With Shining Star as their guide, Johnathon and Cheerilee made their way over to the University of Canterlot. They went to the Archives first, and were greeted by a stuffy looking unicorn mare.
"I'm told you wish to view volume one of Celestia's personal memoirs?" the dark green unicorn said with a frown. "I'm afraid that document cannot leave the archive. It's preserved by the spells in the ancient documents vault. You can, however, review the material there."
Johnathon nodded. "I understand. Do you have any writing materials I might borrow? I'll want to take some notes."
The Librarian frowned, but nodded. "I believe we can spare you something."
She led the way to the back of the library, and into a back room with a rather formidable looking solid marble door in the back of it. The words "Canterlot Archives" were chiseled into the solid stone above the door. The unicorn's horn glowed brightly, and the door slowly opened with a loud hiss of air escaping. Beyond a stair spiraled downwards and out of sight.
"Follow me." the librarian said firmly. "Please stay close." she led the way down the spiral staircase, and as soon as all of them were inside, she turned around, her horn glowing again, causing the heavy marble door to close behind them. With the door shut, the air was very still, moved only by the movement of their bodies as they walked. The air was stale, but breathable. They traveled downward for what seemed like several hundred meters before reaching another large marble doorway. "Just through here." the librarian said softly. "Please, be respectful, and handle the documents here with great care." she said, turning to Johnathon Dwire. "Some of the older documents are quite fragile."
"I understand." Johnathon told her calmly. "As an archeologist, I've dealt with ancient writings many times in the past, and when uncovering artifacts, one has to be very careful not to damage anything. I'll be extremely careful, I promise."
The librarian raised an eyebrow at him and stared at him for several long moments as if gauging the truth of his words, then nodded. "Very well." her horn glowed, and the large marble door swung slowly open with a soft wheeze of air.
Beyond, a large open chamber was revealed, it's tall, arched ceilings going back for hundreds of feet. Throughout the room, evenly spaced, were small chambers of marble and thick glass, each about twenty feet square, and fifteen feet high or so, each filled with bookshelves and ancient looking books and scrolls.
The libarian led them into the room, past half a dozen of the separated chambers, before arriving at one that was marked "Celestine chamber" in ornate script over what appeared to be another, smaller, marble doorway.
"Just a moment." the librarian said. "I'll cast a shield spell over the door and open it. You'll need to pass through the shield and through the door so I can close it relatively quickly please, as I can't maintain such a shield for very long, I'm afraid. Don't worry, it's just to maintain the seal on the room."
Johnathon blinked. "Ah. Right. No problem." he wasn't sure what exactly to expect, but it sounded like they didn't want any fresh air getting to the older documents, which made perfect sense to him, so he simply nodded.
The librarian nodded at the doorway. "When you're ready to come out, knock on the doorway, and I'll put up the shield again and open the door for you to leave." she glared at him warningly. "I'll be watching you from outside." turning to the marble door, her horn glowed, and a light green bubble appeared over the doorway. A moment later, the door opened, and she turned to Johnathon. "Go on through now."
Johnathon glanced at Cheerilee. "Coming?"
She nodded quickly. "Of course. I'll be right behind you."
The archeologist walked up to the green bubble, frowned, and put his hand out. His hand passed through the side of the bubble with only the slightest effort, and with a shrug, the man walked forward quickly, moving through the doorway, and through the bubble again, which apparently encased the opening on both sides. Cheerilee came through behind him, and a moment later the marble door swung shut. An instant after that, the green bubble disappeared as well.
The room was relatively well lit from outside, large windows in every side and in the ceiling providing plenty of lights from what appeared to be large glowing gemstones of some sort placed every twenty feet or so in the ceiling of the large open room outside. Johnathon started looking around the shelves with interest, Cheerilee just behind him.
They had been at it for several hours already. Cheerilee had helped Johnathon to translate the more difficult sections of Princess Celestia's memoirs, and the human had pulled out several other books and scrolls from the same era, looking for something in particular.
"It was something Celestia said while we were talking to her." Johnathon told Cheerilee excitedly as he located a passage relevant to his search. "She said that the unicorns were the last hold outs against Discord... and that they did their best to secure what knowledge they could against him. I've been thinking that... if I were them, I'd have sealed away that knowledge in a vault somewhere. Someplace like they have here... underground, protected by whatever spells they could muster. Someplace hidden. I've been hoping to find references to anything like that, and I found several references to a 'bastion of knowledge' that is supposedly in the 'last refuge', wherever that is."
He pointed to the ancient book that contained the Princesses memoirs. "In her book, Celestia mentions that no pony living after Discord's defeat knew the actual location of the 'last refuge' but that it was supposed to be hidden deep underground. However, from what I've gathered from the other material written about that time period, the only place the Unicorns held before the end was the Everfree... so it has to be someplace inside there."
Cheerilee nodded. "That makes sense." she frowned. "I wonder why no pony has found it yet? It's been so long."
Johnathon hesitated. "Well... to be honest, there seems to be a magical component. According to what I've read here... the Elements of Harmony are the key to finding the 'last refuge.' They are referenced several times. I'm only vaguely familiar with the kinds of magic that might have been used to protect such a place, but if they wanted to hide something like that from Discord, it would have to have been really powerful, right?"
Cheerilee nodded again, slowly. "I suppose." she frowned. "But... what kind of key could they be? I thought they were a weapon."
Johnathon shook his head. "I'm not sure. I expect that Twilight Sparkle might know as much as anypony. Princess Celestia and Luna probably could help us with that as well." he pointed at a open scroll, yellowed with age, and missing several pieces. "Still... there are notes that the key to find the last refuge is in the Ancient Castle in the Everfree. Of course, that's where the Elements were found... but I'm wondering if there might not be something else left behind there. A map, maybe? Some sort of magical portal that only the Elements can open?"
Cheerilee blinked. "Why hasn't anypony found it yet then? It's been there for over a thousand years."
Johnathon hesitated. "Well, if finding this last refuge requires the elements... well, no pony has been able to use them since Nightmare Moon was banished. There wouldn't have been any way to... do whatever it is that is needed." he frowned. "I'm missing some parts of the puzzle, but I don't think we'll find anything more in here." he started carefully collecting the scrolls and books and putting them back where he had gotten them from. "I want to see if there has been any investigation of those ruins in the last thousand years. If there's a clue, maybe it's already been discovered, and it's here in the archive already."
Cheerilee grinned at him. "Sounds like you want to take a shortcut."
Johnathon shrugged. "It would be nice to at least have someplace to start."
"So... you're hoping to find some sort of... ancient library?" Cheerilee said incredulously. "One that nopony has seen since before Discord was defeated?" she frowned. "It just doesn't make sense though, does it? Surely the Princess would have been able to find this last refuge in all this time."
Johnathon walked around the large table in the center of the room, and carefully turned the page of a large text that included several notes on the Elements of Harmony. "This book implies that the Elements are capable of more than being used as a weapon... that they can... open secret ways... heal magical curses...." he frowned. "And... reveal truth?" the archeologist shrugged. "If I was reading this on my world, I'd find some of this pretty hard to believe... but here? Magic is quite real. I'm not sure... but I think that it's quite possible that what they describe is literally true." he turned to Cheerilee. "And maybe the Princess couldn't find this refuge because the power of the Elements is literally the only thing that can... I don't know... open the way?"
Cheerilee looked thoughtful, then smiled. "It sounds like you've found a new puzzle for yourself."
Johnathon shrugged. "Well, it might be nothing. Still, it'd be kind of interesting to see if anypony before me has had the same idea." he carefully closed the last book and put it back on the shelf. "Are you willing to play research assistant for me awhile longer?"
The purple earth pony school teacher grinned at him. "I get the feeling you're about to get me into some more interesting times." Cheerilee said with a wry smile.
"Is that a yes or a no?"
Cheerilee laughed. "Oh, I couldn't walk away now. Of course I'll help. Like you said, it may be nothing, but... it would be really interesting if there actually is some sort of ancient library in the Everfree, wouldn't it?"
Johnathon walked over to knock on the marble door for the librarian to let them out. "I just hope it's not too interesting. The last time I encountered something magical on an archeological dig, I got pulled into another dimension."
Cheerilee smiled slightly. "Well, we'll try to avoid that."
It was late in the evening when they got back to the Palace. Celestia invited them to dinner with her and her sister, Luna. It was a quiet affair, just the four of them, in a elegant dining room in the back of the palace.
Johnathon had been explaining what they had found during their search of the library that day. "Unfortunately, it doesn't appear that anypony has made a serious search for this 'bastion of knowledge' in the last eight hundred years or so," he concluded. "Or at least, if they have, I couldn't find a record of it."
The alicorn sisters exchanged a curious look.
"I believe there were a number of attempts to locate the 'last refuge' of the unicorns," Princess Celestia said "in the years following Discord's defeat, but nothing ever came of it."
"I remember," Luna said thoughtfully. "The last group set out in search... lets see... some twelve hundred years ago?"
Celestia nodded. "That sounds about right," she sighed. "Their leader... what was his name?" the alicorn princess frowned thoughtfully. "I'm sorry... I really should remember, but..."
Luna spoke softly. "His name was Straight. Straight Bearing," she sighed. "He and his team never returned from their quest."
Celestia sighed as well. "Oh yes. I do remember now. Our world was much more dangerous back then. Very wild," she turned to Johnathon. "We sent a search party, but nopony was found."
Johnathon nodded. "I'm sorry to hear that," he hesitated. "In any event, I wonder if they could have succeeded. From what I've read in the archives, the Elements of Harmony are the key to locating the last refuge."
Luna looked surprised. "Truly? I was not aware of this. No wonder nopony succeeded in locating the refuge!"
Princess Celestia looked thoughtful. "Oh yes... I seem to recall. It was around four hundred years ago. The Canterlot historical society came to me with a request to use the Elements. I explained that the Elements of Harmony could not be used like that... but they had found references to how the Elements might be used to open the path to the 'last refuge' of the unicorns in the ruins of the castle belonging to the Platinum family. I assigned a company of Royal guards to their expedition... I didn't want anypony else lost in the search, but, as I expected, they were unable to activate the Elements of Harmony," she smiled at him. "I expect you'll be talking to my most faithful student, Twilight Sparkle about this next?"
Johnathon nodded. "As soon as we get back to Ponyville, yes. Do you think it's true? That the Elements of Harmony might be able to... open a path to the last refuge of the unicorns?" he hesitated. "And that there might be some sort of... bastion of knowledge there?"
Celestia and Luna exchanged another glance, before the elder sister turned to him. "I believe it's possible, Johnathon," Celestia admitted. "I have not thought about the last refuge for some time. If it is true that the Elements are the key to locating it, then I can understand why nopony else has managed to locate it in all these years," she grinned slightly. "I suspect that the moment you mention the possibility of a lost library to Twilight, you'll get her full attention."
Johnathon chuckled. "I imagine so. It would be like finding the lost library of Alexandria, intact," he said with a wry smile. "Oh," he glanced up at his dinner companions. "That was a library... thought to be the greatest in the world at that time, that was lost... destroyed almost two thousand years ago. Some still think that parts of the library's collection might be found intact...." The archeologist shrugged. "In any event, it would be an incredible discovery."
Luna looked thoughtful. "You would want to start in the Castle of the Ancient Pony sisters in the Everfree forest, I believe... if you wished to pursue this. As far as I am aware, those ruins have been deserted since...." she paused. "Since just after my banishment," she shook her head, then continued. "It would be a major undertaking. The Everfree forest is far from safe, even now. Timber wolves, manticores, cockatrice, and even dragons live in their depths. You would need diggers, guards, and experienced archeologists... not to mention the Elements themselves...."
Princess Celestia frowned. "Twilight already has so much to worry about. I don't know if it's the right time to bring up such an overwhelming project," she blinked. "Then again, now that I think about it, she did mention to me in one of her recent letters that the best place for her to research opening dimensional portals would be by the ancient castle, where the portal to Johnathon's world was. She was concerned about the safety of spending several days in the Everfree while she examined the portal site and attempted to locate Johnathon's dimension," the alicorn princess smiled thoughtfully. "I was thinking about how to assist her, but an expedition to our old castle would give Twilight plenty of security for her experiments at the same time."
Johnathon grinned. "Great. We can kill two birds with one stone!"
Cheerilee grimaced. "Johnathon! That's a terrible thing to say!"
The human winced. "Er... oops? It's a human expression. It means to accomplish two goals at once," he shrugged. "Meat eaters, remember?"
Cheerilee sighed. "I do forget that about you sometimes."
Celestia smiled. "Never-the-less, I believe that is what we shall do. We can arrange for an expedition to our ancient castle to coincide with Twilight's magical research. From her letters to me, she still has several phases of experimentation before she will need to be in the proximity of the portal that you came through, Johnathon, which will give us time to properly organize for this," she looked curious. "Johnathon, would you be interested in heading up the archeology team? You do have experience with such things, do you not?"
Johnathon Dwire blinked. "Me? I'm not sure... I mean, I have been on several digs, but I've never led one. I've never planned anything more complex than a week long camping trip myself," he shrugged. "Besides, I"m just barely fluent with your written language. If it wasn't for Cheerilee helping me, I would still be in the archive trying to translate the first book."
Cheerilee smiled. "I just helped you with parts of it. You were the one who put all the pieces together."
Johnathon shook his head. "You were invaluable. In fact, if it wasn't for you, I wouldn't be able to speak or read your language at all without magical help. I don't think anypony else could have taught me so well," he turned to Princess Celestia. "There is one other reason I'd be reluctant to head up any kind of major dig, Princess. I'd expect such a project to take quite some time... especially if we DID find this 'last refuge' of yours. But when Twilight has figured out how to get me home... I... I've got to go. If I'm in charge of a big project like that, I'd be tempted to stay. More tempted, that is," he sighed. "I... already I am finding it difficult contemplating leaving. I've made friends here... good friends. As much as I appreciate the offer, it would just make it even more painful for me when I do have to go."
Princess Celestia nodded. "Of course. I do understand. I'll have a talk with the professors of history at the University here in Canterlot and see if I can't find somepony else to lead the team," she smiled at him. "I assume that you will at least want to assist?"
Johnathon nodded seriously. "Wild horses couldn't keep me away," he grinned. "And yes, that's another Earth saying."
Cheerilee and Johnathon spent the night in adjoining rooms in the palace. The next morning, as they were getting ready to leave, Shining Star came to their rooms.
"There's one place I've been wanting to show you while you're here, Johnathon," Shining Star told him with a grin. "I was going to show you the royal armory while you were here last time, but we never got the chance. There's plenty of time before your train leaves."
Johnathon Dwire blinked. "Well... yeah, actually. That would be pretty cool. Show me the way," he glanced at Cheerilee, who was looking rather interested herself. "Want to come along?"
The purple school teacher nodded. "It will be something interesting to tell the children about when school starts next week." she said thoughtfully.
Shining Star led the way through the palace to the east wing, where the royal guards had their barracks. As they passed, several unicorn and pegasus guards stopped long enough to give Shining Star a snappy salute, but Johnathon was surprised to note how many saluted him as well. He nodded to each guard as they passed, growing slightly confused.
"What's up with everypony?" he asked Shining Star when they had passed out of earshot of any of the other guards. "They're all acting like I'm some sort of bigwig or something."
"It's supposed to be a secret, of course," Shining Star said wryly. "But the fact that you defended the Princess's chambers from an attacker has gotten out among the guard. The guard considers you and Miss Applejack honorary members," he grinned. "Speaking of that... we've got something for Miss Applejack... but you'll see when we get to the armory," he nodded to a pair of gilt iron doors ahead, guarded by a pair of unicorns. "And here we are," the unicorn guards on duty opened the doors for them with their telekinesis, and Shining Star led the way into the large armory room. He nodded to a dressing dummy wearing a set of golden royal guard armor. "That's for Miss Applejack. The guards all chipped in for it. We were hoping you'd bring it to her when you go back to Ponyville."
Johnathon blinked. "Wow...." he smiled. "I'll be glad to bring it to her. I wouldn't expect her to wear it, though..."
Shining Star chuckled. "No, I suppose not. I doubt Miss Applejack would leave her farm for the guard... but she'd be welcome among us. This is our way of thanking her for protecting the Princess in our place."
He nodded at the racks of weapons and armor lining the walls. "As for you, obviously we don't have a suit of armor in your size, but we thought you might like a proper souvenir of your time here. Pick anything you like. It's yours to keep."
Johnathon blinked. "I couldn't! I mean... I'm hardly a warrior... I don't use weapons."
Shining Star looked at him seriously. "You are too modest. Surprise or not, defeating a unicorn as powerful as Blueblood without injury is nothing to be ashamed of," he put a hoof on the man's shoulder. "Besides, you wouldn't want to insult the royal guard by refusing our gift, would you?"
Johnathon laughed. "I'm tempted to try it...." he grinned impishly, then shook his head. "Thank you. I'm honored. Of course I'll accept," he looked around the armory in wonder. "So... I can pick anything in here?"
Shining Star nodded seriously. "Absolutely. Even if it's just a gesture, I'd like it if you pick something that suited you. Even if you just put it over a fireplace...."
Johnathon glanced back at him. "Alright. I'll take a good look then."
He walked over to a rack of spears. "I notice most of the weapons here are spears. Does the royal guard use these?"
Shining Star nodded, walking over and taking one off the rack. "We only carry them when we expect trouble... but we are trained in their use." he crooked one hoof around the spear, placing the end on the floor and holding it upright. "Telekinesis is fine, but if things get rough, it's nice to have a good weapon for backup."
Johnathon looked thoughtful, and pulled a spear off the rack as well. He took several steps back, into the open center of the room, and started to spin the spear around and around slowly. Picking up speed, he spun it in an increasingly complex pattern, over one hand, then the other, slapping it into the crook of his elbow before reversing the spin. He stabbed with it, swung it wide, spun it rapidly in the other direction, going high and low, then ended in a crouch, the spear held in one arm, part of it laying against his back.
"Wow!" Cheerilee was wide eyed. "Where did you learn to do that, Johnathon?"
The man shrugged and grinned. "Watching..." he blinked. "I don't know the word in Equestrian. They're called movies," he said the word in English, then grimaced, walking back to the rack and put the spear away. "Oh... um... movies are... moving pictures. Like a play, but projected onto a screen, so that you can watch it over and over whenever you like," he shrugged. "I saw this one actor using a metal spear like this when I was a kid... and I practiced for months till I could spin one around like he did. Well, I used broomsticks and metal pipes, and stuff like that to practice mostly. I didn't actually have a spear."
Shining Star was looking impressed. "You certainly looked like you knew what you were doing, anyway. Did you want a spear?"
Johnathon hesitated, then shook his head. "Not really. Like I said, I learned how to do it from watching... well, an actor. I wouldn't have a clue how to use one in a real fight. I could improvise, of course, but I don't have any actual formal spear training."
Shining Star blinked. "Could have fooled me," he glanced around at the rest of the armory. "Well, what sort of weapons do you have formal training in?"
Johnathon hesitated. "Well... I was a fencer in college, and I learned some Kendo as well."
Shining Star blinked. "OK... fencing is using a sword... right?" he frowned. "But I don't know what this... Kendo is."
Johnathon looked around at the weapons on display. "Well, Kendo is just another sword technique. I learned how to use a foil... that's a sword with no edge... very thin, and flexible, and very light. It's just used for stabbing. And Kendo uses another kind of sword called a Katana. Well, I practiced with a shinai... that's a practice weapon made of bamboo," he walked around the armory slowly. "You do have a few swords here... I wonder," he reached up and pulled down a heavy looking double bladed sword with a thick hilt, and hefted it. "This is similar to what I'd call a Norman Longsword," he stepped away from the wall and gave the weapon a few practice swings. "The hilt is a bit wider than I'm used too... but the balance is pretty good," he shrugged and put the sword away. "I'd prefer something made for two hands though... or a good rapier."
He kept walking around, taking various swords down as they caught his eye. "Nothing really seems to suit me," he admitted after several minutes, then blinked as he spotted something. "Oh, hey, Shining Star? Could you get that one down for me?" He pointed at a large blade hung up high on one of the walls.
"That one?" Shining Spear's horn lit up, and he floated the long, thin, curved blade down off the wall and into Johnathon's hands. "That's Griffon make, I believe. They would use those to slash an opponent in mid flight. That belonged to one of their war chiefs. It's about... four, five hundred years old?"
Johnathon had taken the blade in both hands, feeling the weight. "Oh... the balance is just right," he sighed. "Too bad... I can't take something so valuable...." He started to hand the weapon back to Shining Star.
The unicorn guard smiled and shook his head. "Nonsense. I said any weapon here, and I meant it. If that one suits you, it's yours!"
Johnathon blinked. "Seriously?" he bent his knees a bit and held the sword out in front of him in a guard position. "Well... it does feel good in my hands," he glanced around once to make sure the space around him was clear before giving it a couple practice swings, then started moving it through various blocks and parries. "It's in really good condition," he commented cheerfully. "Are you sure its alright if I take it?"
Shining Star nodded with a grin. "Absolutely. Let me get a case to carry it in," he nodded to the set of armor by the door. "I'll pack up Miss Applejack's armor for you to take with you as well. Give me a minute," he went into the back of the armory and rummaged around for awhile. "I know I saw it around here someplace."
It took him several minutes, but he finally came back with a sheath for the sword, a long grey tube with a strap that looked a bit like a skinny golf bag, and a large saddlebag. He levitated the set of royal guard armor meant for Applejack into the Saddle bag with care, obviously used to the process, and floated the sheath and tube over to Johnathon.
"There... we use these to carry our gear and weapons when we don't want to be too obvious," the guard said. "It's a spear case, but it'll fit that sword of yours fine. I found the sheath that goes too it as well, I think."
Johnathon took the sheath and slipped the sword inside. "Yup. Fits perfectly," he slipped sword and sheath into the grey tube, and closed the top, then slung the tube over his shoulder. The sword rattled around a bit, but the noise was muffled.
"The inside is lined with cloth, so it shouldn't get dinged up... but I could find some padding if you like," Shining Star offered.
"I think I'll be fine," Johnathon said with a grin, walking over to take the saddlebag carrying Applejack's armor. "I'll make sure Applejack gets this as soon as I get back to Ponyville," he promised. The man grinned widely. "I can't wait to see the look on Applebloom's face when she sees her older sister with this armor...."
Cheerilee chuckled. "She'll probably try to get Applejack to come to show and tell wearing it."
Shining Star grinned. "I'd like to see that," he glanced out the door at a clock. "But for now, I should get you two to your train. You don't want to be late."
They were greeted at the train station by Twilight Sparkle, who seemed to be positively ecstatic. "Johnathon! Princess Celestia just told me! Is it true? Did you really find a clue towards finding the last refuge of the unicorns?"
Johnathon shrugged. "Oh, I wouldn't say that. A starting point, maybe. It might turn out to be nothing."
Twilight shook her head. "I can't believe that. Just think... a chance to find an archive of knowledge from before Discord's time! We might even discover how the Elements of Harmony were made!" she frowned. "I heard that you're not going to be in charge of the expedition. Why? You were the one who figured out where we should start."
Cheerilee turned to him with a raised eyebrow. "I've told him the same thing, but he doesn't listen."
Johnathon shook his head. "Truthfully, I just put a few references together. And I'm hardly qualified to lead an expedition of this magnitude," he smiled softly. "Besides, you're going to be sending me home soon, right?"
Twilight nodded slowly. "Yes. I... I'm about ready to start practicing opening small dimensional portals. But once I've gotten that down, I'm going to want to try and find one to your world. I'm assuming that our two dimensions aren't the only ones, of course."
"I'm assuming that," Johnathon said. "Just two doesn't seem likely, does it?"
Cheerilee looked confused. "What do you mean? Why would there be more than two?"
Johnathon glanced at her. "Well... some of the scientists in my world theorize that there might be infinite alternate dimensions. At the very least, the number is likely to be very large."
Twilight giggled. "Can you imagine all the worlds I might find?" she shook her head. "But before that, I want to be sure I can accurately find the one I'm looking for, which is why, when I'm sure I've got the spell down, I'll want to try opening a portal next to the Castle of the Pony Sisters, where you came out. The... barrier between our worlds should be easiest to get through there."
Johnathon looked interested. "How will you know if you've opened a portal to the right world?"
Twilight hesitated. "Well, I'm going to cast a second spell, one to detect humans, through the holes I create. If it works, and I detect humans, the odds are pretty good I've found the right world... I think."
Johnathon frowned. "Well... I suppose. Better than zero, anyway."
Twilight hesitated. "Yes... it's possible that there are humans in multiple dimensions. I'll have to think of a better test, once I've succeeded in finding a dimension with humans in it... but at least it'll eliminate dimensions that don't have any humans."
Johnathon nodded. "Makes sense."
Twilight smiled. "I was worried about going into the Everfree and opening portals. It's going to be difficult enough just managing the spell without having to worry about the wild creatures that live there, but if we're going there anyway to search for clues toward the lost refuge, then I won't have to worry so much about that."
"I'd have gone with you, of course," Johnathon said with a nod. "But I agree, it's better this way."
Cheerilee smiled. "I may even bring the children for a field trip, once it's safe. Assuming your stay in the forest goes on long enough to make it worth while."
Twilight raised an eyebrow. "If I remember correctly, wasn't your class on a field trip in the Canterlot gardens the day Discord was released?"
Cheerilee laughed nervously. "Well... I'm sure nothing like that could possibly happen twice!"
Twilight had headed back to the library and Cheerilee had gone home, wanting to get settled in, and perhaps getting started on lesson plans for school, which was rapidly approaching, while Johnathon swung by Sweet Apple Acres.
Applejack was out in the fields when he arrived, but she stopped working to greet him. "Howdy, Johnathon!" the cowpony called cheerfully. "How was your trip to Canterlot?"
"Interesting," Johnathon answered simply. "Shining Star and the other guards wanted me to bring you this, though," he shrugged the saddle bag from his shoulder into the crook of his left arm, causing the metal within to clink loudly.
"What in tarnation is this then?" Applejack said with a frown. "Ya'll sound like ya got an ironmongers shop in that there saddlebag."
He shrugged. "Close enough. The royal guard apparently consider the two of us honorary members, and they all chipped in to get you this," he reached into the bag and brought out a golden helmet with an ornate white plume. "A set of their armor... in your size."
Applejack stared at the helmet with growing horror. "They did what now?" she shook her head. "On no... I ain't wearing no fancy golden armor."
Johnathon grinned at her. "I think it's more of a symbolic gesture, Applejack. I don't believe they expect you to actually join the guard or anything. They're just showing you respect for protecting the Princess like you did."
Applejack frowned. "I didn't do anything to earn it. I just went and nearly got myself strangled. Don't tell me they're giving out fancy suits of armor for any pony who gets their hat handed to them when they're supposed to be doing a simple job...."
Johnathon's face was gentle. "Getting injured on duty is one of the main risks a guard takes, Applejack. You accepted that risk when you agreed to protect the Princess, and they're honoring you for that."
The cowpony was still frowning. "Aw, shucks... even Fluttershy did that much. Any of us would have done what I did."
Johnathon shrugged. "Maybe, but you're the one who had the choice. You could have stepped aside when Blueblood came, but you didn't. You put yourself in harms way to protect the Princess, just like the Royal Guard all swear to do. That's why they sent you this armor, to let you know that they think of you as one of them now."
Applejack sighed. "I suppose it'd be insulting to just send it back, you reckon?"
Johnathon nodded. "I wanted to turn down their gift to me as well... but you're right. It would be an insult to refuse," he shrugged. "Besides, they feel like they have to do something to make up for not being there when we were. If we can make them feel better by accepting a couple gifts... that's alright by me."
Applejack hesitated, then nodded. "I suppose," she looked interested. "So, what did they give you, anyhow?"
Johnathon set the saddlebag full of armor down in front of Applejack, and pulled the long tube off his back, setting it down on the ground. He opened it up, and reached in to pull out his new sword, sheath and all.
Applejack whistled slightly. "That's a mighty big sword ya got there," she said after a long moment. "Do ya know how to use one of them?"
Johnathon nodded. "Yeah... pretty well. I'm about as good with one of these as I am with my bare hands," he grinned slightly. "Of course, it's a lot harder not to hurt somepony with a sword... which is why I tend to stick to bare hands if I can help it."
Applejack raised an eyebrow. "I've seen you fight... bare handed, as you call it. You're saying you're just as good with a sword?"
Johnathon shrugged. "My brother and I were the best fencers in my College..." he said with a faint smile. "My brother, Michael, was a hair better than me, in truth, but he does poorly in competition, while I thrived on the adrenaline. My win-loss record was the best in the school while I was there."
Applejack nodded slowly. "I'll take your word on it," she looked thoughtful. "I reckon you won't find much use for that big piece of steel round these parts though."
Johnathon chuckled. "I expect you're right... and I can't say I'm sorry. Frankly, I don't know what I'm going to do with it. I can't really take it back to my world with me... not really, so it'll probably end up mounted up on Cheerilee's wall when I'm gone."
Applejack sighed. "So I guess Twilight's really coming along in figuring out how to get you home then?"
Johnathon nodded. "Yeah. I'm going to miss you girls," he said softly, then smiled. "We've still got months before Twilight can even really try to open proper portal to my world. There's no guarantee that it'll even work. I might be stuck here yet!"
Applejack raised an eyebrow. "Why do you sound almost cheerful at the prospect of being stuck here permanent-like?"
Johnathon hesitated, then sighed. "If Twilight can open a portal, I've got to go back... but it'll be hard, saying goodbye. Especially since I'll never be able to come back."
"I reckon that would be a mite painful," Applejack said sympathetically.
Cheerilee was teaching school again, and Johnathon found himself with plenty of time on his hands. He wracked his brains for every piece of information he could remember about his world's solar system, and the way gravity worked. He worked for a week compiling everything he could think of about Astronomy from his world, and spent the next week and a half writing an editing a detailed document on the subject. He took some time to study Equestrian astronomy, and made some additional notes, then had Spike send it to Princess Celestia.
After that, he took some time to note down the rules of some of his favorite games from Earth, including checkers and chess. Twilight told him later that they already had games very similar to both, but his variations were interesting.
Every morning, he went jogging with Cheerliee, and several times a week he would practice with his new sword behind their house. It wasn't that he expected to use it, but doing sword katas was a lot more fun for him than regular exercise, and he was pretty rusty with a blade in any case. It didn't hurt him to get into better shape, after all.
Even with all this, he found his days relatively empty. He spent time at Sweet Apple Acres helping out most afternoons. In the evenings, he would often help Cheerilee grade papers, or plan lessons for the next day. He found working with Cheerilee pleasant, and she didn't mind the help. They went on walks in the evening, or played checkers or chess. Neither one spoke of his impending departure for his own world.
Twilight was busier than ever. She had managed to open a pinhole sized dimensional portal after a week's effort, although the energy required left her panting and weak for days afterwards. Still, she slowly improved at the spell, till she could cast it once a day without overly straining herself. She still wasn't at the point where she was confident in her ability to cast a detection spell through the opening she could create, but she promised that she would keep working till she could manage it.
Rainbow Dash managed to injure herself during a training session, and ended up in the hospital for several days with a broken wing. The cyan pegasus mended with remarkable speed, however, and was soon out and about once more, although her training sessions were postponed while she recuperated. But in the meantime, the self proclaimed fastest pegasus in Equestria had found herself a new hobby.
Johnathon was out behind Cheerilee's house one evening, practicing, when he heard hooves coming up the path around the house. Turning to see who it was, he was surprised to see Rainbow Dash walking towards him.
"Still grounded?" he asked her curiously. "How much longer till you're back in the air?"
"I've just got to take it easy for another week or so," the cyan pegasus told him with a shrug. "I can already fly pretty well," she sighed. "I can't wait till I can fly everywhere again... but I have to stay grounded most of the time till my wing fully heals."
Johnathon nodded in sympathy. "Sorry to hear it," he said honestly. "Nopony belongs in the sky more than you do."
Rainbow Dash grinned. "It's no big deal. I'll be back to normal in no time," she nodded to his sword. "That's a pretty neat sword. Where'd you get it?"
Johnathon blinked. "Oh... didn't I tell you already?" he looked thoughtful. "I guess the only pony I mentioned it to after I got home was Applejack," he realized. "Shining Star took me to the armory and let me pick out anything I wanted," he told her with a shrug. "The guards wanted to thank me for my part in protecting the Princess. They gave Applejack a suit of Royal Guard armor too."
Rainbow Dash blinked. "Really?" she looked thoughtful. "Huh. You know, the Princess let me keep that suit of armor that I was wearing. I guess I thought I was the only one who kept a souvenir though."
Johnathon grinnned. "I don't think Fluttershy really liked her set... and Rarity isn't the armor wearing sort, you know?"
Rainbow Dash snorted. "I'll say. I can't believe she put that silly looking cape on hers. She wouldn't even wear the helmet!"
Johnathon chuckled. "Well, it probably would have given her helmet hair."
"Hah!" Rainbow Dash grinned. "That'd be the 'worst possible thing' for her, I bet."
Johnathon shrugged. "I don't know. Rarity can be pretty melodramatic, but she steps up when she needs too."
Rainbow Dash frowned, then nodded. "Oh, I know, I just give her a hard time sometimes, but Rarity is alright," she hesitated. "So... I heard from Twilight that the Princess is organizing some sort of... archeological expedition to the old castle in the Everfree forest, right?"
Johnathon nodded. "That's right. We're just waiting for Twilight to finish practicing her dimensional portal spell first. That way she can try finding my world while we're there searching for clues as to how to use the Elements to... open the way to the 'last refuge' of the unicorns."
Rainbow Dash grinned. "Sounds pretty radical. What do you think it'll be like? Do you think there will be lots of traps... and bad guys wanting to steal the treasure there and stuff?"
Johnathon raised an eyebrow. "I doubt it'll be anything like that. We'll probably spend a lot of time digging... and clearing sections of the ruins so we can read whatever inscriptions survive. I expect Twilight will be pretty busy with her spell, but the archeologists from the Canterlot historical society will probably use some kind of detection spells... although I really don't know much about that end of things."
The cyan pegasus looked slightly disappointed. "So... no traps?"
Johnathon shrugged. "Who knows. There may be something... I find that that sort of thing doesn't happen all that often, really, at least not in real life."
Rainbow Dash sighed. "Ah well. Guess it'll be kind of boring then," she raised an eyebrow. "Do you think there will be any cool treasure?"
Johnathon grinned. "I certainly hope so. If we're really lucky, there will be an old archive!"
Rainbow Dash blinked. "An archive?"
He nodded. "A library! All sorts of books from the period before Discord could be there! I'm really looking forward to it!"
The cyan pegasus blinked. "Ah. Books. I bet Twilight's really excited," she rolled her eyes. "Twilight Sparkle and the quest for the dusty old library," Rainbow Dash chuckled slightly. "I guess we all can't be as cool as Daring Do."
Johnathon blinked. "Oh, do you like that series too? Twilight introduced me to those books when I first got here."
Rainbow Dash grinned. "Isn't she the coolest? What's your favorite?"
Johnathon thought about that for a little while. "I think I liked 'The Griffon's Goblet' the best," he said thoughtfully. "Although it's tough picking just one. Still, I liked the description of tribal griffon culture... and the fight scenes with Daring verses the griffon warriors were pretty intense."
Rainbow Dash nodded slowly. "My old flight school pal Gilda probably wouldn't like that part so much... but that was a pretty awesome one," she started reminiscing about her favorite parts of the novel, and the two of them spent the next couple hours discussing the series.
"If you like Daring Do," Johnathon said finally. "I should tell you some stories about Indiana Jones some time. He's a lot like Daring. I think Indiana Jones is one reason I got interested in archeology when I was a kid, actually."
Rainbow Dash grinned. "So... does that mean you're finally going to tell some more stories from your world?"
Johnathon nodded slowly with a faint smile. "I guess I am."
The next couple weeks passed relatively uneventfully, although Johnathon found himself telling stories in the kitchen at Cheerilee's place almost every evening that week, relating every Indiana Jones story he knew to an attentive audience. Rainbow Dash and Cheerilee seemed to like the stories, but soon Applejack, the Cutie Mark Crusaders, and even Pinkie Pie were showing up to listen as well more often then not.
He wasn't that good a storyteller, he thought, but there was a certain benefit to having really good material to work from. He was careful to edit out the really scary... or disturbing parts of the Indiana Jones stories, but in general, the whip wielding hero was quite a hit with his pony audience.
"Wouldn't it be cool if Daring Do and Indiana Jones could meet and beat up bad guys together?" Rainbow Dash commented one evening as they were cleaning up the kitchen after the CMC and Pinkie had gone. "That would be the most awesome story... ever!"
Johnathon grinned. "That would be pretty cool. Still, I wonder who would write it? It would be hard to do them both properly. I imagine if it was done right, it would be a great story though."
Rainbow Dash sighed, then looked excited. "Hey, do you think the author of the Daring Do books would like to hear your stories about Indiana Jones?"
Johnathon laughed. "I wonder. I suppose it wouldn't hurt to ask."
Rainbow Dash had sent off an impassioned letter, but nothing had come of her grand scheme to introduce Indy to the world of pony fiction. Life had gotten back into a routine for Johnathon Dwire, although he could sense that things were in the wind. Twilight kept promising that she was nearly ready, and he didn't doubt her ability. Sooner or later, she'd figure out how to detect life signs through her dimensional portals, and then it would be time to head into the Everfree.
Still, for now, it was life as usual in Ponyville. Well... mostly usual. It was a beautiful day outside, and Johnathon had been out grocery shopping when he noticed the large numbers of ponies paired off in romantic couples. Everywhere he looked, ponies were hanging out in cafes, or in the park, looking into each others eyes. It wasn't that such displays were unheard of, of course, but so many?
He stopped by Applejack's apple stand, finding the cowpony selling as she usually did this time of day. "Hey Applejack," he greeted her. "What's up with all the couples today?" he asked curiously.
"Didn't ya know?" Applejack looked surprised. "I thought you'd have heard, living in Miss Cheerilee's house and all. It's hearts and hooves day today. Applebloom's been going on and on about the big card she and the other girls were making for her."
"Hearts and Hooves day, huh?" Johnathon mused. "What's that?"
Applejack blinked. "Well... it's for couples... you know, to spend time with your... your special somepony, you know?"
He nodded slowly. "Ah. A romantic holiday. Yeah, we had one like that on my world too. They called it Valentine's day. I never really saw the point. Me and my wife celebrated our anniversary, of course, and that sort of thing, but I never saw the point of having a special day to celebrate being in love," he shrugged. "That sort of thing should be more... I don't know... spontaneous, don't you think?"
Applejack shrugged back. "I suppose I can see your point," she agreed casually. "Not that I've had a date for Hearts and Hooves Day for awhile myself. I guess I've just been too busy working the farm."
Johnathon regarded the tough orange earth pony thoughtfully. "I can't imagine why... except perhaps the stallions around here are all a bit intimidated by you."
Applejack blinked. "Intimidated, what in tarnation are you talking about?"
"Well... you're quite the catch, you know," Johnathon told her. "You're good looking, or so I'm told, you own your own farm... and you're probably the most athletic pony in town. Not to mention you're a genuine hero. Most of the stallions around here probably feel like they can't quite measure up," he shrugged. "I've been there. There was this one time I was really attracted to a girl... but I felt she was way out of my league. She was smart... funny... fantastic looking, and incredibly athletic. She could run me into the ground, not that I dared compete with her," he sighed. "In the end, I never even asked her out. She met another guy, and eventually they got married," Johnathon shrugged. "Worked out in the end, of course. I met the woman I married a few years later, and I didn't hesitate that time. I'd learned my lesson."
Applejack listened to his story dubiously. "I get what you're saying... but I ain't all that special. Heck, there are half a dozen stallions in town that can pull a plow better than I can...." she frowned. "Well... I guess I beat most of them in the rodeo each year... but that don't mean they couldn't ask me out if they wanted."
Johnathon shrugged. "I could be wrong, but I don't think so. Still, if you're interested in anypony, it might be up to you to make the first move."
Applejack looked thoughtful. "Huh. I'll try and remember that."
Changing the subject, he pulled out several bits. "I'll take a dozen apples today, Applejack."
He was putting away the groceries in the kitchen when Cheerilee came in through the side door, looking relieved when she spotted him. "Oh, Johnathon! I was hoping I'd find you at home!"
Cheerilee rolled her eyes. "I think the Crusaders are trying to hook me up with Big Mac," she told him with a slightly pained expression. "Because I told them I didn't have a special somepony to be with today."
Johnathon raised an eyebrow. "I take it that Big Mac isn't your type?"
Cheerilee looked thoughtful. "Well, I wouldn't say that. But Macintosh and I are old friends. I've known him for years, but we've never really had any sort of spark, you know? He's a dear friend though."
Johnathon nodded. "Sure. So why did you come looking for me?"
Cheerilee hesitated. "Well, the crusaders have invited me to the old gazebo... again," she sighed. "I'm not quite sure why they think my 'accidentally' meeting Big Mac in a romantic setting for the second time in one day will make any difference, but they can be quite insistent," she grimaced lightly. "And while Big Macintosh is a dear, it's a bit... uncomfortable, being forced into these situations with him, especially with the children watching from the bushes."
Johnathon laughed, then nodded. "I get it... you want me to come along? Play chaperone?"
Cheerilee grinned sheepishly at him. "I know, I'm an adult, I should be able to manage this on my own, but it would make things easier. Perhaps... you could just happen to walk by the Gazebo a few minutes after I get there? Interrupt things before they get too weird?"
Johnathon nodded. "Sure. Glad to help," he shook his head. "I kind of feel sorry for Big Macintosh too," the man threw up a hand. "I mean, about being set up on a date by his little sister... not that he's being set up with you!"
Cheerilee laughed. "I know what you mean. That must be rather strange," she sighed. "Well, I suppose I should get going. The Crusaders were quite insistent that I come soon."
Johnathon grinned. "I'm sure. I'll wait a minute, then I'll follow. Want me to make up some reason why I need you to come home with me?"
Cheerilee nodded. "Could you? I hate the thought of lying, but in this case, I'll make an exception."
"Just a little white lie," Johnathon confirmed. "No problem."
Cheerilee went out the door, leaving Johnathon alone. "Sheesh, those girls somehow manage to cause more trouble than any pony I know," he said to himself. "Although they are adorable about it."
Waiting at the door till the school teacher was out of sight, he started walking toward the Gazebo, a landmark he knew well after all his time jogging around the town with Cheerilee. He spotted Cheerilee and Big Macintosh at the Gazebo, and the Crusaders, making an exit toward a large group of bushes in the near distance, and sighed.
"Yup. And they're just going to go hide in the bushes and watch, aren't they," sure enough, the three fillies slipped into the bushes not fifty feet from the supposed couple, and Johnathon sighed. "I'm tempted to teach those girls a little bit about stealth, except for the fact that I probably shouldn't encourage them," he grinned. "Might be fun though... although I expect Applejack and Rarity would be kind of annoyed at me if I turned their younger sisters into mini ninja ponies...." he chuckled at the mental image that brought up, then broke into a fast walk, crossing the clearing toward the Gazebo. "I guess I better step in," raising his voice, he called out to them. "Hey Big Mac! Hey Cheerilee! How are you doing today!"
Cheerilee turned toward him, a glass of some purple beverage to her lips. She finished the cup as she turned toward him, but then something strange happened. Her eyes went wide, and the glass fell from her hoof unnoticed. She gaped at him as if she had never really seen him before.
All of a sudden she broke into a run, heading toward him with a rapidly widening smile. "Johnathon! Oh! I'm so happy you came!"
Behind her, Big Macintosh was shaking his head as if confused. The big red pony's eyes finally fixed on Cheerilee's running backside, and he took off after her at a gallop.
Johnathon started to take a step back. "What in Equestria is going on now?" he wondered aloud as the two ponies raced towards him with desperate looks on their faces. As Cheerilee rapidly closed the distance, a desperate, loving look in her eyes, Johnathon started to grimace in anticipation of the now seemingly inevitable collision. "Oh boy."