April 17th 2012
The white Holden Barina came to a stop on the flattened dirt parking spot in front of my camp site. As I unbuckled myself and stepped out of the car, I thought about recent events. Pinkie Pie and Fluttershy were real. Although it had been four days since I met the girls, it was still quite difficult to accept or believe that they truly were who they claimed to be. The saying goes that you have to see things with your own eyes, and the things I’ve seen over the past few days have been more than enough to confirm that everything I thought I knew about the universe was now in question.
The recent arrival of Angel only reinforced the fact that these people were indeed living, breathing individuals who had only existed, at least in my mind, as fictional characters a few days ago. Learning of their existence was only the beginning; I also needed to cope with the reactions the Equestrians were having with their new bodies and surroundings. Fluttershy and Angel had both had difficulty walking on human legs, and Fluttershy’s reaction when she found out what she looked like was something I wasn’t prepared for. Pinkie seemed to be handling her new body just fine, but she was also capable of breaking the laws of physics and seemed to require a constant intake of sugar to avoid a meltdown. I had no intention of finding out how she acted when deprived of it.
To top it all off, I had just allowed a talking dingo into my car for some reason. It sneezed just then as it hopped out of the car and looked around the campsite. Talking ponies being turned into humans had been difficult enough to accept, but I had been taking it one moment at a time. A human being having been turned into a talking dingo was somehow more difficult to accept, though I didn’t understand why. Why did I allow it into my car in the first place? I had no reason to trust its word, especially when it lied to me right from the start. I also had no real reason to help it out. Then again, the same could have been said for the girls and Angel. I hadn’t believed what they told me, and I really had no reason to help them until I learned who they really were. Perhaps it was just a part of my nature that I didn’t realize until now, but I felt compelled to listen to what it had to say and maybe lend some assistance if necessary. I had a feeling that this kind of generosity would likely get me into trouble someday.
The dingo, Ashton, leaned forward onto his front paws and stretched his back. “Is this really Australia?” he asked, looking around. “Nothing has tried to kill me for a good fifteen minutes now. Not since you ran me over, anyway.”
I glanced towards Ashton and hoped this conversation would be worthwhile. “Yes, this is Australia. Burrinjuck Nature Reserve, to be exact. We’re fairly close to Canberra.” I wondered if Ashton had even heard of Canberra before.
“Wow, you answered that quicker than I thought you would,” Ashton said, seeming to be pleasantly surprised. “Mind telling me the date as well?”
Date? Was this guy pretending to be Dr. Hooves now? I turned to Angel and the girls. “Hey, I’m going to have a chat with Ashton alone for a bit. Are you going to be alright by yourselves for a few minutes?”
“Sure thing, Captain!” Pinkie gave a mock salute and grabbed Fluttershy’s arm. “Come on, let’s go see what’s over there!” she exclaimed, pointing towards the kitchen facilities and practically dragging her away. Angel followed close behind.
My gaze fell back upon the dingo. “Date huh? It’s the seventeenth of April. Just what happened to you that caused you to end up as an animal that doesn’t know where he is or what the date is?” I asked.
Ashton turned his head slightly before answering. “Well I... wait,” he began. His eyes seemed to lose focus and drifted away from mine as his mouth hung open in mid-thought. “Australia isn’t uh... it’s not four days behind America is it? Time zones and all that?” he asked, his eye twitching slightly.
“Follow me,” I said, then began walking down towards the lake. The reactions the dingo, Ashton, were giving suggested that he may not even realize the entirety of what had happened to him. I stopped and looked back at him. “You coming?”
Ashton looked from me to the lake, then ran quickly past me and jumped in, despite the long drop to the water below. He yelled out on the way down, and I was beginning to think I had just witnessed the animal commit suicide when I arrived at the edge of the cliff and saw him come to the surface alive and unharmed. He looked up at me.
“Sorry, I haven’t had a bath in... wait, this water doesn’t have spider piranhas in it, does it?” he asked, looking around nervously.
I began climbing down the embankment. “Nah mate,” I called out. “There might be a few snakes, but nothing that’ll kill you in under an hour.” I reached the bottom and knelt down by the water’s edge. “Just holler if you feel something bite you.”
Ashton seemed to tense up for a moment, but then relaxed. Maybe he thought I was joking about the snakes. “So, uh... Fluttershy and Pinkie Pie then?” he asked as he tried to scrub his body with his paws.
“Yeah that’s them, I think. Angel, too. I thought they were just weird pony fans until I broke a Pinkie promise,” I admitted. “You still haven’t told me how you ended up like this.”
Ashton stopped scrubbing and looked directly at me. “Look, I really don’t want to talk about that right now. Let’s just say that I said something monumentally stupid,” he said in a serious tone. Then his eyes widened. “Wait, you broke a Pinkie promise?”
“Yeah, and it’s something I don’t recommend doing, either. Have you ever seen someone’s eyes change color as they’re surrounded by an aura of pure rage? It’s not something I want to experience again.” I picked up a stone and tossed it into the lake. “So, who did you find?” I asked.
Ashton’s ears perked up and he stared at me for a moment, then he swam back to shore and lied down nearby. “So you really don’t know, Doug?” he asked curiously.
I sighed and leaned back against a rock. “Well based off what the girls have told me, I have my suspicions,” I said, then looked over at Ashton. “How did you get away?”
“Get away from who?” Ashton asked. He clearly did not want to talk about it, but I wanted to confirm my suspicions. For all I knew, he might have found Trixie or even Twilight. I tried to imagine anyone infuriating Twilight Sparkle enough for her to turn them into a dingo. Did she even know transfiguration spells? I couldn’t remember.
“Well, I suppose with all the ponies basically falling into my lap, I’ll discover who you found sooner or later anyway,” I commented. It seemed to only be a matter of time before I had to build a stable for all the ponies I kept finding. Or at least find a bigger apartment.
Ashton squinted his eyes at me. “So you really don’t know, even when it’s so glaringly obvious?” he asked.
I was beginning to get frustrated. All signs were pointing to Discord, but there was a nagging doubt in the back of my mind that said I was wrong in my assumption. I just wanted to get a confirmation from Ashton, but he just wouldn’t come out and say who he had found. I sighed before answering, “No clue.” If he didn’t want to talk, neither would I. “I guess you don’t want to hear about all the other ponies I’ve found. Oh well.”
Ashton seemed to be getting flustered as well. “Not even a guess?” he asked, prodding.
“Oh, I don’t know,” I said, standing up and pacing. “Maybe you found Ned Stark!” I threw my hands into the air and began to climb back up the embankment. “Or maybe it was Fred Flintstone, and I’m supposed to be the long, lost heir to the Flintstone empire!”
“Hey, I’m being serious here, Doug!” Ashton called up to me. “You said you had suspicions. Who do you suspect I found?” He walked up to the bottom of the embankment and put his front paws upon the steep slope.
Fine. Let’s humor the bloody dingo. “You know who I think you found. It’s that one guy.” Why couldn’t I think of his name now? “The one that causes, you know... things.” Bloody hell, what kind of sadistic trick was this? Discord! I want to say Discord. “The bloody thing that does that stuff... oh bugger it all!” Something strange was going on. Why couldn’t I just say what I wanted to say? It had to be magic or something similar. It was all obvious now, and my suspicions were confirmed.
Ashton had found... somebody.
The dingo laughed out loud. “Ha, I knew it!” he exclaimed, his tail wagging.
So Ashton had found someone who, for some magical reason, I could not think of now. It seemed that as soon as I confirmed who I thought it was, I’d lost all memory of whoever it was that I had been thinking about. It all made perfect sense, and yet I couldn’t remember who it was that Ashton had found. I glared down at the dingo.
“Damn it, you know who it is that I think you found! Why can’t I think of the name?”
Ashton seemed delighted, as if he had just confirmed something himself. “Ha, don’t you see?” he said between chuckles. “It’s all in the name!”
All in the name? I pondered what it meant. Riddles and problem-solving were one of my biggest strengths mentally. If it’s all in the name, then the answer to everything involves the name itself. I couldn’t think of the name of whoever Ashton had found. He also refused to say the name of whoever he had found. I knew that whoever Ashton had found was bad news, but I wasn’t going to be able to remember who it was unless...
“You have to tell me the name of who you found, or I’ll never be able to figure it out, regardless of how obvious it is!” I exclaimed just as Ashton decided to explain.
“It’s why I didn’t realize you had found Pinkie or Fluttershy until they said their names, even though I was staring them right in the face!” he exclaimed. “It was the same way for the Cutie Mark Crusaders!”
I looked down at the mention of the Crusaders. “Wait, what did you say?” I asked. “You’re Fullmetal_Pony? That doesn’t seem right, he seemed to be a little more... stable. And how would the Crusaders turn you into a dingo?”
Ashton’s ears perked up again. “Fullmetal_Pony? Wasn’t he the guy who wrote that one fanfic?” he asked. “I wouldn’t be surprised if that did happen to him. Would serve him right.”
“How do you know Fullmetal_Pony?” I asked. “And how did you come across him and the Crusaders?”
Ashton glared at the ground. “Well, he hit me with a shower stand and tied me up...”
It was hard to imagine that happening. Fullmetal_Pony had seemed somewhat reasonable, though he had to learn to keep quiet. I was still awaiting a reply from him and DragonLS concerning the Crusaders and Princess Celestia. Did Ashton know about the princess, too?
“I suppose the royal princesses beat you with candy canes, too?” I grumbled. Time to see if he took the bait.
“No, John was the only one to hit me,” Ashton mused. “Wait, did you find the princesses?” he asked, tilting his head.
It looked like I had information that Ashton didn’t. Good. I didn’t like being at a disadvantage.
“Oh yes,” I lied. “Both of them, and several other ponies, too. I just can’t seem to remember their locations though. Maybe it’d come back to me if a certain dingo would stop being mysterious and just tell me who he found?”
Ashton rolled his eyes. “Knowing my luck, they’ll find me at breakfast tomorrow. Ashton, the sentient toaster!” he said dejectedly. He looked up. “Fine, I’ll tell you who I found. It was Tom.”
“Tom? Rarity’s boulder, Tom?” I asked incredulously. Something wasn’t right here. Somehow, I knew Ashton wasn’t lying. But he wasn’t telling the entire truth, either. How was Tom real? How did that even work?
“That’s the one!” Ashton said, baring his teeth in a caricature of a smile. “Oh, didn’t I mention that I found two Equestrians?”
How aggravating. “Did I mention that I’ve found seven?” I grinned. Two could play at this game.
“Yeah. You found Pinkie, Fluttershy, Angel, the three Cutie Mark Crusaders, and the two princesses. Wait, that’s eight! You said you found seven; you didn’t find the two princesses?” It was Ashton’s turn to look confused.
“Oh, sorry mate. I must not have spoken the entire truth. Frustrating, isn’t it?” I said. I needed to wrap this up before Pinkie found something she shouldn’t be getting into. “You can either tell me who you found, or keep it a secret. But don’t expect anyone to offer you any help by remaining mysterious.”
“It’s for your own good, really,” Ashton said. He tried to climb up the embankment, but slid back down. “It’s best that I don’t say his name.”
His name. I knew who it was, yet I couldn’t focus enough to figure it out entirely. Perhaps the dingo was right, and I was better off not learning the entire truth just now. Particularly if the one he found could turn people into animals.
I slid back down the embankment and helped Ashton climb to the top, then pulled myself up and over onto the edge. It was clear what needed to be done.
“Hey,” Ashton said suddenly. “Do you think becoming a dingo makes me a furry?”
“Only if you go mate with another one,” I replied. “Look, you want to keep your secrets, that’s fine. I can actually respect someone who knows how to keep their mouth shut about our situation. But this is where we part ways. I have an obligation to get these three, and any other Equestrians I stumble across, back to their rightful home. I can’t trust anyone who isn’t willing to cooperate.”
Ashton’s ears lowered as he listened to what I was saying. “Wait,” he said, distraught. “You’re just going to leave me to fend for myself in the Australian wilderness?” he asked, sitting down. His eyes were large and the last word came out as a whine.
I crossed my arms, but let out a small sigh. “No, mate. Whoever did this to you is the one leaving you to fend for yourself in the Australian wilderness. If you ever want to be free of him, you might want to consider someday telling me his name.” I then turned and walked toward the kitchen facilities in the distance, where I could just make out Pinkie sitting at a table surrounded by Coke cans. So much for having something to drink on the drive home.
Ashton trailed behind me. “Please, you don’t need to know the name!” he called out. “The last person I told his name to got hurt really badly.”
I continued walking. “And did you help this person out, or did you leave that person to fend for themselves?” I asked. Pinkie noticed me approaching and waved. Fluttershy and Angel were each nibbling on something. I hoped they had retrieved snacks from the car as opposed to finding something in one of the kitchen refrigerators.
The dingo stopped for a moment. “Well, when I got zapped into a dingo and sent here, the character I found was nursing a serious wound to his manhood.” He let out a small cackle similar to that of a hyena.
So Ashton cared a little, perhaps. It still didn’t mean I trusted him enough to take him with me. He had said that someone had gotten hurt badly after whoever he found had shown up. He had also mentioned the Cutie Mark Crusaders...
“Hey!” I said, stopping suddenly. “Just how long ago was it when you ran into Fullmetal_Pony and the Cutie Mark Crusaders?” I asked.
Ashton stopped and thought for a moment. “An hour or so ago, I guess. After John took that awful tumble down the stairs and Apple Bloom bucked Discord right in the b-”
“Discord!” I yelled. All the puzzle pieces that hadn’t fit in the way that they should have suddenly slid into place. The name that Ashton had refused to say, the one he had found. I knew it all along, and yet it hadn’t actually come to me until that very moment.
“Oh balls,” Ashton muttered, then put this front paws over his mouth. He tucked his tail down between his legs and his eyes squinted shut.
I looked back over to the kitchen facility and saw Angel and the girls making their way towards us, oblivious to what I had just discovered, and I suddenly realized why Ashton was so reluctant to say Discord’s name as a sense of dread passed over me. I looked back down to Ashton, who was gnashing his teeth and seemed to be trying to bury his head under some rocks. He suddenly stopped and blinked.
“Wait, where is he?” he asked, looking around in confusion. A few moments later he seemed to relax and stood up. “That’s strange, he usually... OH MY GOD WHAT IS THAT?” he screamed, scrambling to hide behind me.
There seemed to be nothing at first, but then a low rumble could easily be heard somewhere in the forest. It began to grow louder, and was accompanied by the crashing sounds of small trees falling over as whatever was making the noise came closer. A quick glance back at the Equestrians confirmed that they heard it as well, as they had all frozen and were listening intently. Before I could decide on whether to settle on the fight or the flight response, a large plaid Humvee with impossibly small tires burst into sight, toppling another small tree in its path. The vehicle skidded to a halt in front of us, sliding sideways until the driver’s side door was facing us. A moment later, the door opened and a man wearing samurai armor adorned with pink Hello Kitty stickers stepped out from the vehicle. He took a step towards us and lifted his samurai mask, revealing a gaunt face that looked entirely too familiar somehow.
“Well hello, Ashton!” the man yelled cheerfully over the rumbling. “A little hot under the collar?”