then we’ll send you through with a couple of sentries while the rest of us hold off the rest of the BIG as long as possible.”
Lyra winced as she realized just how much of a mess they would make. “That seems a little excessive. Couldn’t we sneak in?”
Jason shook his head. “The portal has its own dedicated guards. Everything that goes in or comes out of the portal is inspected on both sides. There’s a minimum of ten guards on duty at all times, so there’s no way to get by them.”
“What if I used an invisibility spell?”
Jason sighed and gave her a disparaging look. “We’re well aware of what ponies are capable of, and we planned for every contingency. As soon as we had a building to guard, we anonymously commissioned a magic-detecting crystal array. If that thing lights up, they shut down the portal. No questions asked.”
Lyra winced, that ruled out anything else she might have considered. “And we can’t reopen it?”
“Not from this side.” Jason told her matter-of-factly. Lyra slumped forward, dejected. The man put a hand on her shoulder and gave her a reassuring pat. “I’m not trying to rustle your jimmies here, but force and surprise is really our only option.”
Lyra nodded, wondering how exactly one would ‘rustle’ anypony’s ‘jimmies’. Regardless, it looked like he was right. “Do you think we can really pull it off, though?”
Jason grinned. “We’ve planned it out to the last detail. What could go wrong?”
Andy was not happy.
Fluttershy was heading for her tournament in Canterlot, and he was stuck guarding the armory back in Ponyville. He always got guard duty, never clean-up, never barracks patrol, nothing but standing around for hours on end looking threatening.
Not that it was hard for him to look threatening. He was six-foot four, layered with muscle and sounded like James Earl Jones. When he glared, people tended to faint. For ponies it was even worse. Half the reason he’d been left behind was because his Division leader had been afraid he’d start a panic.
Andy sighed, causing the two bronies on shift with him to flinch.
There was a noise down one of the passages, and he rose quickly to check it out. He’d hardly turned his back on his fellow guards when he felt a damp rag forced over his mouth and nose. Neither of them moved for a moment.
“What the hell are you doing?” he rumbled.
The man trying to knock him out dropped the rag and backed away. Andy bent down and picked up the soaked cloth. “Chloroform?” he asked.
Both of the guards stared at him, incredulously. “Umm … yeah. Say, why aren’t you unconscious?”
Andy snorted. “Because you did it wrong. I held my breath while you had the rag over my face, then I exhaled when you took it off. If the victim doesn’t get the fumes into their system it doesn’t work. Here let me show you.”
He grabbed the nearest guard and turned him around. “Now, look. With one hand you cover his face with the rag. With your free hand you hit him in the kidney.” The huge man, reached forward covering the smaller guard’s face with the rag in his left hand and popped him in the side with his right. The brony gasped at the impact and quickly slumped over as the drug did its work.
“You don’t even have to hit him hard. Just thump it with enough force to make him take a breath, and he’s out before he can even think about fighting back.”
The remaining guard nodded as he processed the sage advice. “Okay, I think I’ve got it. Can I try?” He extended his hand, a hopeful expression on his face.
Andy snorted again. “I’m thinking no.”
“The armory’s right around this corner. They should have taken care of the other guard by now. We hit it quickly and cleanly. No grabbing anything that’s not on the list. Move out.”
Lyra grinned with anticipation. It had been hard to convince the Captain to let her come along, but she wanted to see the crazy, alien weapons that the humans had been keeping secret from everypony. They rounded the corner in a rush and almost immediately ground to a dead halt.
Two of her division were lying on the floor, unconscious. The remaining guard was a huge man wearing an un-amused frown and cradling an odd device with a long barrel. Lyra learned several new words in the next few seconds, few of which sounded polite.
“So that's what’s going on.” The guard rumbled keeping his weapon trained on the crowd. “I wondered what those two were trying to do.”
“This is unexpected.” The Captain said. “What’s Plan B?”
Jason didn’t take his eyes off the watching guard. “Run like hell before he tranqs us.”
Lyra stepped forward ignoring the gasps of her division. The weapon tracked her as she approached and when she was ten feet away, the man spoke again. “That’s close enough.”
“Hey Andy. How’ve you been?” Lyra said, unfazed by his intense glare.
The huge man shrugged, but didn’t lower his weapon. “Not bad. Guard duty wasn’t boring for once.” The wind whistled through the hanging jaws of Lyra’s humans.
“Okay, I’ll level with you. I kind of need a favor. Will you let us take control of the armory? I’ll give you a pound of Bon-Bon’s best licorice.” The guard gave her a skeptical look, and shook his head. Lyra frowned. “Two pounds?”
Andy just snorted.
“Five pounds and that’s my final offer.”
“Ten pounds and Bon-Bon has to stop screaming when I enter her store.”
Lyra grinned and stuck out her hoof. “Deal!” They shook and the huge man finally put away his weapon. The Lyra division was still more than a little stunned.
“Come on!” Lyra shouted. “That portal isn’t going to conquer itself!” The hesitation of the humans vanished and they followed her through the large door behind Andy.
Jason paused for a moment before entering. “You do realize that you just sold out the BIG for ten pounds of candy.”
Andy gave him an amused smirk. “And what are you getting for your part in all this?”
Jason’s lips tightened into a flat line. “Touché.”
Meanwhile, Lyra was trying to take in the amazing sights of the humans’ armory. The room was huge and packed with row after row and rack after rack of completely alien objects. There were hundreds of the weapon Andy had been holding all of them perfectly uniform. There were enormous curved shields made of clear plastic that had ‘POLICE’ on the front hanging alongside black armor. There were helmets with face shields and rubber masks with huge lenses and odd snouts. There were boxes of round or cylindrical things with small rings stuck into their tops.
Lyra wandered from area to area, trying to take in as much as she could in the short time she had. A few of the more interesting devices she’d taken pictures of, but she didn’t have enough film to get everything. At the back of the room she found an oddity in the already alien room.
There were three cabinets, all of them locked and chained. Each of them had a small sign on them identifying the contents. The one on the left said ‘Axes’ at the top and in smaller print underneath it read, ‘Open in case of Timberwolves’. The second said, ‘Silver bullets: Open in case of Werewolves’. The last read, ‘Silver Axes: Open in case of Were-timberwolves’.
“Were-timberwolves?” Lyra asked.
A human looked up and shrugged. “Or vampires. Either way, it doesn’t hurt to be prepared.”
Lyra shook her head. It seemed silly to think of vampires or werewolves as anything more than scary stories, much less something to actually prepared for. Then again, nopony had believed in humans until they showed up. She glanced at the cabinets again. Maybe they weren’t so silly.
The Captain had just finished sorting out the equipment, and everyone was arming themselves. Lyra found her as the woman was putting on the black armor. “What is all this?”
The Captain gave a satisfied grin. “The finest collection of non-lethal weaponry in Equestria. If it can incapacitate without killing then we’ve got it. Stun grenades, flash bangs, tear gas, nightsticks, tranq darts, tasers, sonic cannons and rubber bullets just to name a few.”
“Bullets? Like a sling bullet?” The cabinets had mentioned silver ones, but Lyra didn’t see how a rubber version would be helpful.
The Captain blinked. “Slings? That’s where the bullet reference comes from?”
“Well, yeah. What other kind of bullet is there?”
The human shrugged. “That’s what we call the ammunition for one of our weapons as well. Though, guns are typically more dangerous than a sling.” The Captain picked up one of the long barreled weapons that Andy had been holding. “This is a gun. It uses intense pressure from a small, controlled explosion to launch small pieces of ammunition at very high speeds. Rubber projectiles will hurt the target without causing serious injury, while the darts inject a drug that puts the target to sleep.” She gestured to a pair of small, almost identical, metal boxes.
Lyra turned to stare at the dressing humans. In the black armor they had a frightening uniformity. It was a relief to know that they wouldn’t harm anybody when they took the portal, but all of their preparations were more than a little intimidating.
It’s a good thing the humans are friendly. Lyra reflected as they loaded their weapons and prepared themselves. I don’t want to imagine what the world would be like if they weren’t.
Seth stopped in the middle of the report he was forcing himself to read through and glared at the man at the other end of the table. “What is it, blog intern?”
The human put the paper down and gave his leader a hurt look. “I have a name y’know.”
Seth sighed. “So do I.”
The human rolled his eyes. “Fine. Hey, Seth. The Manehatten Times is giving rave reviews to The Great and Powerful Trixie’s Circus of Awesome. I bet tickets are going to be hard to come by here soon.”
Seth looked pained. “I knew I should have told Rob to save us tickets! Is she at least coming to Ponyville?”
The man at the end of the table poured through the rest of the article. “It doesn’t say. Do you think we should radio them?”
Seth shook his head. “Not over something that small.” He was about to say more, but a sudden chill raced up his spine. He shuddered, wondering why it had felt like somebody had just walked over his grave.
His friend frowned. “Are you okay?”
“I just felt a great disturbance in the force.” Seth said his voice subdued.
“I thought you stopped having bean burritos for lunch?”
The leader of the BIG ignored the insult to his gastro-intestinal system, trying instead, to figure out what was wrong. A terrifying question flashed through his mind, one that he couldn’t help vocalizing.
“Where’s the Lyra division?”
Taking the portal room had fortunately been much easier than gaining control over the armory. Long range darts had quickly put down the humans outside of the door. Though, one of the shooters almost ruined the surprise when he barked, ‘no-scope!’. Luckily, the guards inside the room didn’t seem to hear him.
A flash bang and rubber grenade had dazed and disoriented the guards inside the room long enough for the division to swamp it and tranquilize everyone there as well. By the end Lyra entered the room, the only evidence of the conflict was the tiny rubber balls littering the ground and the trussed up bronies.
The portal room was almost disappointingly plain. There were a few simple tables and folding chairs where the guards had been playing cards, a battered wardrobe, and a steel coffee maker in one corner. The only decorations in the room were several banners of ponies hung high on each of the walls. They were done in an almost abstract style, and it took Lyra a minute to realize that each of them depicted a pony that led a division.
It was interesting, but surely this couldn’t be the right place. “Where’s the portal? Or the detecting crystal?” Did they get the wrong room somehow?
Jason just pointed up without saying anything. Lyra let her gaze travel upwards and then noticed the enormous inlay of crystals in the ceiling. The light in the windowless room wasn’t from electric lights, but instead from the gently pulsating stones. They were arranged in seven-pointed star and glowed a soft white.
The Captain noticed where Lyra was watching and nodded. “The moment you use magic the light turns red and alarms start ringing.”
Lyra shook her head. Humans really were frighteningly well-prepared. “That’s the crystals accounted for, but where’s the portal?”
The Captain nodded to the other end of the room where a pair of humans were trying out various keys from the guards’ belts on the wardrobe door. “Right there.”
Lyra raised both eyebrows. “In the wardrobe?”
Jason shrugged. “What can I say, we’re traditionalists.”
Lyra waited for a moment, but no more information seemed forthcoming. With a sigh, she filed the statement away for later inquiry and turned her attention on the room itself. She had expected a basement full of equipment, crackling power cords, and other … science-y stuff. If her Division hadn’t been sure this was the place, Lyra would have thought the room was just the guards’ break room. She looked at the banners again, and noticed that is most of the ponies were depicted looking down, as though they were staring at her.
“What’s with the banners?”
One girl chuckled and said in a strange accent, “In Soviet Equestria, ponies watch you.”
She got a mixed round of laughs and groans from the rest of the humans, but Lyra didn’t get it. She was becoming very used to that experience, but that didn’t mean she enjoyed it. A moment later, there was a click and a gleeful exclamation as the wardrobe opened. Lyra hurried over to peer in. The lead human shoved a few coats to the side and then she saw it. At first the portal reminded as a lot of the room, disappointingly plain.
It looked like an unpolished silver mirror. It was large, at least six feet tall and three feet wide, but otherwise seemed unimpressive. The cloudy surface only gave dull reflections that hardly held any color, washing out anything bright or distinct about anypony looking in it. The frame was a little more interesting. It was a smooth grey, and surprisingly no wires issued from it. But there were several buttons and tiny lights built into its side.
“We’ll go first and seize control, then we let you know when to come through,” the Captain told Lyra, staring at the portal. “Go through slowly, just in case. Start with a leg, and don’t put anything else through until you can feel solid ground. If you feel a tingling sensation, that’s normal, but if something feels numb, pull back.” The human turned to stare deep into Lyra eyes. “Do not go through if anything is different from what I just said. Traveling across dimensions is no joke. We haven’t lost anyone yet, but I’m not eager for you to be the first.”
Lyra gulped, fighting back both fear and excitement. It was hard to say which emotion was stronger.
Then, with everything in place, the Captain charged the portal, and went right through it. The surface of the mirror parted like water, welling up around the human’s body as she went through and rippling faintly afterwards. It was, Lyra realized, as though they had somehow taken quicksilver and stretched it across the frame.
Ten of the remaining fifteen humans charged through, and for several minutes all was silent. No noise or sight come from beyond the preternatural mirror, so when Jason suddenly stuck his head through Lyra yelped in surprise, caught completely off-guard.
“We’re good to go.” He said and ducked back through.
Lyra licked her lips and steeled herself. C’mon, just like she said. Start with one leg. She hesitantly touched the portal and watched the ripples spread across its surface disturbing her blurry image. With a start she remembered what Beth had said.
“As far away as your own reflection.”
Lyra chuckled. She owed that girl an apology; Beth had told her truer than anyone. Then, before she could over-think it she slammed her hoof through the surface of the portal. Despite its metallic appearance the portal gave almost no resistance. Lyra had put far too much force into the movement and for a moment she almost fell into the mirror.
Once she was stable and her heart returned to manageable rate, she concentrated on her leg. There was a tingling sensation, like the beginnings of static electricity creeping along it, but none of the dreaded numbness.
She set her hoof down and felt a smooth tiled floor on the other side. Just in case Lyra drew her leg back through and inspected it visually. It looked and felt fine, not even changed in the slightest. The tingling feeling had disappeared once her leg had left the other world, and Lyra wondered what had caused it in the first place.
The unicorn took a deep breath and plunged through the mirror. She held her breath, uncertain what the silvery substance of the portal might to her if she breathed it in. Her coat erupted into pins and needles and her hooves slid a couple feet on the smooth floor, but she was through in one piece. Lyra opened her eyes onto a world unlike anything she had ever imagined.
This was the room made of metal, full of wires and machines to maintain the bizarre apparatus that had brought her here. The portal was also much more impressive from this side. Although the silvery surface was the same in was housed in a glowing machine that fairly hummed with power.
From a technologically standpoint this place was nothing short of amazing, and Lyra knew Twilight would have given one of hooves to examine it all. But that was nothing compared to the far more fundamental difference she was experiencing.
Lyra could see every single hair of her coat. Instead of appearing as one smooth surface, it was a composite of a million tiny pieces. She looked up, and she could see imperfections in the tiles of the floor, a chip here, a slight discoloration there, across the entire floor. She turned to look at one of the humans and she realized that their skin and hair weren’t really a single color, but a mix of hues, the difference between them so slight that it had been impossible to notice before. Shadows were not solid black outlines, but instead were curved and vague in the uncertain light. Her sight hadn’t improved, the world itself was different.
It wasn’t just sight, either. She could hear so many more sounds, the hum of the machinery, the scuff of a footstep, a few rumbles and honks from beyond the room, the rustling of clothing and the soft clatter of her own movements. Everything had its own noise, no matter how small.
Something had happened to her sense of smell, too. Lyra realized that the room and everything in it had a smell. Before she could only smell the obvious, powerful smells, like a flower’s aroma or the stench of garbage. Now she was picking up subtle scents, the metal of the machines, the plastics of the wires, the natural odor of both herself and the humans.
All of the sensory information flowed into her mind, and she couldn’t believe, couldn’t understand it all. But her mind was adaptive enough in its own way, and before long it had managed to slow the flood sensations down to a trickle. Lyra stared at one section of the floor, trying to clear her head. She had expected another universe to be unfamiliar, but this went so far beyond that, it was almost laughable. This world was just so much more detailed, more intense, more solid.
More … real.
Lyra looked up, meeting the concerned eyes of the Captain. “Are you okay? You were just about catatonic.”
Lyra blinked, shutting out as much of the unnecessary information as she could. “I-I’m alright. It’s just … Wow. Is this what it’s like every time you come back?”
“Like what? You mean how everything’s less … simple?”
That comment earned the Captain one of Lyra’s best frowns, but if this was the world they were used to, she could understand how humans might see it that way. “That’s one way of putting it.” She sat up, trying to process some of the more pertinent information assaulting her mind. “Where are we?”
Jason grinned. “Welcome to the human world. You’re in the heart of the BIG’s headquarters.” He hooked a thumb at one end of the room. “Do you want to see what it looks like outside?” Lyra couldn’t nod her head fast enough. The humans chuckled and Jason walked over to a set of controls on the wall. His fingers danced across the keypad, then with a flourish he hit one last button.
Lyra stared at him skeptically until the wall began to move. The enormous steel panels that covered one of the walls retracted slowly into the ceiling. The only thing left were windows that were clear as crystal. Lyra stepped forward, staring at the sight before her. The ground was below her, far below her. With a start Lyra realized she was hundreds of feet in the air. Her heart began to race and her head spun with sudden vertigo.
Fortunately, it passed once she stopped looking down. Their tower wasn’t the only one either. There were more than a dozen of the awe-inducing spires, many of them even taller than theirs. They glittered and shone, light reflecting off a thousand panes of glass. Canterlot Castle, the largest most powerful piece of architecture known to ponykind, would have fallen short when compared to even one of them. Against this collection, it didn’t stand a chance.
The light grew brighter and Lyra turned and squinted. The sun was rising, peering over the tops of distant mountains. Lyra waited patiently for several minutes for the sun to rise to a more reasonable level so she could continue her examination of the amazing city. But the sun seemed content to move at a snail’s pace as it slowly climbed the eastern horizon.
Jason walked over, joining her in staring out the window. “Looks like it’s going to be another beautiful day.”
One man just stared at him incredulously. “Are you kidding? The high today is a hundred and one.”
Jason snorted, and waved his hand in a dismissive gesture. “It’s summer in the desert. One hundred degrees is a beautiful day by local standards.”
Lyra’s mouth dropped. The human had built a city this large and powerful in the desert? Las Pegasus was the largest settlement ponies had ever made in the harsh climate of the Equestrian south-west and it was only a big town, nothing like the metropolis that stretched before her.
Lyra tried to get a better look at the rest of the city, but the harsh sunlight was still too low. “Whoever controls your sun is certainly taking her sweet time raising it.” Even at her slowest the Princess wouldn’t have taken this long. The humans went silent at this statement and for a moment Lyra feared she had just committed a serious taboo. Belatedly she realized that nopony would have reacted well had one of the humans criticized Princess Celestia like that.
Lyra turned around ready to apologize, but the words died in her throat. The humans didn’t look angry. They looked confused and a little uncomfortable. Finally the Captain spoke. “Lyra, we kind of thought you had realized…” she trailed off.
Jason picked up the thread. “Since humans don’t have magic, and we don’t live in the same world as Princess Celestia…”
Lyra remained silent, there was connection she knew, but somehow she couldn’t reach it. How were they connected? It was almost as if he was saying …
Jason finished the thought for her. “We don’t have anyone to raise the sun or moon.”
That was it. The possibility that Lyra hadn’t even considered as possible. “B-but how does it happen then? That doesn’t make sense!” she yelled. Lyra dashed to the window. Was the sun really any higher than it had been before or was her mind playing tricks on her? Was this what their world was like? A perpetual dawn?
The unicorn forced herself to calm down and evaluated the sight objectively. It took several minutes to put herself in the right frame of mind, but eventually she was there. The sun had moved upward since she had first seen it. At the rate it was moving, it would take all day to reach the western horizon, but it definitely wasn’t stationary. She considered the glowing ball, careful not to look directly at it. “How?” she murmured.
The Captain answered. “It just does. It always has. There’s an explanation for it, but that would require a complete overhaul on your understanding of celestial mechanics.”
“That wasn’t what I meant.” Lyra said and the Captain’s eyebrows shot up. Lyra stared out the window again. “How could you leave this world behind?” As bizarre, terrifying and alien as this world was it was also the most fascinating place she’d ever seen. Lyra could have happily spent the rest of the day watching the city outside the window. “How could anyone turn their back on all this for a hum-drum place like Ponyville?”
The Captain made a curt gesture to the other humans and one by one they filed out through the portal. When the last one had gone through, only Jason, and the Captain remained. They shared a quick look and the woman put a gentle hand on Lyra’s shoulder.
“You don’t give your world enough credit. Everything that fascinates you about this place we already know. We’ve lived our lives here and to us it’s just as ‘hum-drum’ as Ponyville seems to you.”
Lyra shook her head. She couldn’t imagine anyone finding the strange city before her boring. “If a fresh perspective is the only thing that makes another world interesting, then why travel to ours? If you could watch and learn about our world from yours, then why would you spend all that time and effort just to reach us? Why would you sacrifice so much just to be a part of Equestria?”
They were quiet for a long minute. Jason broke the silence in a hushed voice. “Because we fell in love with your world. We fell in love with a place full of kind and caring people, a place where good always triumphs, a place where ‘happily ever after’ isn’t a cliché.”
His final sentence barely more than a whisper. “We couldn’t help but love a world where friendship is magic.”
Lyra looked into Jason’s eyes, but was surprised by the emotion she found there. Not because of its strength, but because it was so very familiar. It was love, deep and pure. Not romance or desire, but heartfelt affection for somepony precious. The almost sad expression of somepony who would give anything to protect the one they love. It was the same love she had always seen in the eyes of two very special ponies. Her parents.
The slow sound of clapping, interrupted the silent tableau, accompanied by a soft sound of someone crying. Lyra turned in alarm towards the portal, and was stunned by the sight.
Almost a dozen bronies, none of them from her division, were clapping. One man was crying, and trying his best to hide it. All of them were armored, armed and looked like they had just been through Tartarus. The lead human stepped forward, and nodded sagely.
“That was beautiful, man. Almost good enough to make all this trouble worth it.”
Jason had put both hands in the air the moment he saw his fellow bronies, the human sign of surrender Lyra knew, but now his face was hopeful. “Really, bossman? So I’m not in trouble?”
Seth’s smile went flat. “I said ‘almost’. Get back through the portal before we tranq you and drag your body back.” Jason shrugged, and flashed Lyra a brief smile before marching back through the glowing gateway.
Lyra watched him go with no small amount of trepidation. “He only did it because I told him to. Please don’t punish him.” Lyra begged, using her best puppy dog eyes and pouting just perfectly.
Seth sighed. “We know why he did it. We know that your whole division did it under your orders, but the real question of blame lies with who told you that you could even give those orders.”
The Captain stepped forward, oddly nonchalant giving the odds she was facing. “Hey Seth. How’d you take back the portal so quickly? I figured we’d hold you off for a couple hours at least.”
Seth snorted. “You probably would have, if I hadn’t taken the precaution of stockpiling a hidden cache of weapons. Originally it was in case the main armory was destroyed, but it certainly came in handy.” He gave a rueful chuckle. “So tell me. Was I wrong to distrust you, Phoe?”
Lyra glanced at the Captain in surprise and belatedly realized that she had never even thought to ask for her name. Phoe laughed out loud at that. “Guilty as charged, mon captainé. So what’s the punishment?”
Seth’s expression darkened. “That depends on just what you did.” His expression said that he had something in mind, and that if she had done it, her punishment would make Luna’s imprisonment look like a light sentence.
Phoe looked insulted and glared back at him. “I’m not an idiot, thank you very much. I know that there’s lines you can’t cross.”
Every human in the room sighed, their relief palpable. Seth’s mood immediately improved, and Lyra had to wonder what they had thought she might have done. Was there something else she didn’t know?
“If that’s the case, I think we can give all of you a light punishment, triple kitchen and bathroom duty for a month.” Phoe’s look indicated just how ‘light’ of a punishment she thought it was, but Seth wasn’t finished. “One condition, though. Lyra?”
Lyra jumped slightly as every human, most them still armed, turned to look at her. Seth spoke in neutral tone, but she could tell he was trying to sound friendly. “We can’t have shenanigans like this going on all the time. If you want your division to stay in Equestria you have to promise me this: You can’t ever order them to violate protocol again unless someone’s life is in danger. Can you accept that?”
Lyra glanced at the window, now that the sun had risen further the rest of the city was just tantalizingly out of view. Everything the light touched was her kingdom, just waiting to be discovered. But she turned away from the tempting glimpse. Some things were worth more than selfish desires. Friends were one of the greatest. “Can … can I come back someday?”
“Maybe, maybe not. I can’t promise you either way, but I’ll see what I can do. If the answer’s no, though I’ll still expect you to hold to this promise. No more shenanigans.”
Lyra sighed. “All right. I agree.”
There was subdued cheering from the crowd of humans and Phoe rushed to her side, wrapping her in a hug. Lyra couldn’t help grinning as she nuzzled her back.
Seth walked over and playfully ruffled her mane. “I’m glad to hear it. Now let’s get back to Equestria. Trixie’s coming to town in a few weeks so I’ve got some shenanigans of my own to plan.”
Phoe glared at him. “I swear to God I’ll pistol whip you the next time you say ‘shenanigans’.”
Lyra laughed. Humans were secretive, obsessive, and utterly inexplicable creatures. And she couldn’t be prouder to have so many of them as her friends.
Page 1 of ‘Brony International Guard: The Manual’
RULE NUMBER ONE
At no point, for any reason, no matter what the circumstances, are you to allow anypony to find out about the show. This means no overt references, no discussing episodes, no anything. If ponies discovered that they were fictional, if they realized that their entire lives were dictated by the decisions of a few humans and that everything they knew and loved was essentially a lie, then it could very well destroy Equestria. It would quite literally ruin their lives. Think about it. What would you do if you discovered you were just the figment of someone’s imagination?