Prince Blueblood woke to find himself in considerable pain. His jaw was aching, as was his right foreleg, and he had a terrible headache. He whimpered miserably, but forced himself to open his eyes. He was laying on a hospital bed in what appeared to be the royal infirmary. A white coated nurse pony was sitting nearby, and as he woke, she stood up and walked over to him.
"How do you feel, Prince Blueblood?" she asked solicitously. "Do you need more pain medication?"
"Of course I need more pain medication, you idiot!" Blueblood told her in annoyance, wincing at the volume of his own voice. "I'm in agony! Get me more this instant!"
The nurse nodded calmly. "Of course. I'll be right back," she stepped out of the room and closed the door behind her, while the Prince tried to remember what on earth had happened. How had he gotten here?
His eyes widened as he remembered. "The human! It attacked me!" panicked, he pushed the sheets back to check the extent of his injuries, sighing in relief when it seemed that, in fact, he seemed to be mostly intact. "I thought it would kill me...." Blueblood muttered worriedly. "What happened?"
"He showed mercy, nephew," Princess Celestia told him with a sad smile as she opened the door, walking smoothly into the room. "I wonder, would you have done the same for him?"
Blueblood blinked in confusion. "Aunt Celestia?" he said with a frown. "I don't understand. Why would I show such a creature mercy? It attacked me! I am a prince! I am your nephew, blood of your blood! An attack upon myself is an attack upon Equestria. Surely you see that?"
"Truly, nephew?" Celestia asked with a strange expression her her face. "And what of Miss Applejack?" at Blueblood's expression of confusion at the name, she clarified. "The earth pony with the orange coat and the yellow mane that was guarding my door?"
The Prince blinked. "That ruffian?" his face darkened. "Aunt Celestia, I must request for that... brutish thug to be arrested immediately! She assaulted my person. In fact, I believe I may have met her before!" he frowned thoughtfully. "Yes... at the Gala... some sort of... carnival worker, perhaps? I have no idea how she managed to gain entry, but I'm afraid she must be stalking me! I can't understand how she might have found employment as a castle guard, but I assure you, she is certainly unfit for the position!"
Celestia nodded thoughtfully. "And would you show her mercy, nephew? Would you have done so if you could?"
Prince Blueblood frowned. "Mercy? Certainly not. She should be banished from Equestria at the very least... preferably after a good solid thrashing. If that monstrous creature hadn't attacked me, I'd have..."
"What would you have done, nephew?" Celestia's voice was distant, and sad, her eyes looking off into the distance.
"Well..." Prince Blueblood hesitated, sensing that the conversation wasn't quite going his way. "Well, I'd have dealt with her properly," he finished with a frown. "Auntie...?" he hesitated, worried now that the white alicorn seemed to be unwilling to meet his gaze. "Is there something the matter?"
Princess Celestia looked at him finally, her eyes sad. "Nephew. Could you tell me exactly why you strangled my guard with your magic? Tell me the truth."
Prince Blueblood frowned. "I already told you... that ruffian struck me! She...."
Princess Celestia sighed. "I examined your wounds personally, nephew. You suffered no injury at her hooves. I have also taken the time to examine Miss Applejack. If it was not for her excellent physical condition, and, I'm informed, her regular rope practice, which, thankfully for your sake, keeps her neck muscles quite strong, she could have suffered most serious injury by being pulled into the air by her throat like that. You could have broken her neck, nephew. Did you not consider that?"
Prince Blueblood frowned, looking worried for the first time since his Aunt, fifty two generations removed, had come into his room. "Auntie... I don't understand. Why are you upset? Obviously this... Applejack is uninjured, and... I have been most grievously hurt!"
Celestia sighed. "On the contrary. The damage to Applejack's neck will be weeks in healing, while you should recover quite a bit sooner, nephew. None of your injuries are especially severe, although I'm told you are lucky that your skull is as thick as it is," she shook her head. "Have you heard enough, little sister?"
Princess Luna entered the room like a shadow, moving silently. "I have, I'm afraid," she shook her head. "Nephew. How your bloodline has fallen. A thousand years ago, your ancestors were proud and noble. They still understood what it meant to be royal. It was their great pleasure to serve and protect the ponies under their care... to serve as example, and the first line of defense against those who would harm the weak, or innocent. They would sorrow so at seeing you this night," she sighed. "As I sorrow now."
Prince Blueblood sputtered. "What are you saying? Auntie... Princess! I only defended myself!"
Luna shook her head sadly. "Do you deny trying to force your way past my sister's guard? Do you deny lifting her into the air by the neck using your magic?"
The Prince froze, a lie coming to his lips, and yet... why should he lie. "It is my right to be heard!" he insisted. "First you denied me what I am owed by putting that... upstart, apprentice over me, then I am denied an audience with..." he turned to Celestia. "You don't understand! I had to talk with you! This... Twilight... she has bewitched you somehow, Auntie! She cannot be allowed to... to..."
Celestia raised an eyebrow. "To what? Did you fear that she would wish to replace me?"
Prince Blueblood hesitated, then told the truth. "If something... if anything happened to you, Auntie... she would. I know she would claim your place, usurp your rightful position!"
Celestia's face softened just a hair. "Is that what truly troubles you, nephew? Did you fear for my safety? Or perhaps was there a little fear for your own position?"
Prince Blueblood hesitated, glancing at Luna, trying to remember what he had said during day court that afternoon. "I... my family is of the royal blood. If... if anything should happen to you, naturally, I..."
"You would take my place," Celestia said softly. "Is that what you thought?" she shook her head. "I'm sorry, my foolish nephew, but you have not been in consideration for the throne since just after your twentieth birthday. At the moment, in the very unlikely event that both I and my sister pass, the leadership would go to the royal council, who would rule jointly until other provisions were made. I'm afraid that you do not have any friends there."
Blueblood stared at his Aunt, many times removed, in confused horror. "Those... effeminate intellectuals... picked over myself? But... you only listen to those fools in order to placate the populous!"
Princess Celestia sighed. "Are you so blind? I hoof picked each member of the council, or else accepted the most careful recommendations for each of them. They are some of the keenest, most worthy minds in Equestria today... and they serve our land very well indeed. You, on the other hand, serve no pony save yourself," she sighed. "Blueblood, I think it's about time you wake up."
Princess Luna spoke. "Your awakening may be a bit harsh, but perhaps you will learn something from this... if only caution."
Blueblood shook his head. "Learn? You speak as if I am to be... punished for... for what? For defending my honor against...?"
"Enough," Princess Celestia did not shout, but the tone of finality in her voice was certain. "You injured my guard... a national hero, in a misguided attempt to secure your own position. You used excessive force in doing so. You have two choices, nephew. You will either submit yourself to a public trial, or my mercy. You are fortunate that I still feel some for you."
Blueblood sputtered. "A public trial? I'd be humiliated!"
"Most likely you would also end up serving several years in prison as well," Luna said calmly. "Assault on a royal guard carries a twenty year sentence, does it not?"
Celestia looked sad. "At worst, although the court has the discretion to lessen that sentence for mitigating circumstances, and, honestly, my guard rarely presses charges. I am proud to say that they seem to have learned how to be merciful," she sighed. "But it would be up to Miss Applejack in that case. Would you prefer to submit yourself to her mercy instead?"
Prince Blueblood's eyes widened in horror. "No! Never! I..." he took a deep breath. "I... I humbly beg you, dear Aunt Celestia, for your mercy," he bowed his head. "I will accept your judgement." he tried to keep his breathing steady, but it was difficult. He was suddenly terrified. Surely his sweet aunt would be merciful towards him?
"I will grant you my mercy on one condition," she told the Prince softly. "You must swear not to seek to harm any pony, ever again. You must further swear not to speak of the incident tonight, nor to seek any retribution of any kind on anypony, or human, involved. If you do this, I will show you mercy. You will be under house arrest... at your home estate, for a period not less than a year, and not more than five. If you show to me that you have changed for the better during that time, I will consider lessening your sentence."
Prince Blueblood was silent, considering. "I... see," he frowned, not liking the terms at all, but not seeing much way out. He knew his aunt well enough to know that she would not change her mind once it was made up. She truly meant to punish him, and if he did not agree to her terms, she would leave his fate in the hooves of the very ruffian who had assaulted him in the first place. It was... ludicrous of course, but did he really have any choice? "Very well," he finally said, grudgingly. "I so swear."
Luna's horn glowed, and a scroll and ink pen appeared in front of him. Slowly, as he watched, the oath Celestia had asked of him was inscribed on the page, and then the pen was laid down next to him.
"Sign then," Luna ordered him gravely. "This contract is magically binding. If you break it...." she smiled. "No curse will fall upon you... nor will your life be forfeit, as was often the penalty in such contracts in the time of your ancestors and mine," Her eyes glittered. "All that will happen is that I will be made aware of your breach. And then I will come for you," Luna smiled softly. "I will come, and there will be no sanctuary that would hide you from me. There is no place to run from the Princess of the Night."
Blueblood shivered, turning to Celestia with a pitiable expression, but he saw no sympathy there, only sadness. With a shuddering breath, he slowly levitated the pen, and started to sign his name to the scroll.
Early the next morning, Twilight was saying goodbye to her friends at the Canterlot train station. "So I'll be staying at the palace with the Princesses for a few more days. I'm supposed to give a press conference with Princess Celestia tomorrow afternoon...." she sighed. "But I'll be able to come home after that."
Rarity sighed. "If only you could have stayed an alicorn for another day or two. I never did get to make you a proper outfit for your new form."
Twilight shrugged. "Well, you knew I'd be changing back to normal eventually, right? It's not like I'd be able to wear it after that, right?"
Rarity raised an eyebrow. "But surely when you give the Princesses a vacation next year you'll need something nice to wear! After all, I'm certain you'll have to attend quite a few functions during that time."
Twilight blinked. "Well... I suppose, tentatively... I may... er...."
Rarity grinned at her. "You did promise Princess Celestia a vacation, didn't you?"
Twilight groaned. "Right... I guess I might need something to wear after all."
Rarity grinned. "Well, just try and fit me into your schedule on your first day back as an alicorn. I'll have something ready for you before then, of course, but we must have it fitted properly, after all. I never did get to take your measurements."
Applejack, wearing a dark brown neckerchief to cover the nasty bruise around her throat, glanced at the pair of unicorn palace guards that were standing behind Twilight and pretending not to pay attention. "Now, you two take good care of Twilight while she's here in Canterlot, ya' hear?"
Shining Star turned to her and gave a quick salute. "You have my word, Lady Applejack," his face softened. "You're one of us now, you hear me? You protected our princess when we weren't there to do it. If there is anything the guard can do for you, all you need to do is ask."
Applejack grinned at him. "Y'all don't owe me nothin. But if ya want to pay me back, keep a special eye on Twilight for me. Can't have her get into any more trouble while I'm not around, eh?"
Shining Star nodded and saluted her. "Oh my honor, Applejack."
Bright Lance grinned at Johnathon. "So... how did it feel to kick Blueblood's rear end into next week?"
Johnathon hesitated, making a fist and looking at it soberly. "I won't lie. Part of me enjoyed it. But I don't like hurting anypony... and I'm sorry I had to hurt him," he nodded to Applejack. "But I'd do it again in a second to protect my friends."
Shining Star shook his head incredulously. "I still can't believe you beat him! I mean... the Prince may not have any real combat experience, but he was trained in magic... and he has to be half again your size! And you don't have a scratch on you!"
Johnathon shrugged. "He was so busy with Applejack that he didn't notice me until I was on top of him. Not really a fair fight. He'd have had no trouble with me if he'd seen me coming, I expect."
Shining Star nodded slowly. "Maybe. Still, I would be honored to serve at your side in the future. You kept your head, and you saved Applejack. I can't repay you enough for that. It was my fault she was hurt... it would have been might fault if anything worse happened as well. If you hadn't been there...."
Johnathon frowned. "I'm afraid I agree. It would have been your fault. I'm sorry, Shining, but you shouldn't have left her alone," he took a breath. "But it was an honest mistake, and you won't make it again, so I forgive you."
Shining Star sighed. "I don't deserve it. I should have been drummed out of the guard for such a rookie mistake."
Applejack spoke up. "What about the maid? The one who told you Luna was looking for you? What happened to her?"
Bright Lance spoke up. "Princess Celestia believed that Blueblood lied to her, and when she questioned him on the matter, he admitted as much. She didn't know that Luna hadn't sent for Shining Star, she simply took Blueblood's word. She won't be punished."
Applejack nodded. "Fine by me, I reckon. I hope she's learned not to trust any pretty face that tells her a yarn after this, though."
Bright Lance shrugged. "She seemed pretty upset about the matter when she learned what happened. She has been sworn to secrecy, of course, but I expect that the Prince won't find such willing helpers in the future," he raised a hoof. "Now remember, you're under no oath yourselves, but it probably won't do any good to talk about the incident with the Prince. He's oath-bound not to mention it, but there isn't much point in making more enemies... and he does still have friends at court."
Applejack looked disgruntled, but nodded. "If that's what the princesses want. I'm not afraid of some boot licking toadies, but I suppose I can leave things as they are," she chuckled. "Seeing that pompous twit get thrashed by Johnathon did kinda take the edge off my anger a bit. It'll be a fond memory for years to come."
Johnathon rolled his eyes. "Just don't go spreading it around. I'm supposed to be a NICE guy, remember?"
Applejack leaned against him comfortingly. "You ARE a nice guy, Johnathon. If my brother had been there instead of you, I reckon he's have stomped that Blueblood into the floor, and kept stomping, and my brother is as nice as they come."
Rarity nodded firmly. "I'd have thrashed the brute within an inch of his life if I'd been there. The nerve of that lout," she smiled at Johnathon. "You did exactly as any gentlecolt would have done, I couldn't be prouder."
Johnathon shrugged, looking embarrassed. "Well, I was certainly glad I was wearing the gloves you made me, Rarity," he told her sincerely. "I wouldn't have wanted to punch that thick skull without them."
Rainbow Dash grinned at him. "I wish I'd have been there to see it," she made punching motions with her hooves. "Whoosh, bang!" She chuckled. "Of course, if I'd been there I'd have clobbered him in a second flat."
Johnathon nodded at her agreeably. "I've no doubt."
Fluttershy sighed. "I'm just glad that Applejack isn't too badly injured. Those bruises look so awful."
The cowpony smiled gently at the yellow pegasus. "They ain't nothing, Fluttershy. I've been throwing hay bales and roping for so long, my neck is as strong as the trunk of one of my apple trees. It don't hardly hurt at all."
The friends began to board the train, and Pinkie Pie rushed out to give Twilight a hug. "You come home soon, OK, Twilight? We can't throw a 'we're glad you didn't get strangled by a meany mean pants Prince" party for Applejack, cause we're not supposed to tell anypony about that... and we can't throw a "Twilight is a super smarty pants because she figured out how to turn herself into a Princess party..." she blinked. "Why can't we throw a party like that again?"
Twilight laughed. "Mostly because we're not supposed to talk about how I did that either, Pinkie."
Pinkie sighed, and hugged Twilight harder. "But we're going to throw a big welcome back to Ponyville party when you get back, so come back soon, OK Twilight?"
Twilight nodded. "Just a few more days, Pinkie. Spike's staying with me, so I won't be lonely, and I get to spend a whole lot of time with the Princesses! I will come home soon though, and I can't wait for your party."
Pinkie smiled weakly. "Well, of course. Who throws the best parties, after all?"
"You do, Pinkie," Twilight assured her. "You do."
On the train, Johnathon found himself wandering away from the others, and ended up standing on at the rear of the train, looking back at Canterlot with a worried frown.
"What's bothering you, Johnathon?" Cheerilee asked him in concern, moving up close to speak over the sound of the engine. "Everything is all right now, isn't it?"
The archeologist nodded slowly. "I suppose... although... a lot has happened," he shrugged. "It's always hard for me, after a fight. Especially a serious one like my fight with Blueblood."
"Were you afraid?" The school teacher asked.
"Yes," Johnathon admitted easily. "I was scared for Applejack... but I was scared for me as well. I saw what he was capable of... lifting her by her throat like that. If he'd seen me before I reached him, he could have easily done the same to me, and I would have been powerless to stop him," he sighed. "I was so scared... I nearly didn't stop. When he went down, I was ready to keep hitting... to stomp on him while he was on the ground. I'm not sure what stopped me."
Cheerilee looked thoughtful. "You knew that Prince Blueblood could easily stop you when you saw him holding Applejack in the first place, didn't you? Why did you go forward anyway?"
Johnathon frowned. "I couldn't have walked away and let him hurt her... not if I could stop it."
Cheerilee put a hoof on his back lightly. "You couldn't let Applejack be hurt if you could prevent it. Just like you couldn't hurt him once he wasn't in a position to harm anypony."
Johnathon grimaced. "I wouldn't say that, exactly. Part of me wanted to keep hurting him. I chose not to hurt him, but I wanted to."
Cheerilee smiled. "Your choices define who you are, don't you think? And I like who you are, Johnathon."
Johnathon sighed. "Thanks," he glanced down at her and smiled. "I like you too, Cheerilee."
The school teacher grinned. "You're just saying that to be nice. I'm not heroic, like Applejack or Rainbow Dash..."
Johnathon shrugged. "You were there to help, just like the others. Just because you didn't get throttled, doesn't mean you weren't willing to put your life on the line like the rest of us."
Cheerilee frowned. "I hope I would. I'd like to believe I would," she sighed. "Thankfully, I didn't get the chance to find out. I don't relish being put into that sort of situation."
"Just being there meant a lot," Johnathon told her. "I'm sorry I ended up dragging you into all this."
Cheerilee shook her head. "It was my choice to make," she shrugged. "Besides, I didn't come just because you asked me. I came for the Princess... and for Twilight, and the other girls."
Johnathon nodded. "Oh, I know that... but, if it wasn't for me, Twilight would never have been researching that spell. If it wasn't for me, you'd never have been involved in the first place, even if she was researching a spell like that for a different reason. If I wasn't staying at your place, having you help me with my Equestrian, you wouldn't know all about Twilight's research, and there would have been no reason to ask you to help out."
Cheerilee smiled. "Well, I really didn't mind. It's kind of nice, being somepony that ponies can call when there's trouble. I'm glad that nothing really bad happened, of course, but at the same time, it was nice to try and be a hero for once, even if I didn't end up doing anything important."
Johnathon grinned at her. "Well, if you ever do get the chance, Cheerilee, I have every confidence in you. You'd make a great hero."
Cheerilee giggled. "I'll be great at running and hiding, anyway. But you're sweet to say so."
"Well, I mean it."
"Johnathon, seriously. I'm a school teacher! Who ever heard of a school teacher being a hero before?"
Johnathon's face grew slightly sad. "Remind me to tell you a story about a certain school teacher sometime... and a flying machine called "Challenger"
Cheerilee blinked. "Is it a sad story?"
He thought about that for a while, then finally nodded. "Stories about heroes often are, I'm afraid."
Returning to Ponyville was both a relief and a let down from the excitement of Canterlot. With Twilight and Spike in Canterlot, Johnathon and Cheerilee found themselves taking over the Ponyville library. Johnathon was still learning the written language, but there was still so much about Equestrian history and culture he wanted to learn, and he was reading constantly. Cheerilee joined him at the library most days. School was still out for the winter holiday, and she found herself being drawn into Johnathon's research. His enthusiasm for the subject was infectious, and she found herself surprised by how often he would discover something about Equestrian history that she either didn't know, or was only vaguely aware of.
"Winter Wrap up?" Johnathon asked her curiously one afternoon as they were walking from their home toward the library a few days after arriving back in Ponyville. "What's that? I keep hearing ponies talking about it."
Cheerilee blinked. "Oh, I'm sorry, of course you wouldn't know. You weren't here last winter," she looked thoughtful. "And... from what you've told me, your world is kind of like the Everfree forest, in that nature and the animals take care of themselves, so I suppose you probably don't have anything like it on your world?"
Johnathon looked curious. "I don't know. What is it, exactly?"
Cheerilee started to explain. "Well, when Ponyville was first settled, we didn't have any unicorns living in the area, we had to wrap up winter without using magic. Our ancestors learned to do it with their own four hooves. It's become a tradition now, so we wrap up winter each year without any magic."
The archeologist blinked. "Er... wrap up winter? What does that mean?"
Cheerilee looked confused. "You know... change the season? Turn winter to spring?"
Johnathon Dwire stopped dead in his tracks. "You... you change the seasons without magic? Seriously?"
Cheerilee blinked. "Well... yes. Is there something strange about that?"
The human nodded firmly. "It's... well, I'm not even sure I can comprehend it. I... well, I suppose I can understand how it might be done magically... since Celestia does control the sun. She must change it's orbit to increase the amount of sunlight you get each season," he shook his head. "Although the very idea that she has the power to do that still completely blows me away. It's so far beyond what I know to be possible, that I still probably won't truly believe it till I see Celestia raise the sun with my own eyes."
Cheerilee smiled. "Well, you'll have to wait another few months for that. The Summer Sun celebration is still quite a ways off."
Johnathon nodded. "I'll be going, certainly. It's in Canterlot this year?"
Cheerilee smiled. "That's what they say."
Johnathon sighed, then started walking again, Cheerilee moving easily along at his side. "So... pretend I'm a child who's never heard of winter wrap up. What exactly do you do to... wrap up winter?"
Cheerilee started to explain, and found herself answering question after question as the human tried to clarify point after point. They had reached the library and had been sitting inside for half an hour by the time he was satisfied.
"So... aside from the fact that the sun's orbit changes, and you have longer days, you do... just about everything else to get the world ready for spring," Johnathon summarized, now that he was sure he had the details. "You clear the snow, melt the ice, clear the winter clouds, gather the wildlife that has either gone south for the winter or gone into hibernation..." he shook his head. "The animals can't do this on their own?"
Cheerilee blinked. "Can't do what?"
"The migrating birds... they can't find their way back north for the summer? The hibernating animals, they don't know when to wake up from their hibernation?" Johnathon asked with an incredulous look on his face.
Cheerilee blinked again. "Well, no, of course not."
Johnathon sighed. "Of course not," he raised an eyebrow. "And, aside from the Everfree forest, it's been this way for as long as anypony can remember? For all of recorded history?"
Cheerilee nodded, looking confused. "That's right, why do you ask?"
The archeologist's eyebrow twitched, and he shook his head. "You know what, I don't know enough to even ask the right questions right now. I'm going to need to do some more research to figure out what I'm trying to figure out here."
Cheerilee blinked, then shrugged. "OK, where do we start?"
Days had passed, Johnathon and Cheerilee had spent most of each day in the library. Mainly Cheerilee helped find books that Johnathon asked for, or helped him translate the more difficult passages, but she wasn't quite sure what he was looking for. He seemed to be excited... almost driven by his search, however, and she found herself swept up in his enthusiasm regardless.
"Seeing the Hearth Warming play made me want to know the truth behind the events that led to the founding of Equestria," Johnathon was explaining to Cheerilee as they sat comfortably in front of the fireplace in the library, drinking hot chocolate. A heavy winter storm was raging outside, the streets were filled with snow, and they had elected to stay at the library that evening, rather than heading home through the blizzard.
Cheerilee simply nodded to indicate she was listening, as by now she recognized the signs that Johnathon was getting ready to share some new insight with her. He tended to ramble on for quite a while when he went into lecture mode, but she didn't mind. It fascinated her, watching how his mind worked on a problem.
"Unfortunately, your history isn't very accurate past eight hundred years ago," Johnathon continued. "So we don't have a lot to work with. We can make a few assumptions, however."
Cheerilee simply nodded again, encouraging him. "What sort of assumptions?"
Johnathon continued speaking, looking thoughtful. "Equestria was founded sometime between two thousand and eighteen hundred years ago. For an undetermined period before that, the three societies of unicorns, pegasi, and earth ponies were separate, but dependent on each other."
Cheerilee nodded again. Johnathon was rehashing things every pony learned in school, but she knew that for him, it was relatively new information, and that he was going somewhere with it. Often he simply managed to 'discover' something that was common knowledge, but sometimes he came up with ideas that were new to her, and the process itself always kept her interested.
"Sometime after that, Discord appeared. Where he came from, or why, isn't recorded, and there is no accurate record of how long his rule was. From what little survived the period, I believe it's safe to say it was longer than a single generation, but probably not much more than a couple hundred years or so...."
Cheerilee shuddered at that. "Are you sure? I can't imagine any pony surviving a hundred years of that sort of... insanity!"
Johnathon shrugged. "The poems and songs that followed all suggest that no pony living remembered exactly when Discord arrived, which suggests that his rule lasted longer than a single pony lifetime, although of course, I'd expect that a normal pony's life expectancy would have been greatly reduced during that time. Again, these are assumptions, but most of them are pretty safe bets. If any pony lived from the beginning of Discord's reign till it's end, there is no indication of it."
Cheerilee blinked. "What about the Princesses? They've been around for thousands of years."
Johnathon shrugged. "Actually, I'm thinking less than two thousand years. I actually think that they were born during Discord's reign. I think that the elements of harmony were created during this period as well," he frowned. "I should have thought to ask when I was talking with Princess Celestia last week, but at the time, I didn't know enough to know what questions to ask," he shrugged. "I'll have to ask her later. In any case, the fact is that there was no historical reference to Celestia or Luna before Discord. The first mention of them is the fact of their defeating him and sealing him in stone. Afterwards, they became the rulers of Equestria, which they have remained to this day." Johnathon shrugged. "Well, except of course the thousand years where Luna was imprisoned on the moon."
Cheerilee nodded slowly. "These do seem to be valid assumptions."
Johnathon wrinkled his nose. "Now here is where it gets fuzzy. You see, I've been wondering about your... ecosystem for quite some time. You know how you explained Winter Wrap up to me a few days ago?"
Cheerilee nodded. "Yes, it's been a tradition here in Ponyville as long as there's been a Ponyville. There weren't any unicorns here, so we've been wrapping up winter without magic all this time."
Johnathon nodded. "You're very through about it too. Your entire population pitches in, and an incredible amount is done in a relatively short amount of time. I've read some of the more recent histories, about years where the winter wrap up wasn't done properly for one reason or another, and the consequences were surprisingly severe."
Cheerilee sighed. "There have been some very bad years, especially for new towns that weren't able to wrap up winter properly. Ponies starved... animals died. It wasn't pretty."
Johnathon looked grave. "You've adapted very well... but... I suspect that it wasn't always this way. In fact, I actually think that your entire world was like the Everfree forest at one time, and that something changed... something... huge. Something that altered the way your world works. Something that... broke things... destroyed the natural order, so that your world might have died altogether if you ponies hadn't adapted in order to save it."
Cheerilee blinked. "How could that be? The Everfree forest is a terrible place! It's dangerous in there... animals eat each other... they'd even eat ponies if they could. The weather is wild in there... nopony could survive for long, could they? How could our whole world have been like that?"
Johnathon shrugged. "My whole world is like that. It's not so bad. Humans adapted by pushing the wilderness back, by cutting down trees and making clearings to live in, where they could control things around them to a certain extent. Sure, just like in Ponyville, wild animals will come into areas that humans try to control, but we've gotten so practiced at controlling the world around us, it's not difficult."
Cheerilee frowned. "How is that different from here?"
Johnathon shrugged. "On my world, the animals still have their instincts. They know when to fly south for the winter, or north for the summer, they know when to end their hibernations. They know what they can eat, and what they can't... all through instinct. Winter ends naturally... the snow melts, the birds come back, the animals in hibernation all wake up, humans don't have to do a thing," he frowned. "Of course, I may be completely wrong in all this. Just because nature works that way in my world, doesn't mean it ever worked like that here. Perhaps the Everfree forest is the aberration... it's possible that it's the way it is BECAUSE of my world... because of the gateway between our worlds. But I don't really think so."
Cheerilee looked curious. "Why?"
Johnathon frowned. "Because... you've been learning how to... to wrap up winter better and better through the years. Eight hundred years ago, there was a lot of trouble with starvation... disease, animals dying off... but you've gotten better and better at it, till such things are nearly unheard of."
"So... what are you trying to say?" Cheerilee said, then smiled, to let him know that she was keeping an open mind.
Johnathon frowned. "If you were that bad at it eight hundred years ago... compared to today, how much worse at it would you have been two thousand years ago? How could Equestria have been formed if ponies didn't know how to take care of their environment... unless they didn't need to do so that far back."
Cheerilee frowned. "Perhaps they forgot how during Discord's reign?"
Johnathon nodded. "That's certainly one possibility. Certainly, things could have been like they are now before Discord, and ponies lost that knowledge and had to regain it after Discord was defeated..." he shrugged. "But I have a second theory."
Cheerilee chuckled. "I figured you might."
Johnathon grinned. "You do know me pretty well," the archeologist hesitated. "The thing is... I'm not sure I should tell you what I've come up with. It's another of... those kinds of revelations that could really change how you see things. I'm not sure if I should explain any more."
Cheerilee smiled softly at him. "I want to know. I managed to survive knowing that the Elements of Harmony cast a magic spell on everypony in Equestria... and that you and I, and the Princesses... and maybe a few others that the Princesses might have told, are the only ponies that know the truth. I think I can handle whatever it is you've figured out."
Johnathon sighed, then nodded. "I think you can as well, but this one is a doozy," he took a deep breath. "My theory is simple. Before Discord... what if your world worked... more like mine? What if your world, like mine, was like the Everfree forest back then? What if nature knew how to take care of itself. In fact... I suspect that before Discord, the sun and moon might have orbited your world without magic!"
Cheerilee frowned. "But... the founding of Equestria came before Discord's reign, and the unicorns raised the sun and moon back then."
Johnathon shrugged. "It's a story... a legend... but it's from well before your recorded history became... solid. Perhaps it's changed over the years... and it's only remained constant, as a story, since your people started writing things down and recording history officially. What if the unicorns... and later Celestia and Luna, started moving the sun and moon only after Discord was first defeated."
Cheerilee blinked. "Wait... are you saying that Discord... that he broke... how our world works?"
Johnathon nodded. "That's my theory. That your world worked like mine... that everything kept going without aid... naturally. And that Discord's reign of chaos destroyed that. That he made the sun and the moon leave their normal orbits to suit his whim... that he... somehow broke the natural instincts of animals... and that he was in power for so long, that when he was defeated, some of the damage was permanent."
Cheerilee was gaping at him. "But... how...?" she shook her head. "I... I don't know... it seems so impossible!"
Johnathon sighed. "The biggest reason I think that my theory must be correct is simply that... the alternative is that the unicorns have been moving the sun and moon since your world was created. That they've ALWAYS moved them. That ponies have ALWAYS changed the seasons, and helped the animals figure out where to go and what to do," he shrugged. "Which implies that ponies and this world were created at the same time, and that this world always needed ponies controlling it for it your world to survive. And, frankly, I don't believe that."
Cheerilee shook her head. "Couldn't it be like that? Couldn't ponies simply have existed... forever?"
Johnathon shrugged. "I don't know. I do know that it doesn't work like that on my world... or in my universe. Everything has a beginning, and an end. Nothing lasts forever."
Cheerilee hesitated. "Do you think Princess Celestia and Princess Luna know the truth?"
Johnathon shook his head. "Honestly, I don't know. Like I said, the evidence seems to indicate that Discord's reign lasted longer than the lifetime of any single pony... and that Celestia and Luna were born DURING his reign. Since history wasn't being recorded officially at that time... and the only records of it were through songs and poems told from pony to pony, it's quite possible no pony knew what things were truly like before Discord, even the Princesses," he shook his head. "If any pony knows, it's them, but... who knows how much was passed down, even through oral tradition, during the time they were born?" he grinned. "Of course, it's quite possible that I'm completely wrong about all of this. It's only a theory."
Cheerilee sighed. "But you don't think you're wrong, do you?"
Johnathon shrugged. "No, not really." he shook his head. "I'm going to ask Princess Celestia the next time I see her. I don't really want to put all this into a letter."
Cheerilee's eyes went wide. "I don't blame you!" she looked worried. "Do you think they'll be... unhappy with you for telling them about your theory?"
Johnathon shrugged. "They might be unhappy with me for telling you about my theory, but I don't think they will be. Celestia has proven herself to be quite open minded so far. I'm not planning on running to the papers with any of this... as disrupting your society is the last thing I want to do, but I think that Celestia will hear me out fairly," he sighed. "And if she asks me to keep my theory to myself, I'll do it. After all, I don't think the truth is worth harming anypony, and I can't be sure that everypony knowing about this theory of mine won't end up causing harm."
Cheerilee sighed. "I don't know the answer to that either," she shook her head. "Johnathon, you are the strangest..." she smiled. "Well, you're the only human I've met, but the strangest individual I know. You think in ways I've never considered. Do all humans look at things like you do?"
Johnathon shrugged again, then grinned. "Not all, but enough. Part of it is because of my scientific training. I aspired to be a scientist since I was young. Archeology was were I ended up, but I've been fascinated by almost all the branches of science on my world. A scientist looks at the world as a series of questions to be answered. A scientist never simply accepts anything on faith if it can be tested...." he shrugged. "I'm not the best scientist, but I aspire to be a good one, at least."
Cheerilee shook her head with a chuckle. "You certainly do question everything, and it seems to work. You have already uncovered things about my world that I would never have suspected... and you were right."
Johnathon shook his head. "Don't let my track record convince you of anything. Just because I was right once, doesn't mean I can't be wrong now. And none of this changes the way your world is... although it's certainly interesting to try and figure out how it got the way it is. I haven't been this intrigued by a puzzle since I was a boy."
Cheerilee looked at him wryly. "You're tearing down everything I know about the world, and you call it a puzzle? You are so very strange, Johnathon Dwire!"
The human grinned. "I'll take that as a compliment."
Twilight's attempt to turn herself into an alicorn had been the front page story in the papers for almost a week, and the speculation was endless. For some reason, however, few reporters came to Ponyville, and, aside from a glowingly positive interview with Mayor Mare, who had described Twilight's encounter with the Ursa Minor, and her organization of the Winter Wrap up Festival, the reporters gathered little from the small town, and interest in the story started to die down.
One reporter, however, remained. A particularly determined young mare who went by the name of Mazie Mane had been canvasing the town for weeks, looking for an insider's scoop on Twilight Sparkle. She had been all around town, talking to any pony who would hold still long enough to ask questions of, and it didn't look like she was ready to give up any time soon.
"Big Mac and I have run her off our property three times," Applejack was explaining dryly. Everyone had gathered inside the library at Pinkie's request, in order to plan Twilight's welcome home party, but it had rapidly turned into a discussion about the nosy reporter.
"She knocked on my front door for half an hour!" Fluttershy moaned. "And then she camped out on my front porch for the rest of the day!"
"I thought she was pretty cool," Rainbow Dash said with a shrug. "I told her all about my Sonic Rainboom, and how I'm going to be a Wonderbolt... and...."
"Didn't she ask you anything about Twilight?" Applejack interjected curiously.
Rainbow Dash shrugged. "Yeah, sure... but you know, I'm not going to talk about one of my friends behind her back, you know? I told her that Twilight was cool... not as cool as me, of course, but pretty cool, and how she's the princess's student, and all that... but you know... nothing that wasn't already in the papers."
Rarity blinked. "You've been reading the papers about Twilight?"
Rainbow Dash shrugged. "I was thinking they might mention me... but they didn't even get my name right!" she sighed, then shrugged. "Anyway, I'm not a foal. I wasn't going to give her anything to make Twilight into an even bigger story. Twilight doesn't really like the spotlight, right?"
The others nodded in agreement, and Johnathon spoke up. "She asked me a few questions as well...." he said thoughtfully. "She seemed to think that Twilight had something to do with bringing me to your world," he frowned. "I told her she was completely wrong, of course, but she didn't seem satisfied," he shrugged. "She wanted to know how I did get here, and I told her to ask Princess Celestia. Apparently she already had, but the Princess refused to comment... so I decided to do the same, and I didn't answer any more questions."
Pinkie looked sad. "She didn't want to talk to me at all!" The party pony said dejectedly. "I wanted to throw her a party, but she said she was too busy!"
Rarity frowned. "I refused to answer any of her questions. She was utterly uninterested in fashion, in any case."
Applejack nodded. "I reckon that's for the best. If we just keep mum, this reporter mare will just give up sooner or later and go home."
Fluttershy looked worried. "But Twilight's coming home tonight!"
Pinkie grinned. "She'll be on the four PM train, and she'll be here by seven!" she looked stern. "Everypony needs to be here to surprise her by seven ten at the latest!" they all nodded.
"So... who's going to pick her up from the train?" Johnathon asked. "I'm guessing you're going to be getting everything ready for the party, Pinkie?"
Pinkie grinned and nodded. "I'm going to go back to Sugarcube Corner and finish the cake after this. I want all the food to be fresh out of the oven!"
Applejack shrugged. "Rarity and I are handling decorations."
Rainbow Dash spoke up. "I'm supposed to be clearing the sky in town just before dark... so I'll probably just be able to make it back for the party."
Fluttershy hesitated. "If the party is going to run late, I really should settle all my animals in for the night before coming over."
Johnathon grinned. "Alright then, I guess I'll get Twilight and Spike from the train."
Pinkie stuck a hoof into the center of the group. "Yay! Elements of partying, go!"
Everyone looked at her, and she waggled her hoof. "Come on... you know you want to...." she wheedled.
Everyone put their hooves together, and with expressions varying between absolute seriousness, amused grins, and mild boredom, they all repeated after Pinkie, "Elements of partying, go!" as they raised their hooves ceiling-ward.
Johnathon punched his fist into the air with the rest of them, chuckling. "I'm not really one of the elements, you know."
Pinkie grinned at him. "You can be our mascot! Like Spike!"
The archeologist gave a short bow, still chuckling. "It'd be an honor, Pinkamena."
Johnathon was waiting outside the train station, bundled up in his new winter jacket, scarf, and gloves, flipping through a copy of the Equestria Daily to pass the time. He noted that Twilight's temporary ascension to alicornhood had migrated to the middle of the paper. There was an extended article, summarizing everything that the papers had already reported in rather impressive detail. He found himself reading intently, despite himself. The story was very well written, and obviously thoroughly researched. He he didn't know how the truth differed, he have found it to be pretty believable. The final words in the article caught his eye, however.
"Inhabitants of Ponyville have little to say on the matter, choosing to keep the life of their home town hero private, but this reporter intends to get the real story behind why the Princess's protege' became the librarian for a small town before developing the most revolutionary piece of magic seen since the days of Starswirl the Bearded," he read aloud, under his breath, then glanced down at the byline. "By Mazie Mane," he sighed. "I should have known."
"So... how did you like it?" a now familiar voice came from the darkness next to the station, and Johnathon turned to see the earth pony reporter, bundled in a heavy red overcoat and wide brimmed hat. With a black mane and a tan coat, Mazie would have blended into almost any pony city with ease, but there was a look in her eyes, a light of almost infectious excitement that made her stand out.
Johnathon held up the paper. "You're a good writer," he told her honestly. "And you're right. This is a small town, and the ponies here do like a little bit of privacy, especially about their... home town hero," he tilted his head as he regarded her. "Twilight isn't one to seek the spotlight, you know. Her friends here in town respect that. I wish you would."
Mazie walked forward to stand beside him, gazing down the tracks. "I can understand that," the reporter admitted. "And I respect your loyalty to her. From everything I've found out, I think that Twilight Sparkle deserves it," she shrugged. "But the public deserves the truth, don't you think?"
Johnathon hesitated. "They have the truth. Not every bit of it... but then again, who would want everyone to know every single thing about them? Would you like everypony to know everything that happens in your life?"
Mazie grinned at him. "Are you saying that you're hiding the truth?"
Johnathon snorted. "More like I'm not telling you personal stories about a good pony that likes her peace and quiet. Everypony has a right to a private life."
"Even a pony who's promised to raise the sun and moon some day?" Mazie asked with a raised eyebrow.
"Are you saying Princess Celestia and Princess Luna don't deserve privacy?" Johnathon shot back.
Mazie shrugged. "They've got royal guards, and loyal staff. They do have a private life."
Johnathon raised an eyebrow at her. "Well, maybe you should think of Ponyville like that. Twilight Sparkle is one of our own, and the ponies here are like one big family. We're going to respect her wishes, and she'd prefer her private life to remain private."
Mazie sighed. "I suppose I don't have much choice in the matter. I've been here a week, and I've barely got anything to show about it," she rolled her eyes. "I could do a huge article on Rainbow Dash's chances to join the Wonderbolts next year, but I don't write sports."
Johnathon grinned at her. "Want some gossip about Rainbow Dash then? She wouldn't mind the publicity."
Mazie rolled her eyes. "I did get that impression," she shrugged. "She's interesting... but she's too eager for the spotlight, and that doesn't make for really good news. Maybe I'll put something together closer to the next Wonderbolts tryout though. I certainly do have enough material."
Johnathon turned as he heard the sound of the train off in the distance, and watched as it came closer. "So, you're going to go for one final interview when Twilight gets here?"
Mazie nodded. "I'm hoping she'll give me something good to finish my article with. Right now, it's... good, but... it lacks any punch to make it stand out."
"You're being awfully honest with me," Johnathon said, sounding mildly surprised.
"You're being pretty honest with me too," Mazie said with a nod. "And I appreciate it. I can't use it, but I appreciate the truth. I already figured this town wasn't going to talk about your hometown hero easily, and why, but I appreciate you being straightforward with me about it," she glanced at him. "I was thinking about doing an article about you... actually. Your arrival from your world was pretty big news when you first showed up... although, as usual, the Princess's press department handled it like pros. Everybody got the story... and before a week was over, it was old news. I'm guessing you've never even met with a reporter."
Johnathon nodded. "You're actually the first who's asked me for an interview... and you weren't even here about me."
Mazie looked thoughtful. "You know... if you were willing to talk to me, that could be a pretty good story. The real scoop, from another world, you know? I don't suppose you'd be interested?"
Johnathon shrugged. "Maybe. I'd be tempted... under the right circumstances. How about we make a deal?"
Mazie raised an eyebrow. "What sort of deal?"
Johnathon shrugged. "How about I talk with Princess Celestia, and we set up a time for an interview. We could meet in Canterlot, and I could answer some questions... fill in a few blanks for your readers."
Mazie hesitated. "An exclusive interview? What would you want in exchange?"
Johnathon shrugged. "Leave Twilight's private life private... and do what you can to discourage your paper from following up. You do that, and I promise you I'll give you that interview."
Mazie frowned. "And I'm just going to take your word because?"
He shrugged. "Because if you don't, I'm just going to walk Twilight home, we're both going to tell you nothing, and you'll continue to waste your time here in Ponyville for nothing."
Mazie chuckled. "You do realize that you've already given me enough for another article just by talking to me tonight."
Johnathon shrugged. "Perhaps, but it's nothing bad. Still, if you do print it, you'll lose your exclusive later."
Mazie nodded. "You make a pretty good case." she held out a hoof. "Shake on it?"
Johnathon nodded and took her hoof in his hand. "Deal."
They shook, and Mazie raised an eyebrow. "So... when will I get my exclusive?"
Johnathon shrugged. "How about after Winter Wrap up? I'll contact Princess Celestia, and you, and we'll set up a time to meet in Canterlot. Can I just sent word to your paper of when and where?"
Mazie Mane nodded. "Sure. I'll see you in a few weeks then," she shivered, and turned to go. "I've got tickets for the train going out in the morning. I guess I'll start by honoring my bargain now."
The train from Canterlot was pulling to a stop even as the reporter walked away, and by the time Twilight came out, she was already heading into town, and out of sight. Spike looked like he was asleep, laying across the purple unicorn's back.
Twilight waved to Johnathon and came trotting up to him, a big smile on her face. "Hi Johnathon! Did you come out to welcome me home?"
Johnathon nodded. "Sure. I've missed you, and the library probably misses you too. Not that I haven't enjoyed taking care of the place... so much to read."
Twilight smiled. "I missed the library too, and everypony else here in Ponyville."
Johnathon turned to go. "Shall we get inside? It's freezing out here, and I'm going to catch a cold if I'm outside for much longer."
Twilight followed him, sighing happily as she took in the sight of the town. "I really did miss this place," she glanced at Johnathon. "Have you been reading the papers?"
He nodded calmly. "The story is hardly front page news anymore. In another week, they'll have stopped talking about you."
Twilight sighed. "I hope so. I had to talk to so many reporters in Canterlot! Princess Celestia was a lot of help though. She coached me on how to talk to the press. I was so nervous the first few times!"
Johnathon smiled. "Well, the last reporter in Ponyville is already leaving, so hopefully you won't have to worry about it for awhile," He glanced around, seeing and hearing nopony around, he decided to broach a new topic. "So... Strangehorn's transformation spell didn't work how you expected... did you learn anything useful?"
Twilight frowned. "Well, in a way, it does do what I thought... in that it can make a spell that normally needs to be maintained, maintain itself permanently... but the problem is, the energy still needs to come from somewhere. It's actually a pretty dangerous weave. I could draw the energy needed to maintain the spell from any appropriately powerful source."
She shrugged. "Still, now that I understand it, I believe I will be able to control where the energy comes from... at least theoretically, at least so long as it's an appropriate source," The purple unicorn shook her head. "I'm not sure if it is the solution we need, but it does give me some ideas I can try. If I can figure out a source of energy I can tap into safely, I could still get you home," she hesitated. "Actually, I think that if I was an alicorn, I could cast the dimensional gate spell myself. Even with that much power, I wouldn't be able to hold it open very long, but probably for long enough."
Johnathon blinked. "Really? You mean, you could get me home the next time you... the next time you change yourself into an alicorn?"
Twilight hesitated. "Maybe. I still haven't practiced any dimensional gate spells, so I need to do that first... and I need to make sure that if I do open one, it doesn't drain my energy too severely," she looked hopefully at him. "But... I think I can do that in the next few months. I told Princess Celestia that I'd give her a few days off after the Summer Sun celebration this year... and if I've gotten things worked out by then... I could get you home!"
Johnathon blinked again, not sure he could believe his ears. "You mean... in only... what, three, four more months, you can send me home?"
Twilight hesitated a lot time before nodding. "I think so. I don't want to get your hopes up, but... I think the odds are good. In just under four months, I think I'll really be able to send you home."