The party had gone late, and Twilight Sparkle found herself waking up well after dawn. She still felt sleepy, but she knew that she was already behind in the work she had planned for the week, so she forced herself out of bed regardless. Twilight was torn between starting her research into dimensional magic and getting her check lists ready for Winter Wrap Up. She had told the stranded human archeologist, Johnathon Dwire, that she would be able to get him home by the time of the Summer Sun Celebration, but she wasn't sure that was true.
Nearly four months seemed like plenty of time, of course, and she'd never failed to learn a new type of magic before, but the truth was, she wasn't sure that Strangehorn the Mad's dimensional gate spells really worked or not. He had supposedly managed to pull a number of small artifacts from other dimensions, and sent small objects of his own through, but nothing he had done had truly been definitive. But there wasn't time for that now. She still had Winter Wrap Up to plan. Being the all team organizer for Ponyville meant a lot to her, and she didn't want to let anypony down. Walking downstairs, she noticed her assistant was idly dusting the shelves.
"Spike!" she called out to her baby dragon. "Get me my Winter Wrap Up master checklist, and the lists of the ponies on each team." Twilight worked happily for the next hour on her new checklist for this year's WInter Wrap up, and was just about finished when there was a knock on her door. "Spike, could you get that?" the little purple dragon shrugged and went to get the door, opening it to see Johnathon and Cheerilee. The two of them were panting slightly, the water vapor from their breath sending up visible columns of steam.
"Morning, Johnathon!" Spike greeted them cheerfully. "Morning Miss Cheerilee! Out for a run?"
"It's great exercise." Cheerilee answered with a smile. "You should try it sometime."
"I prefer commenting on sports to actually doing them." Spike said with a small grimace. "Besides, dragons are naturally fit and healthy." he said with a shrug.
Johnathon eyed the little dragon's pudgy little stomach, and grinned. "I'll take your word on that, Spike. Can we come in? I wanted to check out some more books on early Equestrian history."
Spike blinked, then stepped aside. "Oh, sure, come on in!" inside the warm library, with the door closed on the frozen air outside, Spike watched in fascination as the human's face changed colors, going from pale tan to a light red. "I didn't know that you could do that. Can all humans change color like that?"
Johnathon reached up to his face. "Oh, that's just the blood rushing to my face because of the cold." he explained. "I guess it looks a little strange when you're not used to it." he headed over to the history section of the library, nodding to Twilight as he went by. "Hey Twilight. You look busy."
Twilight looked up from her checklist. "I'm just getting prepared for Winter Wrap Up." she levitated a few scrolls in front of her and glanced at them, then at Johnathon. "Did you want to sign up for one of the teams, Johnathon?" she looked slightly embarrassed. "Not that you have to, or anything, I just realized that I didn't have you registered for any of the teams yet..."
Johnathon grinned. "I wouldn't miss it." he glanced back at his roommate. "Cheerilee tells me she's on the plant team. I expect I can help out there. I'm not much good with animals, and I obviously can't help with the weather...."
Twilight nodded and made a note on one of the scrolls. "Plant team it is." she looked curious. "What time period of Equestrian history are you studying today, Johnathon?"
"I'm most interested in the oldest available records. Right now, I'm reading whatever I can find that references the time before and during Discord's reign."
Twilight looked interested. "There isn't a lot of material on the subject." she said, then turned to the shelves, her horn glowing as she levitated a number of books down. "There were some books written in the years following Discord that referenced songs and folk tales from that time... but according to what I've learned, there aren't any actual texts from that period."
Johnathon nodded. "I've already read these, I'm afraid. I was hoping you might have some of the original stories themselves. The texts you have describe them, but the stories and songs are mostly incomplete."
The purple unicorn looked thoughtful. "We don't have anything like that here, The royal archives in Canterlot should have what you're looking for, however."
The archeologist frowned slightly. "I guess I'll have three reasons to go to Canterlot after Winter Wrap Up is over." he shrugged. "Ah well. I can wait, I suppose."
Twilight blinked. "Three reasons?"
Johnathon hesitated. "Well, obviously I want to check the Canterlot archives. I was also hoping to ask Princess Celestia and Princess Luna about their own recollections from that time period."
Twilight's eyes practically glowed at the prospect. "Oh! That would be fascinating! They were both there in person, of course. I'd love to hear about their experiences from that time period." she blinked. "Wait... that's only two reasons."
Johnathon chuckled lightly. "Well, I also sort of have an interview scheduled as well. I'm going to meet a reporter in Canterlot after I speak to Princess Celestia. I thought I should clear what I'm going to say to the reporter with her first."
Cheerilee walked up next to him, looking up at his face. "You didn't say anything about an interview, Johnathon. Does this have anything to do with why that reporter, Mazie Mane left town?"
Johnathon's face had been going back to normal, and at the question it momentarily flushed red again. "Maybe just a little. It was no big deal, really. Mazie wasn't getting anywhere here in Ponyville, but a lot of ponies were getting upset with her hanging around and asking questions all the time. I just figured it'd be easier for everypony if I did a little negotiation."
The schoolteacher's expression darkened. "So you traded yourself for Twilight? You didn't need to do that."
Johnathon shook his head. "It's not quite that simple. I talked with Mazie. She's not a bad pony... she just has a drive to find the truth. After I spoke with her for awhile, I got the feeling that she could be trusted, and I think she has good motives. It won't harm me to answer a few of her questions."
Twilight looked upset. "Johnathon, you didn't have to do that. I've had to deal with plenty of press ponies since I... turned myself into an Alicorn. I wouldn't have minded giving one more."
Johnathon shrugged. "Maybe not, but this is your home, and Mazie was bothering your friends... our friends, for background information on you. By agreeing to talk to her in Canterlot, I got her to agree to drop her investigation on you, and to get her newspaper not to follow up. The ponies here in Ponyville get their privacy back, and Mazie gets a story. Everypony wins."
"Everypony but you." Cheerilee told him, looking upset. "If you give her this interview, lots of other reporters will be bothering you... and ponies might be scared if she writes the wrong things about you...."
"I'm sure it'll work out fine." Johnathon said reassuringly. "I'm sure the Princess won't let me make an ass out of myself. Frankly, I'm really surprised I haven't had to talk to any reporters before this." he shrugged. "Anyway, it's done. Mazie doesn't seem like a bad sort. I've read her work, she seems to be a fair and balanced reporter."
Twilight hesitated. "I appreciate what you're trying to do, Johnathon, but... you really didn't need to."
The man put up a hand placatingly. "I made a choice. Don't blow it out of proportion. Mazie seems like a honest pony to me. I really don't mind helping her out a little."
Cheerilee sighed. "If you say so, Johnathon."
He nodded. "I do."
The morning of the Winter Wrap Up, Johnathon Dwire walked with Cheerilee to the town square, where a huge crowd had formed. Earth ponies and unicorns filled the square, and pegasi fluttered overhead. It looked like the entire population of Ponyville was there, more ponies than Johnathon had ever seen in one place. Up on the elevated porch in the front of city hall stood Mayor Mare and Twilight Sparkle.
"I'm sure everyone here knows our all team organizer, Twilight Sparkle." the Mayor said with a proud smile. "And as I hope you all recall, thanks to her organizational skills, we completed last year's Winter Wrap Up on time for the first time in years. I have every confidence that this year we'll do even better!" she stepped to one side. "Now, I'll leave you in her very capable hooves."
Twilight stepped forward slightly, smiling nervously. "Thank you for coming, everypony!" she called, getting a loud happy cheer in response. Raising her hoof for silence, she continued. "I planned everypony's assignments to maximize our efficiency today, and I know you'll all do your best. Everypony report to your team leaders, and let's get started!"
There was another cheer, and the ponies started splitting up in different directions.
Cheerilee, wearing her green plant team vest, led Johnathon Dwire over to Applejack, who had a green armband with a star on it to mark her as team leader. Johnathon spotted Rainbow Dash hovering over another gathering group of ponies, mostly pegasi, wearing the armband that indicated that she led the weather team, and off in the distance a purple unicorn, Amethyst Star, was apparently leading the animal team.
Johnathon noted with some interest how the teams were broken up. The plant team was made up almost entirely by earth ponies, while the animal team had an overwhelming majority of unicorns, and only a few earth ponies, Fluttershy the lone pegasus exception to the rule. The weather team was mostly pegasi, with a few dozen earth ponies, including Pinkie Pie, who had two pairs of ice skates slung over her back, and a couple unicorns.
Applejack addressed each pony by name, giving out assignments. Most of the larger stallions were assigned to clearing snow off the ground using pony driven snow plows. Smaller stallions and earth pony mares alike were sent out with wagons to collect snow from trees knocked loose by the weather team, and Cheerilee's team was sent out, with Johnathon, to collect dead sticks and straw for nest making. Johnathon worked with a team of three ponies, collecting and loading branches and bales of straw on the ponies carts. They delivered their loads to Rarity.
Cheerilee and the others headed out, to start collecting snow from trees, but Johnathon stayed behind with Rarity to help build bird's nests. "I'm not really built for cart pulling." he admitted willingly. "But I expect that I'll be able to help with this...."
Rarity was pleased to have him. "Have you ever built a bird's nest before, Johnathon?" she asked politely.
"Not as such." he said with a shrug. "Although I have built a bird house or two, when I was younger. On my world, the birds usually build their own. Don't they do that here?"
Rarity blinked. "Birds building their own nests? No, not as far as I know, although I have heard that they do so in the Everfree forest... but there aren't a lot of birds living there, I'm afraid."
Johnathon nodded as he watched the unicorn weaving sticks and straw and pieces of ribbon into a nest, blinking in amazement at the unicorn's incredible dexterity with her hooves. "You're really very good at that, Rarity." he complemented her. "I would have thought that, with your magic, you'd be out of practice using your hooves for delicate tasks like this, but obviously that's not the case."
Rarity smiled and shrugged. "Most unicorns don't become practiced with their telekinesis until they're nearly full grown, and I was no exception. I had years of practice using my hooves before I was able to do the same things with my magic."
Johnathon nodded slowly. "I'm still impressed. You do seem to have a real talent for building and designing things." he kept watching for awhile, then started gathering his own materials, slowly but surely figuring out how to imitate her technique. Rarity stopped him a few times with instructions, and his first couple bird houses weren't quite as perfect as any of hers, but he learned the trick quickly. Several other unicorns joined them after a while, and after a few hours, they had completed hundreds of bird's nests.
That task completed, Johnathon and Rarity went to see where else they could be of help. Spotting Pinkie lining up teams of ponies with ice skates, Johnathon wandered down to see what they were doing.
"Hey Johnathon! Hey Rarity!" Pinkie greeted them cheerfully. "Are you all done with the bird's nests then?"
"Our best time yet." Rarity announced proudly. "The birds will have plenty of places to raise their families. I'm off to help Fluttershy with tidying up all the hibernating animal's dens now."
Johnathon nodded at Pinkie's ice skates. "What are you up to, Pinkie? What's with the skates, anyway?"
The Pink earth pony grinned at him. "We're going to score the lake, so that when the weather team clears the clouds, the ice will melt evenly."
The archeologist looked interested. "Maybe I could help with that? I'm no Olympic skater, but I can manage a straight line and stay on my feet, anyway." he frowned. "Although I don't have any skates in my size...."
Rarity beamed. "I believe I can help you with that, Johnathon. Allow me!" she concentrated, pointing her horn at a spare pair of skates. Her horn lit up, and the skates floated into the air, transforming as they floated over to him. Johnathon caught the pair of skates with a surprised look on his face. Rarity smiled at him "These should fit you now, Johnathon, try them on and let me know."
Johnathon quickly changed into the skates, and nodded. "They fit perfectly. Thanks, Rarity!"
The unicorn shrugged with a modest smile. "It is nothing, Johnathon. If I couldn't remember a customer's sizes, I wouldn't make a very good fashion designer, now would I?"
Johnathon looked skeptical. "I have the feeling you're just being modest. I doubt there's another designer with your skills this side of Canterlot."
Pinkie grinned and nodded. "Our Rarity is the best!" she agreed happily. She turned to Johnathon. "You think you can skate then?"
Johnathon nodded, gingerly stepping out onto the frozen lake. "Just give me a little while to get my balance, I should be alright," his arms flailed, and he grabbed onto Pinkie's back and shoulders to keep from pitching over. "Whoa... I can do this, I can do this." Pinkie held herself still as he pushed himself fully upright again, and stepped away from her, slowly sliding across the ice. "OK... I think I'm OK..."
Pinkie spun around and skated after him, watching his feet with interest. "You're a bit wobbly bobbly... can you stop?"
Johnathon pushed a foot forward, and dragged it sideways for awhile, stopping his forward momentum and teetering slightly before steadying himself. "Apparently." he grinned. "I'm a bit out of practice... but I should be able to manage."
Pinkie grinned. "Welcome to the team!" she told him enthusiastically.
Johnathon spent the rest of the afternoon with Pinkie and a group of other ponies who knew how to ice skate, scoring lake after lake. It was surprisingly hard work. Johnathon's ankles were sore by the time they were working on the final lake. They were just finishing up when he heard a piercing bird cry. Everypony looked up at the sound, and Pinkie grinned, skating over to Johnathon with an anticipatory look on her face.
"Everypony off the ice!" she called loudly, still grinning. Following Johnathon to the shore, she pointed up and to the west. "Keep your eyes on the sky. You don't want to miss this!"
Johnathon looked up at the oppressive cloud cover in confusion. Before long, he could hear a strange rhythmic sound from above. Finally he identified the sound as that of many powerful wings flapping. The pegasi were coming. At first, he could barely see them, a column of shadowy forms racing through the center of the clouds at incredible speed, but as they passed overhead, he followed them with his eyes. Behind them, a cone of nearly solid air formed, stripping the clouds out of the sky with almost violent force. In minutes, the clouds were ripped out of the sky across all of Ponyville, letting the sun beam down unobstructed. The human archeologist gaped in astonishment at the suddenly cloudless sky.
Saying goodbye to Pinkie, Johnathon found his way back to Applejack and the plant team. They had already gotten the snow cleared from most of the major fields around town, and Johnathon took his place at the rear end of a plowing team, planting seeds. He worked for hours, already tired, but pushing himself on, not willing to stop while everypony else was still working so hard. Night fell, and the ponies kept working, as did Johnathon. Pinkie came through at one point with refreshments for everypony, sugary treats and drinks to keep them going through the night. As the morning dawned, however, Johnathon looked around in wonder. As the sun illuminated the town bit by bit, he found himself amazed by the transformation. In a single day, just twenty four hours from start to finish, the town of Ponyville and it's surroundings had completely transformed.
The morning before, when Winter Wrap Up had started, it had been a chilly winter day. Now, it was the very picture of spring. The lakes and springs were flowing, the snow and ice was almost completely gone. The whole town gathered around one final time to hear the Mayor and Twilight Sparkle announce that they had completed wrapping up winter in record time this year, and the cheers and the sound of ponies stomping their hooves in applause thundered throughout the valley. The energy and excitement was palatable, and Johnathon's exhaustion seemed to vanish almost like magic as a seemingly spontaneous party broke out, ponies dancing and laughing and breaking up into groups to talk and celebrate the success of all their hard work.
It didn't last, of course. Johnathon ate enough for three men his size before his fatigue finally caught up with him, and he found Cheerilee as his eyes started getting heavy. Leaning on the sturdy earth pony mare, he staggered back to their home, and collapsed into bed still fully dressed.
Three days later, Johnathon was on the train to Canterlot. He had been amazed by the sheer industriousness of the Ponyville ponies during the Winter Wrap Up. In a single day, they had, in almost every way, changed the season from winter to spring. He had known, intellectually at least, that the ponies were responsible for many of the changes that would happen automatically on his world, but it had become plainly obvious to the archeologist that they were well practiced at the tasks involved. They had the natural world under their nearly complete control. It was both amazing and a bit disturbing to the scientist in him.
"I'm amazed at how practiced you are at wrapping up winter." he told Cheerilee thoughtfully. The school teacher had volunteered to travel with him to Canterlot. They planned on visiting the Canterlot University together after his interview, but the purple earth pony found herself wanting to hear the Princesses recollections from the time of Discord's reign almost as much as the archeologist. The two of them were alone in their car.
"Oh?" Cheerilee prompted helpfully, sensing that her human friend was building up to something once again. "Was there something in particular that interested you?"
Johnathon shrugged. "Well, I was extremely impressed how everypony pitched in together. The ponies of Ponyville accomplished nothing short of a miracle in getting all that done in a single day. Your teamwork was really impressive."
Cheerilee smiled. "Well, that's nice of you to say... but I have the feeling that's not everything you noticed."
Johnathon blinked. "Well... no." he looked at her. "Am I that predictable?"
Cheerilee giggled. "Only to those who know you well, I think, and we have been living and working together for months now."
The human grinned at her softly. "Well, you do know me pretty well by now, I think. You're my best friend here in Equestria."
"I consider you a very good friend as well." Cheerilee said with a soft smile of her own. "Even if you talk all the time... and have a bad habit of periodically challenging everything I think I know about my own world."
Johnathon shrugged with a grin. "I just can't help myself."
Cheerilee chuckled. "Just like a stallion. No self control."
Johnathon nodded agreeably. "It's lucky for me that I have a nice, sensible mare to settle me down."
Cheerilee snorted at that, but chose not to comment, changing the subject. "So... what else did you notice about Winter Wrap Up that has you thinking out loud today?"
"I noticed how many different types of animals that the animal team helped. Yesterday, I asked Fluttershy if she knew how many different species you ponies help get started each spring. She had to think about it... she knows most of the animals in the area surrounding Ponyville personally, apparently, but there are apparently several hundred different species of animals and birds that the animal team helps out each year."
Cheerilee nodded. "That seems about right. Does that mean something?"
Johnathon frowned. "Well, the number of species that survive in the area around a rural town in America... that's where I come from, seem to be similar... but in areas with less humans, and more wildlife, the number of species rise drastically. In the rainforest I was in before I came to Equestra through that portal, for example, there are hundreds of thousands of different species. From what Fluttershy tells me, the Everfree forest is home to many species that don't exist outside of it... as far as she knows, anyway. I suspect that this may be true throughout Equestria."
Cheerilee frowned. "I'm not sure I'm following. What are you talking about?"
Johnathon scratched his chin. "Well... in a natural environment, at least in my world, there are a whole lot more species present than one that's more strictly controlled. I suspect that a lot of species have gone extinct since Discord's time, while you were learning how to restore the balance." he shrugged. "It's just another piece of the puzzle, but it fits." he glanced at Cheerilee. "I've looked at maps of Equestria. It's pretty big... but as far as I can tell, you don't even fill this entire continent, and this continent is only a small part of the whole world. Does nature take care of itself outside of your borders?"
Cheerilee blinked. "I'm not sure. I'm afraid I never learned much about what is outside the boarders of Equestria while I was in school. I expect Twilight Sparkle knows more, since she's been to the university in Canterlot."
Johnathon nodded. "I've been meaning to ask her, but she's pretty busy studying interdimensional magic... and I don't want to disturb her with a brand new project."
Cheerilee looked interested. "How is that going, by the way? You said she was making progress. Does she really think she'll be able to figure it out?"
Johnathon hesitated. "Actually, she said she might be able to get me home by the Summer Sun Celebration... or just after it, anyway."
Cheerilee was silent for a long time. "That's... great!" she finally said with faint enthusiasm. "Just a few more months, and you'll be able to go home!" she sniffed quietly, and glanced out the window, hiding her face from him, trying to make it look like she was just interested in the scenery.
"I'll miss you too." Johnathon said quietly. "I'll miss you terribly." he sighed. "I'll miss everypony... Twilight, Fluttershy, Applejack... even the Crusaders, but I'll miss you the most."
Cheerilee nodded sadly. "We'll miss you too, Johnathon." she sighed deeply. "I knew that Twilight was working on getting you home... but... it never seemed real."
Johnathon nodded slowly. "I was starting to get used to the idea that I might be here forever. It wasn't all that terrible a thought, you know? I mean... I miss home, and my friends and family... but... I've started to get used to living in Ponyville...."
Cheerilee sniffed and shook her head. "You need to go home if you can, Johnathon. Your family, your friends, I'm sure they miss you too."
Johnathon sighed. "They probably all think I'm dead by now, They've probably held my funeral already. It'll be a real shock when I show up, I bet."
"I'm sure they'll be thrilled to see you!" Cheerilee insisted. "Your parents... and your brother, and your step son!"
Johnathon nodded. "It's been over a year since I've seen any of them. I had already been on my dig in the Amazon for several months before I got pulled through to Equestria... but I know they'll be happy to see me." he sighed. "I am alive... if I can, I have to go back, let them know I survived. Even if... even if I wanted to stay... I can't."
Cheerilee's ears flattened against her head slightly. "I know. I just wish...." Johnathon glanced at her, frowning sadly, and their eyes met. She sighed and shook her head. "Well, you'll be welcome for as long as you can stay, and we'll all miss you when you leave. I do understand why you have to go though."
He smiled sadly. "I'll miss running with you."
Cheerilee sighed. "I think I'll miss that the most as well."
Shining Star had met them at the train station in Canterlot. "The princess wanted to assign you two a liaison officer for your stay in Canterlot." he told them with a smile. "I volunteered for the duty." he made a gesture with his head. "I'll take you two to Princess Celestia. She's expecting you."
The unicorn, human, and earth pony made their way at a brisk pace through the city of Canterlot. Many ponies stopped and stared at Johnathon as they went by, but more in surprise than fear. The archeologist sighed to himself. He hated being the center of attention like this. At least in Ponyville he was well known enough not to be a curiosity anymore, but here in Canterlot, and presumably anywhere else he ventured in Equestria, he would have to get used to being stared at. Still, it could be much worse. Johnathon wondered what reaction a creature as alien as a human was here would get in his own world. The ponies of Equestria at least tended to be polite. He hadn't been attacked or harassed once since he had first arrived in Equestria, excepting the initial incident at Sweet Apple Acres.
Of course, as far as he was concerned, that hardly counted. Applebloom had been wary, but friendly, and only his mistake in thinking she was a family pet of some sort had caused Applejack to attack him. He imagined what the reaction of some farmer on earth might have to a dragon, or griffon carrying one of their children. The likely response would probably include a rifle and not a lasso. Of course, the fact that he was almost always accompanied by a pony when he came to a new town in Equestria probably helped the situation quite a bit.
They passed over the drawbridge into the Castle, walking past a pair of guards who nodded to their escort as they passed through, then walked through the halls of Canterlot Castle uninterrupted. A pair of unicorn guards that Johnathon didn't know were outside Princess Celestia's chambers, but again they simply stepped aside, horns glowing as they opened the doors for Johnathon and Cheerilee.
Shining Star stopped in the hall. "I'll be out here if you need me." he told them with a calm expression. "I'll leave you to your business with the Princess for now." Johnathon nodded to him, and followed the purple earth pony into the Princess's bedroom.
"Hello Johnathon. Hello Cheerilee." Princess Celestia greeted them, looking pleased. "It's good to see you again."
Cheerilee bowed low, while Johnathon smiled and inclined his head. "It's always a pleasure, Princess Celestia." he said calmly. "I'm hoping I could ask you a few questions about your history today, if you have some time?"
Princess Celestia raised an eyebrow. "Are you interested in a particular portion of Equestrian history, or are you referring to my history in particular."
Johnathon wrinkled his nose. "A little of both, if that's alright."
Celestia nodded politely. "Certainly. You have about an hour before your interview with Mazie Mane, but I can spare some time to answer some questions first."
Johnathon grimaced slightly. "Oh yeah, that..." He scratched behind his head. "I suppose I wanted to talk to you about that as well... make sure I didn't say anything I shouldn't."
The Princess looked thoughtful. "Well, you've been quite good at being tactful in the past, Johnathon, so I wasn't worried, but did you have any particular concerns about your interview?"
Johnathon shrugged. "Well, I guess I just wondered if you had any advice. Mazie said she asked where I came from, and you didn't answer. Should I not mention the portal? Or the fact that it appeared during Discord's return?"
Princess Celestia hesitated. "At the time, I was concerned with avoiding any sort of panic. Even a peripheral association with Discord might have caused ponies to make unfortunate assumptions about you. Some time has passed now, but it still might be wise to avoid mentioning that particular fact."
Johnathon nodded. "Alright, I'll steer away from mentioning Discord. Anything else?"
The Princess looked thoughtful. "Well, when in doubt, think a minute before answering any question that you didn't expect. I know you like to explain things in detail, but don't digress too much. If you can think of a harmless story or two about your adaptation to life here in Equestria, go ahead and go into detail, but otherwise, keep things simple, and light." she shrugged. "And... good luck? I've been talking to the press for centuries, and they still catch me off guard sometimes. Don't worry too much, however. Mazie Mane is a reasonably responsible reporter, or so I've found in the past. A bit too dedicated to her work, perhaps, but that's not a terribly bad thing."
Johnathon sighed. "I'll do my best." he shrugged. "I'm sure it won't be that bad." he took a deep breath, then changed the subject. "I've been researching Equestrian history, as I'm sure you're aware, and most recently, I've been looking into the time period that Discord reigned... and earlier. There's not much, of course."
Celestia nodded. "That's true. For quite some time after Discord was defeated, ponies were much more interested in survival... and rebuilding. It was a terrible time. Much was lost."
Johnathon nodded slowly. "I gathered as much. You and your sister were actually there, however. Have you ever recorded your experiences from those times for posterity?"
Princess Celestia looked at him seriously. "It took several hundred years after Discord's reign ended before ponies had enough energy and free time to worry about history. There were bards, and storytellers, of course, but as you have no doubt already discovered, no real written version of those events."
Johnathon frowned. "Why?"
The white alicorn hesitated. "You have to understand, Equestria was in a state of chaos at that time. Ponies were interested in simple survival. In rebuilding. We had lost so much. Farming, building, medicine... even the knowledge of reading and writing, these things are things of order, and Discord destroyed order wherever he found it.
She sighed. "It was... difficult, rebuilding. We had stories, legends of what we had been before Discord, and knowing what we had once had, we worked hard to regain those skills we had lost. Farming... building homes and shelters for our people came first... we quickly realized that nature itself was on a downward spiral without Discord's magic, and we worked frantically for over a century to fix what had been broken."
Johnathon's eyes lit up. "I thought as much!" he coughed, noticing Celestia and Cheerilee regarding him narrowly. "Oh... sorry, I didn't mean to interrupt. Please... go on."
Celestia smiled slightly. "In any event, not everything was destroyed. The unicorns were one of the last groups to fall to Discord, and they protected what they could of our history, our knowledge. They made their last stand in what is now the Everfree forest. My sister and I were born during that time, and our greatest scholars and mages gathered together to create weapons with which to fight. The elements of Harmony... wielded by my sister and I. Luna and I were still too young and inexperienced to help in their construction... and indeed, knowledge of their use would have limited our ability to become attuned to them, so we knew nothing of how they were created. Unfortunately, those who did have that knowledge did not survive the war."
She shrugged. "After Discord's defeat, the three races of pony kind once again went their separate ways. Earth ponies worked to relearn the techniques of farming, and caring for the land... Pegasi regained their mastery of the sky, and the weather... and unicorns, what few there were left, worked tirelessly to regain all the magical skill that had been lost during the time of chaos, in case Discord, or another, similar threat should return." Celestia frowned. "At first, things went well... and then we started to realize just how much damage Discord's chaos had done to our world. For the next few hundred years, we struggled just to survive. When we finally started to thrive... to expand our borders, when we gained the luxury to do more than just put food on our tables, we started bringing back the other things we had lost."
Celestia sighed. "Literacy... a school system, these are relatively recent innovations. Writing down our history didn't seem important when we weren't sure if we'd have any future."
Johnathon raised an eyebrow. "When you say relatively recent, you're talking about eight hundred years ago or so?"
Celestia laughed. "Yes... I suppose that must seem like ancient history to you."
Johnathon shrugged. "Well, on my world, we have around three thousand years of written history... although much of it is a bit questionable. As for literacy... well, even in the most civilized sections of our world, literacy wasn't all that common until the last few hundred years or so." he frowned. "So I suppose I can understand something of what you're talking about."
Celestia looked interested. "I would like to know more about your own world's history at some point, I think, Johnathon, but I realize I've been dancing around your question for some time now. You wanted to know if Luna or I ever recorded our own recollections of the period during Discords reign and afterword." she hesitated, frowning. "You're not the first to ask. In fact, the Canterlot historical society asked me the same thing almost six hundred years ago. At that time, I did help put together a rough outline of Equestrian history during the... oh, seven hundred year gap between Discord's fall and the point where our history was seriously recorded again. It was... a rather embarrassing situation. While my sister and I are, essentially ageless, we are not all knowing or all seeing. On the contrary, our memories are no better than any other pony. Well, perhaps a bit better than average, but even for us, seven hundred years... or nine hundred years, if you're counting how long it was before any pony asked me to record what I remembered... is a long time to try to retain everything."
The alicorn princess sighed. "I remembered enough to give a rough outline of our history during that period. Names... exact dates... I could remember few of the first, and practically none of the latter. My memoirs, and several treatise written on or about them, including a few good ones that incorporate the fables, songs, and others bits of history passed down through our oral tradition, are stored in the Canterlot Archives. Students of history at the University level often study them, I'm told."
Johnathon nodded slowly. "I see. Could I ask you one more question?"
Celestia nodded graciously back. "Of course."
Johnathon hesitated. "The reason it took seven hundred years for Equestria to recover from Discord's storm of Chaos... was part of it because he... broke nature?" he wrinkled his nose. "You and your sister raise and lower the sun and moon... the ponies here in Equestria, they care for the animals and plants... but... it wasn't always that way, was it?"
Princess Celestia frowned. "It's true that Discord's reign of Chaos had left our world terribly out of balance. It's just... no pony remembers what things were truly like before he came." she sighed. "I remember... vaguely, that after Discord was defeated, mages on the Unicorn council discovered that the Sun and Moon were losing their orbit... that they were slowing... and getting closer and closer to our planet. Many of the most powerful of them gathered together to correct the problem, and it took all the energy of the greatest unicorn mages of that time to do it. Luna and I had not yet gained our cutie marks at that point. We had great strength... everything came easy to us. After Discord's defeat, we did not know what our purpose should be. Raising the sun and moon... it was a terrible burden for the mortal unicorns that took that task upon themselves. They had to act in concert, and many unicorns burned themselves out, even died."
She smiled slightly. "Not to make light of the matter... but that's how my sister and I got our Cutie Marks. We took over the tasks of raising the sun and moon. We found our purpose, and we've been responsible for that task ever since."
Celestia frowned. "It is true that restoring nature's balance was a terribly difficult project. Restoring the damage Discord's chaos created took many generations, and truthfully, some things have never recovered."
Johnathon nodded slowly. "You said that the unicorns lived in the Everfree forest... and they were the last to be defeated by Discord. Is that why nature still works there?"
Princess Celestia nodded. "It's not perfect there, but yes. Over the years, I have developed a theory... Discord's changes only became permanent after a full generation had passed. To a great deal of the world, the damage was done... but the Everfree forest was one of the last bastions of order. It fell some years before Discord was finally sealed into stone, but it was able to recover... mostly."
Johnathon looked interested. "So, why didn't you stay in the Everfree? Why is that the only place Ponies don't live?"
Celestia hesitated. "I would like to say it was because we wanted to restore nature, but frankly, at first, it was just easier to move into the places that Discord had... pacified. There were next to no wild animals... no trees to clear, we could plant whatever we needed without struggle. The Everfree was a wilderness, just as it is now. It held many dangers... one reason why Discord left it alone till the last, perhaps. It was an excellent place to hide, of course, but not a place to live and grow."
She smiled. "Now, of course, it is a wilderness sanctuary of sorts. My little ponies are discouraged from building there, or encroaching too closely into it's borders."
Johnathon looked curious. "What about outside Equestria's borders. I've seen maps... Equestria doesn't even cover this whole continent. How did nature fare out there?"
Celestia raised an eyebrow. "it's said that Discord himself was a pony... at least at first. Certainly he focused his madness on the ponies of Equestria first and foremost. He did less damage outside our borders, thankfully, and there are places outside Equestria just as wild and untamed as the Everfree."
Johnathon nodded again. "Well... I guess that answers all of my questions for now." he grinned at her. "Although I'd love to get a look at your memoirs."
The Princess smiled. "You are certainly welcome to do so."
Cheerilee, who had been listening quietly the entire time, finally spoke up. "So it's true, Princess? The entire world used to be like the Everfree forest?"
Princess Celestia hesitated. "To a large extent, I believe so. I cannot be certain, of course. Certainly not all the world was as... dangerous as the Everfree. There were plains, and deserts before Discord. But... as far as I know, the weather was not controlled by ponies before Discord... at least not to the extent it is today. I don't believe the sun and moon were controlled by anypony before Discord either. How exactly they moved in their orbits before then has been the subject of much scholarly debate." she glanced at Johnathon. "I wonder if you might not be able to shed some light on that subject."
The archeologist hesitated. "Well, I do have a general knowledge of how it works in my universe, but I'm hardly an astrophysicist." he scratched his head. "I know I promised I'd write up a paper about how it all works, but I've been a little distracted...."
Celestia smiled. "There is no rush, Johnathon."
The archeologist hesitated. "Well, there is probably a little rush. Twilight thinks she might be able to get me home as early as just after the Summer Sun Celebration."
Princess Celestia blinked. "Truly?" she looked thoughtful. "I suppose if she solves her difficulties with the dimensional spells, it may indeed be possible by that point." she raised an eyebrow. "Am I to take it that she intends to use the power she will borrow from me to open a portal at that point?"
Johnathon coughed. "Er... yeah, that sounded like her plan."
Celestia nodded. "It's a workable solution to the power problem. I suppose the other main factor she'll need to solve is whether or not Strangehorn's spells truly do create a dimensional gateway... and if she can create one to your world, and not some other dimension."
Johnathon grimaced. "Some other dimension?" he frowned thoughtfully. "Oh... right, Twilight wanted a hair and blood sample from me so that she could be sure she had found the right dimension when she did try opening a gate. I nearly forgot about that."
Princess Celestia looked pleased. "It seems my faithful student has already considered her remaining difficulties, and has plans on how to overcome them." she smiled at the man. "With any luck, she will indeed succeed in solving those final difficulties before the Summer Sun Celebration." the princess regarded him calmly. "Are you looking forward to your return home?"
Johnathon hesitated. "I must admit, my feelings are torn on the matter. I would regret never being able to return to my world, but at the same time, I will miss the friends I've made while I have been here. Still, in the end, going home is the right thing to do. My friends, my family, they must wonder if I'm dead or alive. I can't leave them wondering."
Celestia smiled faintly. "You would be welcome to stay if you so choose, but of course, you must do what you think is right."
Johnathon's shoulders sagged slightly. "You're not making it any easier for me."
The immortal princess looked wistfully at him. "I'm sorry. I can't imagine what you must be going through. I wish I could help more."
The archeologist quickly shook his head. "You're doing more than I have any right to ask, Princess. You have nothing to apologize for."
There was a knock on the door, and Shining Star let himself into the room. "Princess, Johnathon, there is a Mazie Mane waiting in the press room for an interview?"
Johnathon nodded, and sighed. "Might as well get this over with."
Cheerilee spoke up again. "Would you like me to come with you?"
Johnathon hesitated. "Well... I wouldn't mind the moral support, but I don't know if that's a great idea. She'll probably want to know what it's like living with a human... and if I was writing the story, the fact that the alien creature is living with a school teacher might be a pretty major point of interest."
Celestia smiled. "I'd offer to come with you myself, but unfortunately I'm already running late for Day court." she put a hoof on Johnathon's shoulder reassuringly. "Just stay calm, and take a few moments to consider any questions that surprise you, and you'll be fine."
Johnathon nodded. "Thanks." he turned to Shining Star. "Lead the way. Let's give Miss Mane her interview."
"Let's get started with some preliminary questions." Mazie began after several moments, sitting comfortably across from Johnathon in a comfortable lounge. "How about something easy. How old are you?"
"I'm turning forty in another couple months." Johnathon told her calmly.
Mazie noted that down on a pad of paper, then asked another question. "Is it true that you are from another world... a whole different dimension from our own?"
Johnathon nodded. "That's true."
"How did you get here?"
"I was working on an excavation of an ancient ruin in a place called the Amazon Rainforest." he explained. "And, what I could only describe now as a portal opened up near where I was camping, and when I moved closer to investigate, I was pulled through into your world."
Mazie wrote furiously for a few moments, then looked up again. "There have been some interesting rumors about you since your arrival. Some ponies say you're a warrior from a barbaric world. How would you respond to this?"
Johnathon blinked, but had an answer prepared. "I was... I am an archeologist. I study ancient cultures through the artifacts they leave behind to learn about them." he shrugged. "I'm no warrior. At one point in my life, I did hold a position as a guard, but not for anything important. I'm really more of a scholar than anything."
Mazie nodded to this and continued to jot notes down. "Do you have any idea how or why this portal of yours appeared and brought you to Equestria?"
Johnathon hesitated before answering. "I'm not very knowledgeable about magic, but I believe it was something left over from long ago. Princess Celestia has told me that it's closed again, and it's likely to stay that way, unless it's forced open, anyway."
Mazie looked sympathetic. "So you're stuck here on our world?"
Johnathon shrugged. "For the moment. It's always possible that they'll figure out a way to get me home, but then again, they may never manage it."
The pony reporter frowned. "So you don't know whether or not you'll ever get home again?"
Johnathon nodded. "That's true... but I can't complain. Everypony has been very hospitable to me, and Equestria is a nice place. I miss my home, but I'm not unhappy here."
Mazie smiled. "That's good to hear. Is there anything in particular that you like about Equestria?"
Johnathon thought about that. "Well... I suppose I like the ponies here. Everypony has really been nice... and I've made several friends since I've come here. Everypony has really made me feel welcome."
Mazie grinned knowingly at him. "Is there any pony that's particularly special to you right now?"
The human blinked. "Well... like I said, I've made quite a few good friends."
Mazie raised an eyebrow. "I've been told that you've been living with a Miss Cheerilee, a school teacher down in Ponyville, since just after your arrival. Are you two especially close?"
Johnathon grinned. "Well, we do go jogging together... and I consider Miss Cheerilee a good friend, but that's really the extent of it."
Mazie looked curious. "So, no truth to the rumors that you and Cheerilee might have romantic feelings for each other?"
He chuckled. "I apologize, but your world has a bit more... interesting romantic fiction than mine... as well as a few more intelligent species than my world. I was just reading this romance novel about a griffon and a unicorn the other day..." he shook his head. "I'm afraid to say that fiction is more interesting than reality. I'm a widower, and I loved my wife dearly, but I don't have any romantic feelings for anypony.... or any griffon for that matter. I really doubt I'd ever have feelings like that for any... individual who isn't the same species as me."
Mazie chuckled lightly. "Well, that will disappoint the tabloids, I suppose." she paused to jot some more notes down. "One more question, if I may?"
Johnathon nodded. "Sure. Go ahead."
Mazie quirked her head to one side. "I'm curious. Since you may be here for the rest of your life, what future plans, if any, do you have?"
Johnathon thought about that. "Well, up to this point, I've been studying your world and your culture. I've spent months learning your language. I've still got a lot of studying to do before I'm satisfied on that front. After that? I'm not sure. I'm an archeologist. Perhaps I could do something in that field here? I know there are at least a few ruins that are still mostly unexplored, and I'd be fascinated to see what I could dig up about your earlier history."
Mazie smiled. "Well, hopefully you don't run into any more portals to strange worlds in the process." they both chuckled at the joke, and Mazie put away her notebook and ink pen. "Well, that should do it. I have plenty for my story now, I think." she held out a hoof to Johnathon. "Thanks for the interview. I got a lot of great material."
He nodded. "I'm glad I could help. I'm really not interested in the spotlight, but I understand that ponies would like to know about the alien in their midst."
Mazie smiled at him. "Well, I understand having a desire for privacy. If I want a follow up interview, I'll invite you here to Canterlot again, if that's alright. I know the folks in Ponyville like their privacy."
"That seems true enough." Johnathon agreed easily. "And I can't disagree. I like the quiet life, when I can get it."
Mazie shrugged. "Well, each to their own. Me, I can't get enough of the big city. I love the energy, the excitement! It's a great time to be a reporter in Equestria, I can tell you!"
"What's the most interesting story going on right now, do you think?" Johnathon asked curiously.
Mazie considered that. "Prince Blueblood's unveiling a new airship next week... it's supposed to be the fastest ever built." she frowned. "Although for some reason, the Prince hasn't been available for comment." The reporter grinned. "I can smell a scoop. Something is up with the Prince, I know it!"
Johnathon smiled at her. "Well, good luck with your story. Sound's interesting. I'll be sure to buy a copy of your paper when that article comes out."
Mazie grinned. "It'll be a sizzler." she stood up, and Johnathon did as well. "I'll be filing the story on you in a couple days. I'll have a copy sent to you. It won't be front page news or anything, but it should get me above the fold on the fourth page, at least. A half page story minimum."
Johnathon nodded. "I'll be looking forward to reading it." he shook her hoof again, and left the room. When he was out of the room, and the door firmly closed behind him, he shook his head. "Blueblood isn't available for comment, huh? That's not going to end well..."
Shining Star and Cheerilee looked up at him. "What's that about Blueblood?" The grey unicorn asked curiously.
"Mazie Mane is planning on doing a story about his new Airship." Johnathon explained. "Apparently she's wondering why he's been out of circulation, and she's planning on tracking him down."
Shining Star frowned. "Ah well, we figured it was only a matter of time." he shrugged. "Don't worry, we've already got a cover story in place. The Prince has apparently contracted a bad case of horn rot... and is in isolation for his health. Oh, eventually it might get out that he's actually being held under house arrest, but no pony knows the details except a few of us in the guard, the princesses, and of course you and your friends in Ponyville... and none of us are talking." he shrugged. "And the Prince isn't likely to chance Princess Luna's wrath by breaking his contract with her either, so Miss Mazie is going to run into another dead end, I'm afraid."
Johnathon shook his head. "I'm not sure who to feel worse for... Mazie, or Blueblood."
Shining Star opened his mouth to speak, then blinked. "You know what?" he finally said. "I'm not sure either."